Reviews Archive

Single Screen Kill-em-ups


In the absence of an agreed upon name for these style of games I've decided that for the purpose of this article to refer to them as "Single screen Kill-em-ups" for reasons which should be pretty obvious. These games are identified for the most part by their gameplay being based around a central goal of eliminating all enemies on screen to allow you to move on, they virtually never have a straight forward way of defeating enemies but instead focus on different ways of incapacitating them first before you can defeat them. The most famous and popular example of this genre has to be Bubble Bobble, though many others of them have quite rightfully received some level of cult status among gaming fans.

  bubble bobble master system Bubble Bobble
bubble bobble nes
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - Variety of Systems  
  Here's the game that really popularised the whole genre, and also one of the only that managed to become a mainstream success. Bubble Bobble's premise is simple, kill all the enemies on screen by first trapping them in bubbles and then burst the bubbles. The gameplay whilst simple was instantly fun and addictive and the 2 player mode also helped to complete the whole package.  
  bubble bobble part 2 Bubble Bobble Part 2
bubble bobble 2 on nes
  1 Player  
  Stand out version - NES  
  Mainly a case of more of the same for this sequel to Bubble Bobble, but there are some new enemy types which give some of the stages a different gameplay slant, and more variety, the boss fights are better and more numerous, and the whole thing now has proper backgrounds. Unfortunately these new additions did little to combat the fact that the great 2-player mode was now absent, but overall its still a pretty worthwhile sequel.  
  bubble symphony Bubble Symphony
bubble symphony on saturn
  2 Player  
  Stand out version - Saturn  
  It was a long time coming but in 1994 Taito finally created the Bubble Bobble sequel people had been waiting for. Bubble Symphony had fantastic presentation, very nice music, charming graphics, cameos from other Taito games, and a new charge shot ability to differentiate the characters, keeping all that in mind it was very nearly worth the long wait! I feel few would disagree this games place as the greatest ever Bubble Bobble game.  
  don doku don on turbografx Don Doku Don
don doku don on pc-engine
  2 Players  
  Stand out versions - TG-16  
  Hit enemies with your hammer to incapacitate them and then pick them up to throw them (preferably at other enemies). Good cheerful music, great pacing and some nice elements such as environmental hazards and different enemy types all stand in Don Doku Don's favour.  
  fairyland story on msx Fairyland Story
fairyland story
  1 Player  
  Stand out versions - MSX  
  Fairyland Story is Taito's little know precursor to Bubble Bobble. Instead of trapping your enemies in bubbles, here you have to turn them into rocks and then push them off platforms to turn them into rubble (hopefully on another enemy's head to get a two for one). The game is a little more dated in comparison to Bubble Bobble, but the gameplay is still fairly fun and the graphics, whilst simplistic, still manage to contain a certain charm.  
  mario brothers arcade Mario Bros
mario bros on nes
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - NES  
  Here's another important release which helped to lay down some groundwork and popularise the genre. Unlike the later Mario games, in this instance you are completely limited to attacking your enemies by headbutting the platform underneath them, this knocks them upside down making them vulnerable, and allows you to simply run into them to kill them. The gameplay (which is essentially like a platforming variant of Joust) is simplistic, yet elegant and well judged, making for a unique, and addictive title in the genre.  
  mister do's castle Mr. Do!'s Castle
mr do's castle
  1 Player  
  Stand out Versions - C64, Colecovision  
  For the sequel to Mr. Do! here the developers have decided to do something very different, instead opting for a Space Panic influenced set-up. The aim is to navigate the ladders and platforms avoiding the monsters and dropping sections of the platforms onto their heads to kill them, collecting all the keys in the stage also opens up a bonus round where you can try to collect letters to spell "extra" in an effort to be awarded another life. The game is solid fun, though a little unremarkable, but its "extra" collecting went on to influence many of the other games in this article, with Rodland especially showing some similarities.  
  parasol stars on turbografx Parasol Stars
parasol stars on amiga
  2 Players  
  Stand out versions - TG-16, Amiga  
  After the very different Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars marked the welcome return to the original single screen format of Bubble Bobble, and due to its mixture of elements it does a great job of bridging the gap between the two earlier games in the series. Basically you catch the enemies (or water droplets) on your Umbrella and then throw them at other enemies. The gameplay here is great and the boss battles are always a joy to play.  
  pop n' magic on pc-engine Pop N' Magic
pop n' magic on turbografx
  2 Players  
  Stand out versions - TG-CD  
  Colourful PC-Engine exclusive which has you trapping the monsters in colour coded orbs. Each colour is weak, or strong in comparison to the other colours and throwing them into each other destroys the weaker colour (hitting the same colour sets the monsters free in an angry state). Though the game is not especially remarkable its good fun, and the presentation is pretty high, with high quality music and respectable art design.  
  rodland on atari st Rodland rodland on amiga  
  2 Player  
  Stand Out Version - Amiga/Atari ST  
  The aim here is to grab monsters with your fishing rod and then swing them back and forth into the ground (and into any other nearby enemies too) On top of the addictive gameplay and brilliant cutesy graphics are some very impressive boss battles. One of my personal favourites.  
  snow bros on genesis Snow Bros snow brothers on mega drive  
  2 Player  
  Stand out Version - Mega Drive  
  Snow Bros has you covering your enemies with snow and then rolling them down the stage killing everything in their path. The game is great fun and has a very quick pace with strategic overtones. Its quite rare but well worth picking up for genre fans who can afford it as it definitely has to stand as one of the defining examples of it's genre.  
  space panic Space Panic
space panic on colecovision
  1 Player  
Stand out version - Colecovision  
  The earliest title in this article, and also one of the most influential. Space panic was actually one of the first (if not the first) platforms and ladders games ever created, and some argue it to actually be the first ever platform game. The game has you running around the stages digging pits to trap the enemies in, once trapped you then need to bury them before they climb out. Its an old title, but the simple, straightforward gameplay still holds up pretty well and the game is still fun.  
  super methane bros Super Methane Bros
super methane brothers on amiga
  2 Players  
  Stand out version - Amiga  
  Turn your enemies into gas, suck them in with your gun and fire them into walls to kill them in this fun Amiga exclusive. For the most part it kind of plays like a cross between Bubble Bobble and Don Doku Don, its not much to look at but the game is fun and still well worth checking out.  
  wani wani world Wani Wani World
wani wani world on genesis
  2 Players  
  Stand out version - Mega Drive  
  Generally this plays like an update of the classic arcade game Space Panic. The aim is to remove sections of the ground which the enemies fall through, and then quickly smack them on the head with a trowel before they get back up! a nice new addition here over Space Panic (as well as the obviously updated graphics, and new boss fights) is the fact that the enemies now explode when you defeat them, killing anything else in close proximity, this is a great addition that lends a new strategic element to the proceedings. The game also looks great and has a very endearing art style to it throughout, with loads of nice touches.  
Atari ST
Atari VCS
Commodore 64
Game Boy
Master System
Mega Drive
Neo Geo
PC Engine
ZX Spectrum