If Dante had been born 700 years later, he might have made room in his Inferno for bullet hell, a genre where twitchy players are swarmed on all sides by glowing dots that cause them terrible damage. This style of hardcore arcade shoot ’em up, notorious for its frustrating difficulty, seems like the last thing you’d want to play on a touchscreen. After all, navigating around those dots requires precise movement controls. Amazingly, one company has made a name for themselves by producing the very best bullet hell shooters on iOS: Cave Interactive.
One of the first major bullet hell shooters from Cave to appear on iOS was Espgaluda II, which some fans recognized from both real arcades and Xbox Live Arcade. Espgaluda II is a fantasy-themed shooter, with players controlling a flying witch instead of a spaceship. Since it threw so many bullets at you at once, Espgaluda only ran on the latest iPhone hardware (the 3GS) at launch. While we were impressed by the action, you could play through the game with unlimited continues, making it less of a challenge if you didn’t care about recording a high score.
Key Quote: “Espgaluda 2 is a top-down scrolling shooter with a frantic style shared by many other games from Japan. It’s also not a game pronounced or spelled very easily. Nevertheless, Espgaluda 2 offers explosive gameplay, intensely rendering many enemies onscreen at one time and forcing you to act quickly.”
Four months after Espgaluda 2, Cave released Dodonpachi Resurrection, an even better shooter that we instantly declared a Must Have. Dodonpachi has fairly generic characters and enemies– it’s mainly spaceships vs. robots– but the scoring system made it extremely challenging for skilled players. In Dodonpachi Resurrection, you have to balance both your score multiplier and your damage boosts, using the game’s unusual “S&M” system. Raising one came at the cost of the other, and the game encourages you to weave next to bullets to increase your score.
Key Quote: “Dodonpachi Resurrection is a real gem on the iPhone, and a mobile port of a game like this would not have been considered possible a few years ago. It’s wildly over-the-top and hectic beyond belief, and that’s just the way we like our shoot ’em ups.”
Mushihimesama Bug Panic
Mushihimesama (which translates to “bug princess”) Bug Panic is a different kind of shooter than Dodonpachi and Espgaluda. Instead of auto-scrolling through levels, Bug Panic lets you explore the levels at your own pace, unlocking new pathways and dropping bug bombs on enemies. With one virtual joystick to control your movement and another to aim your bombs, Bug Panic offers more freedom while still retaining the frenzied rush of dodging bullets. If you enjoy twin-stick shooters like Gun Bros, this is an excellent purchase with a lot of challenging levels.
Key Quote: “We weren’t sure if Cave could do more than just make top-down aerial shooters, but they’ve proven their ability with this gem. Mushihimesama’s core gameplay is extremely refined and incredibly challenging– that’s good for gaming, but not for your blood pressure.”
Bug Princess 1 and 2
If Mushihimesama Bug Panic let you move at your own pace, Bug Princess 1 and 2 returned to the traditional shooter style. Riding a rhinoceros beetle, you have to guide the princess through streams of bullets and laser fire in order to fight a bug infestation and save her village from a plague. Both Bug Princess games have fast-moving, stylish graphics, and plenty of clever configurations of enemies and attacks to avoid. There’s also a complex story, which might especially appeal to those who enjoy manga.
Key Quote: “Bug Princess is a pretty intensive game, but strangely relaxing to play, and definitely addictive enough to come back to over and over.”
Key Quote: “Otherwise, Bug Princess 2 is basically an upgrade to Bug Princess, though you could probably surmise as much from the ’2′ on its tail. Except for the addition of a new pilot, new levels, new patterns, and new bosses, little has changed from the first game.”
Dodonpachi Blissful Death
Blissful Death is aptly named, because in this bullet hell shooter you should be prepared to die many, many times. Like in Dodonpachi Resurrection, you have to dodge seemingly endless waves of enemies, this time to fight off an attack on a human colony on the moon. Blissful Death is very similar to some of the other shooters on this list, so you might not need to own every single one, but if you’re looking for an intense challenge, Blissful Death is a good place to start.
Key Quote: “Blissful Death’s selectable difficulty levels are a blessing, as underneath the reams of projectiles, there’s a basic but fun shooter. The lunar landscapes are rendered well, as are the scores of tanks, planes, and robots that are thrown at you, though the enemies and backgrounds feel richer in Bug Princess.”
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the incredible games of 2D Boy, makers of World of Goo.
This article is part of a series about the best games on iOS, 2008-2013. You can read the rest here.