Welcome to the world of the run-and-gun scrolling shooter, where the odds are always against you. Instead of controlling a ship like in shoot-‘em-ups, you’ll be trekking on foot into hostile territories knowing full well that one bullet is usually all it takes to kill you. You’ll be surrounded by gunfire at every given moment, facing thousands upon thousands of enemies armed to the teeth with all kinds of weaponry, and encountering ginormous bosses that possess a whole lotta vitality and heavy-duty firepower. And it’s all up to you to plow forward and take them all on using your elite dodging skills, a rush of adrenaline, and any weapons you happen to find along the way. Sure, there may not be much emphasis on the story or exploration like in other genres, but if it’s pure action you’re after, a run-and-gun will deliver it in spades. The following are some of the many classic run-and-guns that are perfect for satisfying that trigger-happy urge.

Mr. Big and his drug trafficking empire are mucking up the streets. It’s up to the authorities to stop the drug addicts and put them behind bars. Well, replace “stop” with “shoot” and “put them behind bars” with “blow them to smithereens in a delightfully bloody fashion” and you’ll get the philosophy of NARC. In this charged run-and-gun, you’ll deliver a different brand of justice as a member of the narcotics police force. Armed with (apparently) standard issue machine guns, rocket launcher, and a sporty red Porsche, you’ll charge into the depths of the drug underworld bringing down shady drug-peddlers, dumpster throwing PCP addicts, clowns going by the moniker “Kinky Pinky”, hemp-growing sergeants, and other outrageous junkies. Confiscate drugs and arrest the offenders to the sound of “You’re Busted!” and “Spread ‘em!” in order to rank in the points. Or just throw the book out the window and go in guns a-blazing. Either way, it’s not a walk-in-the-park, as the constant swarm of maniacs can easily overwhelm you in an instant. The difficulty can get frustrating at times, but there’s just something about the hilariously over-the-top premise that will keep you coming back for more. It’s extreme alright, but as the tagline goes, no one had the guts… until now!

The former U.S. President has been kidnapped by revolutionaries while touring the Central African country of Zutula. The terrorists’ ultimatum is clear: give them total control of Zutula or the former President dies. Faced with the dangers of a diplomatic snafu, the U.S. decides to send three soldiers from the elite group “Mercs” on a covert mission to save the ex-President. In Capcom’s overhead run-and-gun Mercs, one does not simply waltz into Zutula; one waltzes into Zutula blowing the crap out of everything in sight. At least, that’s the way you’ll be operating when you assume the role of one of the Mercs. From the moment you step onto the battlefield, the terrorists will try to throw everything they got at you. They’ll run at you in waves with guns blazing, and if that doesn’t stop you, they’ll try to commandeer humvees, tanks, helicopters, battleships, harrier jets, and other instruments of war to increase the odds in their favor. You got no armor and no backup, but hey, no problem. Your starting machine gun is more than capable of diminishing the terrorists’ ranks, and there are plenty of weapon power-ups and explosive special attacks to even the odds. Or hijack a tank, humvee, boat, or gun turret and really watch the body count rise. Sure, the danger is not as great compared to other run-and-guns (you don’t die in a hit), but Mercs makes up for it by excelling in the total mayhem department. So are you a bad enough dude to rescue the ex-President? You better be, soldier, because the President’s fate hinges on your success.

“WE HOPE YOU DESTROY THEM ALL. STAND-BY READY? GOODLUCK!!” Before you can even comprehend those words, your ship will have already landed on a foreign planet. As you emerge on foot (your ship promptly leaving you behind) and gaze into the futuristic landscape, you’ll soon realize that your health is slowly deteriorating. To compound matters, the entire planet’s population is heading in your direction, and they’re none too happy about your presence. To make matters even worse, you have to face them all by yourself (well, maybe with another player if you’re fortunate). To add more weight to an already dire situation, you die in a hit. Ready to rock? From the same folks that brought you the Engrish-laden Zero Wing comes Out Zone, an overhead view arcade game that excels in delivering the big guns. Whether it’s the rapid-fire laser, the 3-way plasma gun, or the hyper-revolving Super Ball, every weapon power-up is a blast to wield. Not only do they look cool, you can literally fill over half the screen with your wrath. That doesn’t make your situation any easier, though, because Out Zone likes to force you to move through tiny, confining pathways. You’ll barely have enough room to maneuver around the enemy’s attacks, and at the same time, you cannot take your good old time to proceed cautiously since your Energy bar slowly depletes with time. It’s the kind of urgency that matches the adrenaline-pumping action perfectly. Add in grand boss fights and a trance inducing cosmic beat and you got yourself a party. STAND-BY READY?

Not a big fan of taking on mindless fodder on route to the stage’s boss? Want to just kick the ass of each boss one after another with little interruptions? If so, the brilliant minds from Treasure have got you covered. Enter Alien Soldier: 25 stages of wholesome run-and-gun goodness. Instead of spending several minutes shooting up the minions before taking a minute, if not seconds, to battle the stage’s boss, you’ll be spending several minutes shooting up bosses after taking a minute, if not seconds, to battle the minions. That’s not bad by any means, especially with the boss fights Alien Soldier has in store. Whether it’s a kickboxing mutant ant, a big ol’ turtle samurai wielding a huge blade, or a gunslinging wolf riding a horse (*shrug*), the big bads are massive, bizarre, and oftentimes hard as hell. Luckily for you, being an alien soldier has got some perks suitable for such a crazy gauntlet. Not only can you blast aliens with four out of six different weapons (stuff like homing attacks, focused energy beams, and flamethrower; all of which can be switched on the fly), you can hover, walk on the ceiling, transform enemy fire into health, and dash through foes all ninja-like. With 30+ bosses, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to mix and match all the techniques from your vast repertoire, which really spices things up. It’s certainly a different experience from the typical run-and-gun, but still, Alien Soldier is yet another notch on Treasure’s belt for amazingly kickass games.

Forged by the minds of Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin of Newgrounds (and now their development company The Behemoth) fame, Alien Hominid has evolved tremendously from its humble beginnings as a web flash game. It’s made its way onto multiple consoles and has seen quite a bit of success, and for good reasons: crazily fast-paced action, a quirky art style, and an over-the-top sense of humor. As the yellow, beady-eyed little alien hominid, your goal is to get back your UFO from the FBI, who kindly shot you down to Earth. Of course, there are a lot of obstacles between point A and point B, namely hordes of FBI agents, members of the KGB, ginormous robots, and other hostile Earthlings. Other than using them as target practice with your space gun, you have some unique methods of dispensing foes, which include hopping onto people and biting their heads off, hiding in the ground and pulling unsuspecting passer-bys under, and slicing enemies in half. Hop into cars, bulldozers, your UFO, and even onto the back of a gargantuan Yeti with an insatiable appetite for humans in order to leave even more destruction in your wake. All the chaos is hilariously captured in Dan Paladin’s signature cartoon art. Hand-drawn and fluidly animated, his style gives the visuals an awesome kick, whether it’s the surprised wide-eyed expressions of the FBI agents, the way the enemies bounce around as you run them over with a vehicle, or all the spectacular and oftentimes over-the-top deaths. It’s a zany atmosphere filled with the perfect mix of mayhem and humor. Sure, it’s at the expense of the human race, but an enjoyable run-and-gun experience all the same.

Bandits have overrun the peaceful western town of Hicksville and murdered the Sheriff. With no authorities, the bandits do as they please, terrorizing the townsfolk with their reckless abandon. In the midst of the turmoil, a mysterious gunman enters the town with revolvers at the ready. Sensing their newfound stranglehold threatened, the bandits rush out in hordes to snuff out the outsider. Unwavering, the stranger greets the outlaws with a flurry of bullets, moving forward all the while. In Capcom’s classic overhead run-and-gun, Gun.Smoke, you’ll control the lone gunslinger and help him bring down the head honchos that have trampled all over Hicksville. Your means of laying down the law are two revolvers, which can be fired directly in front of you or in either of the upper diagonal directions. With all the countless gunslingers, dynamite throwers, snipers, and other trigger-happy bandits coming your way, you’ll have to be quick on your feet (by strafing) as well as quick on the draw to survive. In all likelihood, the bandits will send you to the undertaker multiple times, especially the bosses. Not only do these tough hombres bring a never-ending supply of lackeys, they each specialize in a particular weapon, whether it’s the traditional firearm (like the pistol or shotgun) or something unconventional (like shurikens or a boomerang). It’s an uphill battle, to say the least, but an exhilarating and wild ride through and through. So if you’re up for the challenge, stranger, put on a ten-gallon hat, draw your revolvers, and fire away.

Eight bounties for the most vicious varmints are ripe for the picking. The WANTED outlaws aren’t going to come peacefully and will more than likely put up a wild firefight, but for bounty hunters Steve, Billy, Bob, and Cormano, that’s the way it ought to be! In Sunset Riders, it’s back to the Wild West for some good ol’ fashioned gunslinging. Assume the role of Steve or Billy (if you like wielding rapid-fire pistols) or try a different gunslinging style as Bob or Cormano (if you like wielding slower, yet more powerful shotguns) to bring the bounties in, dead or alive. You’ll be moving your spurs through wind-swept towns, rustic settlements, and sunbaked canyons, or saddling up and riding your trusty steed through the open wilderness. There’ll be no time to enjoy the scenery, though, because yellow-bellied crooks will be chucking dynamite and constantly sending hot lead your way. No sweat, though, because you can jump, leap onto/over railings, and slide to outwit them. That or you can just riddle their bodies with bullets before they can even pull the trigger. Once the gunfire subsides (and if you’re still standing), the stage’s bounty will make his grand entrance for the glorified showdown, which is definitely one of the highlights of the game. Not only are the bosses fun to duel, their intro and dying quotes are priceless. Voiced in their entirety, the quotes include such gems as Simon Greedwell’s “Bury me with my money”, Paco Loco’s “Asta la bye-bye!”, and Sir Richard Rose’s “Cheerio old chap!” What in tarnation? Sure, it’s a light-hearted twist to the Western theme, but it’s why Sunset Riders is such a blast to play. So how ‘bout it, partner? Ready to draw?

General Morden and his colossal army of followers are at it again with their aspirations of global military rule. With the international military, generically named the Regular Army, always getting their ass kicked, it’s up to Marco Rossi and his small band of elite soldiers, the Peregrine Falcons, to once again single-handedly stop Morden’s entire army and any outrageous allies Morden manages to find. Such are the circumstances you’ll be thrust into when you step into the chaotic world of the Metal Slug series. Hordes of soldiers, big ass bosses, and various war machines all have their sights set squarely on you, and it’s your job (as one of the Peregrine Falcons) to outlast them all. Aiding your cause is a deadly weapon arsenal that includes a handgun, knife for melee-attacks, grenades, and plentiful power-ups like the uber Shotgun and the explosive “Rawket Lawnchair!” Manning the trademark Metal Slug tanks also add to your destructive power. With all this at your disposal, you’ll be busy littering the screen with ammo while simultaneously moving your ass to avoid the onslaught of enemy fire. It sounds like the typical war theme, but the series has a comical and over-the-top style characteristic of its charm. Everything is crisply animated in a cartoonish manner, making all the characters’ victory poses, surprised reactions, deaths, and other mannerisms amusing to watch. In particular, the third installment of the series brings in supernatural and paranormal threats such as the Mars people, zombies, Yetis, and even Giant Enemy Crabs. Metal Slug 3 also has one of the longest and most epic final missions, where many of the bosses from the previous games make a return with a resounding bang. It’s a quirky war motif that works surprisingly well with the frantic action. Currently, the main series has six titles (seven if you include the Metal Slug 2 upgrade, Metal Slug X) over its ten-year history. The great thing is you can play all seven with the Metal Slug Anthology (on multiple consoles to boot). That’s a whole lotta awesome packed into a single disc.

You are Gunstar Red of the planet Gunstar-9. The Empire has brainwashed your older brother, stolen the Mystical Gems, turned all the friendly droids on the planet into killing machines, and has set out to the moon to revive the vicious android Golden Silver that your father defeated long ago. Are you going to put up with their crap? Hell no! In Treasure’s classic, Gunstar Heroes, you’ll experience a fast-paced atmosphere unlike any other. Whether you’re battling the rippling muscleman/hand-to-hand combat expert G.I. Orange on top of a moving jet, speeding through a mine in a cart as the gigantic morphing boss Seven Force chases you, dodging the many gadgets of the trap specialist Dr. Black, or infiltrating the Empire’s spacecraft while members of the Empire frantically look on from their security monitor, every moment is filled to the brim with invigorating intensity. To match that intensity, Treasure throws in their signature brand of godly gameplay into the fray. Choose from four different shooting styles right from the get-go: rapid-fire shot, flamethrower, piercing laser beam, and homing shot. Although you can only pick one in the beginning, finding a secondary weapon allows you to combine both of your shots into one deadly force unique to the combo. Add in melee-based attacks like diving, flying kicks, and even the ability to throw your enemies (and, oddly enough, your buddy too) and you got so many ways to kick some ass. With so much on your plate, you’ll have no trouble satisfying your action cravings. Even if you finish, you’re bound to come back for seconds. And thirds. And fourths. And well, you get the idea.

A cosmic meteor bringing hostile alien entities has crash-landed on Earth. The aliens intend to (forcefully) make Earth (and then… the universe!) their home, and it’s up to Bill Rizer and Lance Bean of Special Forces to give them the housewarming gift they rightfully deserve: an ass-kicking of epic proportions. Welcome to Contra, also known as the bringer of amazing cooperative (or hilariously uncooperative) play, deliverer of insane difficulty, originator of the godly Spread gun, home of the almighty Konami code, and above all the pioneer of the run-and-gun genre. In this timeless classic, you (and a friend if you go co-op) will be dropped off at the source of the alien threat with nothing but your one-hit vitality, a semi-automatic rifle, and the fury of a hurricane. Your plan-of-attack is simple: get the hell out of the way of the countless stream of enemy fire that will inevitably come your way and shoot anything that moves. Of course, that’s easier said than done when the entire alien force is collectively chasing, shooting, and ambushing you on all fronts the whole way through. The alien bosses aren’t a cakewalk either, as they are usually ten times your size, fortified with futuristic technology, and equipped with unworldly powers. Sure, the prospects of surviving are next to nil, but mowing down countless invaders with any of the signature weapons (Spread gun FTW) and hopping all over the place while staring death in the face is one hell of a ride. It’s a simple, yet brilliant concept that has worked for Contra and its legacy. If only Konami would compile a Contra collection like SNK did with Metal Slug. The immense awesomeness generated by the combination of Contra + Super C + Contra 3: The Alien Wars + Contra Hard Corps (all #1 spot games in my book) would blow the minds of run-and-gun fans. Make it happen Konami!

The list can go on and on with such titles as Commando, Ikari Warriors, Shock Troopers, Rolling Thunder, RoboCop, Bloody Wolf, ESWAT: Cyber Police, and countless others. Unfortunately, only ten spots can be filled here, so undoubtedly there will be several snubs here. Regardless, the sheer number of classic run-and-guns says a lot about the genre’s impact on the gaming community. Although their popularity has dwindled as of late, run-and-guns have still left a lasting impression with their unique brand of entertainment. After all, no other genre can match the same feeling of grabbing a rifle, charging headlong into overwhelming odds, and making countless enemies kiss the dirt while being surrounded by explosions and bullets like run-and-guns can. They may not be the most complex in terms of story and controls. They may even be too crazy and frustrating at times, especially when it usually takes just one bullet to kill you, but fans of the genre wouldn’t have it any other way.

List by VinnieMac (05/14/2007)

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