Despite what anyone else may tell you, it's largely rote memorization. Not all shoot-'em-ups have the same design principles, though. Some series have more realistic difficulty curves than others, but series like Gradius? Entirely rote memorization. Konami series in general are notorious for that.
How to win at shit ups: >pick the ship with the powerful, narrow shot type >memorize enemy spawn points and line yourself with them before they appear on screen >savestate at the beginning of the level and at key spots in different slots, reload every time you die or lose time, repeat until you've got the "route" down and are taking fewer and fewer reloads
After months of doing this you'll finally beat the shit up and accomplish absolutely NOTHING
These may not be the most accessible recommendations, but off the top of my head:
Final Soldier for TG16. I don't think I lost a single ship on my first playthrough. I seem to recall that Blazing Lasers was also on the easy side. Super Star Soldier on the other hand is obscenely difficult, due in part to a lack of checkpoints.
Salamander 2 for arcade, but it can also be found on some emulated collections for PS1 and PSP. I'm pretty sure the game generously gives you unlimited continues, and losing a ship respawns you in the same spot. Unlike Gradius, you don't really "lose" all your powerups upon losing a ship - they'll separate from your ship and start drifting off screen, and you have a chance to reclaim them before they're gone.
Maybe the Darius series. I don't remember (some of) these games being all that difficult, at least compared to series like Gradius.
Speaking of Gradius, the SFC port of Gradius III is incredibly dumbed down compared to its arcade counterpart, and you can adjust the difficulty setting in the configuration menu. The weapon customization system is easily exploitable.
Gradius for NES was the first shoot-'em-up I played, and although I managed to conquer it, it took a lot of dedication to get the enemy patterns and stage layouts down. I don't necessarily recommend starting the same way though. Gradius is the kind of series that you should graduate to after getting a feel for the genre, and only if you have the patience to deal with this level of rote memorization. Were you any good at Contra? Were you able to get good at Contra without breaking your controller? Then Gradius may be up your alley after all.
>>2921461 A note about Parodius, the gay Gradius spin-off, starting with Gokujyou Parodius onwards there's a menu option to revive in the same place you've died, similar to how modern shmups work. You might want to give it a try if you're looking to get into the Gradius series.
>>2923750 Damn good game. Lord British is such a good ship. First time I played, I got the disruptor cannon and was thinking "Oh so it's like a worse version of Vic Viper's laser" then I got it up to level 2. Best weapon in the game holy shit.
>>2921325 Actually yeah, though like fighting games the fundamentals often have exceptions, here are some things that apply to a lot of shmups:
1) When there's a lot of aimed shots, try to lead them in a way that you wont get trapped, moving from side to side of the screen with the right rhythm. Doesn't always require memorization. I tend to get far in new levels with tons of aimed bullets just preemptively staying left or right, then moving in a halfcircle from side to side leading bullets away from me.
2) Obvious one, already mentioned in thread. Move where the bullets aren't. It helps to be looking at the whole screen rather than the tiny area around your ship. What you want to do in order to do this is perceive bullet trajectories, so you can move to safe spots in time.
3) Wide shots tend to make games easier. There are exceptions, but wideshots often let you kill small enemies before they bombard the screen with crap. and let's you focus more on dodging. Some oldass games with bullet limits also makes the wideshot wildly overpowered when rapidfired point blank.
Related: Double is your friend in Gradius. Laser kills bosses faster but Double can help clear the screen without getting too close to danger. Just be sure to have some Options before getting Double.
4) It helps not being the slowest speed when trying to lead bullets away. Sometimes the wideshot ship is harder to use because it's too slow at moving.
5) Use bombs
6) Mind the "rank" when present. Don't go full power immediately if the game has heavy "rank" differences.
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