Arcade Collection

What is bullet hell?

A bullet hell is a 2D action game about dodging intricate patterns of bullets and shooting enemies. They have a higher bullet count and slower bullet speed than traditional shmups. Examples are the Dodonpachi and Touhou series.

Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu (or Resurrection), the fourth game in the series

At first, you might think increasing the number of bullets is just a way to increase the difficulty, but that’s not quite right. Yes, bullet hell games tend to be very difficult, but not more than any shmup subgenre that started in the arcade. Whether it’s Raiden, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, or Mushihimesama, arcade game intensity is high across the board.

So, if it’s not difficulty, what is bullet hell all about?

Bullet hell is a different flavour of shmup

Yes, there are lots of bullets in these games (sometimes hundreds on-screen at once), but they are slower. Also, the player’s ship will have a very small hitbox — sometimes a single pixel and this gives players more opportunity to avoid danger even when the gaps between bullets is very narrow. 

Because bullets linger on the screen, they can be used to build up more complex patterns or even mazes. Massive variety is possible just by utilising different shapes, sizes, speeds and colours of bullets. 

Subterranean Animism, the 12th game in the Touhou series

There is usually a feeling of pressure from all sides in a bullet hell game, resulting in relief and elation for surviving such situations. The player is forced to pay constant attention and move in interesting ways to overcome the challenges presented. 

This flavour isn’t for everyone. Arguably the biggest divide in shmups is between bullet hell fans and the fans of “traditional shmups”.

Bullet hell vs traditional shmup examples

Most shmups that you’ve heard of aren’t bullet hell. R-Type, Raiden, Space Invaders, Gradius, Galaga, Thunder Force, Zeroranger — these are all “traditional shmups”. 

That means, firstly, that bullets come at you fast, and once you get out of the way they’re usually not an issue any more. Traditional shmups also tend to have more variety in the types of obstacles, so there might be physical walls and traps, or enemies with more varied behaviours.

Gunbird by Psikyo is a traditional shmup

As arcade technology progressed, developers had more power to add more detailed graphics, more exciting visual effects, and yes, more bullets. Various games and studios pushed the genre along this trajectory in this period (Toaplans Batsugun, Raizing’s Battle Garrega, and Cave’s Donpachi), the game that solidified bullet hell as a new style was Cave’s second game, Dodonpachi, released in 1997.

Why bullet hell?

These games showed how bullets could be interesting because they can become anything. They are like atoms of danger: a fundamental building block of challenge. Instead of walls, you can make walls of bullets, or some other form of compressed play area.

You can create beautiful geometric patterns, or you can create obtuse chaos. You can have direct bullets, homing bullets, bullets from any side of the screen or in the middle of it.

Whatever flavour of 2D dodging you want to throw at the player, you can build it with bullets. To me, this is what bullet hell means: games that understand the versatility of bullets.

Bullet hell communities




YouTube channels


Non-bullet hell

Bullet Hell vs Bullet Heaven

In 2021 a new genre was created with a familiar name. “Bullet heaven” refers to Vampire Survivors and the imitators spawned by its viral success. Though everyone recognised this label as a reference to “bullet hell”, it led to the questions “What is bullet hell anyway?”

My playtime in Vampire Survivors rocketed out of control in just a week, but as I’ve also devoted more hours than he wants to admit to the shmups of Cave and Zun, I think I’m in a good position to explain the connection. 

The boss of a bullet hell game expels a terrifying barrage of bullets at the player, and it is only through sheer skill, concentration, and pattern memorisation that you, the player, can find a narrow route to victory. 

But what if, instead of your underpowered player ship, you played as that boss? That the overwhelming firepower belongs to you? That’s what a bullet heaven game can make you feel. 

These two genres are fundamentally different. Bullet heaven is a character building genre. There are decisions to make in how you upgrade your character, but there’s very little dodging or aiming, which are the elements that make up the core of any shmup. 

Anyway, if I wanted to leave things on a confusing note, I might refer you to the series of bullet hell shmups called Bullet Heaven:

Buy Bullet Heaven 2 on Steam

JRPG Collection Monster Taming Collection

What is Jade Cocoon

An RPG about the coexistence of humans and nature, with a cocoon master who traps monsters in a cocoon.

Katsuya Kondo, artist for Jade Cocoon (Interview)

Jade Cocoon in One Minute

Key points

This fondly remembered series started with Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu on the PS1 in 1991, which has one sequel. 

Jade Cocoon 1 Japanese box art
The Japanese box art for the first Jade Cocoon game

This eye-catching box art shows off the first thing that made people fall in love with these games, which is:

The art of Katsuya Kondō, a character designer from Studio Ghibli

Considered a top animator in the Japanese film industry, helping bring classics such as Kiki’s Delivery Service to life, the Jade Cocoon duology are the only games Kondo has lent his talents to. 

Jade Cocoon art book cover by Katsuya Kondo
The cover image of Katsuya Kondo’s Jade Cocoon artbook

In addition to the artwork, the first Jade Cocoon is loved by fans for:

Monster fusion based on dynamic merging of monster polygons and textures

The first monster selected to be merged contributes its shape, and the second monster contributes its texture, and additional modifiers also affect the final monster’s appearance.

The monsters that you fight with are therefore not ones that have been entirely hand-crafted by the developers, but ones that have been generated uniquely according to your choices.

To this day, this system of monster generation is something no popular monster raising game has attempted.

A rich fantasy world and an emotional story

Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei games were set in the real world, but Jade Cocoon combines monster raising with a more traditional JRPG narrative and aesthetic.

This new combination was a stated goal of the development team:

We had two goals. One was to create an immersive story world, and the other was to provide compelling monster-raising gameplay. In this way, the game would be both stylistically and technically unlike anything else on the market.

Gaku Tamura or Shinya Kozaki, director and scriptwriter respectively (Interview)

The characters of Jade Cocoon start the game at the cusp of adulthood, and face life changes including marriage and undertaking dangerous work for their town. The people they meet are grappling with their own situations and pasts.

The story concerns the events of a single town and the surrounding woodlands, the perils they face and the suffering of the characters for the sake of their fellow townspeople. 

Clashes between the town and forest occur throughout the story, sometimes with tragic consequences.

If we pursue the theme of people and nature, we have no choice but to be conscious of “Princess Mononoke.” You can’t help but be affected.

Katsuya Kondo, artist for Jade Cocoon (Interview)

Exploring the forests of Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu

In keeping with the theme of humans coexisting with nature, forests are the dungeons of these games. They are rich with natural variety and detail.

These forests, where the majority of gameplay takes place, are where the player meets the monsters, called “divine beasts”, which can be captured in cocoons after they are weakened.

The monsters grow in size as they level up. They have an elemental attribute, be of the earth, fire, water or air elements (or a combination).

Here are four monsters, one for each element:

The atmosphere the forests is enhanced by the music of Kimitaka Matsumae, who says:

The world of Jade Cocoon is a wonderland like Asia and Africa, so I tried using Asian and African techno.”

Kimitaka Matsumae, composer (Interview)

Jade Cocoon 2

Jade Cocoon 2 Japanese box art
The Japanese box art for Jade Cocoon 2

Jade Cocoon 2 was released in 2001. In Japan, it had a subtitle that can be translated as “Insect of Destruction” but lacked a subtitle for international release.

Both Jade Cocoon game have their own strenths and weaknesses, though they also have a lot of shared themes.

In general, these are some of the common views on the sequel compared to the first game:

  • Less focus on story, more lighthearted, questionable voice acting quality
  • Lacking dynamic monster fusion 
  • Adds a more interesting battle system where three monsters at a time take action, and in total a ring of up to eight monsters are brought into battle in total

Both games have an endless endgame dungeon called the Eternal Corridor where the player can continue to raise and fight their monsters to their heart’s content:

Series at a glance


Even 30 years later, Jade Cocoon has remained in in the hearts of fans as a unique experience that other monster raising games have been unable to repeat. You can find those fans online in the following communities:

Similar Games

If you like Jade Cocoon, you will probably like:

  1. Persona 3, 4 and 5: “mature” JRPG stories with monster taming
Two monsters about to be fused in Persona 3
Two monsters about to be fused in Persona 3
  1. Ni No Kuni 1 and 2: “Studio Ghibli style” visuals in a monster taming JRPG
Oddworld Collection

What Is Oddworld?

Oddworld started with in 1997 with the 2D cinematic platformer Abe’s Odyssey

There are five major games in the series, the latest released in 2021. 

All titles are set in the eponymous Oddworld, a world of non-human characters and unusual (often deadly) animals and wildlife.

Among other things, the Oddworld series is known for:

1. A world of fantastical and exaggerated landscapes, of natural and industrial varieties:

2. A mix of puzzle and action-based platforming, sometimes involving the ability to control your enemies, and often with the goal of saving groups of other characters:

3. A long-term series plan and development history with twists and turns, including several cancelled games that have attracted fan attention

The mainline Oddworld games cover multiple genres. The series went into a long hiatus after the release of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath and returned with a reboot of the series.

Release Date
Abe’s Oddysee
2D Cinematic Platormer
Sep 1997
Abe’s Exoddus
2D Cinematic Platormer
Nov 1998
Munch’s Oddysee
3D Puzzle Platformer
Nov 2001
Munch & Abe
Stranger’s Wrath
Jan 2005
Abe’s Oddysee: New ‘n’ Tasty
2D Cinematic Platformer
Jul 2014
2D Cinematic Platformer
Nov 2022

A quirk of the Oddworld series is the plan for a five-game “quintology”.

However, which games are canonical entries into the quintology may not be immediately apparent. 

Abe’s Exoddus, though the second game in the series, is not considered the second entry into the quintology, but rather a bonus game. Similarly, Stranger’s Wrath is set in Oddworld but is not considered a part of the Quintology. Therefore, prior the series hiatus, there were only two games in the quintology: Abe’s Oddysee and Munch’s Oddysee.

This changed with the New ‘N’ Tasty, which was a reboot of the series. Now the series looks like this:

Abe’s Oddysee
Abe’s Exoddus
Bonus Game
Munch’s Oddysee
Stranger’s Wrath
Bonus Game
Abe’s Oddysee: New ‘n’ Tasty
A remake of Abe’s Oddysee and a reboot of the series.
A loose retelling of the story of Abe’s Exoddus


The hero of the majority of the games is the hapless Abe of the humanoid Mudoken species:

However, in two games different heroes have taken the role of protagonist, as per the above table.

Also, the species that work, roam and rule in Oddworld are almost as important characters as the heroes themselves.


The themes present in Oddworld games include:

  • slapstick humour
  • environmentalist heroes vs industrialist villains
  • exploitation and resistance of a slave class.

Oddworld also doesn’t shy away from some gruesome and disturbing imagery, as you will see in any of the game’s “bad endings”.


The first game in the series established a few iconic gameplay features, demonstrated by these short game clips:

Possessing enemies

Commanding helpless (ocassionally helpful) allies with “GameSpeak” and leading them to rescue

Most future games in the series (but not all) used both of these features to varying degrees.

With the exception of Stranger’s Wrath, all games in the series have multiple endings. This started in Abe’s Oddessey, where if you failed to rescue at least 50 out of 99 Mudokens then Abe meets a grizzly fate at the of the game. 

Starting with Munch’s Oddessey, your success at rescuing the unfortunate captives of each level is called Quarma, and sometimes you will not be able to pay the final levels of the games without passing a Quarma threshold. 

The best of Oddworld

The first two games in the series are usually considered the high point in the franchise and the true classics. When it comes to fan-reaction, we would estimate the following (I have not included New ‘N’ Tasty is it is a fairy faithful recreation of Abe’s Oddysee):

Abe’s Oddysee*****
Abe’s Exoddus*****
Munch’s Oddysee***
Stranger’s Wrath****

Oddworld’ best-known creators are Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, and most of the games are developed by Oddworld Inhabitants.

We have said that atmosphere is key to the appeal of Oddworld, and with that in mind we can not overstate the importance of the music of Ellen Meijers and Josh Gabrie that so effectively sets the tone of the series starting with the first game:

Starting with Stranger’s Wrath, Michael Bross take on the duty of creating the Oddworld soundscape, with tracks that are both familiar and distinct:

Everything else

As well as the five main games already mentioned, there are two more minor games that are rarely spoken of:

Release Date
Initial Platform
Oddworld Adventures
Dec 1998
Game Boy
Oddworld Adventures 2
Jan 2000
Game Boy Color

Oddworld community

The Oddworld series has seen moderate success and has retained a following of dedicated fans that commune in the following online spaces:

You can find out more about Oddworld via:

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