Scrolling shooter

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An early scrolling shooter, 1942.

A scrolling shooter is a genre of video game and an extension the classic 2D shooter genre. In scrolling shooters, the player controls a character in the game (frequently represented as a space ship, plane, etc.) which they view from a third-person perspective, and are able to maneuver it around the screen shooting at enemies as the background scrolls behind them. The earliest scrolling shooters were just classic 2D shooters with pixel stars or background sprites that flew past the player, creating the illusion of movement, but, as they progressed, full scrolling backgrounds were added. This was entirely cosmetic, but, as the genre became more defined, the designers introduced new mechanics that aren't present in non-scrolling shooters, like the ability to become crushed as the backgrounds moved off the screen.

The scrolling shooter is one of the earlier video game genres showing up with titles like Avenger (1975), Ozma Wars (1979), and Scramble (1981).

One of the very first video games I ever saw, River Raid, was a scrolling shooter, and it helped cement my love for the genre for many years. Also, scrolling shooters are pretty easy to program, so I have written several scrolling shooter engines in various programming languages. However, I now view scrolling shooters to be a rather inferior genre. Generally what ends up happening in most of them is the difficulty ramps up by increasing the number of enemies and bullets, so the games are based almost entirely on twitchy reflexes and memorization of when and where enemies spawn to kill them before they fill the screen with bullets. I prefer scrolling shooters that incorporate adventure or strategy elements like Raptor: Call of the Shadows which includes the accumulation of money and buying ship upgrades to make subsequent levels a little easier.


There are several different variables which can affect how the scrolling shooter plays out.


Scrolling shooters all use a third-person perspective, but the direction they view the player's character can change.

Some games change the perspective throughout the game, like Life Force which alternates between side-view and top-down as you proceed through the levels.

Scrolling Direction

  • Straight (horizontal or vertical): The screen scrolls in a single direction, either horizontally or vertically. Examples: Gradius, Raiden, Scramble.
  • Diagonal: The screen scrolls both horizontally and vertically at the same time. Examples: Zaxxon.
  • 360 Degrees: The screen scrolls in all directions based on player movement. Examples: Raid On Bungeling Bay.

Some games alternate the scrolling direction like Vanguard which changes between horizontal, vertical, and diagonal.

Automatic Scrolling

Some scrolling shooters automatically scroll the background without the player's influence, while others allow the player to have partial or complete control of the scrolling.

  • Automatic: The screen scrolls without player control. Examples: 1942.
  • Partial Control: The player has some control over the scrolling, but can never stop it. Examples: River Raid.
  • Complete Control: The player can completely control when scrolling occurs. Examples: Defender.


There are sub-genres to scrolling shooters as well which are based primarily on the content.

  • Bullet Hell: These games feature an obscene amount of bullets being shot all over the screen that the player must avoid. Examples: DonPachi, Toho.
  • Cute 'Em Up: Named as a play on "shoot 'em up," these are shooters which use cutesy graphics. Examples: Parodius, TwinBee.


These are scrolling shooters that are important to me. For the complete list, see the category.

Title Released Perspective Direction Scrolling Notes
Defender 1981-??-?? Side-view Horizontal Complete
Guerrilla War (NES) 1988-12-26 Top-down Vert, horz Complete A run-and-gun style, but not a platform shooter.
Life Force 1986-07-04 Side, top Horz, vert Automatic
Raiden 1990-??-?? Top-down Vertical Automatic
Raptor: Call of the Shadows 1994-04-01 Top-down Vertical Automatic Uses money and upgrade systems.
River Raid 1982-??-?? Top-down Vertical Partial The very first video game I can remember seeing.
Section-Z (NES) 1987-05-25 Side-view Horizontal Automatic Adds exploration elements.
Silpheed: Super Dogfighter 1986-12-05 Over-the-shoulder Vertical Automatic Uses a pseudo-3D perspective.
Sopwith 1984-??-?? Side-view Horizontal Partial
Spy Hunter 1983-??-?? Top-down Vertical Complete Uses a less-common driving theme.
Vanguard 1981-??-?? Side, top Horz, vert, diagonal Automatic


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