How I approach 1CC for new shmups

I tend to only play shmups to clear them with one credit, and not really play for score. As I’ve cleared more games (currently at around 30 shmup 1CC’s), I’ve improved my methods for learning how to clear games, so I thought I’d write some of this down as a short guide of sorts.

This is not really meant as a beginners guide to shmups, but rather a guide for how to improve quicky once you’ve figured out the basic fundamentals.

Disclaimer: This purely focuses on survival, and is probably not applicable for playing for score.

Starting a new game

If you want to clear a game for the first time, i suggest that you start off by playing a few credits, and then get some basic info about how to approach it from someone familiar with the game. This can be the shmups forum or one of the shmup discords. Some stuff that’s good to know:

  • What is the best ship-type/weapon option? (use that)
  • Are there any fixed hidden extends?
  • Any important safe spots to avoid hard patterns?
  • Do I need external autofire (or autofire button).
  • Are there any special mechanics of the game that you need to know about. Some examples would be rank management in Ibara and Supershot in Mushihimesama.
  • Anything else that you become curious about when you’ve tried out the game.
Asking for help is easy. Do it.

Once you have that basic info, just credit feed through the game a few (maybe three or so) times to at least see all the levels. Don’t worry about how you perform at this point, this is just to see how long the game is and what stuff is to be encountered.

At this point, I recommend just playing the game for a few more hours to get a general feel for the game. This means getting familiar with how the ship moves, how big the hitbox is, how the weapons work and so on.

Don’t spend too much time on this, but a few hours is probably good before more focused practice.

Starting practice

Practicing shmups can basically be broken down into three methods. Full Runs, Stage Practice and Save State Practice. You want to do all of these to some extent, but for different reasons.

Starting Full Runs

Since the end goal is to clear the game on one credit, you will want to do some full runs. Just don’t have the expectations to get very far in the beginning. Once you have a basic feel for the game, I recommend just sticking to one credit at the time. This will mean that you will have to play the first few stages a lot of times, but this is actually good in the beginning. You want to get to a point where the first stages feel easy, and you can save resources for later stages without challenge.

If you realize that you keep dieing on the same spot several times (maybe the first boss), you should jump over to Save State Practice, until you’ve figured out how to survive that spot, then go back to doing runs.

Save state practice

Unless you have access to one of the very few ports that have save state support (just the M2 Shottrigger ports I think?), you want to practice a lot in Mame. Save state practive will always be more effective since you can drill hard sections over and over.

Let’s say that you started doing runs, but in almost every run you die once to the first boss. Load the game in mame, set a save state at the start of the boss and keep practicing until you have a strategy for it. If a specific pattern is giving you issues, set up a save state at that pattern and do it over and over. Eventually you will know how to handle it, and can go back to doing runs.

Dodonpachi Save States. Naming them can help a bit, but sometimes I just use letters.

At this point learning should just follow keep following the format:

  • Do some full runs
  • Figure out where you die
  • Practice those spots with save states until they feel easy
  • Repeat


At this point, you should have a pretty good understanding how the game works, and what is hard. Even for really old games though, there’s often very little good information to find, and you’ll have to discover stuff for yourself. If you find a problematic section, experiment with different potentially unusual ways to approach it, and you might find new routes that works well for you. Make sure to share these with the shmups community.

S2 Turrets in Mahou Daisakusen. Most people say to bomb these, but this is easy.
Tank safe spot practice in Esp Ra.De. I have never seen this in online videos, but found it when playing around.

Resource management or… what about spots that never become easy?

Even with practice, there will always be sections that are just hard. Maybe there’s a boss pattern that even with practice only you have a 50% success rate on. These are spots where you will want to plan your bombs or similar resources. Make plans for stages so you know how many bombs you can expect to have at a specific point, and plan how you use them. It’s probably good to leave some headroom for “panic bombs”.

Example of safety bombing Grubby in Batrider.

Take note of when bomb refills show up. You want to setup planned bombs before the refills to maximize your resource usage.

Example of planning bombs against S3 boss in Donpachi, before bomb refill.

Some games will have non bomb resources to manage. One example of this is Espgaluda 1 and 2 where you will both have a Bomb (energy) meter and a Kakusei meter where both can be used for survival purposes. Plan for this!

Survival strats for Espgaluda 2 which requires Gem and Bomb management.

The rest of the high-level plan

Once you’ve identified problem spots and figured out how to use your resources I recommend writing down a brief high-level plan for how to go through the game under ideal circumstances. This plan should not have a lot of detail and should have some headroom for eventual mistakes, since you are unlikely to play perfectly.

Keep this extremely short, since you’ll want to have this memorized anyways. This should not be a full plan for routing. One example can look like this (for Dangun Feveron).

Stage 1: Don't bomb. Easy
Stage 2: Target central part of boss. Bomb phase 2.
Stage 3:
- Bomb section before boss if scary. 
- Bomb boss phase 1 up to two times.
- Dodge boss phase 2.
- Bomb boss phase 3.
- Should end stage with no death, and about  2 bombs in stock.
Stage 4: 
- Bomb after turrets.
- Delay next Item Carrier.
- Bomb part afterwards.
- Maybe bomb Boss phase 1. Bomb phase 2 and charge.
- Will probably die once.
- Should be at one death, some bombs in stock at end.
Stage 5:
- Bomb anything scary.
- Delay item carriers.
- Reach boss with 1 spare life for timeout strat.
- Setup timeout strat.

Note that this doesn’t cover anything about routing how to deal with enemy waves. It’s just a high level summary. That said… you should still do some routing.

Routing the game (with Stage Practice)

When you have a high level plan, you will want to route the individual stages. This is where I typically start doing full stage practices. Set up a save state at the start of each stage where you have the ideal setup in terms of bombs/lives from your high-level plan. Then try to figure out a route through the stage that allows you to stick to the plan.

This often means memorizing enemy spawns, where and how to move and just overall how to survive. Use Save State practice to figure out smaller parts, and then fit it together until you can do the full stages with some success. You do not need to be able to consistently do this with the later stages. As an example, I have “No Miss No Bombed” Stage 4 in Ketsui exactly once in practice mode, and never in any runs, but still got the 1CC just fine.

I’m happy to have NMNB’d that stage even once…

Once you have an overall strategy for the individual stages, go back to doing full runs.

Just keep doing runs…

Now you should know how to beat the individual parts of the game… so it’s time to string it together. Do full runs and hope to hit a run where everything just fits together. It can be beneficial to try an hit a 2CC first, since that is typically significantly easier and a good step towards the goal.

If you hit more painpoints, you can go back and do some save stating of course, but at this point, just doing runs to increase consistency with them is good. Doing full runs has the benefit of also allowing you to practice recovery from mistakes, since it’s rare to have a perfect run.

Eventually you will hit a point where you are pretty close to beating the game. This tends to mean that you will eventually have several great runs where you get extremely close to beating it, but dieing while the boss has just a little life less, which can feel disheartening, but this is a huge step towards the goal!

At this point, it’s just all about doing more runs, and increasing consistency. Keep playing the game, and eventually you’ll have a great run and beat it!


Ibara 1CC

Ibara was the first Cave game developed by Shinobu Yagawa (known for earlier games like Batrider and Battle Garegga). It was initially released in 2005 for the Cave CV1K arcade platform, and later ported to PS2. It’s consider one of the harder Cave games, and great fun both when playing for score and survival.

1CC capture from January 2020 – Played on original PCB

My first time playing this game was actually in some Akihabara game centers, since I happened to visit Tokyo in 2005 around the release of the game. Unsurprisingly it completely destroyed me though, and I don’t think I managed to beat the second stage.

Poster advertising Ibara in a Tokyo Game Center in 2005.

I then bought this game back when it was released for PS2, and still have the game and booklet. The port lacks a lot of the arcade slowdown, and has some graphical issues. It’s still one of the more expensive PS2 titles on online auctions nowadays though.

Clearing this in one credit took me several months, where the last few weeks was just me getting destroyed in the last stage. Felt great to finally clear it.

Stuff from collection

Ibara PCB
Ibara PS2 Port
Ibara PS2 Poster
Ibara PS2 limited booklet

Survival 1CC strategies

A lot of Ibara is about rank management, and I actually played this wrong, thinking that avoiding medal chaining was beneficial for keeping rank low. In practice, it is better to medal chain and suicide spare lives to keep rank low.

The biggest tip is to never hit two spare lives in Ibara before the last stage. As soon as you are getting close to hitting an extend, run into a bullet to go down to the last life, since this will lower rank a lot. On the last stage, it’s fine to extend up to two spare lives, since it helps with staying alive.

Other good tips for rank management is:

  • Don’t pick up more power up items once at max power
  • Don’t pick up more option items once at max power
  • Make sure to go down to zero spare lives before you get your first extend (preferrably close to when you get the extend, but doesn’t matter too much).
  • Machine gun increases rank a lot less than other options, so consider using that for easier sections at least.

Other good tips:

Activating Hadou Gun will create an Aura Flash which can cancel bullets. This means that activating a Hadou, and keeping it pressed can be used to get out of tight situations. Then release once you want the Hadou to fire.

Never bomb when playing for survival. Store bombs for Hadou Gun.

Learn the safe strat at the start of the S2 boss (4:15 in video at top).

Learn the Double Hadou into triple Bomb setup on stage 5 (see 13:09 in video) to spend two bombs to get three back.

Hitting a Hadou at the edge of certain sprites does massive damage and will cancel entire boss phases (15:20 in video for an example).

A lot of the game is bomb management to allow for Hadou Gun usage on the last two bosses, since they are crazy hard without it.


Espgaluda 1CC

Espgaluda was developed by Cave in 2003 on PGM hardware and was later ported to PS2. It was one of the first Cave game I played, and much later also the first one I cleared on one credit, so I’ll start this blog by writing a bit about it.

1CC capture from June 2020 – Played on PGM conversion cart.

I picked this game up for PS2 some time around 2004, when I had very little experience with shmups. Arika did an amazing job porting it to PS2, and it’s still sitting in my shelf. I always kept dieing on the last boss back then though, and eventually gave up.

Much later in 2015, a nice dude at my office brought an Astro City cab to work, and I was able to play it during breaks. Since I’ve played around with a bunch of other shmups then, it wasn’t too long until I finally managed to clear it.

My initial 1CC from 2015

Later on in 2020, I ended up building a PGM conversion cartridge of this game, and getting a video capture of a more recent 1CC (video on top of page). It’s an enjoyable game that’s definitely easy by Cave standards, which makes it a nice game for beginners.

The scoring doesn’t rely on long chains, but rather on individual big cancels, which I enjoy. Shoot enemies to get gems, use gems to activate Kakusei mode and kill big enemies for big juicy cancels.

Stuff from the collection

Since the arcade version can be replicated easily with conversion PGM carts, I do not own the original PCBs for Espgaluda. I’d rather spend that money on other PCBs.

Espgaluda PS2 port
PGM conversion PCBs
Espgaluda PS2 Poster
PGM conversion cart

Some survival 1CC Strategies

Ageha is the easier character to clear the game with, since the focused shot takes down bigger enemies quicker, and the spread shot of Tateha doesn’t really do much for survival. Timestamps below are for the video at the top of the post.

Stage 1:
Not a lot of survival threats on this stage, including the boss. Once you hit phase 2 of the boss, activate Kakusei Overmode until the overmode meter is maximized (see 2:15). This will give more gems later on.

Stage 2:
Even if just playing for survival, try to hit some Kakusei cancels on the bigger enemies, to make sure to hit the score extends (which should not really be a problem). Midboss has huge gaps between bullets, so easy to dodge. Killing the front train carts will cancel all on-screen bullets.
Some tricky patterns. The first one (5:48) should just be practiced until it’s no longer a threat. After that, just focus on staying in the middle, and consider Kakusei canceling at end of phase 1.
Phase 2 is trivial to dodge (6:03), but Phase 3 is surprisingly tricky, and should be bombed if it becomes too scary (there’s a bomb refill S3 anyways).

Stage 3:
Easy up until midboss. Kakusei cancel trains for big points. Midboss is also easy. For Phase 1 (8:13), just stay close to the middle, doing small dodges. Phase 2 is aimed , so just dodge left or right after it shoots. For the later section, make sure to build up gems on the smaller enemies. Use Kakusei when in a tight spot as a survival strat (see video, whenever things get dangerous, I just do some small Kakusei cancels). The big propellers are full-screen bullet cancels, so you can plan those in. Make sure to save up enough gems to comfortably hit the fixed extend (shoot it with Kakusei on, see 10:25).
Boss (10:35)
Phase 1 needs to be practiced enough so that you’re comfortable with the patterns, and when to fly up between the horizontal bullet waves. Not too bad though.
Phase 2 is made easier if you have enough gems to Kakusei the first part, you might still want to bomb if the second part gets scary.
Phase 3 is a good practice pattern for typical bullet hell dodging. With some practice, going through this is not bad at all. Worst case, just bomb.

Stage 4
First section is not too bad, just Kakusei cancel all big enemies and get gems from the smaller ones. The midboss however is pretty tricky, and I almost always have to bomb it (like in the video). The huge red enemies post midboss are very scary without Kakusei, so try to use it there if you can. I often end up dieing once here, but somehow manage to survive in the video.
Boss (15:21)
The hardest parts of Phase 1 is the transition to the top (around 15:37) and then back to the bottom. Just save state practice this a lot. For phase 2, try to go back and forth between the initial turrents to limit the bullets. For Phase 3, just bomb if you have stock available (I did not, but it worked out).

Stage 5-1
Like most games, this is a big difficulty spike, but not as bad as in some of the games. Make sure to Kakusei big threats, and bomb aggressively to save lives for the later parts. There’s a pretty early bomb refill, so bomb any early threats (I died instead). The section until the midboss is quite short luckily.
Boss (19:05)
The first pattern is a bit tricky, so Kakusei helps a lot. When she shoots out the circular firing ball, try to stick close to it to hit it with the laser while going around it. After that, you may have to bomb the last section since it gets pretty fast. Phase 2 is really rough, so just charge up a big bomb (if available) to take her down without having to worry about it.

Stage 5-2
The Alice-clone section is real rough. Practicing it a bit to memorize the bad parts makes sense, but in general… just Bomb and Kakusei when it’s scary. At least this is also very short.
Boss 1 (21:57)
Most of Espgaludas difficulty is in the end boss, but Phase 1 of the first boss is not too bad. Use the “Wings” on the side for bullet cancels, but leave one alive since the patterns get harder if all of them are destroyed. Phase 2, just Kakusei and/or Bomb.
Boss 2 (22:54)
Ok, now the real fun starts… Phase 1 is easy to doge without Kakusei, so just save your gems there. Phase 2 is fine until the last part which can be bombed/Kakusei’d. The last phase starts out with big gaps in the bullets, and a very simple Alice clone pattern. After that, Kakusei/Bomb if available.
Boss 3 (24:26)
Hopefully you saved up some spare lives, cause at this point, the easiest way to get the 1CC is to just Kakusei until the gems run out when you die, and then bomb repeatedly. The last pattern has no randomness, so it makes sense to try and memorize it a bit, and work on crossing the streams. When things get too scary, bomb while quickly moving to the side of the screen, avoiding the boss, since bombs will heal him. The last pattern is a huge difficulty spike, so expect to die to this several times before getting the clear.


Why this blog?

I’ve been playing Shmups on and off for about 20 years, and have a decent collection, and felt I wanted to post a bit about it somewhere.

I used to be pretty casual about these games, and only recently got serious about 1CC’ing (one credit clearing) them, and have been recording videos of the gameplay sessions and putting it on Youtube.

This blog will probably be a mix of general thoughts about shmups, pictures of stuff from my collection, videos of 1CC’s with commentary and other content.

Mostly this blog exists due to me wanting to share some stuff around this hobby.

/ buffi@