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CONSOLE: Sega Mega Drive DEVELOPER: Toaplan PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (EU): May 31, 1991 GENRE: Shmup
// review by SoyBomb

Breathtaking historic cinematic experience (plus bonus space shooter)!

Listen, I know you came here to hear about one thing and one thing only, so let's get it out of the way.

Yes, it's that poorly-translated Engrish masterpiece that caused an internet overflow of people proclaiming at all of someone's something are belong to them. That's just swell. Way to be clever. But little did you know that there is actually a game behind all this mistranslated madness. That's right: when the Captain told the crew to take off a whole bunch of Zigs, he meant for you to take control of one and take down the CATS Empire, which is basically comprised of some weird alien race that wishes to destroy the planetary bases of Earth. Apparently, they sneakily teamed up with the United Nations to get this accomplished, proving that the U.N. is very gullible, or at least it will be in 2101 A.D. That explains why war was beginning. Anyway, once you get past the nasty translation job, you'll find that there is indeed a shmup (or, in laygamer's terms, a side-scrolling space shooter) hidden after the title screen. Granted, it's not exactly the cream of the crop in terms of shmups, but it's definitely a decent experience.

Anyway, the presentation is pretty self-explanatory; you probably will only need to really know about one or two things from the manual before you become a master of your ship. Your missions take place in various "areas" in space; someone opted to name them, but I'm not sure how yet. As you fly along in your stylish zig, you will be able to shoot down large eggplant-shaped crafts that reveal powerups. Collecting powerups of the same colour will allow you to give that weapon a current boost (of course, collecting a different type of weapon upgrade than the one you already have will switch you over, but sorry, no significant boost). The red powerup gives you a scatter shot, typical and nothing particularly special. The blue powerup will give you the laser weapon, which is useful but requires you to be a bit more accurate with your firing due to the thin nature of a laser beam. When will we invent FAT lasers? So many shmup enemies have them, so why can't the good guys? Anyway, the green powerup is my favourite -- homing missiles! Yes, just let them go and focus more on avoiding all the irritating projectiles flying around on screen. You can power these up to Level 3, but if you are a great player, perhaps a Level 4 powerup will appear... Other powerups available include a speed booster to get you to fly around faster, and a bomb that attaches to the front of your zig that you can fire off into the distance to create a massive supernova explosion. One other thing to note is that you have a tractor beam that, contrary to its name, does NOT attract tractors, but instead allows you to snatch up a renegade ship and toss it back at the others. Don't ask how this is done so quickly in space, but it just is.

Other than all that, there isn't really much else worth mentioning about Zero Wing, to be honest. It definitely has that generic feel to it. The bosses aren't particularly clever, though they are occasionally rather crusty-looking; they merely end up tossing more projectiles at you than you can possibly shake a stick at. There isn't much in terms of challenging obstacles to overcome in terms of level design, which was hurtful at the time because so many other shmups have much more going for them. The difficulty level is there, but it's still all a matter of dodging bullets over seeing some cool effects or some well-planned action, which can only be fun for so long. The graphics are alright for an early Sega Genesis game, but nothing really pops out. Why are so many projectiles purple leafy things? Perhaps the best graphics are in the introductory cutscene, which bears the appearance of a standard anime sequence, but that's it. The sound quality is actually not bad; music is forgettable but enjoyable. The constant ship explosions can be a bit of a nuisance on the eardrums, but blame the Genesis sound processor for that one. Sega went cheap on that thing, and boy, did their games suffer, including this one. Every ship explosion sounds like somebody poked you in the ear with steel wool. Shrillo Brillo, if you will. The strangest part is the ending; when you beat the game the first time on Easy mode, this is what you get:

What is this? Dancing prunes? Looks like someone had a vendetta against the California Raisins and just put them in this game for torture purposes. A few of them make their own facial expressions to indicate weird emotions, or possibly gas pain. But it just doesn't make any sense. The second and third endings (for playing through twice more) are a bit more standard, although again, the last ending features a prune guy that inflates himself in space and smiles at the camera like we give a damn. Never serve alcohol to game designers on the job; this is what you end up with.

Zero Wing is only on our radar because CATS said, "All your base are belong to us." Nobody cares about the actual game that goes with the introduction, not just because it is overshadowed by the Engrish, but also because the game lacks any outstanding features. It does what it set out to do -- make you fly around in a zig and destroy ships without a clear purpose -- and that's it. North American gamers didn't get the chance to play this one, but Europeans were not fortunate enough to escape. However, it has gained a huge cult following and now there are numerous folks Stateside that want a piece of this action. Not me, though. Not me.


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