Friday 15 April 2011

Zero Wing

I don't know about you, but if I were on the way to destruction after war began in 2101, I think I'd prefer a spaceship with a wing.

But who am I to dictate the engineering standards of ninety years in the future? I shall instead review the infamous Zero Wing, a 1991 Sega Mega Drive port of the 1989 arcade game. It's a horizontal shoot-'em-up whose fanbase mostly exists of people who get their thrills from poor sentence structure. It's a also game great.

People knock Zero Wing for its weak understanding of the English language, but they forget two fairly important reasons as to why this game is so great. Firstly, it's from the makers of Truxton, Toaplan, and comes from that brief moment in history were Japan were willing to give Sega's consoles great games. Second, it wasn't released in America, but it was in Europe, which I interpret as a gift to me personally... even if I didn't play this game until nobody cared.

Of course it's not just a game for the Sega fans. Japanese consumers could run this on their TurboGrafx-CD (well... PC Engine CD), though even with the futuristic and mind-boggling technology of compact disc audio, it still somehow manages to sound worse than Sega's version. And of course as it started off life in arcades, that version is arguably the best version of all... though again, my vote goes to Sega.

My opinion on the US gaming media is not one that's particularly positive, but a quick trip to Wikipedia shows that in 2006 GameTrailers took a Squirrel award for incompetence by rating Zero Wing as the seventh worst video game of all time. These sorts of things represent an insult to the gaming community, demonstrating that despite trailering the majority of video games announced after their creation, they've yet to sit down and play many of them.

Contrary to popular belief it is not a crime to have a poor English translation in a game intended for the Japanese public, and even though the kids ruined the script by echoing it repeatedly across message boards for a decade, it is, at its roots, an entertaining piece of work, and it attracted a generation of new gamers to play a great little shooter from years long past. Zero Wing has done nothing wrong in its life to warrant a bad score, and though I wouldn't claim it's the best shooter on record, in 1991 it was a fair contender for one of the best on the Mega Drive

The most attractive thing about Zero Wing is its soundtrack, something that I feel was probably taken for granted after it was unearthed again by the internet in 2001. Toaplan's selection of music tracks typically aren't brilliant. They're not bad, but, as I mentioned in my Truxton review, often feel a bit misplaced. Zero Wing's bucks the trend by being excellent throughout, and as I said, the Mega Drive version often outperforms its arcade and TurboGrafx-CD counterparts. This is a good thing.

But what isn't so good is the generic nature of Zero Wing. It follows that boring "primary colour weapon" rule, giving you the option of the RED POWERUP, the GREEN POWERUP or the BLUE POWERUP, each of which are upgradable and fairly predictable in nature. You can get bombs, the extra mini-ships that triple your firepower, but it's nothing that hasn't been seen before.

Zero Wing has but one clever feature - the ability to grab small enemies and use them as a temporary sheild/weapon. Similar to the Galaga, but in reverse (so more like Gaplus). It's not a feature that comes in very handy, however, as the majority of the game sees you holding down the fire button to survive, quickly eliminating any smaller ships that you may have used in this way.

The game essentially puts you up against a few sets of horizontally scrolling stages paired with bosses of all shapes and sizes. It's a game that puts up a fight, but it's not a game that offers a groundbreaking, never-before-seen shoot-'em-up experience. Zero Wing arguably wouldn't really be worth caring about if it weren't for its soundtrack and introduction sequence. However, it's a solid shooter which will probably float more boats in the sea of hardcore shoot-'em-up fans.

Zero Wing is also punishingly difficult, so it's not one for beginners. I struggled to beat the second stage. Graphically it suffers from the same problems as many early Mega Drive games and looks a bit weak in comparison to the standard of titles seen towards the mid-1990s. It can't be blamed for these shortcomings, but like Truxton they can't be ignored either, because we know there are better examples of what the Mega Drive's graphics chips could do out there.

Despite potentially being a bit lackluster for some, I think Zero Wing is certainly a game to look out for if you can get it at the right price. It is literally tens of thousands of places away from being crowned the "seventh worst video game ever", and of course has one of the most talked about introduction sequences ever. Be the envy of all your friends by setting up us the bomb and taking off every "Zig".

1 comment:

  1. Fair enough review I guess but there's no mistaking that there is so much that is so damn average about this game that it makes me sick.

    The fact that it is rediculously hard and unbelievably jarring in the audio/visual departments leads me to the only possible conclusion I can come to.

    It's crap.