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Zero Wing (Genesis) artwork

Zero Wing (Genesis) review


"If there’s ever been a reason to hate nerds, Zero Wing is it. I have nothing against the actual game, as it’s a reasonably competent Genesis port of what I’d guess was a reasonably decent arcade game. No, what I hate is the absurd amount of notoriety this game has received SOLELY due to a pre-game cutscene featuring inexplicably poor attempts at utilizing the English language. "


If there’s ever been a reason to hate nerds, Zero Wing is it. I have nothing against the actual game, as it’s a reasonably competent Genesis port of what I’d guess was a reasonably decent arcade game. No, what I hate is the absurd amount of notoriety this game has received SOLELY due to a pre-game cutscene featuring inexplicably poor attempts at utilizing the English language.

You open on a large ship with a subordinate excitedly babbling that, “Someone set up us the bomb!” That someone (the bizarrely-named “CATS”) soon pops onto the screen, declaring that “All your base are belong to us.” Hilarity ensues as cackling nerds repeatedly belch out those two lines, as well as a couple of other ones -- possibly as a defense mechanism to ward off deep thoughts such as, “You know, I’m still a virgin and I’ve never even kissed a girl.....ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!!!!! HAHAHAHA!!!!!!”

The funny thing is that, despite my irrational hatred of all that tomfoolery, I found myself begrudgingly admitting that I had my fair share of fun moments playing Zero Wing. It’s not an exceptional shooter, but it is well-designed, loaded with bosses and fairly long. In a departure from what genre fans would expect from Toaplan (manic, vertically-scrolling action), this game prefers to move at a nice, relaxed pace from left to right. While a scant few areas truly match the claustrophobic splendor of R-Type, it’s obvious that game was the inspiration for much of Zero Wing, as you spend a good deal of time going through enemy bases while dodging the various attacks of enemies placed in tricky spots.

However, unlike R-Type, you get a weapon designed for the purpose of making many of these challenging areas very easy. While I’m sure the spread gun and the laser have their merits, it’s impossible for me to justify their use over that of the homing attack. Able to curve around walls, this gun will make short work of enemies located in those spots where the other two weapons are powerless to help. As you power it up to its third (and highest level), you’ll watch waves of green bullets speeding above, below and in front of you, destroying enemies as soon as they appear on the screen. It’s truly a beautiful thing!

My feelings about the two sidekick pod ships you acquire aren’t quite so positive. They can be quite handy, as they have the ability to block many forms of enemy fire, but that usefulness is somewhat tempered by their size and appearance. When confronted with many of the more action-packed sections of this game, I often found myself losing track of what was my ship and what was a pod, causing me to blunder into enemy fire and walls more than once. And since death effectively removes all your power-ups, that gets a bit annoying.

I found myself perturbed by a number of the bosses, as well. While I appreciated the fact there were a ton of them in the game and I thought most of them looked good, the actual fighting tended to be a bit on the redundant side. Too many of these foes utilized some sort of spread fire as (at least) a healthy chunk of their offense. To me, that shows a lack of creativity on the part of the designers. If you feel a foe’s lasers and fireballs aren’t sufficient to make it challenging, why not upgrade those two weapons? Simply adding a spread gun to its arsenal just seems to be taking the easy way out -- something I see far too many “good-but-not-great” shooters do.

And, regardless of how many weapons they have, many of these bosses simply aren’t tough. If you have the homing weapon at full power, you’ll measure the duration of a good number of these battles in seconds, rather than minutes. Regardless of how much ammo a boss puts on the screen, if you only have to dodge bullets and other attacks for 20-30 seconds, you’re not going to look at it as a memorable fight.

That’s the primary downfall of Zero Wing -- little (if anything) contained within its eight levels can truly be considered memorable. I enjoyed the first level, as you exit your mothership as it explodes, fly through space (complete with stars that ACTUALLY look good -- a rarity in 16-bit console games, I’ve noticed), go through some sort of ship or base structure and then emerge over a planet for the main boss encounter. All-in-all, that was a pretty stylish way for this game to begin.

However, the momentum quickly faded, as a number of the remaining stages tended to be less impressive. Enemy bases were plentiful throughout the game, while the themes of the levels seemed to be randomly thrown together with no cohesion. The fourth level puts you up against a gigantic battleship in a jungle. Finish it off and you’ll be sent into an immense tunnel. That will be followed by a tricky base level, which leads into a jungle. As I play more and more shooters, I’ve found myself growing to appreciate those that find some way to tie their levels together, even if it’s nothing more than a map showing a collection of planets with you flying from one to the next (such as the Neo-Geo’s Zed Blade).

Despite its lack of atmosphere and memorable moments, Zero Wing still is a pretty enjoyable game. With competent design, as well as decent (if not exceptional) graphics and music, I’d definitely pick this game over a lot of other 16-bit shooters I’ve played. It just never aroused the same sort of inspiration in me that such Genesis masterpieces such as Thunder Force 4 or the criminally underrated Bio-Hazard Battle were able to. Zero Wing is worth a play or two, but it’s not one of the top shooters out there and (messed-up grammar or not) it DEFINITELY contains little to justify its pop culture significance.

Rating: 6/10


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (September 17, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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