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Wings of Wor (Genesis) artwork

Wings of Wor (Genesis) review

"This is a fantasy game and I don't mean a "control a cute witch as she blasts hordes of adorable critters who turn into lollypops and flowers" fantasy. I'm talking about a dark fantasy where you're in control of an angel descending into a macabre, hellish world to confront grotesque monstrosities seemingly conjured from the worst nightmares of the game's designers."

Image might not be everything, but in the right situation, it can work wonders. Wings of Wor is proof of that.

On the surface, it's a competent Genesis shooter that, while above average, would never be considered an all-time classic. Consisting of six horizontally-scrolling stages, you'll do the usual stuff -- namely blasting everything that moves while trying to avoid their bullets. You'll upgrade your weaponry until you're sending out what feels like 500 bullets at once. By nabbing various orbs, you'll be able to direct that fire; choosing whether to focus your attack directly in front of you, as a wide-ranging spread or sacrificing some of your frontal assault in order to be able to shoot foes behind you. And, of course, there are a number of power-ups to collect that give you special attacks, shields and other such goodies.

Like many shooters in the decent-but-not-great category, it has its little annoyances. A couple of stages really seem to drag a bit, in particular the third, which is a very repetitive trip through what seems to be a castle or some such structure. Also, when you've gotten powered up, there can be a LOT of bullets on the screen at once which, when combined by the busy background of, say, the fifth stage, can lead to the occasional "I have no idea what hit me" death. Perhaps the biggest flaw is how, in a game that only is six stages long, the final one is nothing more than an extended boss rush where you fight all five mini-bosses and the final boss of the fourth stage before meeting the big bad. While flying in front of a cloudy background that's easily the most generic setting found in the game. There's a lot of demented creativity in this game -- unfortunately very little of that is displayed at the end, making the final stage somewhat uninspired.

However, thanks to a good amount of disturbing imagery, Wings of Wor winds up separating itself from the large mass of decent, but flawed shooters on the market during the early 90s. It might not be a masterpiece, but it is one of the few games from that era that stands out in my mind. This is a fantasy game and I don't mean a "control a cute witch as she blasts hordes of adorable critters who turn into lollypops and flowers" fantasy. I'm talking about a dark fantasy where you're in control of an angel descending into a macabre, hellish world to confront grotesque monstrosities seemingly conjured from the worst nightmares of the game's designers.

And like any true trip into the pit, the nightmare fuel gradually escalates from a reasonably tame beginning. Initially, you'll be going through a cave taking out a bunch of small critters that don't put up much resistance. The mini-boss, which resembles a rock-covered tortoise, puts enough bullets on the screen to give you a taste of what you're going to be in for, but still looks like it could have been ripped from any number of games. Then, after traveling through the cave for a little while longer, the music changes, the background slowly fades to pure black and IT appears. Imagine seeing the locomotive of a train melded with a human: a Cenobite-like combination of man and machine. While not a particularly difficult boss, its appearance is somewhat jarring and serves as your official welcome to hell.

From there you move to a water-based level, as you start above a lake before descending into its depths to meet up with the malevolent hulk of a sunken ship. Which, as you'll find out after causing a certain amount of damage to it, might be connected to, I don't know...maybe one of H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods? All I can tell you is that it's a gigantic grimacing head that's all-too-willing to spray bullets over the screen to cut short your holy mission. The somewhat tedious castle level culminates in a giant furnace which, following a trend, also has disturbingly human features. And this is after a tricky miniboss fight against a shooter snake (mandatory foe in this genre) that's actually effective. That thing flies around (and off) the screen at an amazing rate of speed, meaning that you'll have to constantly be moving all over the place in order to not get steamrolled as it rockets towards you.

By the end of the fourth stage, things have gotten more disturbing. A trip through a factory leads you to a battle with that place's most horrible creation; something which looks like it at least used to be a human combined with more machinery. This thing sends out streams of blood cells and also blasts its heart at you from time to time. From the agonized look upon its face, this might be causing it as much pain as getting hit will cause you. But even this is mere preamble to the extended nightmare that is the fifth stage.

Many shooters have at least one level where you're traveling through various intestines and other internal organs. For Wings of Wor, this is it and it looks damn good! And by good, I mean SWEET JEBUS WHAT THE HELL KINDA FREAKED OUT STUFF IS THIS! After four stages with dark color schemes, it's almost a shock to the senses to see the bright, vivid coloring of pulsating blood vessels and the like. Like I mentioned above, it is easy to lose track of bullets and get surprised by an abrupt death here -- both because of the detailed backgrounds (all sorts of little strands of...something) and because the resistance has reached its peak with hordes of baddies coming at you from all angles. It's almost a mercy when the music changes and things slow down. Until you see just what the game has saved for you: a big snake monster with a human head. "So, what's so bad about that?" you'd say. Take your pick. If the clenched teeth surrounded by a blood-stained mouth doesn't give you the creeps, the fact that its snake-like body ends in what bares more than a slight resemblance to a penis definitely will.

That's the pinnacle of Wings of Wor, as the boss rush sixth stage lacks the demented creativity used in crafting some of these levels and monsters. Even the final boss, while a good challenge, seems kind of mundane compared to what came before it. I mean, it's kinda grotesque and all, but if you've just seen a bloody dick-snake and are still playing, odds are you're pretty much desensitized to just about anything that can be thrown at you by this point.

Lackluster conclusion aside, the great imagery used in Wings of Wor plays a huge role in turning a decent, but unspectacular, shooter into something worth experiencing. It may not provide as much fun as the most well-known classics of its time, but its nightmarish creatures will stick out in a player's mind much more vividly than the average gun-toting spaceship. I wouldn't call this a " matter what the cost" game, but definitely one worth playing a time or two.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 07, 2011)

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

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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 15, 2011:

Great review for a shmup I've been curious about. I liked your references to the Cenobites and HP Lovecraft. I've been craving a good horror shmup.

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