Wings of Wor/Gynoug
May 04, 2011

Here be the original review which shall be rewriten sometime between this very minute and Saturday.

Since the beginning of time, mankind has yearned to fly. Of course, until the level of technology began to match that dream, there were some disastrous results. Just go back to the mythic times of Daedalus and Icarus. While Daedalus seemed to catch the hang of using the artificial wings he created, poor Icarus flew too close to the sun, had the wax holding his wings melt and then took a one-way trip to the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Not exactly a rousing success, is it?

Well, fortunately, technology has improved and planes of all ships and sizes were created, allowing air transportation for passenger and military use. Those military planes then became the inspiration for a genre of video games, known as the shooter. In these delightful games, earthbound players had the opportunity to take the controls of a fighter jet (or even a futuristic spaceship) with the purpose of wiping out evil wherever it may be lurking.

However, every once in a while, a game comes along that recaptures those ancient experimental days of flying involving Daedalus and company — and that is where Gynoug (Wings of Wor) comes into play.

Apparently something really evil is afoot in this game’s world....something so evil that no mere human could even dream of having a chance to valiantly succeed in battle. So, who gets called on to fight back the forces of darkness? How about a winged angelic statue, temporarily turned into a flesh-and-blood being?

So take control of your little flying buddy and valiantly battle through the six stages of Gynoug, destroying the grotesque forces of evil in a fun, but somewhat primitive, game released for the Sega Genesis by NCS in 1991.

After turning the game on and kicking things off, you’ll soon realize this is a pretty dark game. There aren’t many bright and vibrant colors or happy background music in this shooter. Many of the levels heavily consist of drab brown and blue textures to highlight the backgrounds — a technique that could be looked at as a flaw in many games, but actually could be seen as a positive here.

You see, Gynoug doesn’t strike me as an overly optimistic game. From the swarms of bizarre regular enemies polluting each level to the disturbing bosses to the abrupt ending where your beloved fighter simply turns back into a statue, this is a video game that embraces dark, dull coloring. This world is that of H.P. Lovecraft turned into a shooter with bosses as macabre as anything that games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil have to offer. Gynoug truly is a descent into a hellish world populated by demonic denizens — a world that seems to have lost all hope.

Which is where you come in. As an avenging angel, your job is to exterminate these demons and apparently give this world a second chance. Fortunately, you will have plenty of weaponry for this task. Not only do you have your basic weapon that can be powered up to a very effective five-way spread shot and then manipulated to fire in different patterns by picking up the appropriate crystals, but you also have a ton of special weapons. Picking up the appropriate scroll and using it will give you just about any kind of power-up you can imagine. From a shield to diagonally flying energy balls to magic arrows that home in on enemies to miniature angels that blast foes with lightning, there are plenty of ways to exorcise the world of evil in Gynoug. In fact, I’ve only mentioned about half of the power-ups, so you can plainly see this game has more enhancement items that the average shooter.

However, all the above-mentioned weapons pale in effectiveness to the Wild Fire attack. If you can grab the extremely rare “W” scroll, your base weapon will be enhanced for an unlimited duration of time. Bullets will be larger and seem to do more damage, making this a “must-grab” weapon. Add that to the fact that you only have a very limited amount of ammo with the other special weapons and the Wild Fire turns into an acquisition that is as close to mandatory as you can get in this genre of games.

The quest won’t be easy regardless of what weapon you hold, though. This game subscribes to the notion of throwing wave after wave after wave of enemies at you, giving you next to no free time to catch your breath. Mini-bosses and bosses fill the air with bullets and other forms of attack, giving you little room to maneuver in. Make no mistake about it, regardless of the difficulty level you choose and regardless of how effective you are at powering up your warrior, this is NOT an easy game.

That difficulty becomes quite apparent when you reach your first miniboss, a floating tortoise that is only vulnerable to attack over a very limited amount of its body. Within seconds after the start of the battle, waves of bullets will make their way toward you. Frenetically, you’ll grip the control, trying to dodge and fly between sets of bullets, hoping to get a few solid shots in on it after its weak spot is exposed in an attempt to finish it off before it inevitably blasts you from the sky, leaving only a couple of feathers from your wings to show you ever existed. Get used to that sensation, because all the bosses will challenge you with the amount of ammo they dump, while most of them are only vulnerable in certain spots or at certain times.

Many of these boss encounters also provide the highlights of this game. While most of the minibosses are relatively normal by shooter standards, the end-of-level bosses are all demented works of art. In the first three levels, you’ll watch the background dissipate from the screen, leaving you flying through blackness only to face a horrid combination of man meshed with machine. The first level provides a train with a human-like head protruding from, the second level brings you face-to-face with a sunken pirate ship that has its own gigantic head stuck to it and the third level puts you in direct conflict with what appears to be a gigantic furnace, also with distinctly human features.

And the offerings just get more demented as you go on. A rotting torso and head greet you at the end of the fourth level, while the fifth level is the abode of an imposing snake with a human head. Finally, you’ll finish things off with a simple, but brutally difficult sixth level gauntlet. First you fight through all five minibosses, then you take on stage four’s boss again and then you conclude with a monstrosity that can be best described as a larval insect with plenty of ammunition and a small weak spot that only is vulnerable at sporadic points in time.

To be honest, these end-of-level bosses are so wonderfully designed and portrayed that it makes most of the remainder of the game seem like somewhat of a letdown. I found myself wondering how NCS could make such large, detailed and disturbing creations to serve as the climax to the level, but make everything else so run-of-the-mill by comparison. I found myself just wishing that the level I was on would end, so I could just get to the boss and fight it.

Part of the reason for that is that there really is very little to do besides simply blast everything that pops onto the screen. Many horizontally-scrolling shooters are loaded with areas where quick and precise movements are necessary to avoid obstacles, but this game only has a couple such areas. The first part of the fourth level is somewhat of a speed zone, as you whip down narrow corridors on your way to the mini-boss. The first level has a few volcanoes that shoot lava you need to dodge. But other than those two instances, there are very few parts of the actual levels where you need to do more than shoot enemies and dodge their attacks while avoiding a fatal run-in with the ceiling or floor of your surroundings.

Also, as I mentioned before, most of the minibosses are somewhat normal, with the fifth level’s giant humanoid being the only true exception. Most of the regular enemies and your warrior are small and somewhat plagued by lack of detail. While I can excuse the drab colors as a way to enhance the mood, the general lack of detail that went into decorating most of the levels isn’t so forgivable. With a couple of exceptions (stages one and three and a couple of the latter boss fights), the music is pretty unremarkable, as well. The hit detection can be a bit “hit-or-miss”, as I watched bullets go through my character’s legs without any ill effects. This game is 13 years old and it really does show that age at times.

But that shouldn’t detract players interested in an above-average old-school shooter. Sure there are a number of minor problems with this game, but it still serves as an above-average effort with plenty of fast-paced gameplay mixed with a dark and somber atmosphere, giving it a certain degree of originality in a genre loaded with scads of games that seem satisfied to do little more than follow the formula set by their predecessors, only offering minor alterations. Gynoug is by no means a perfect example of how to make a game, but it deserves a little time in the ol’ Genesis simply because of the atmosphere it tries to create and the wonderful attention to detail used in crafting the macabre and ominous bosses.

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