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B-Wings (NES) artwork

B-Wings (NES) review

"A game that exists."

At first glance, B-Wing runs the risk of being considered nothing more than bottom of the barrel refuse — the sort of game that if called “a dime a dozen”, the other 11 games making up that number would likely be insulted.

The combination of horribly blocky graphics combined with backgrounds that were apparently designed by the head programmer’s two-year-old child (“Wow, kids, look at that! Another pure blue background with squares littering it!!”) don’t exactly make this NES shooter an aesthetic delight. Combine that with the fact that this game stretches on for an unbelievable 30 vertically-scrolling levels and you have the makings for a dud of tragic proportions.

But for some strange reason, B-Wing grew on me after a while. It didn't to the degree where I’m planning to stand on a soapbox exhorting each and every person to drop whatever they are doing and get their hands on this game by whatever means necessary. However, I would recommend it to avid (or rabid) fans of retro shooters that are looking for one more game to sink their teeth into.

Why? Because after suffering through a few early levels, I gradually came to realize that this particular offering has a certain something that is lacking in most shooters — strategy. At the beginning of the game and at the onset of a couple other levels, you are instructed to pick one of a number of wings to fit onto your base ship (creating a disturbingly phallic image). Also, throughout each level, there are three or more wings floating around just waiting for some lucky ship to equip them.

While your ship by itself is pathetically weak, shooting missiles one at a time, the addition of the wing units can alter the shape of things greatly. To give just a couple of examples, the Cannon wing allows you to fire a concentrated burst of squares and hearts rapidly, while the Side wing gives very little firepower to your ship’s front, but packs quite a punch to anything approaching from your ship’s left and right.

So, what does this have to do with strategy? After all, doesn’t virtually every shooter have some sort of variety as far as your weaponry goes? True, but not every game makes picking the correct weapon an integral part of getting through a majority of the levels.

First off, a key component of each and every level (as important if not more so than the actual enemies) is the enormous quantity of obstacles littering the screen. Fortunately, these barricades can be destroyed by one or two shots to their weak point. Unfortunately, these weak points aren’t always accessible to any given weapon. In some areas, you might find that you’ll be confined to a small portion of the screen and quite vulnerable to enemy fire if you don’t have the Side wing. In other areas, you’ll find it impossible to proceed without the Jump wing, a device that has the ability to ignore walls blocking a weak point.

Second, there are some bosses that follow this same script. After playing a few levels, it is easy to be lulled into trying to keep the Fire wing equipped for boss fights, as it is extremely effective in many of those situations — in some cases, killing the baddie before it even gets the chance to attack. That Fire wing will render your ship impotent against two particular bosses who both make multiple appearances, though. One particular ship is only vulnerable to the Jump wing, while another is somewhat vulnerable to Jump and very vulnerable to Side.

Third, a number of the game’s basic critters and varmints make a habit of coming at you from any angle. The game has wings that attack to the sides, to the back and to virtually every frontal angle. Making use of the proper wing can make a difficult section become quite simple.

Fortunately for you, the game is very good about supplying the proper wing for any situation, so you don’t have to worry too much about being trapped in the middle of a level with no way to save yourself. If you run into a Jump wing early in a level, odds are that you’ll soon come upon some obstacles that have their weak spots guarded by walls. If you see a Side wing right before the level’s boss, it just might be necessary for victory. Maybe this means that the strategy this game provides isn’t exactly the video gaming equal of rocket science or brain surgery, but it is more than the average game in this genre provides. You can coast through the first few levels on the brute strength of the Fire and Cannon wings, but eventually you will have to learn how play to the strengths of several other wings.

Unfortunately, though, while this game has a few “good” aspects, others can be considered “bad” and “ugly”. What’s bad about this game? Let’s start with the bosses. Most of them follow a similar and quite generic theme: large spaceship with many barricades protecting a weak spot. Your mission is to blast away the barricades to make that weak spot vulnerable while dodging enemy fire. The other bosses are poorly drawn animals (frogs, spiders and snakes -- oh my!) that at least have different attacks than the other 20 or so bosses in the game. Another negative about boss battles is that the most difficult part to survive usually is the first few seconds. You see, as you approach the boss, missiles begin to descend upon you. While easy to dodge at first, they become much tougher to avoid when the boss finally appears and you have to contend with it and its attacks, as well. But then the missiles stop and you just have the boss itself to worry about. To me, that seems to be somewhat of a backwards way of doing things. Way too many battles start out quite challenging and soon become easily beatable.

Also, the music, while not unbearable, isn’t exactly a classic score. While the boss music is well done, the regular level music is just too cheerful for a shooter. And with 30 levels in this game, you’ll be hearing that happy-go-lucky tune for a long time. Way too long of a time....

While the play control isn’t exactly bad, there is one very annoying thing about it — you can’t move into the top third of the screen. Few things are more frustrating than attempting to dodge enemy fire only to be trapped against an unnecessary invisible ceiling that seals your doom.

And then, we have the ugly. First and foremost, as mentioned before, the graphics in this game are horrible, even by NES standards. From the large, blocky bosses to the plain backgrounds to the unidentifiable enemies, it would be hard to imagine a game more bland. Unless you count the bizarre bullets some of your wings produce. With many wings you’ll be cutting through waves of evil forces with heart-shaped bullets. Why? Is the game sending a subliminal message that the power of love conquers all? Or were the programmers just on some really good drugs?

The length of the game could also be classified as “ugly”. Look at the average shooter. Some only have five levels, but most are somewhere between six and eight. As stated before, this game has 30. Considering the lack of graphical variety, that seems more than a little extreme. Halfway into the game, I was more than ready for it to end — but had 15 more levels to go. Since all the bosses (except the final one) are repeated throughout the game, wouldn’t it have made sense to cut at least 15 levels from the game and maybe put a bit more effort into improving the appearance of the remaining levels?

So, you could say that B-Wing is somewhat of an “ugly duckling”. While its appearance, length and several other factors are definite black marks against it, there are a few positive things that can be said about it. While they aren’t enough to make this game a truly enjoyable experience, they at least save it from being among the dregs of video gaming society and possibly even make it a worthwhile endeavor for diehard fans of the shoot-em-up genre.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (January 26, 2004)

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

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