4 Difficulty levels
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by NCS Corp.
Published by DreamWorks in 1991
All I could think of when I laid my eyes and hands on Gynoug (corresponding Japanese release title) was that right there and then I had a Birdman game to play. How cool was that for a teenager grown up on Hanna-Barbera cartoons? Sure, it had nothing to do with the series expect for a slight resemblance from the main character, a winged man/angel who's out to battle the most undescribable creatures from the Mega Drive shmup library, courtesy of the same guys behind the Cho Aniki games. You can rest assured though, there are no homossexual undertones in Wings of Wor. Under an artistic standpoint, it's surely one of the finest shooters on the system, but it also offers solid gameplay and some decent challenge.
Other important reminiscence I have from this game is that I always found the song on the 1st stage to be awfully cheesy. This is quite unique for me because every other song in the game is great, with heroic motifs that greatly enhance the shooting experience. And you don't have to wait too long to hear them, since most stages have two songs - the second BGM starts playing right after you beat the mid-boss. Another nerdy note is that I think the first song on the 3rd stage could've been taken directly out of Sega's puzzler Columns. However, don't let the soothing music fool you in this level, stay sharp and look out for the blue weapon.
Superb art design is what defines the strongest asset of Wings of Wor. The atmosphere is predominantly dark, with very specific themes for each of the 6 stages and a handful of creepy boss encounters. The travel inside the bloodstream of a living organism in stage 5 and the flight among the clouds amidst beautiful parallax in stage 6 are among some of the most impressive 16-bit shmup graphics out there. The gigantic bosses are in a league of their own, and the works of H. R. Giger are always mentioned as an inspiration since you have all sorts of weird creatures with both mechanical and human-like traits (watch out for the infamous cock-boss!). Everything is amazingly crafted and original, and some boss attacks even approach a bullet-hellish feel, providing for some intense moments. They're not over-the-top difficult, nonetheless they surely put the player's dodging abilities to the test.
The basic gameplay is pretty straightforward. Items are brought by flying crystals. Destroy them and get naked red orbs to increase shot strength and naked blue orbs to increase the spread pattern. When these same colors appear in a slightly different and bigger orb they will change the shot style: red gives you the spread weapon and blue turns it into a straight shot that extends a bit to the rear, giving the character a short-range protection against popcorn stuff (very important in stage 3). There's also the yellow shot type, which gives you a forward/rear shot. Little feathers increase the character's speed, and hidden 1UPs are uncovered when you shoot their area. Besides these 1UPs, the game also grants extra lives for every 200.000 points.
Beyond the gameplay basics, what really stands out in Wings of Wor is the array of special weapons, which have limited ammo/time and can be very useful. They are labeled by alphabet letters. There's E (energy balls), S (aura shield), T (thunderbolt), L (lightning bolt), H (magic arrow), W (wild fire), G (ground attack) and O (option). You can stock up to 3 of them, always activating the oldest one you got with the A button. Once activated and applicable, the weapon is used by pushing C (autofire enabled). Two of them are time-based (S lasts for a few seconds, W is permanent until you activate the next weapon), five are ammo-based (E, R, L, H, G) and one is hit-based (O). Some special weapons only appear within a specific stage, but if you manage to stock the same weapon consecutively the icons will merge into a more powerful version of it upon activation. Three Gs in the 4th stage and two Os in the 5th stage are a good example of a much better use of the special weapons.
A credit ends before the first stage is over
(courtesy of YouTube user ShiryuGL)
(courtesy of YouTube user ShiryuGL)
With the exception of the last stage, which consists of a boss rush with all mid-bosses and a previous boss before the fight against the last creepy creature, Wings of Wor has long levels and fortunately a good deal of variety throughout. Well, maybe it goes a bit too far in stage 2, but that's OK because the difficulty ramp is well implemented - the action picks up right afterwards, as well as the need for more careful playing. I recommend point blanking bosses whenever possible for faster killings (and some more of that exquisite muffled sound you hear when your shot damages something), and don't be shy to use the special weapons. Extra scoring is obtained by sticking to the same weapon type, for which repeated items will give you a few more points.
I believe this game is quite underrated even among shmup fans, so I urge you to check it out if you're into the genre and haven't tried it yet. It loops and offers a second round with a slight increase in bullet and enemy count, but after you beat the last boss again the game ends. This is another case where the default difficulty is EASY, so remember to go into the OPTIONS screen to change it accordingly. You'll see there's a "hi-score" display in there, but it didn't work for me. Sometimes it would display a completely different hi-score, or even freeze in zeros. Therefore, if you want to keep track of your score, remember to pause the game once the boss is beaten. The angel hero hovers there for a brief while before flying away.
Here's my high score on NORMAL, both loops beaten: