8 Difficulty levels
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
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Developed by Takumi
Published by Capcom in 2001
Keeping up with successful artistic endeavors is always a daunting task for any company. Takumi had just been born when they took control of the sequel to Kyūkyoku Tiger, hence the mixed results and reactions from fans. Fortunately, the amazing titles they delivered afterwards more than compensated for their lukewarm beginnings. Such was the awesomeness of the genre-shattering Giga Wing that it took only two years for Takumi to come up with Giga Wing 2, the sequel. And just like what happened to the first chapter, it also found its way from the arcades to the Western Dreamcast in a localization published by Capcom.
Intense gameplay, outrageous scores and the sweet gimmick of bullet reflection were some of the traits that made Giga Wing such a remarkable game. Giga Wing 2 builds upon that by adding secondary features to the reflection technique, hence creating new layers of strategy over the rush of collecting medals to achieve ludicrous multipliers and high scores. The resulting experience is just as exhilarating, even though the second chapter isn’t as engaging as the first one in a few aspects. I guess it all comes down to taste, but I prefer the pixel art and the pumping music from Giga Wing to the 3D background models and the orchestral soundtrack of Giga Wing 2. Who would guess the infamous C’MON! would be sorely missed? Explosions and bomb animations are as over-the-top as ever though, so the amount of mayhem is still guaranteed.
The polygonal art is clearly the greatest departure in the design front, but it sort of contributes to the same feeling of detachment I have towards the Shikigami No Shiro series: you’re often high above skyscrapers and neatly textured landscapes, but you don’t really get to notice that while playing. That didn’t happen at all to the first Giga Wing or Takumi’s own Mars Matrix, which always made me quite aware of what was going on around me at all times. Giga Wing 2 shares a very prominent feature with Mars Matrix by the way, that being the fact that there’s absolutely no damage on enemy collision. Therefore bullet manipulation is once again the absolute king, never mind dying by touching one of those stray airplanes.
Behold the power of the Reflect Laser
Similar to the story in the first chapter, this time the heroic pilots are summoned to stop an evil ark of doom. You can choose from five characters with distinct speed and firepower/bomb characteristics, as well as two types of bullet reflection devices: the Reflect Barrier (RB) or the Reflect Laser (RL). The default button lay-out works with regular shot (A), bomb (B) and autofire (R). Regular shot overrides autofire, and holding it initiates the process of reflection with a slight delay. Just like in Giga Wing, RB works by surrounding the ship in a powerful sphere of invincibility that reflects all incoming bullets. RL is the new feature, and it works by swallowing bullets and automatically distributing them to enemies in laser rays as the invincibility sphere fades. At the end of the reflect attack the ship is invincible for a few frames, thus making it possible to come out of bullet clouds in one piece. In order to use this attack again you need to wait for the reflect gauge to refill, which is also indicated by the famous OTAY! robotic voice cue.
Reflected bullets that hit an enemy give birth to medals, which when collected add to an ever-increasing multiplier that’s applied to the base value of everything you destroy. There are, of course, deeper meanderings to these apparently simple gameplay mechanics. The multiplier is the main source of scoring, and even though it’s unique across the whole game every stage has its own multiplier routine. It works like this: medals are spawned either by destroyed enemies or by reflected bullets, and increase in value for each successive one you collect; the value for each medal is added to the multiplier, and is only reset to 1 at the end of a stage or when you die. This means that at the start of a level medal value is 1, but by the time you defeat the boss it can be as high as you’re able to handle. Therefore dying represents an extreme blow to the scoring possibilities in Giga Wing 2, especially when it happens in the middle of a stage.
Now here comes the main innovation Takumi included in the game: bullet reflection can be manipulated in order to cause medals to split into many more medals, in an effect that looks like a cascading shower and is often referred to as a “volcanon”. To achieve that the player must generate more than 110 medals on screen at a given time. It’s possible to predict when this is going to happen because the screen fades to black slightly as the volcanon is about to erupt. The idea is that it’s really all about medals - not reflected bullets - so remember to reflect and refrain from collecting medals until the volcanon is in effect. Sometimes you can see it coming but it just doesn’t happen because only a few medals were missing. If it does happen, positioning the ship right below the flock of medals that’s about to burst into a volcanon is the best way to reap the earnings of those wonderful cascades and inflate the multiplier.
Due to the innate motivation to achieve the highest number of volcanons, Giga Wing 2 has an even heavier emphasis on bullet reflection than its predecessor. It’s only much later in the game that I start holding the autofire button, for instance. It’s also easy to notice that RB (also referred to as RF, Reflect Force) is better to score than RL because bullets reflected with the laser are often scattered all over the place, which makes it difficult to collect the secondary medals from volcanons. Although the game rules are easy to grasp, handling RB and RL requires lots of practice. Besides ship positioning and optimal bullet herding, the player needs to use the several phases of the reflection field to his/her advantage. An example is the final outgoing flare of the reflection sphere: use it wisely and you’ll have a higher degree of success in creating volcanons, maybe even double volcanons from a single reflection.
Despair is EXISTENCE
With so much going on, basic stuff such as collecting regular items are relegated to second place. These items can be a P (power-up, take three to maximize shot power) or a B (extra bomb), either brought by yellow carriers or released by destroying specific enemies. When you die all power-ups that emerge can be immediately reclaimed, but the bomb stock is reset to two. Even though there’s a bonus based on bomb stock at the end of a stage, it isn't that important in the long run. Same with the time bonus you get from destroying bosses faster, especially in later levels. Speaking of which, one of the things that probably put Giga Wing 2 slightly below the original for me is the fact that the three final stages consist of boss fights only. They’re not as hard or fun to battle as those from Giga Wing, and the final boss doesn’t even get the TLB treatment, meaning credit feeders will have free pass to see the game in its entirety. Do I sound elitist by saying this? I hope not.
Of all available characters the best one for scoring purposes is definitely Kart. It’s not a matter of appropriate firepower, instead it’s got more to do with his stage order. Every character or combination of characters (in co-op) has a specific stage order, and Kart’s very advantageous. It’s pretty easy to milk his first boss for lots of volcanons, whereas with Limi, my character of choice, it’s just really hard to trigger even one volcano on the first boss (it took me a long time to get it consistently). Limi’s main gun is quite powerful, her bomb animation is beautiful and story-wise she’s also the character that’s possessed by the evil ark at the end of the game, which leaves the control of her ship to Dewey, a “sentient” program installed by Kart. Those who enjoy character interaction will find this and other aspects of the story interesting. And if you miss the ships from the first chapter you’ll be happy to know that they can be unlocked here by 1CCing the game with all characters (hard way) or by entering a special code (easy/best way). Limi unlocks and serves as pilot for the Stranger’s ship (Kart > Raijin/Sinnosuke, Romi > Purchka/Isha, Ralugo > Widerstand/Stuck, Chery > Carmine/Ruby). To unlock all characters and other extras (see below) go to the first page of the Gallery and enter the following code: ↑, X, Y, X, ↓, Y, X, Y, Y.
As a game that makes everybody feel big with scores that might hit a few quadrillions, Giga Wing 2 is tons of fun and highly rewarding if you’re willing to dedicate some of your time to a little memorization and planning. On the Dreamcast the game has a special option that allows up to four people playing at the same time (!). The Score Attack mode has its own rules for scoring and less strict requirements to create volcanons, but at least it makes survival training possible. A dedicated gallery shows diverse artwork from the game, and secret options allow extras such as dual/tetra-play (control up to 4 ships at the same time) and the elimination of the dialogue text in-between stages.
I was able to get the following 1CC high score on the default difficulty (4) using Limi’s ship (named Raven) equipped with RB. Next stop: Giga Wing Generations!