Friday, June 12, 2009

Genesis look: Wings of Wor

Oh look it's another one of those 2D shooters for the Sega Genesis. This time we're looking at a game by NCS/Masaya. These guys have produced a number of titles over the years. Probably their most well known is the bizarre shooter Choaniki. While they tend to develop games that are off-putting in either style or game design I can't think of a truly bad game they've put out.

Wings of Wor's story involves something about a winged man fighting mutants and then turning into a statue. Yeah I didn't pay attention to the intro or the manual. To save the land this guy must go through five lengthy stages filled with all manner of grotesque creatures. There's also the final stage is essentially a mini-boss rush where all of the mid-bosses of the first five stages for one last attack(the 4th boss also makes an appearance..which is just plain odd). Like pretty much all other console-exclusive Genesis shooters this one is horizontally scrolling.

As far as winged-men go this dude is pretty well-equipped. He starts off with a piddly two bullet spreadfire but it can grow up to six shots and cover the screen quite well. Also by grabbing certain powerups he can fire straight ahead to do more damage or gain a rear shot for covering his hindquarters. The more unique aspect is the sub-weapon system. By grabbing scrolls with different letters our hero can use special limited-use weapons like a lightning bolt that flies across the screen or a diagonal-based shot that evaporates enemy bullets. There's room for three scrolls so the player can pick up different ones for variation or they can grab three of the same weapon to make it much stronger. This adds a bit of strategy and also helps keep the game fresh on repeat playthroughs. Unfortunately our winged-hero requires feathers that boost his speed(and if you grab too many feathers you might have trouble controlling him). Upon dying the hero loses 1 weapon level(out of up to 5), one level of speed, and his currently-equipped weapon. 

The level-design is pretty standard for the most part. There's usually a lot of wide-open space for the player to maneuver through and the enemy to fill with bullets. The game does a fine enough job of mixing it up but most of the themes of each stage come from the enemies the player will face off against. These enemies tend to appear in waves and they grow in number and intensity as the stage progresses. It's certainly a nice break as this game relies more on twitch-reflexes than rote memorization(though it helps to know how a few enemies behave). It's nowhere near the likes of manic shooters like Dodonpachi and its ilk but there's a lot more dodging to this game than simply knowing where to stand to avoid death.

The weapons tend to be doled out as the situation arises(like you'll find a sub-weapon that shoots along the ground when you approach a wave of ground-based enemies). Unfortunately this means that some weapons can only be found in certain stages and if you want to hold onto them for later that means you have to not pick up any others or not use the weapon after equipping it(don't forget you can't die either). While it certainly doesn't ruin the game it is a bit of a bummer especially since for the final stage no sub-weapons appear at all.

I have another complaint about the final stage and that is the clouds. While it's a cool locale for a final stage I think the clouds were a bit un-necessary and that's because they take up a fair portion of the screen. Since the clouds aren't transparent they can hide the hero as well as the boss' bullets. Needless to say this is a good way to rack up unfair deaths. 

I don't usually mention stuff like this but the art-design in this game is pretty freaking out there. At times it's Greco-roman but also a bit of industrial and some biological themes to it as well. There's quite a bit of suggestive imagery and at times it's hardly subtle. I guess the art-direction of this game is part of the reason why  may never see it on the Virtual Console(that or the giant penis the fifth boss is sporting) which is quite a shame because the game is very good.

There's really not a whole lot that helps Wings of Wor stand out in comparison to other shooters on the Genesis(let alone other consoles & the arcade). The mechanics are quite good and while I have some issues with certain aspects like the lack of sub-weapons and a few minor design decisions I didn't see any apparent flaws worth mentioning. If you're the kind of person that only wants to stick to a handful of the best shooters you may as well pass this one by but if you're like me and have to play everything you'd do well to check this out. 

The soundtrack is very nice as well. It's by Noriyuki Iwadare who has done music for various RPGs like the Lunar series and Grandia. Like Hitoshi Sakimoto and Motoi Sakuraba, Iwadare is just one of the many Japanese game-music composers who cut their teeth on shooter soundtracks before going to work on RPGs. Course I guess you could just look up the music on youtube or something and ignore the game entirely. That would be a shame I think.

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