Zero Wing Review: More Than A Meme?
Of the four Toaplan games being released today by Bitwave Games, Zero Wing is probably the most famous, but only among a certain subset of players who were online back in the early aughts. The Genesis version of the game featured such mangled English in its brief opening that it became a meme long before memes were a thing.
Sadly, this port of the arcade version doesn’t include even the famous line the game has become synonymous with. Instead, it’s a perfectly fine release of a really mediocre game that would almost certainly have been completely forgotten long ago if not for its infamy in internet culture.
Struggling To Stand Out
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that Zero Wing is a terrible or unplayable game. If you buy the bundle of the four Toaplan games Bitwave Games are releasing, you can certainly jump into it and not feel terrible about doing so. It’s all around fine, with no truly awful flaws. The issue though is that while it doesn’t do anything all that wrong, it doesn’t do much all that right either.
Zero Wing is mostly a super generic shooter of its era. You have three weapons, with one of them being clearly better than the other two. The homing attack is highly impactful, especially once you’re able to upgrade it a few times, to the point where the few times I accidentally grabbed a different weapon I used the rewind feature just to undo it.
In addition to your ship, you have two extra weapons above and below you to allow for a larger spread of fire, which is nice, but there’s very little feeling of impact when you destroy your enemies, and anyone who requires multiple hits doesn’t show they’re being damaged which gets old quickly. Better sound effects could have mitigated this but that’s another area the game falls short.
Trying And Failing
While its generic in most ways, Zero Wing does have a couple of interesting takes on things. You have a tractor beam you can use to grab small enemies or bombs and fire them at your enemies. Outside of the bomb powerups you grab though I rarely found this useful and I stopped using it to focus on attacking quickly. The other thing that quickly becomes apparently about Zero Wing is that the level design is an important aspect of making your way through the game. Many shooters barely make you think about the level, so you can focus on your enemies and their attacks but that’s far from the case here. Levels are filled with obstacles you have to weave around while dealing with the many ships trying to shoot you out of the sky. There are times when this can be interesting, but the issue is that the level design is often bad, requiring such precision that its really difficult to also focus on the enemies attacking you. It doesn’t feel like Toaplan found the right balance between these two aspects of the game.
All of the extras present in the other Bitwave releases of these Toaplan titles are here. You have a very nice practice mode, online leaderboards, tons of filters, assist options and save states, as well as an easily usable rewind option. If you’re going to play a version of Zero Wing purely for the gameplay, this is the version to play. The real question is whether there’s a big desire among players to do that.
I wish I could say otherwise, but at least for me there simply wasn’t. There’s little about Zero Wing that stands out in its genre and the few things Toaplan tried to do a bit differently largely either aren’t useful or actively hinder the experience. Zero Wing is certainly playable, but there are far better options for SHMUP players to explore.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Bitwave Games; Developer: Bitwave Games, Toaplan; Players: 2; Released: February 14th, 2023; ESRB: TBA; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Zero Wing provided by the publisher.