Now here’s one you don’t hear about too often. In the Sega Genesis’s library shooters starring angels of destruction can be counted on one hand with extra fingers. You would think that would be enough to give Wings of Wor some notoriety but that isn’t the case. The game is criminally overlooked and even I wouldn’t have noticed it if not for the Gamepro TV show. But that small slice of gameplay I saw intrigued me enough to seek it out. My curiosity was rewarded as Wings of Wor is one of my favorite shooters for the system.
The planet Iccus is home to a race of flying men who make their home in the clouds. Their slice of heaven is broken when a horde of demons led by a being named the Destroyer invade their world. The demons are infecting the planet, mutating its creatures in the process. Many try and fail to stop their advance with Wor leading a last ditch effort to stop the Destroyer once and for all. I totally embellished that to make it sound more dramatic. Let’s be real no one gives a damn about the story in a shooter.
Your default cannon is more powerful and has a wider arc than the majority of shooters and rises from there. There are two kinds of orbs: blue orbs increase the speed of your bullets while red raises their damage. Both can be raised to a maximum level of five which require a decent number of orbs to reach. This isn’t much of a problem as the game is incredibly generous with orbs. In addition to orbs there are three gems which further alter your shots. Red increases the arc of your bullets, blue produces a tighter, more focused spread that also slightly hits behind you while the rare amber gem hits the front and back. As your weapon level rises the spread of your fire will cover nearly the entire screen which isn’t as overpowering as you might expect.
Rather than smart bombs you can hold up to three different spells. These spells produce a wide range of effects with some lasting a set period or using limited ammunition. While you can’t choose which spell to use having 2 or more of the same type increases its power significantly. Lightning bolts throw bolts of thunder vertically while energy ball fires diagonally. Elemental calls forth options that rotate around you and attack at the same time. My personal favorite is Wildfire, which enhances your standard fire and has unlimited ammo. Honestly magic isn’t really necessary outside of a few specific situations because your standard gun is so strong. But I won’t deny that they do spice up the action.
If it sounds like a lot of firepower it is because you will need it. Once Wings of Wor starts you will almost never let go of the attack button as the game is relentless with enemy waves. I won’t use the term bullet hell but the screen does get pretty crowded at times, especially during boss battles. The game is comprised of six levels with each broken up into two distinct halves. Each level is pretty lengthy as a result with the last being a simple boss rush before the finale. I’m personally not a fan of boss rushing but I didn’t find it as obnoxious here, probably due to the game’s distinct art direction.
Although I made fun of the story that does turn out to be the game’s greatest asset. The backstory about a virus mutating the creatures of the world definitely bears out as there are all manner of weird creatures to destroy. Most enemies seem to be a weird mix of organic life and technology smashed together in odd ways. Take the second level boss: this massive pirate ship has two active faces that must be destroyed. There’s a demon train with a body seemingly grafted onto it. And the stage five boss…..let’s just say if you thought the dick monster in the final level of Contra was suspect you’ll wonder how this wasn’t censored.
The art direction is fantastic; heavily Giger influenced with its fusion of Gothic, metallic beasts. You’ve probably never seen a range of creatures this weird. Most of the enemy sprites are small so that they can flood the screen but as I’ve mentioned the bosses are where the graphic artists really went to town. And that soundtrack! Composer Noriyuki Iwadare was a master of the Genesis hardware and produced a score that I like almost as much as Langrisser II.
Despite the seemingly impossible odds the difficulty is about average. That is due to the power of your weapons and the abundance of power-ups. Even at the default level your standard is pretty strong and death only drops it down one level. Power-ups appear frequently so you will almost never go without some kind of additional weaponry. Most of your deaths will come from blending in with the background; your sprite is small and some of the later levels tend to share the same color palette, making it hard to dodge bullets. If you want you can cheese the game by exploiting the fifth level boss to rack up a massive number of extra lives but that is totally unnecessary even with the difficulty spike toward the end. Usually shooters are brutal with their difficulty to offset their short length so it’s refreshing to find one as balanced as this.
Even among the shooter genre Wings of Wor is still pretty unique. It has a pretty interesting setting, isn’t too difficult and is sufficiently long enough to provide a lasting and enjoyable experience. A great game that deserves a higher profile.