|Platform(s)||Arcade, PC Engine CD-ROM², Sega Mega Drive|
|Genre(s)||Horizontally scrolling shooter|
Zero Wing[a] is a 1989 horizontally scrolling shooter arcade video game developed by Toaplan and originally published in Japan by Namco and in North America by Williams Electronics. Controlling the ZIG space fighter craft, players assume the role of protagonist Trent in a last-ditch effort to overthrow the alien cyborg CATS. It was the eighth shoot 'em up game from Toaplan, and their fourteenth video game overall.
Headed by development chief Toshiaki Ōta, Zero Wing was created by most of the same team that previously worked on several projects at Toaplan, initially starting as a project not intended for commercial release to train new recruits before being ultimately released to the market. Although first launched in arcades, the game was later ported to other platforms, each one featuring several changes or additions compared with the original version.
Zero Wing enjoyed a degree of success in arcades and its home conversions were met with mostly positive reception from critics. The European Sega Mega Drive version later gained renewed popularity due to the "All your base are belong to us" internet meme, which plays off the poorly translated introductory cutscene in Engrish. The rights to the title are owned by Tatsujin, a Japanese company formed by Masahiro Yuge.
Zero Wing is a science fiction-themed horizontally scrolling shooter similar to Hellfire, where players assume the role of Trent taking control of the ZIG space fighter craft through eight increasingly difficult levels, each with a boss at the end that must be fought before progressing any further, in a last-ditch effort to overthrow the alien cyborg CATS as the main objective. As far as horizontal scrolling shooters go, the title initially appears to be very standard, as players control their craft over a constantly scrolling background and the scenery never stops moving until the stage boss is reached.
A unique gameplay feature is the "Seizer Beam" system; During gameplay, players can grab certain enemies and hold them as shield against enemy fire or launch them against enemies. There are three types of weapons in the game that can be switched between after destroying incoming carriers by picking up a color-changing item ranging from the "Red Cannon" shot, the "Blue Laser" and the "Green Homing" missiles. Each weapon can be upgraded by picking up an item of the same color. Other items can also be grabbed along the way such as speed increasers, 1UPs and a bomb module capable of obliterating any enemy caught within its blast radius that can also be triggered after taking enemy hits.
Depending on the settings in the arcade version, the title uses either a checkpoint system in which a downed single player will start off at the beginning of the checkpoint they managed to reach before dying, or a respawn system where their ship immediately starts at the location they died at. Getting hit by enemy fire or colliding against solid stage obstacles will result in losing a life, as well as a penalty of decreasing the ship's firepower and speed to his original state and once all lives are lost, the game is over unless the players insert more credits into the arcade machine to continue playing. The game loops back to the first stage after completing the last stage as with previous titles from Toaplan, with each one increasing the difficulty and enemies fire denser bullet patterns as well as spawning extra bullets when destroyed.
The plot summary of Zero Wing varies between each version. Set in 2101, the game follows the signing of a peace treaty between the United Nations and CATS, an alien cyborg. However, CATS breaks the covenant and takes control of the Japanese space colonies. The protagonist Trent leads a ZIG space craft, which had managed to escape from the mothership destroyed by CATS, with the aim to defeat enemy forces, avenge the mothership and its crew and liberate the Earth.
Zero Wing was created by most of the same team that previously worked on several projects at Toaplan, with members of the development staff recounting its history through various Japanese publications. Toshiaki Ōta was at the helm as development chief and also served as programmer alongside Hiroaki Furukawa and Tatsuya Uemura. Uemura also acted as composer along with Masahiro Yuge and Toshiaki Tomizawa. Artists Miho Hayashi, Naoki Ogiwara and Shintarō Nakaoka created the artwork while Sanae Nitō and Yuko Tataka served as character designers.
Uemura stated that Zero Wing originally started as a project not intended for commercial launch to train new recruits at Toaplan, handling training for new hires while using his work and engine from Hellfire before ultimately deciding with releasing the game to the market, which made it a more practical learning experience for the new developers. However, Uemura felt that both stage design and characters were "cobbled together", leading the game's world being "kind of a mess" and he also stated the project turned into a "battle royale", as staff from both Hellfire and Truxton were mixed with the new recruits. Sound also proved to be very divisive as Uemura, Yuge and Tomizawa wrote several songs for the game with their own individual styles, though Uemura claimed this was due to dividing the work, while Yuge stated he would go to rest and drink after being stuck when composing for the title during work hours. Due to being a training project, Uemura stated the team had freedom to "just fool around" and several features were integrated into the title such as warps, which was taken from Slap Fight. Uemura also revealed that the reason for enemies spawning suicide bullets during loops of higher difficulty was in response to hardware limitations regarding sprites. Both the single-player and co-op versions were also planned from the beginning of development due to pressure to make two-player games at the time. The alien Pipiru was designed by Ogiwara, though Uemura claimed such character was not planned.
The Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing was created by the same staff from the original arcade release, with Uemura overseeing development in-house. Both Uemura and Tataka have stated that working with the Mega Drive proved to be difficult due to several restrictions imposed by the hardware. According to both Uemura and Yuge, the poor English translation in the Mega Drive version was handled by a then-member of Toaplan in charge of export and overseas business, whose English was "really terrible". The Mega Drive port features arranged music by Noriyuki Iwadare. The PC Engine CD-ROM² version was outsourced by an "acquaintance" from defunct developer Orca, with Uemura handling sound.
Zero Wing was first released across arcades worldwide on October 1989 by Namco in Japan, as well as Williams Electronics in North America on April 1990. On 1989, an album containing music from the title was co-published exclusively in Japan by Scitron and Pony Canyon.
Zero Wing was first ported to the Sega Mega Drive by Toaplan and was first published in Japan on 31 May 1991 and later in Europe by Sega on July 1992. The game was later converted to the PC Engine CD-ROM² add-on and was published exclusively in Japan by Naxat Soft on 18 September 1992. The Japanese release is able to play fine on American Sega Genesis consoles. Like most early titles it had no region protection, nor had the European release been PAL-optimized. To expand the plot, the Mega Drive version added an introductory sequence to the game. This introduction does not appear in the arcade original nor in the PC Engine CD-ROM² versions; rather, a different intro takes place with a blue-windowed ZIG. The PC Engine CD-ROM² added two new levels — 5th (Deeva) and 10th (Vacura). The Mega Drive port was later re-released in North America by independent publisher Retro-Bit in 2020.
|Computer and Video Games||93%||N/A|
|Gekkan PC Engine||N/A||78/100|
|Marukatsu PC Engine||N/A||25/40|
|Mega Drive Advanced Gaming||72%||N/A|
|Mega Drive Fan||19.70/30||N/A|
|PC Engine Fan||N/A||19.72/30|
In Japan, Game Machine listed Zero Wing on their 15 November 1989 issue as being the fourth most-successful table arcade unit of the year, outperforming titles such as Bases Loaded and U.N. Squadron. The game received positive critical reception upon release. Computer and Video Games scored it 93%, including ratings of 92% for graphics, 93% for sound, 90% for playability, and 89% for lastability. They praised "the great intro sequence", "super-smooth gameplay, beautifully defined graphics, rocking sound track, amazing explosions and incredible end-of-level bosses", concluding that it is "the game which breaths (sic) new life into shoot 'em ups on the Megadrive". Mean Machines scored it 91%, including ratings of 92% for presentation and graphics, 88% for sound, 90% for playability, and 89% for lastability, concluding that it is one of "the best Megadrive blasts in ages." Sega Force scored it 86%, including ratings of 84% for presentation, 89% for visuals, 83% for sound, 89% for playability, and 82% for lastability, concluding that it is "almost as good as Hellfire" but "not quite."
Zero Wing was the last horizontal shoot 'em up title to be developed by Toaplan, as the company did not know how to make a horizontal shooting game interesting, despite positive reception from players. In 1999, the introduction cutscene for the Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing was re-discovered, culminating in the wildly popular "All your base are belong to us" internet meme. In more recent years, the rights to Zero Wing and many other IPs from Toaplan are now owned by Tatsujin, a company named after Truxton's Japanese title that was founded in 2017 by former Toaplan employee Masahiro Yuge, who are now affiliated with arcade manufacturer exA-Arcadia.
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