Zero Wing is a 1989 horizontally scrolling arcade shooter video game developed by Toaplan and originally published in Japan by Namco and in North America by Williams Electronics.
Controlling a ZIG space fighter, players take on the role of protagonist Trent in a last desperate attempt to overthrow the alien cyborgs CATS. This was Toaplan’s eighth shooter game and their fourteenth video game overall.
|Designers||Sanae Nitō, Yuko Tataka|
|Programmers||Hiroaki Furukawa, Tatsuya Uemura|
|Artists||Miho Hayashi, Naoki Ogiwara, Shintarō Nakaoka|
|Composers||Masahiro Yuge, Tatsuya Uemura, Toshiaki Tomizawa|
|Platforms||Arcade, Sega Mega Drive, PC Engine CD-ROM|
JP: 1 July 1989
NA: April 1990
Sega Mega Drive
Zero Wing, led by development manager Toshiaki Ota, was created by much of the same team that previously worked on several projects at Toaplan, originally as a non-commercial release project to train recruits before it was finally released. Market. Although first launched on arcade machines, the game was later ported to other platforms, each with several changes or additions from the original version.
Zero Wing was a success in arcades, and its home conversions were met with mostly positive reviews from critics. The European version of the Sega Mega Drive later gained new popularity with the “All Your Base Belongs to Us” Internet meme, which plays a poorly translated introductory cutscene in English. The rights to the title belong to Tatsujin, a Japanese company founded by Masahiro Yuga.
Zero Wing Gameplay
Zero Wing is a sci-fi -themed, horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up game similar to Hellfire, where players take on the role of Trent taking control of a ZIG space fighter through eight increasingly difficult levels, each with a boss at the end that must be fought before advancing further in a final attempt to overthrow the CATS alien cyborgs as the primary target.
As for the horizontally scrolling shooters, the title initially seems very standard, as players control their craft against a constantly scrolling background and the scenery never stops moving until the stage boss is reached.
A unique gameplay feature. the “Capturing Beam” system; During the game players can grab certain enemies and hold them as a shield against enemy fire or launch them against enemies. The game has three weapon types that can be switched between after destroying approaching aircraft carriers by taking a color-changing item, starting with the “Red Cannon” shot, the “Blue Laser” and the “Green Homing” missiles.
Each weapon can be improved by grabbing an item of the same color. Along the way you can also grab other items such as speed boosters, 1UPs and a bomb module capable of destroying any enemy caught within its blast radius, which can also be triggered after an enemy is hit.
Depending on the settings in the arcade version, the title uses either a checkpoint system in which a downed single player starts at the beginning of the checkpoint they managed to get to death, or a revival system in which their ship immediately starts at the location where they died.
Being hit by enemy fire or colliding with solid obstacles on the stage will result in the loss of a life, as well as a penalty of reducing the ship’s firepower and speed to its original state, and once all lives are lost the game is over unless players insert more credits into the arcade machine to continue playing.
The game returns to the first stage after completing the last stage, as in previous games from Toaplan, with each one increasing in difficulty and enemies firing denser bullet patterns and spawning additional bullets when destroyed.
Zero Wing’s plot summary varies depending on the version. The game is set in the year 2101 after the signing of a peace treaty between the UN and CATS, an alien cyborg. However, CATS breaks the treaty and takes control of the Japanese space colonies. The protagonist Trent leads the ZIG spaceship, which manages to escape from the mothership destroyed by CATS, with the goal of defeating the enemy forces, avenging the base ship and its crew and freeing Earth.
Zero Wing was created by much of the same team that had previously worked on several projects in Toaplan, with members of the development team telling its story in various Japanese publications. Toshiaki Ota was at the helm as development manager, and was also a programmer along with Hiroaki Furukawa and Tatsuya Uemura. Uemura also served as composer along with Masahiro Yuge and Toshiaki Tomizawa. Artists Miho Hayashi, Naoki Ogiwara and Shintaro Nakaoka created the cover art, and Sanae Nito and Yuko Tataka acted as character designers.
Uemura said that Zero Wing originally began as a project not intended for commercial launch, to train new recruits at Toaplan by training new employees using their work and the engine from Hellfire before eventually deciding to release the game to market, which made it a more hands-on experience for new developers. However, Uemura felt that both the stage design and characters were “pieced together,” resulting in a “kind of messy” game world, and he also stated that the project turned into a “battle royale,” as staff from both Hellfire and Truxton were mixed in with the new recruits. The sound also proved very controversial, as Uemura, Yuge, and Tomizawa wrote several songs to play with their own styles, although Uemura claimed it was due to the division of work, while Yuge stated that he would go rest and drink after being stuck composing for the title during work hours.
Because it was a learning project, Uemura stated that the team had the freedom to “just mess around,” and several features, such as deformations that were taken from Slap, were integrated into the header. Uemura also revealed that the reason enemies spawn suicide bullets during higher difficulty loops is due to hardware limitations on the sprites. Both single-player and cooperative versions were also planned from the beginning of development because of the need for two-player games at the time. The alien Pipiru was developed by Ogiwara, although Uemura claimed that no such character was planned.
The Zero Wing version for the Sega Mega Drive was created by the same staff from the original arcade version, and Uemura oversaw development internally. Both Uemura and Tataka said that working with the Mega Drive proved difficult because of several hardware limitations. According to Uemura and Yuge, the poor English translation in the Mega Drive version was done by the then Toaplan member in charge of exports and overseas business, whose English was “really terrible.” The PC Engine CD-ROM² version was outsourced to an “acquaintance” from the defunct developer Orca, with Uemura handling the audio.
Zero Wing was first released for arcade. worldwide in October 1989 by Namco in Japan, and by Williams Electronics in North America in April 1990. In 1989, an album containing music from this title was co-released exclusively in Japan by Scitron and Pony Canyon.
Zero Wing was first ported to the Sega Mega Drive by Toaplan and first published in Japan on May 31, 1991, and then in Europe by Sega in July 1992. The game was later converted to a PC Engine² CD add-on and was published exclusively in Japan by Naxat Soft on September 18, 1992. The Japanese version can be played normally on the American Sega Genesis consoles. Like most of the early games, it had no region protection, and the European version was not optimized for PAL. To expand the story, the Mega Drive version added an intro sequence to the game. This introduction does not appear in either the original arcade version or the PC Engine CD-ROM² versions; rather, another introduction occurs with ZIG with a blue window. The PC Engine CD-ROM² adds two new levels, Level 5 (Deeva) and Level 10 (Vacura).
In Japan, Game Machine listed Zero Wing in its November 15, 1989 issue as the fourth most successful board arcade game of the year, surpassing such games as Bases Loaded and UN Squadron. The game received positive reviews from critics upon its release. PC and video games scored 93%, including 92% for graphics, 93% for sound, 90% for playability and 89% for durability.
They praised the “great opening sequence,” “super smooth gameplay, beautifully defined graphics, stunning soundtrack, awesome explosions, and incredible bosses at the end of levels,” concluding that this is “a game that breathes (sic ) new life in shooters on the Megadrive. Mean Machines scored 91%, including 92% for presentation and graphics, 88% for sound, 90% for playability, and 89% for durability, concluding that it was one of the “best Megadrive blasts ever.” Sega Force scored 86%, including 84% for presentation, 89% for visuals, 83% for sound, 89% for playability, and 82% for durability, concluding that it was “almost as good as Hellfire,” but “not quite.”
Zero Wing was the last horizontal shooter title developed by Toaplan because the company did not know how to make a horizontal shooter game interesting, despite positive player reviews. In 1999 the opening cutscene for the Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing was rediscovered, which culminated in the extremely popular internet meme “All your bases belong to us”.
In recent years, the rights to Zero Wing and many other Toaplan IPs are now owned by Tatsujin, a company named after the Japanese name Truxton, which was founded in 2017 by a former Toaplan employee. Masahiro Yuge, who is now associated with arcade maker exA-Arcadia.