All Your Base Are Belong To Us
It began as a humble arcade game. It soon was ported to home consoles, sold moderately and then faded into history. Years later it saw a surge of renewed interest due to the internet boom. Now, over a decade after its infamously Engrish-ridden intro made internet history, let’s look at the game behind the meme. Sit back, relax, move zig and enjoy this in-depth retrospective of the shooter known as Zero Wing. Don’t worry; I know what I doing.
In A.D 2101 war was beginning. Aboard the Earth military flagship, an explosion sounds the alarm on the bridge.
Just then, we get signal!
The main screen is ordered to turn on! It’s him!!
Cats asks how gentlemen are before explaining that all their base are belong to CATS.
They are on the way to destruction!
But just when dispair sets in, the captain orders the launch of his fighters!
Even if his ship, his crew and his life are lost, the captain knows justice will fight on.
Zero Wing is a pretty decent looking shooter. There’s constantly a lot going on on screen as well as very large enemies and bosses, all without a single sign of slowdown anywhere. The purple bullets are easy to spot, your Zig fighter isn’t too big or too small given the resolution and the various enemy sprites animate very well and in some respects, the Megadrive version looks even better than its arcade counterpart!
Zero Wing has some really killer tracks. My personal favorites are the first, second and fourth stage themes. Here’s the original version of stage 1 for your listening pleasure. Press play for great justice.
I unfortunately do not know who the composer was as Zero Wing lacks a proper credits sequence and the staff roll is not listed in the game’s manual either.
Zero Wing is a horizontal autoscrolling shooter where you basically shoot everything that moves. There are three kinds of weapon pick ups in the game. The first is a red valcan cannon that fires multi directional shots, the second is a blue piercing beam that fires in a straight line and the third are green homing missiles. Upon receiving a powerup, the Zig fighter gains two indestructible drones that sort of function as Options in Gradius or the module from R-Type. These drones fire the same waspon your zig does, tripling your offensive firepower.
There are also speed up icons that increase your movement speed, but like Gradius or any other shooter, pick these up sparingly; too many and your ship will become too sensitive to the d-pad movement and will ultimately cause more harm than good.
One of the coolest aspects of Zero Wing is the tractor beam the Zig has. When an enemy fighter comes into range, you can use the tractor beam to capture enemies in their tracks which then can be thrown at other enemies as projectiles or as a shield against incoming fire. You can only have one enemy in tractor at a time, but its always a good idea to have one in the beam for a makeshift shield. It’s surprising how much depth and quality Zero Wing truly has!
Zero Wing has rather basic controls.
B: Tractor Beam
Zero Wing is a one-shot kill shooter. Collision with anything results in instant death, drop in firepower, and like Gradius games, can sometimes result in situations where you are better off hitting reset than trying to survive an onslaught of powerful enemies, bullets and environmental hazards in your basic Zig form. Problem is, sometimes the safe path becomes so narrow surviving is much more difficult than simply making one’s time. Remember, move Zig. It can save your life!
System Availability & Price
The Megadrive version of Zero Wing can typically be found for between $10-35 depending on where you get it from. The PCE-CD version is much rarer, and goes from $30-50. No idea what the arcade cabinet goes for, but I’d imagine it’s one of the less desirable cabs in Japan given that the intro scene was made for the Megadrive version only.
Zero Wing was originally an arcade game developed by Toplin in 1989. Given the power of the Motorola 68000 based Sega Megadrive, a near arcade perfect console port was developed in 1990 with additional content including a full introduction to give the game a bit of story.
In 1991, Sega saw fit to release the game in multi-language PAL territories. This meant that the Japanese script of the intro would need to be localized. Toplin, a small company with few resources, hired a Japanese student who infamously was attending nightschool for English. It is due to his poor understanding of English that the world was given the Engrish mess that is Zero Wing.
In early 1999, Zero Wing would see a new resurgence of popularly and became one of the first widely spread internet fads and one of the biggest memes ever. To elaborate, check out this excellent history video on the internet craze that followed.
Although Zero Wing’s only English version is PAL exclusive, North American importers are in luck with Zero Wing. Early Megadrive games from both Europe and Japan carry no region protection and properly coded games would in both PAL 50hz and NTSC 60Hz. Zero Wing happens to fall into this highly unusual category, allowing it to be played on any North American Sega Genesis from the original model to the Nomad or even modern day Genesis clones. One might say that no matter what version of Sega’s system you have, Zero Wing covers all your bases.
Two years after the Megadrive version, Toplin released a PC Engine-CD port of the game, but in many respects it was more like a remake. For one thing, the story line seems completely different, starring different characters and changing the main hero from an unnamed pilot (the only hero we know of from the Megadrive version is the Captain who died in the intro) to a stereotypical strapping young anime lad ready to take on evi. and save the Earth. There are even some additional stages added to the PCE CD version, making that game even longer than its lengthy arcade and Megadrive ports.
And then there’s CATS. Here he is in the Megadrive version.
…and here’s his PCE-CD counterpart. Yeaaaaaaaaaaah….
On March 3, 2005, an absolute fucking wizard named Andrew Kepple posted perhaps the best parody/tribute video to any game EVER. Starting out with Queen’s classic Bohemion Rhapsody, Kepple dared ask, “what if I replaced the lyrics with Zero Wing’s intro?”
- The cutscenes are so bad they’re legendary and therefore awesome
- An actual decent game with fluid controls!
- A really cool soundtrack that’s good enough to put on your mp3 player
- The three power ups are well balanced and there are situations where switching weapons is both helpful and fun
- A pretty lengthy shooter at eight stages long
- No multiplayer
- Other than the hilarious mistranslated opening, there’s nothing special about Zero Wing to tell it apart from dozens of other horizontal scrolling shooters of its time.
- Some segments can be brutally difficult
Zero Wing is an absolute blast and a great game even without it’s so-bad-its-good translation. The game is bizarre, fun, frantic, difficult, and rewarding. Wait until you see the ending. It’s enough to make your head explode. So go there and import a copy of this greatest of Megadrive shooters. Don’t beleive all the naysayers who think Zero Wing is crap. Their base was stolen years ago and their hearts have turned black. You know what you doing. Buy Zero Wing. For great justice.
Platform: Arcade, Sega Megadrive (Genesis), PC Engine CD
Genre: Horizontal Shoot ’em Up
Release Date: May 31, 1991
Also from the developer: Not much else noteworthy
Also try: The arcade and PC Engine versions
Game Length: ~an hour depending on how often you die!
Buy/Skip: Take off every dollar to your importer. Move cash and receive Zig in mail