Nautlander and Ratalaika Games’ recent rerelease of Mega Drive classic shoot ’em up Gynoug has solved a long-standing personal mystery: where the piece of music I’ve had stuck in my head for the last three decades actually came from.
You know how it is. You’re just minding your own business, when an awesome piece of music pops into your head and you think “yeah, that’s really badass, I should go and listen to that in all its glory” — and then you realise that you have absolutely no idea what the piece of music actually is, and perhaps only the vaguest idea of the context. In my case, I knew it was a first level theme from a shoot ’em up, but I was buggered if I knew which one of the many I’d played over the years it actually was.
Turns out it was Gynoug, a game which evidently left quite the impression on me, even though I probably wouldn’t have played it for more than a few hours 30 years ago — I never had my own copy, so the version I played would have been one brought home by my brother from his job on “Mega Drive Advanced Gaming” magazine.
Regardless of personal anecdotes, Gynoug is back, and it’s great. And that first level music is just as amazing as I remember.
For the uninitiated, Gynoug (pronounced “jee-nohg”) is a Mega Drive shoot ’em up that was originally released in 1991. It was known as Wings of Wor in North America, so you may have also come across it under that name. It was a well-regarded game back in the day, but Nautlander and Ratalaika’s release of the game on Switch, PlayStation and Xbox platforms marks its first rerelease in the west since its original appearance; Japanese Wii owners, meanwhile, were able to buy it from the Virtual Console storefront back in 2008.
In Gynoug, you take on the role of an angel called Wor, who is tasked with putting a stop to the horrible beastie known only as The Destroyer. Said nasty has arisen as a consequence of demons feeding on evil ambitions, so I hope you all only think nice things from now on.
The game unfolds as a horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up where you move through the levels at a fairly sedate pace, but the scenery can harm you as much as the enemies can. Gynoug is distinct from other games that follow this mould such as R-Type and Gradius, however, in that its enemy formations tend to come thick, fast and frantic — so while the background scrolling may often appear to be sauntering along at a fairly casual rate, the action in the foreground will most certainly keep you busy!
You have access to three different shot patterns, which can be switched between by collecting coloured tokens. The default is a conventional spread shot, while the alternatives are a focused barrage directly ahead and just behind, or bi-directional shooting allowing you to hit foes coming from behind. Generally speaking, the option to switch shot types is baked into the levels just ahead of enemy formations where the different arrangements might be useful — but the choice is always yours.
Blue and red power-ups allow you to increase the spread and power of your shots respectively, and each new “level” of these requires you to collect more power-ups before the stat in question will increase further. Both spread and power levels drop by one every time you cark it, mind, so try not to get hit — particularly before reaching a boss.
Gynoug’s levels feature both midpoint and end bosses, and these are a real highlight of the experience, featuring genuinely grotesque designs. There’s a combination of mechanical and organic foes that will stand in your way as you proceed — and things get increasingly unpleasant to look at as you progress through the game’s six stages. It’s very much a game with a distinct sense of style — and that helps the experience as a whole be all the more memorable. Perhaps this is part of why I remembered that music for 30 years.
You can also even the odds a little in your favour by collecting magic scrolls, each of which are marked with a letter indicating the spell that they provide. Collecting and using multiple scrolls of the same letter allows more shots or a longer duration of that spell, while collecting different letters allows you to stock up the other spells for later. There are both offensive and defensive spells available — and, like the weapon power-ups, they tend to be provided at points in the game where they will be particularly useful.
Gynoug is an excellent shoot ’em up that strikes a good balance between challenge and accessibility. As a shoot ’em up designed specifically for play in the home rather than sucking up quarters in an arcade, it’s designed in an eminently fair manner, where you can easily learn the various attack patterns seen in each level and practice overcoming them with each new attempt. Add to that some convenient rewind and save state functions in Nautlander and Ratalaika’s excellent modern port and you have a great way to experience this classic shmup, regardless of your own skill level.
Much like Panorama Cotton, Gynoug is even more impressive when you consider it in its original context. The massive boss sprites and sheer number of things happening on screen at any one time show that original developer Masaya really knew what they were doing with the Mega Drive hardware — and you can bet that passionate Mega Drive Owners would have been proudly showing off the cool distortion and rotation effects to their Super NES-owning brethren back in the day. Who needs Mode 7?
If you enjoy your shoot ’em ups, Gynoug should absolutely be part of your collection, without question. Here’s hoping it gets suitably honoured with a physical release down the road — it certainly deserves it.
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