It always continually astonishes me how varied and interesting the shoot ’em up genre can be — as you’ve no doubt seen already in the various installments of our weekly Blissful Death column on the subject. And Crisis Wing, a new release from eastasiasoft and developer Pieslice Productions, is a great example of a distinctive type of shoot ’em up: one which plays definite homage to Toaplan’s classic Mega Drive blaster Truxton.
Crisis Wing doesn’t waste any time with plot or anything like that; it’s a straight-up blastathon where you (and, optionally, a friend) set off on a 7-stage expedition to blow up as many enemies as possible, collecting weapons and bonuses along the way.
The basic mechanics of Crisis Wing are pretty straightforward. Your ship has a standard rapid-fire frontal shot, and this can be supplemented by one of three different subweapons — red, blue and green, just like in Truxton. The actual functions of these weapons are a little different from in Toaplan’s classic, however.
Crisis Wing’s red weapon provides some outrider cannons with a spread-out firing pattern; the green weapon provides outriders that fire straight ahead; the blue weapon launches missiles alongside your normal shot. All seem to have roughly equivalent power, so it’s mostly a matter of taste as to which one you want to prioritise the use of — there are plenty of opportunities to switch over the course of each stage, so you can try each one out without too much risk.
Alongside your standard shot and subweapons, Crisis Wing also provides you with a limited stock of bombs which, again like Truxton, explode with a skull-shaped blast, damaging or destroying everything on screen and making your ship temporarily invincible while the blast is visible. These are especially effective for “panic bombing” when you know you’re about to take a hit, so getting used to letting them off at extremely short notice is an essential skill to learn — particularly as the game is fairly liberal about supplying you with new ones as collectibles, and gives you a fresh stock of three with every new life.
It is worth noting that even with all this heavy weaponry, Crisis Wing is hard. Unrelentingly so. And there’s no difficulty setting to ease you in, either; in the world of Crisis Wing, you either get good or you go home — though the game does at least offer you infinite continues so you can credit-feed your way through the game to a certain extent.
That said, continuing does set you back to a checkpoint — either the start or midpoint of the stage, or just before the boss — so you still have to actually overcome the thing that beat you if you want to progress; eventually, you’ll have to improve your skills if you want to see the grand finale.
And, pleasantly, you will feel and notice your skills improving with each credit you spend. Each mistake you make teaches you something and gives you an idea of what you should be watching for. Each failed boss encounter teaches you something about their attack patterns, so you know where to position yourself next time. Each opportunity to retry lets you make use of a new strategy and subweapon to see if that provides a more effective approach to the parts you’ve been struggling with.
It’s a genuine pleasure to feel yourself improve in such a clear, noticeable and easily measurable manner, which is what makes Crisis Wing’s sharp difficulty curve a lot more tolerable and even enjoyable to engage with. While this is a shoot ’em up I’d perhaps hesitate to recommend to those with very little experience in the genre, it’s definitely one from which you can learn a lot; the skills you’ll learn in Crisis Wing are easily transferable to a lot of other games in the genre.
And that’s at least partly because Crisis Wing combines elements of various different shoot ’em up types over the course of its duration. At times, you’ll be dealing with clearly defined enemy formations a la the Star Soldier series. At others, you’ll have to prioritise your targets between stronger foes and fragile but still deadly popcorn enemies like in Raiden. And on numerous occasions you’ll have to deal with some fairly intense bullet patterns that, while perhaps not full-on danmaku, certainly serve as a relatively lightweight “bullet hell” to manage.
The whole thing is held together with some absolutely beautiful presentation, too. Authentic-looking 16-bit visuals blend with a wonderful soundtrack based on FM synthesis for that authentic Mega Drive feel and some marvellously satisfying explosion sounds. The game can be played in tate mode both on your television and in handheld mode on Switch, too, so if you really want the authentic vertical-scroller experience, you can have that. It would perhaps be nice to have the option for some bezel art when played letterboxed on a horizontal screen, but this is a minor nitpick.
Arguably the only lacking element of the game’s presentation is the stage backgrounds, which are extremely simple tiled affairs that don’t really provide the sense of going on any sort of “journey” or telling a wordless narrative like some other shoot ’em ups too. Each level basically just has a sort of parallax “wallpaper” and that’s it; in some respects that’s a bit of a shame, but on the other hand it means that the frequently chaotic action in the foreground stands out clearly and you won’t get distracted.
Crisis Wing offers a selection of other modes to play besides its main game, too, including a highly addictive time-limited caravan mode and a boss rush mode; both of these modes have their own unique soundtracks and stages to work through, with the latter making use of truncated stages between boss fights rather than simply hurling the bosses at you one after another — a nice twist on the usual formula.
There’s plenty to enjoy here, for sure; it’s an extremely well-made game that provides a very authentic Mega Drive-style shoot ’em up experience that will particularly delight Truxton fans. The only real question is whether you’re up to the stiff challenge that Crisis Wing offers — but then, you’re a big strong gamer, aren’t you? What are you afraid of? Nothing, that’s what. Get in there and get blasting.
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