Review: “Gynoug” (PS4)

Ratalaika Games has been on a roll with their efforts to introduce old-school shooters to modern audiences. Following October’s release of Gleylancer, Ratalaika is once again tapping the 16-bit archive to bring Gynoug (aka Wings of Wor in the US) back to life.*

Originally released in 1991 for SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive, Gynoug is a horizontal shoot ’em up that blends elements of fantasy, mythology and science fiction. I honestly don’t recall how well it was received back in the 90s, but is it still worth playing today?

Of course you know, this means Gynoug

As a digital release, there’s not much to go on as far as story goes, so I’m going to tap my old Wings of Wor instruction manual to fill in some gaps, all the while acknowledging that there may be some variation from translation…

Iccus, the planet of flying men, has been “taken over by an evil virus that has mutated into a collection of the grossest creatures ever to slime a tunnel.” Topical, eh? Your hero (who is named “Wor” in the original US release) must take to the skies and rid Iccus of the source of the virus known only as “the Destroyer.”

No, not “The Destroyer”, but still the coolest looking boss in the game

Along your way across the six stages of Iccus, you can collect orbs that upgrade your weapons, colored gems that alter your bullet paths, and scrolls that give you “magic shots” with various effects, including lightning, shields, etc. You’ll be able to carry multiple scrolls at any given time, and you can select which scroll you want to use with the press of a button. This adds a little bit of strategy to the game, as you will want to save your magic shots for the right moment, and only collect the scrolls that will be most useful to you. Everyone’s taste will be different of course, but I found that both the “Ground Attack” and “Elemental” magic were awesome, which the “Magic Arrow” sucked balls. It would be nice if you could also swap your standard bullet pattern in a similar way (instead of collecting the different colored gems), but the original Genesis controllers were limited to three buttons, after all.

What manner of Mega Man code screen is this?!

It’s not short, it’s… cute

Despite Gynoug only being six stages long, it is not much shorter than its contemporary shoot ’em ups thanks to each individual stage being rather lengthy. Not only does each stage have both a mid-boss and final boss (with the exception of stage 6), but the music changes and the backgrounds evolve once you defeat the mid-boss, giving the second half of every stage a slightly different aesthetic than the first half.

Outside of the bosses, the regular enemies you come across are a mismatch of sci-fi and horror. They vary from birds, shellfish, devils, skulls, fish, demons, cybernetic steampunk machines, statues, gargoyles, etc. If that sounds like an odd smattering, it honestly is, but you’re usually too busy shooting things and dodging bullets to care about thematic consistency.

David Cronenberg’s interpretation of Thomas the Tank Engine

Your journey begins at the center of the planet Iccus, and takes you to the heavens above. You will traverse a cavern, submarine waterways, ancient ruins, a steampunk-esqe machine stage, a grotesque biological tube, and finally, the skies high above the planet. Several of the stages have background rotation and scrolling effects that may not impress modern gamers too much, but old school Genesis fans will probably be impressed by some of these tricks. However, I highly recommend turning on the scan lines filter if your eyes are sensitive to bright colors, as the “bio tube” stage is a lot to take in without something to tone it down.

“Ach! Mein eyes! I am momentarily blinded!”

Look, mom! I can fly!

Outside of these stage effects, everything else in Gynoug looks pretty good. It’s colorful, and several of the bosses are impressively large. As a 2D shooter, there’s not much animation to speak of, though Wor(?) has a pair of flapping wings on his back which is more animation than most space shoot ’em ups can boast. Most importantly though, it’s not too easy to lose track of what is going on, which can be a risk for games of this genre. I did notice some occasional flicker from time to time, which honestly shouldn’t happen with the power of modern consoles.

On the sound side, the music can only be described as “adequate.” There’s certainly nothing annoying about any of it, but none of the compositions are particularly catchy, though the first stage’s theme comes close. The sound effects are also standard, “adequate” fare.

The undead enemies in this stage all had Christian burials, it seems

Gynoug was originally an early 90s release, which was an era synonymous with challenging gameplay. In that company, Gynoug fits right in. It’s not a simple game, and taking a single hit means death. Some will find this challenge annoying, while others will say it adds replayability. Ratalaika has done their best to split the difference by adding save states and a rewind function, so there’s really no excuse for not seeing the game through to the end. Of course, there’s also multiple difficulty levels to select in the options screen, so there’s plenty of opportunity to tailor the experience to your liking. However, I should note that sometimes you can die by hitting the floor and ceiling, and sometimes you don’t. Either/or would be fine, but it should be consistent.

Also not “The Destroyer”

Almost done, and I still don’t know how Gynoug is pronounced

Now it’s time for the nitpick lighting round! Stage six was essentially a boss rush level where you fight old bosses and minibosses before reaching the final big bad, which makes for a waste of a stage. That final boss – “the Destroyer” – was really boring. It’s almost all dodging with your lucky hits landing by chance as you dip and dive between bullets. Sometimes when you pause the screen or use the rewind function, the music does some weird things once the game gets moving again, almost like it has to get back up to speed. This doesn’t happen every time, but it’s noticeable, though if you don’t pause or use rewind, it won’t affect your game.

At the end of the day, Ratalaika’s version of Gynoug is a pretty good re-release of a pretty good 90s shoot ’em up. It certainly doesn’t beg for “must play” status by today’s standards, but for the $6.99 asking price (even less if you catch it on sale), Gynoug is a no-brainer pickup for shooter fans, retro-gaming enthusiasts, or anyone else who is even remotely interested.

Gynoug is available now for both PS4 (via PSN) and Nintendo Switch (via the Nintendo eshop).

*Disclosure: A PS4 copy of Gynoug was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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