Zero Wing (Steam)- Review

Thanks to Bitwave Games for the review code

Title: Zero Wing
System: Steam (PC)
Price: $7.99
Release Date: 02/14/2023


A change from the usual Toaplan norm, here we have a horizontal shooter! The evil CATS army invades, and it is up to you to go through eight stages and stop their empire! Like usual, this Arcade version doesn’t have any sort of story in-game, though it does offer a brief, goofy ending if you clear a loop. The infamously legendary opening is from the Genesis port of the game, which is not included here, (but interestingly enough, is to be recreated in a future patch for this release) so yet again you’re meant to just get shooting!


The same sort of display/menu options as the prior two Bitwave Toaplan titles I reviewed so far, with the main difference being that well, this is a horizontal title, so there’s no TATE mode for obvious reasons, and the handy UI gadgets are shrunken to make up for the bigger screen size. Otherwise, you have crisp pixels on display and pretty accurate audio, which is a good thing considering how Zero Wing has a very good soundtrack, even in the more shrill Arcade soundfont of this version.

The game itself looks pretty alright, though the stage backgrounds are pretty dark and don’t get that colorful or memorable as you go through each of the eight stages. Some of the bosses are definitely distinct, but a lot of the enemy designs here feel more generic than a lot of other Toaplan titles, or even compared to the other horizontal shooter, Hellfire. It can definitely start to feel samey after a while.


Now that this game is horizontal, rather than vertical, some aspects of Toaplan’s usual design changed quite a bit. The biggest gimmick in this game is that bombs are completely gone, replaced by a tractor beam your main ship and the two options can shoot to grab small enemies to use them as shields or shoot back at other foes. To be blunt, this mechanic outright sucks, and doesn’t really amount to much in helping you against the waves of enemies outside of the occasional time you can pull in a bomb that will clear enemies, but even these are rather rare.

Most of the time, I’d just use the tractor briefly to shield myself from fire, but the real fun of the game comes from the weapons, which are once again color-coded like prior Toaplan games, with a red vulcan shot, a blue laser, and green missiles, and all three of these are immensely useful, with the green being my absolute favorite due to how it can shred through spongy enemies when powered up and combined with rapid fire, but the other two don’t feel all that bad either, to the point that if you accidentally nab one of them you won’t really feel like you downgraded.

Getting these weapons and focusing on trying to stay alive as long as possible is what got me the most fun from the game, since unfortunately even with great weapons Zero Wing is rather weak as a whole from other factors. Just like before, you have multiple regions and game modes to choose from, and yep, this got an altered version in the form of a two player variant, which as in Twin Cobra, will respawn you immediately from where you died and allow for co-op play; the original version uses the good old checkpoint system.

Except unlike Twin Cobra, the checkpoints in Zero Wing don’t feel like rewarding challenges to overcome, and some of them lead to recovery runs that can feel outright nightmarish, especially in later stages. It also doesn’t help that scoring is pretty tough here, and the in-game leaderboards have a high threshold to getting on them. But the Two-Player version doesn’t really make that better, since credit feeding leads to the game being incredibly monotonous and boring, and even trying to 1CC this game with the respawn, some parts feel like a basic slap on the wrist due to this mechanic, leading to the game overall having some really, really boring moments. For my personal recommendation, I advise sticking with the one player mode, but don’t expect nearly as much fun aiming for future checkpoints as in Twin Cobra, since the overall level design is just dull no matter how you play it.

Still, I kept on going, and I managed to beat the two player version after a good while of playing. It does loop and even has a silly ending, but even cranking the game up to higher loops didn’t do much to excite me in the same way as the other three games did. At least like last time, you can go for the online leaderboards, which seem to be the best way you can get much out of this shooter, and the same accessibility features are back, including the fast forward feature which can immensely help with the game’s slower moments.


In conclusion, Zero Wing is definitely the weakest of the four initial games in this first Toaplan Steam volume, but not by much fault of the port job. The port itself is decently solid, with the only major bugs I noticed stemming from certain achievements not unlocking as they should, and the returning control glitch of the normal shot button refusing to function upon mapping the rapid-fire to a controller button. Still, you get the same decent QOL features as prior entries, online leaderboards, and the alternate variants, but that doesn’t help much that at the end of the day, Zero Wing is a much weaker shooter than Toaplan’s other titles from the era, and while some of the home ports helped to make that a little better, none of them are included here, let alone the one that made this game so infamous to begin with.

Even if that meme of an intro is planned to be added in the future, I really can only recommend you dive into this one if you buy the other three in the bundle: good weaponry, music and QOL still can’t do much to save an otherwise average shooter from developers who could do so much more.

I give Zero Wing a 5 out of 10.

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