Ultimate Guide: Gynoug
One of the Mega Drive’s earliest – and most bizarre – 2D shooters may not have spawned any sequels, but it has assured a place in gaming history for its strange menagerie of monsters. Retro Gamer descends into hell
It’s fair to say that Gynoug – known as Wings Of Wor in North America – came as something of a shock to Mega Drive owners back in 1991. While there had been the odd deviation from the perceived norm, most 2D shooters since the days of Taito’s Space Invaders had placed the player in a heavily-armed spaceship and tasked them with bringing down hordes of bloodthirsty aliens (often riding in their own interstellar craft) in order to restore peace to the universe. Gynoug – which was developed by Masaya, a team which would become famous for titles such as Cybernator (known as Assault Suits Valken in Japan) and the popular Shubibinman/ Shockman series – took a very different approach: you assumed the role of an angelic hero named Wor from the land of Iccus. When the tranquillity of this dreamlike world is shattered by the malevolent being known only as ‘The Destroyer’ and his band of grotesque demons begin to run riot, Wor has no option but to take to the skies and attempt to put a stop to the encroaching evil.
Set across five surprisingly long levels, Gynoug retains many of the genre tropes you’d expect from a scrolling shooter. Enemies attack in waves, with some firing projectiles in your direction, and bosses are present in two flavours: mid-level and end-of-level. However, Gynoug’s power-up system is pretty unique when compared to other games from the same period, by collecting coloured orbs you can drastically boost your chances of dealing with the seemingly endless flood of beastly foes. Blue orbs increase the rate of your shots while red ones make them more powerful. The current status of your shot speed and power is denoted by two meters at the top of the screen – shots max out at level five in both speed and strength, but several orbs are required to level up. Dying decreases these meters by one level each, so all is not totally lost if you meet you doom.
You can also alter the pattern of your shots by collecting coloured gems, which comes in handy when you’re dealing with enemies that attack from both the front and the rear. These pick-ups come in three forms: a red gem gives you a powerful forward-facing shot, while a blue gem creates a pattern which fires straight ahead. Meanwhile, the yellow gem fires both forwards and backwards, although the rear shot is quite weak. Then there are the special attacks, which come in the
form of collectable scrolls.
These consist of Energy Balls (projectiles that absorb enemy bullets), Lightning Bolts (vertical lightning attacks), Magic Arrows (homing missiles), Ground Attacks (land-hugging shots), Thunderbolts (the closest thing Gynoug has to a traditional, screen-clearing smart bomb), Wildfire (damage boost), Elemental (Gradius-style ‘option’ angels) and Aura Shields (no prizes for guessing what these do). There are also Feathers which boost your movement speed, all of which means you’ve got quite a lot to take in on your very first play – and we haven’t even mentioned the ghoulish enemies yet.
Designed by Satoshi Nakai, the same artist who brought the equally disturbing denizens of Cho Aniki to life on the PC Engine, Gynoug’s cast of monsters is quite unlike anything you’ve seen in a shooter. A nightmarish melting pot of steampunk, medieval art and HR Gigeresque body horror, Gynoug’s bosses are some of the most distinctive pixel-based creations ever to grace a videogame. Things start off relatively tamely, with stage one’s rock-like ‘Dragoon’ mid-boss and its bizarre man/ train hybrid ‘Locomotive Breath’, and even stage two’s end guardian ‘Masseboth’ – a giant with a sunken ship on his head – keeps things relatively calm, but by the time you hit the fourth level things get freaky. End boss Orrpus is a fusion of flesh and metal and has a look on his face that is so tortured you’ll feel sorry for inflicting more pain on him.
As unnerving as it is to face off against a limbless floating corpse, level five’s main guardian really takes the crown when it comes to Gynoug’s most twisted creation. Perfidy is a grotesquely deformed humanoid with blood running from his pale lips and what can only be described as a huge phallus forming the majority of his body. When asked by videogame journalist and erstwhile Retro Gamer staff writer John Szczepaniak about this suggestive design – which, lest we forget, made it into a videogame sold to youngsters – Nakai simply replied, “I drew that in secret, and slapped it in.” How this got past Sega’s gaze is anyone’s guess. Perhaps its playtesters simply couldn’t get that far in what is quite a tricky game to master. Penis-shaped monsters aside, that Nakai was capable of achieving this kind of detailed visual style during the Mega Drive’s formative years stands as a testament to his incredible talent.
He’s since gone freelance and has contributed illustration work to games like Resident Evil: Code Veronica, World Of Warcraft and Culdcept.
We’ve focused on Gynoug’s striking visuals quite heavily here, but the game has many other positive attributes that make it worth a play, even in 2018. The music – composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, who also created the stirring soundtracks for Gleylancer and Langrisser/warsong – is perhaps a little basic for such an early Mega Drive release, but lends the game a suitably epic feel. Presentation isn’t the only area in which Gynoug excels: the gameplay is challenging and this counted for a lot back in 1991, when many Mega Drive shooters were insultingly easy to complete.
Sega picked the game up for publication in Europe in 1992, where it retained not only the unusual name but also the iconic cover artwork, depicting the hero Wor holding a fist aloft in defiance of The Destroyer’s evil forces. However, in North America it was third-party publisher Dreamworks, and not Sega, who had taken the plunge a year earlier. As we’ve established, it was renamed Wings Of Wor, but it also came with bespoke artwork by the legendary fantasy artist Boris Vallejo. While the art is arguably less fitting for the tone of the game, this fact alone makes the US release noteworthy: Peruvian painter Boris Vallejo has won numerous awards over the years and his distinctive style has graced everything from collectable trading cards to Hollywood movie posters. What does Wings Of Wor have in common with National Lampoon’s Vacation? Boris Vallejo did covers for both.
While Masaya would go on to create the disturbingly brilliant Cho Aniki series – which featured vaguely erotic undertones and had a similar visual style – Gynoug remains to this very day a gloriously strange one-off. No sequel was ever forthcoming and the game has never been considered for a HD remaster. Perhaps its cast of nightmarish, deformed foes is simply too unnerving to consider unleashing them on the gaming public a second time.
» [Mega Drive] The sprites of Gynoug might be small, but they’re perfectly formed and full of detail.