Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 11/11/99 (JP), 07/19/00 (NA)
Giga Wing has the distinction of being the first 2-D shooter released for the Dreamcast. When it came out, it got shredded in the reviews, which I’ve never quite understood. Yes, I realize not everyone’s going to like every game, but I was astounded at how many negative reviews there were. Ever since I first played the arcade version of this game, I was hooked. Upon finding this among a box of Dreamcast games that had been packed away, I just had to hook up the Dreamcast and give it another playthrough. Let’s see how much of the critical reception was warranted.
The story of Giga Wing involves a medallion with infinite power that would cause the end of the world if it ended up in the wrong hands. Four people set off to find and destroy it to prevent anyone from bringing calamity and destruction unto the world. Each pilot has their own motivations: Shinnosuke seeks to avenge the deaths of his family (which were caused by the medallion), Ruby wants to ensure the futures of her adopted children, Stuck lost his wife thanks to the medallion, and Isha is essentially just fighting for world peace. Many of the bosses you fight use the medallion as a weapon. Oh, and along the way, they encounter an enigmatic black ship. Cue the foreboding ominous noises. In team play, every duo has a different dynamic and their own endings, which is a rather nice touch. The basic plot is nothing you haven’t seen before, but the characters do get more development than you would expect in a shooter (though not as much as in, say, an RPG), and the multiple endings are not something you’d expect to see in a shooter. Some of the bad endings are rather poignant and, interestingly enough, some of the team bad endings don’t seem much like bad endings.
The graphics in this game don’t come close to pushing the Dreamcast’s graphical capabilities and haven’t aged all that well. The general color scheme is on the vibrant though somewhat murky side, with the neon colored projectiles you’d expect to see in bullet hell games like this. The screen gets quite busy with all the different projectiles and enemies flying around on the screen at any given time. That, combined with the animated backgrounds, means your eyes will be constantly jumping from place to place, and at times you may lose track of your ship. There’s also some occasional slowdown when there’s a ton of things going on at once. Contrary to what you might think, this actually doesn’t adversely affect gameplay, or at least I never got shot down because of it. Still, on a system as powerful for its time as the Dreamcast, there really shouldn’t be any slowdown issues, especially for a straight port of an arcade game. On the positive side, the bosses and backgrounds are large and detailed, and the bomb attacks are expectedly flashy, with each character having their own unique one. Character portraits are expressive, with each character having a set of distinct expressions. Animations are also fairly smooth when there’s no slowdown.
The soundtrack is rife with techno beats and ranges from upbeat to somewhat more subdued and foreboding. The first stage’s music and its “Come on!” chorus is catchy and is the first track I think of when I think Giga Wing. An “OK!” tells you that your reflect force has recharged, which is a rather handy cue to have given that you have so many things to keep track of at once. There’s also full voice acting for each of the characters, though there’s none in the single player bad endings. They also each have their own comments whenever you get a new high score in score attack mode, which I found amused, particularly Shinnosuke’s. The standard explosion and shooting sound effects are present here as well and do the job.
You have four ships to choose from. Each has a different shot and bomb attack, as well as different spreads, ship speeds, and shot power. Ruby’s Carmine is the fastest ship of the four and strong front shot power, though shooting down every enemy using her ship is harder due to the narrower shot spread. Isha’s Porchka has homing missiles and good frontal shot power, but is one of the slowest ships. Shinnosuke’s Raijin has the widest shot spread, making shooting down every enemy easier, but it has the least powerful shots and mediocre speed. Stuck’s Widerstand has weak frontal shot power, but the bombs that shoot out to the sides (you can adjust where they fire by moving the ship around) pack a punch and can still do damage even after they explode. As you can see, it’s all about learning how to use them effectively and exploit their strengths. The Widerstand has the steepest learning curve of the four, but if you manage to focus all the shots and bombs in one place, it can be stronger than the Carmine. The pilot you choose affects the sequence of the first three stages; in multiplayer mode, stage order is determined by the first player’s pilot.
A key feature at your fingertips that you’ll find yourself using a lot is the reflect force, which reflect any shots that hit your plane back at the enemy and turns them into shield icons. After you use it, there’s a recharge time of five seconds. While that doesn’t sound like a long time, you still have to ensure you’re in the clear or that you can dodge any incoming shots. The reflect force is activated by holding down the shot button, which is both good and bad. Since you fire by tapping the shot button, your finger’s already on the right button when you want to use the reflect force. However, you have to be careful not to accidentally activate it when you don’t need it so as to avoid ending up being in a situation where you need it, but have to wait for it to recharge. In addition, the barrier takes about half a second to activate after you hold down the shot button, which doesn’t sound bad in writing, but that small delay can be enough for your ship to get hit by a projectile. I wish there was an option to assign it to a separate button. If all else fails, you’re also impervious to shots while using force bombs, which also wipe out the all enemies on screen. Remember that the while the force bomb destorys every enemy on screen, it does have a focal point, so keep that point centered on the enemy for maximum effect. In addition, in two player mode, only the pilot using the bomb is invincible, so the one not using the bomb needs to exercise due caution.
You only get a limited period of time to defeat bosses. Much like bosses in other games of this genre, they follow a set attack pattern, so memorization and being able to anticipate attacks go a long way towards shooting down the bosses before time runs out. If you don’t succeed in beating the boss within the time limit, you move on anyway, but your score (and possibly your pride, if applicable) will suffer for it, as you won’t get the boss break bonus. Even if you do get the boss break bonus, the only way you can get 100% is to destroy every part of the boss, not just the central part.
What the game lacks in longevity – one playthrough will probably take you a half hour to an hour, depending on how good you are and which of the eight difficulty levels you’re on – it makes up for in replayability. There’s a total of six long levels, seven if you manage to get through the game on one credit. There’s two possible endings for each individual character and for every possible pair of characters, which makes for a grand total of eight endings in solo play and 12 endings in team play. That’s a lot more endings than you see in most shooters. Of course, to see the team play endings, you’ll either need another person to play with or become proficient in using two controllers at once.
Naturally, the old “get as high a score as possible” incentive is present in this game. Scores in this game are rather inflated, going as high as twelve digits long. If you like seeing many digits in your scores, you’ll certainly get your fill here, considering you can get scores like 495,937,984,892 – and higher. In addition to arcade mode, there’s a tutorial mode, a score attack mode, and an Internet mode (exclusive to the Japanese version). Since I couldn’t get my Dreamcast online, I was not able to test the Internet mode. You can try to unlock every picture in the Gallery section, which contains character portraits and the pictures shown in the endings. A fifth ship – the black ship that appears to you several times during the game – can be unlocked by beating the game with one credit (good luck with that).
Giga Wing can either be a huge challenge or walk in the park, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, you’ve got a constant blizzard of projectiles raining down on you that at times can be nigh impossible to dodge except with the reflect force or using a bomb since they can cover the entire screen. Oh, and you’ll have to try to pick up points icons at the same time. On the other hand, the unlimited continues does make getting through the game much easier, as dying carries virtually no consequences – you start right back where you bit the bullet, and your bomb supply is replenished. However, you do lose any extra bombs you picked up, so bombs are a matter of “use them or lose them”. It’s a different story if you’re aiming for a death free playthrough, which would yield you the good ending as well as the elusive fifth ship. In addition, the game adjusts itself using a rank system – if you die early in the game, the bullets will travel more slowly; if you get through much of the game without losing a life, the bullets will travel much more quickly. In short, if you’re just looking to beat the game, you’ll easily be able to accomplish that. But if you’re looking to do really well in it and unlock everything, you’ve got quite the task before you.
The reflect force is a nice tool to have, and it’s always satisfying to see enemies get killed by their own firepower, though I daresay the reflect laser added in Giga Wing 2 is even more fun in its destructive potential. The plot isn’t particularly original, but the multiple endings were a nice surprise. In every other respect, though, it plays pretty much like any other 16-bit vertical scrolling shooter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that, and the fact that this is a port of an arcade game, doesn’t win the game many points in originality. Yes, there’s a few bonus features that were put in this version of the game, but while it’s nice that they’re there, they’re hardly innovative.
I liked playing through multiple times with different ships, both to experiment with each ship’s capacities and to see the associated endings. Of course, the whole point of an arcade game is to entice you to drop every last quarter in order to exact revenge on that enemy that just nailed you, so it’s hardly surprising that that trait carried over to this version. I still fire this game up occasionally whenever I’m in the mood for a shoot ’em up.
Shoot ’em up games tend to be a niche genre due to the difficulty in many of them. The hardcore shoot ’em up fans might find the unlimited credits and the fact that one can finish the game even if they die practically every second somewhat offputting in that it takes the challenge out of the game. The more casual fans might find it frustrating to die often and to try and time the reflect force so that it activates in time to prevent that. At the same time, the very fact that they can still beat the game no matter how many times they get shot down would likely be encouraging for them. It at least sold well enough for the sequel to be released overseas, so that’s something.
Other shooter juggernauts would later come out for the Dreamcast, like Ikaruga, Bangai-O, and Gunbird 2, just to name a few. That being said, this is still a solid shooter that I don’t think deserved the negative reception it got. No, it’s not the deepest game ever, but it’s pure bullet hell fun. I had just as much fun with it now as I did when I first played it. I’d love to see a rerelease of this game somewhere.
Story: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Pretty Poor
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Giga Wing is a solid, if short, bullet hell game that was eaten by the critical wolves when it came out. It’s easy if you just want to get through it, but beating the game without dying is a different story. While it gets overshadowed (and overlooked as a result) by other shooters later released on the Dreamcast (including its sequel), this is still a worthwhile title, especially if you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups.