Monday, 6 December 2010

Arcade Shmups #4

Gemini Wing (1987)
By: Tecmo  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 85,980 (one credit)
Also Available For: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga, MSX, Sharp X68000

Like most people (or game fans, at least), I have a fairly extensive list of games I always meant to play but never got around to as a result of time or financial constraints, but Gemini Wing has never been among them. My only memories of it are the rather lacklustre reviews the home conversions received, notably on the Speccy (which had blue and yellow monochrome graphics as I recall), so when I decided to take a look at the arcade original of this vertical-scroller (which is actually a few years older than I realised), I didn't have very high expectations. Initially, however, it's been a pleasant surprise! I hope my luck holds, I could do with a decent new shmup to play...

Even for shmup standards, Gemini Wing has a pretty hideous storyline that I won't inflict on you here, but suffice to say, every alien race in the galaxy has apparently declared war on Earth! Things aren't as bad as they might seem though as the invading aliens didn't reckon on the ingenuity of the Gemini Wing fighter. It is using this that you (and a friend) must engage the terrifying alien fleets across seven stages of vertically-scrolling action. It appears you're fighting the actual aliens themselves here too, for the most part, rather than their spaceships and stuff and they're quite a diverse bunch that wouldn't look out of place in our gardens and forests!

As you can probably tell from the screenshots, many of the aliens look like insects, other animals, and plants, and they include centipede's, bats, various types of flies, praying mantises, spiders, beetles, trees, even single-celled organisms! The bosses are similarly organic in nature. The first, for example, is a walrus, and the next a pair of one-eyed snakes! Like Metal Black, recently reviewed here, Gemini Wing tries to do something a bit different with the weapon system too, and with a bit more success this time. Your fighter is equipped with a reasonable, though poor range, cannon, but you may notice the ship also has a tail of circular icons behind it.

These are called 'Gunballs' and each of them represents a different special attack ranging from three-way fire, to homing missiles, to a wall of fire, and others. They are used in the order they trail behind you and each lasts for one brief attack, acting like lesser smart bombs of a sort. More of them can be collected by destroying a certain kind of alien called a 'Bringer' which have 'Gunball tails' of their own! Bringers are hard to kill but each time you shoot one will change the type of Gunball they are carrying. When it carries the attack you want, you can steal them by flying into them and snatching them. Be careful though as they can also steal your Gunballs in the same way!

Not all the Gunballs are weapons though. Certain ones will also give you speed-ups, an extra life, or award you with bonus points too. If you do manage to destroy a Bringer (it takes a lot of shots), its Gunballs will scatter around the screen, much like your own if you lose a life. This does of course make things a little easier as you can gather up most of your lost power-ups again when you restart (which happens immediately from the point you died). That's not to say this is an easy shmup though. As well as numerous medium and large enemies, there are frequent swarms of dozens of smaller enemies (like the green things to the right) and they often move lightning fast!

Others attack from behind while some, such as the beetles, come flying down the screen straight at you. Most of the enemies have horribly unpredictably flight paths too, especially the smaller ones, and it's not just the aliens who cause problems. Many of the stages are home to hard-to-reach guns and there are various kinds of barriers that you have to try and shoot through as well. Fortunately the Gunballs are fairly common but you're still likely to become overwhelmed now and then! The game can sure handle a lot of sprites on the screen at once too - there are sometimes literally dozens of several different types attacking at once.

Your 'tail' of Gunballs following you around can be a bit distracting too, but this isn't the hardest shmup in the world either. The sprites and backgrounds are both pretty varied, and the sprites in particular look nice. However, Tecmo missed some great opportunities as well. For example, the first stage takes places over a giant canyon of some sort. Some parallax scrolling here could've looked amazing and given the game a real sense of scope! Nevermind though, it's still looks decent enough. The music and sound effects are pretty average though, it has to be said, and not something that you would even notice really unless you actually tried to.

Initially at least, this appeared to be a bright, cheery game which kind of reminded me, thematically, of a vertically-scrolling version of recently-played Amiga classic, Apidya, what with the abundance of insect-like enemies and all (well, vice versa since Gemini Wing came out first but you know what I mean!), and plays a little like PC Engine great, Gunhed. Having something in common with those two fantastic games is certainly no bad thing and, while Gemini Wing is not as good as either of them, it is a pretty half-decent and playable game. It has a great two-player mode (and yes, the players can steal Gunballs from each other!) and proves a nice challenge too. The difficulty increase is gradual with only a few overly tough sections, and there are some innovative features here which work well. As mentioned earlier, to me at least, this has always been one of those games that was just, sort of... there, but having now given it a chance, it has proven to be a rather pleasant surprise.

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. hmm not so sure on this one, maybe my memories of the speccy version are tarnishing the arcade original!

  2. Haha, it was my memories of the the reviews the Speccy version got that prompted me to give it a wide berth all these years! :P I liked it anyway :)