There’s all kind of reasons for shmup enthusiast to be drawn to particular games in the genre. It could be a deep scoring system. Perhaps it has some clever mechanics. Maybe it’s the bullet patterns that are fun to learn and master. But there is one thing that is undeniably the #1 factor for attracting outside players to the genre: cool boxarts. After all, what could be cooler than playing a game that features a giant skulls with protruding brains? That’s exactly what Crisis Wing is about.
Whereas players can be drawn by cool art, it is the gameplay experience that makes them stay. Crisis Wing attempts to deliver an experience that channels the SNES era of going to your blockbuster and picking the coolest rental game. Unfortunately, the interior of the box isn’t as beautiful as the outside art.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: September 22, 2021
Crisis Wing is a vertical(?) shmup that sports a very pleasing, yet familiar aesthetic inspired by arcade classics. Most importantly, it features a huge skull-shaped blast when using bombs!
There is something about Crisis Wing that evokes feelings of nostalgia and comfort. It probably stems from the way in which its presentation produces familiar arcade sounds from the 90s and the gameplay surely follows. It reminds me of when my parents would take me to my local arcade “Venture Land” and I would get submerged in sounds coming from arcade cabinets all around me.
Old school cool
The nostalgic feeling isn’t limited to the presentation, as it also encapsulates most of its gameplay. Unlike modern shmups with intricate scoring systems, resources to manage and timings to watch out for, Crisis Wing keeps it simple. It’s just a shooter with shots and skull bombs.
Where it might get a little tricky is with the power-up system. By breaking huge P crates, you will either obtain a bomb or a power-up orb that will cycle between red, green and blue. Each color corresponds to shooting style being wide, straight or homing respectively. Once you power up, you can collect another orb to get a small P next to your score, which will make the next orb further empower you. So in simple terms you power-up on the first and the third orbs.
The tricky part is that power-ups are as rare as they get. Surely enough, the game gets to a point where you feel as if your power is not enough to deal with the enemies and you start wishing you were powered up. However, the power-ups are extremely rare and sort of random, so you will find situations where you find a P crate, only to discover it had a bomb.
Not only that, but also there’s no indication as to when the orb will change color. This will inevitably make you change styles when you wanted to power-up more often than you think. A small visual tweak would have worked great in here. To make matters worse, the cycle timer is very close to that of respawning. This means that if you die, you have to immediately head for the power orb that appeared, any minor delay will result in the orb changing color and having you stuck with an undesirable weapon.
New school movement
As old school as this game might be, ironically, this also has a modern movement mechanic that I always look forward to: analogue movement. I really like this style of movement because if gives you back control on games where you don’t have a dedicated “slow down” button. It lets you finesse through the harder stages while retaining a max speed capable of quick evasion.
Sadly, as sound as the idea was for Crisis Wing, the execution falls flat. My biggest issue is that you are considerably slower when moving diagonally. Horizontal and vertical movement is fine, but as soon as you combine 2 directions you start feeling incredibly sluggish. While I don’t presume to know the workings of Crisis Wing, I’ll guess that this is related analogue distance. Think about it this way, moving upward is 10 units north, while moving right is 10 units east. If you wanted to move 10 units northeast, that’s equals around 7 units east and 7 north. So in the end, you move at 70% of the speed at which you would move if you used the d-pad, which would move you 10 and 10.
It doesn’t help that the dodging style is focused around your entire ship. Perhaps not the entire ship like in R-Type, but also not a smaller hitbox like most CAVE games. Between the hitbox, the awkward analogue movement and some uncomfortable patterns, it makes for a subpar flight experience.
Crisis Wing’s arcade mode contains 7 different levels. Each level has its own background and challenges. Truth to be told, there isn’t much I can say about the levels that isn’t already implied by its arcade nature. Defeating waves of enemies and defeating the boss is basically what it boils down to.
But in reality it’s much less than that. One of the things that continually popped into my mind while playing was how long I’ve been staring at the same background. Although each stage has its own scrolling layers of background, they just repeat endlessly until you reach the end. There isn’t in-stage variety like on other shmups and I don’t really feel like I’m getting anywhere. Just endless parallax scrolling.
Enemies don’t make it any more lively. The more I played, the more I thought I was just being tossed the same enemy waves over and over. At some point I had to stop and think if my shmup skills were being challenged or if instead my patience was what was under test. I kid you not, one of the stages just threw the exact same enemy wave 8 times in a row.
I really tried to feel each level as unique, but it felt tedious just defeating the same enemies over and over until I reached the boss while staring at the same 2 or 3 layers of background scrolling at different speeds.
One other aspect that stood out to me was the color pallete used for bullets in general. Bullet coloring is all over the place, with no major color standing out as a “dangerous” color. Bullets can be red, they can be green, they can be blue or even other colors. Which is weird considering your 3 main shot types are also red, green and blue.
The result is that amidst the chaos, bullets don’t stand out and cause confusion as to what’s a friend and what’s a foe. This is further exacerbated by the flickering and explosions that cause more distractions. Crisis Wing is definitely not kind to the eyes.
I really wish I could say something else about the gameplay, but small issues bundled together just keep snowballing and negatively impacting my enjoyment of the game.
Full degree of rotation
One of the stronger aspects of Crisis Wing is the amount of options provided for TATE gameplay. Depending on your preference, you can rotate the screen 90 degrees in either direction, perfect when bundled with a peripheral such as the flip grip! Sadly, there’s no way of rotating the controllers with the screen, so you can’t play a TATE style with the controllers attached as Nintendo intended.
Instead, there is an option to rotate the gameplay for an horizontal experience. This will rotate the game 90 degrees to the right, but retain the orientation of the interface elements to give the impression that you’re playing an horizontal shmup instead! While it does feel funky at first, it ends up being an interesting way of re-experiencing the game with a different set of eyes. But I should warn you that some of the bullet patterns feel trickier to dodge during horizontal gameplay. I also believe that the viewport is slightly reduced from regular play and you need to scroll the screen more up and down, but maybe that’s just me.
In regard to the presentation, it adheres to a very minimalist style. Your play screen only contains the crucial information like score, stocks and bombs. There also a distinct lack of flair for game events such as transitioning between levels or dying. The former does help to emphasize a style of interconnected gameplay where you seamlessly transition from a zone to the next.
Game Overs are just plain annoying. The instant you are hit, the “enter your initials” prompt immediately begins. If you were pressing a direction before being shot, it will translate into the prompt and mess with the first letter of the initials by moving it to a different letter. A minor inconvenience for those who like to put a name to the score.
The soundtrack contains some pretty cool arcade sounds, but doesn’t feel remarkable. I don’t think I remember a single song now that I’m thinking about it. The sounds, while they work in the context of the game, just end up being generic sound bites that are easily forgotten.
Apart from playing the arcade mode, Crisis Wing has two additional game modes. Those are the time attack and the boss rush.
Time attack will take you through a caravan-style stage where you have 2:30 minutes to score as highly as possible. Getting hit will subtract time, so scoring and survival are both crucial to breaking the leaderboards.
Boss rush will take you through a gauntlet of powered-up versions of the regular bosses. Just as during the arcade, your objective is to survive and defeat them all. In-between bosses you will be presented with smaller stages that throw in a couple of enemy waves and P crates to power-up or recover your lost bombs.
In the end, Crisis Wing is one of those games that look much cooler on the box than what you end up playing. I appreciate what they were going for, but during every play sessions I always though that the ambition of its design ended up taking the game through wrong paths that didn’t feel too fun to play. Couple that with content padding and repetitive stages, and it ends up feeling like a game that you wish you didn’t have rented.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Crimzon Clover – World EXplosion
- ESP Ra.De.
- Psyvariar Delta
- Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Raiden V: Director’s Cut
- Darius Cozmic Collection Console
- Super Hydorah
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- R-Type Final 2 (Switch version)
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Dariusburst Another Chronicle EX+
- Freedom Finger
- Ghost Blade HD
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Q-YO Blaster
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Red Death
- Crisis Wing
- Task Force Kampas
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)