Let’s Talk About ‘Crisis Wing’ – A Love Letter to 90’s Shmups at a Bargain Price

There’s no shortage of shoot-em-ups to choose from, whatever your platform of choice may be. Thanks to its beautiful presentation, expertly-tuned gameplay, and replayability, Pieslice Productions’ Crisis Wing completely smashes the quality-to-price ratio and is a must-play for genre fans.

Featuring 7 dense stages, I never found Crisis Wing to be unfairly challenging. It always depended on me to recognize and memorize enemy movements and bullet patterns, make proper use of the power-up and bomb systems, and be willing to go the distance with some very spongey boss battles. I’m admittedly bad at it and struggled immensely with the Boss Rush mode, but more on that later.

This is a vertically scrolling shmup with excellent pixel art, both in terms of stage designs and enemy models. The one-man developer at Pieslice did an admirable job clashing light and dark colors to help bullets and other moving parts stand out from the backdrops. I always find it frustrating when bullet colors closely resemble (or outright match) background colors, as it leads to what I consider cheap deaths, but that was never really the case in Crisis Wing.

It feels like a caravan shooter, putting emphasis on score chasing by consecutively collecting dropped medals while blowing stuff up, but Crisis Wing is actually quite long. It’s a tad above my skill level, for now, so I’ve only managed to break into the 5th stage, but others online have said it took them just over an hour to do a full run. That’s a lot of white-knuckle concentration.

On the gameplay front, your movement speed feels good. I can usually adapt to other shmups that feel a bit too fast or loose, like Task Force Kampas, but Crisis Wing felt pretty natural from the get-go. There are no speed boost power-ups here, so the entire experience is built around a default momentum. I always seemed to be able to weave between bullet patterns if I recognized them in time and never really found myself stuck in a barrage of traps.

Even if I did end up in a poor position, the game’s bomb system is a fantastic “plan B.” Launching a massive skull-shaped explosion (that looks rad as hell), your bomb deals a ton of damage. More importantly, though, it makes you invulnerable during its entire animation. So rather than using them purely for damage against screen-fulls of baddies or bosses, it’s always a sound idea to keep one in reserve to prevent yourself from dying.

Death in Crisis Wing is the ultimate punishment, based on how the power-up system works. Whenever you blow up an item box, you’re presented with a diamond-shaped power-up that shifts between three different colors while it floats in the air. Each color represents a different shot, with spread shot being more ideal for fodder enemies throughout the level, power shot for larger enemies and bosses, and rockets dishing out a ton of damage directly in front of you (a high risk, high reward option against bosses since you can’t rely on firing from safer zones on the sides of the screen like you can with the spread and power options).

Collecting the same power-up color that you currently have equipped enhances it up to five or six times, and dying not only removes the power-up from your ship but bumps it all the way down to rank one when you pick it back up. You can really bone yourself by reaching a boss with a rank one shot since they already have a ton of health. This is why I mentioned saving bombs for these “oh shit” moments!

I remember watching The Electric Underground play Crisis Wing when it was released on PC last year and he kept calling the game an “endurance test.” That’s honestly the most perfect description, so I’ll leave it at that. If you can make it to any of the game’s boss battles, get comfortable and expect a lot of repetition (just not in a bad way). His review is what brought the game to my attention last year and I was so stoked to see EastAsiaSoft was bringing it to Xbox back in September. He was also the first person I saw to make the Truxton comparison, which is 100% accurate.

If you know me, you know I love the 16-bit era — especially the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx 16. The music from that era is absolutely timeless, which I gushed about in my recent reviews for Gynoug and Gleylancer. The soundtrack for Crisis Wing is fantastic and a few choice tracks really wouldn’t feel out of place in a game like Thunderforce IV or something like Blazing Lazers. It really nails that Sega Genesis sound.

As far as modes and features go, Crisis Wing has a local co-op option for those of you with friends nearby. If you’re flying solo, there’s a practice mode that lets you jump into any stage you’ve reached in the main game. You can choose what weapon to begin with and even start from the beginning, the halfway checkpoint, or the boss battle.

Time Attack is a lot of fun and what I think is the best mode to jump into if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. This is pure caravan shooter goodness, giving you a short time limit to kill stuff and increase your score while removing chunks of the remaining time whenever you die. This mode kind of flipped my approach to bombs. Rather than saving them for invulnerability moments, I’d use them to clear screens and crank up my score.

Boss Rush is exactly what it says on the box. You’ll tackle a small wave of enemies, open a power-up box, then face off against each boss in order with additional waves in between. This is the most brutal mode in the game, in my opinion, since you don’t have as much time to level up your weapon. Boss battles in this game are already tough (and very fun), but trying to survive against them with weaker weapons is the ultimate challenge.

There are a few display options, with the default being the vertical letterbox you see in the screenshots here. You can rotate the screen into a tate mode if you’re into flipping your TV or monitor over, which the hardcode shmup crowd tends to do, while also toggling between standard, sharp, and CRT filters. Usually, CRT filters just drench the screen in scanlines, but this one accurately adjusts contrast and brightness, as well as shape, to mirror the days of playing the Genesis on my old wooden floor model TV. This is the first CRT mode I actually enjoyed using.

Overall, Crisis Wing is an incredibly fun and well-made arcade shoot-em-up that absolutely deserves a spot on your console of choice (or PC, of course). For the cost of a fast-food lunch, you’re getting a beautiful game that’s a blast to play, well balanced, and highly replayable. Doubly so if you have local friends for couch co-op. It’s also a fairly easy 1000G completion if you’re an achievement hunter, with only one challenging achievement related to Boss Rush.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A digital Xbox code was provided by the game’s publisher, EastAsiaSoft, for the purpose of this review. Crisis Wing was released on consoles on September 21, 2021, for $7.99 USD. It was played entirely on Xbox Series X.

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