Waking up on a Saturday morning with a thumping head and a mouth that tastes like a hamster's armpit may be usual for people who like their ale. But the Great Mage Sagyr has just arisen to that he has the body of a bat and the breath of a dragon - and he doesn't even drink!
He has been tricked by Xandrilla, an evil witch with a grudge to bear, and is now paying the price. Sagyr has only one choice: fly to Xandrilla's castle and kill her. It will be hard flight, flying over seven different zones of death and destruction, but it has to be done.
Here endeth the plot for today's shoot-em-up. What follows is an exercise in high-speed shooting, dodging and blasting. The bat battles through Sagyr's castle, the jungle of mutants, the lethal swamp, the scape of fire, the land of despair, the crystal world and - eventually! - Xandrilla's very own stronghold. Each level has its own particular dangers and its own particular foes.
Free Form - Or Even Five!
Luckily for Sagyr, but not for the creatures he meets, a bat is not the only form he can take. If he shoots all the monsters in one attack wave then a power-up floats free. Collecting it either improves his firepower in the normal shoot-em-uppy kind of way, or transforms him into a different creature with a different kind of weapon.
As an insect he can fire small triangular bullets, as a dragon he spits fire, as an eagle he can conjure up an energy whip, when he's a bat he drops balls that split and shower the screen and, finally, as a gryphon he can litter the screen with a hail of thunderballs that smash all the on-screen life to pieces. With each weapon upped and doubled by the collection of similar power-ups, Sagyr's appetite for destruction is insatiable.
The monsters swoop down in predictable patterns, but with numbers on their side. With creatures on the ground and flying the action is hectic, often confusing. The sheer volume of shots makes life visually confusing, but pacy. The size of the sprites contributes to the confusion, as do some of the backgrounds, which either mask shots or enemies. Well drawn and smoothly animated, certainly, but it is not for the faint hearted who will blanch at the on-screen chaos.
The sounds are the weakest links in the WOD chain. The effects bang well enough, but with all the explosions and dragon's breath blitzing the screen, some meaty roars and heavier bass would have gone down a treat. It isn't a bad flaw, just a missed opportunity.
This binge of anarchic destruction is fun because it is confusing, but Wings of Death has an uneven feel. If you get one of the many power-downs or you die, the latter stages of each level become unbearably hard. The special weapon that has most effect on the big-end nasty will always appear, but your bat, gryphon, dragon or whatever will be in such poor shape as to make it unusable.
With small sprites and masses of on-screen enemies, Wings of Death favours the intuitive blaster rather the planned-route followers of the R-Type brigade. This makes it fun at the outset but certainly harms long-term play. There is simply too much risk, too much left to chance and too many factors in favour of the enemies. WOD is a game which will be dragged out occasionally for a quick whiff of chaos, before you return to more survivable entertainment.