Retrogasm! Gynoug: Mega Drive Review

gynoug tvAh Gynoug. This game is a mystery for several reasons – partly because it’s so damn weird in parts, and because there seems to be a lack of consensus on how to pronounce its title. Gee-nog? Guy-nog? Gin-og?

I always went for option three, but it’s known in America as Wings of Wor. Why developer Masaya thought to change the title on both sides of the pond was a puzzle when I was young, and it remains a subject for debate among its small fanbase today.

Released in 1991, this blaster is often overlooked in the pantheon of classic 16-bit side-scrollers, becoming smothered in the shining radiance of games like R-Type and Gradius. Hell, even Sexy Parodius seems to be more popular, but I never understood why so many people haven’t heard of this little gem.

I bought a copy of Gynoug from my local indie shop Game Masters at the weekend for the bargain price of £2.50, although it came without instructions or case. Still, I was happy to own a copy again, as my original from 1991 became lost to the ages. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how bat-shit crazy this thing is. Once you fight the seagulls that shit bullets on stage two you’re firmly stuck in par for the course territory. It’s just a mad game, but all the better for it. 

seagulls

See? shitting seagulls. I *shit* you not. Lol.

So what’s the reason for all this madness? As it happens, the plot is thinner than a slice of Bernard Matthew’s turkey roll, as all we get is some nonsense about the demons of Iccus invading heaven under the employ of someone known as the Destroyer. What that means is an army of incredibly phallic nightmares and a bunch of creatures that look like the end-result of severe genome splicing are doing bad things for some reason. It’s up to Wor to save the day.

Actually wait hold on, then why the fuck is it called Gynoug? And for that matter what the hell is a Probotector while we’re on the subject of name changes?

As far as the shooting goes, it’s solid enough, although there are long stretches early on where you can just hold down the auto-fire button and wipe out everything on screen without dodging a single bullet. This is thanks to red and blue orbs that you pick up by smashing gems in each level.

My understanding is that blue orbs increase the spread of your shots, while red orbs make the shots bigger. Orbs with silver rims change your attack pattern, with the rare gold orb being used to spread your fire in front and behind Wor. It’s not really that useful in the grand scheme of things, but the same can’t e said for Wor’s magic attacks. These scrolls let you hurl fireballs at an angle, spew homing arrows and call an angel to fill the screen with lightning. They’re really useful when the screen gets flooded with demons.

gynoug 2This boss was on the back of my Mega Drive console box, and it made me really want Gynoug. My gran eventually got it for me one Christmas. Legend.

But oh man does this game difficulty spike, and I really mean it. From about stage three onward it just becomes insane, with bosses that fly across the screen without little in the way of signposting, and bullet hell sections that actually slow the game down. Said bosses are as bizarre as their footsoldiers, if not more so.

Case and point: the stage two end boss is a living pirate galleon that fights Wor on the ocean floor – which is really odd for a sea-faring vessel that’s supposed to float. You defeat it but oh no, shit! It comes back to life and starts rising up to reveal a giant… zombie… head… thing underneath that’s been controlling it all the time. Yes, it’s a giant rotting zombie head wearing a fucking pirate ship as a hat.

I mean… what? But let’s not be too hard on Gynoug, because its capacity to baffle and mystify is what makes it so endearing. Well, at least to me anyway. There’s a totally vomit-inducing stage later on that seems to take place inside the belly of a middle-aged Glasweigan man whose spent too many years down the pub. Disgusting sores, bloody red growths that attack Wor on sight, and the worst case of tapeworm this side of gaming are just some of the delights on offer here.

gynoug stage 5 I checked, and the stage is actually called ‘Demon’s Womb’. Jesus…

Either way it’s a head scratcher for sure, but to the game’s further credit, you can hardly say that the team behind Gynoug aren’t creative. There’s even some light use of Mode 7-style sprite shifting at play, which is first witnessed when an earthquake hits stage one. The level wobbles and shifts as stalactites drop from the ceiling. Fair enough, the soundtrack drops out a bit and the border glitches a little, but this was damn impressive back in 1991 and on a Mega Drive too.

I’m not sure how rare Gynoug is today, but I’d recommend seeking it out. In an alternate reality this game could have become the stuff of industry legend for its oddball charms, much in the same way Zero Wing’s ‘All Your Base’ dialogue spawned a sea of cheap merchandise and memes.

Then I think to myself, ‘Would anyone buy a Gynoug t-shirt featuring the two headed cock alien shaped like an armitage shanks u-bend from stage five?’

Probably not.

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