Review: Sonic Wings 2 (Neo Geo CD)

Sonic Wings 2, Aero Fighters 2 in the US, is a vertical shmup released in the arcades in 1994 on SNK's Neo Geo hardware. The game was released on the Neo Geo CD a year later. The original Sonic Wings was released in arcades in 1992, and the Super Nintendo in 1994.

Sonic Wings 2 doesn't have lasers, it doesn't have shields, it doesn't feature speed power ups, nor can you shoot enemy fire back at itself. Sonic Wings is as basic as it gets, and the lack of bullshit is what makes it so damn good. It doesn't rely on gimmicks to be fun.

When you first start up Sonic Wings 2, you have a choice between 8 different characters/ships: F-117A Nighthawk (USA), A-10 Thunderbolt II (USA), FS-X (Japan), F-15 Eagle (Japan), F-14 Tomcat (USA), YF-23 (USA), Dassault Rafale (France), Sea Harrier FRS.2 (GB). Each craft is piloted by a unique character ranging from robots to talking dolphins to punk rockers. After selecting your ride, the game beings.

The first level is Japan. The second, fourth, and fifth levels are a random selection between Brazil, the United States, and France. The third stage is the Atlantic, the sixth is Australia, the seventh is the Himalayas. The eighth stage is Mexico, and the ninth stage is Hawaii. After conquering the globe, your are off to space for the final level of the game.

The level design in Sonic Wings 2 is excellent. First and foremost are the gorgeous backgrounds. Each immediately feels like the land it represents. New York City starts off flying past the Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. Bizarre enough, you can shoot at her and a power up will fly out. Thankfully she doesn't sustain any real damage. After that, you fly over the dense city scape, concluding with a fly through an amusement park, and ends with a boss battle against a B-2 Bomber.

All of the levels feature this kind of detail and destructible environments. You can see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and Aztec Temples in Mexico. Each of the main levels is so unique and different, it's a real treat to play through Sonic Wings 2 just to see what the designers created. Less interesting are the 2 "bonus" levels, the Atlantic and Himalayas which feature nothing but clouds. Besides the large bosses, the regular enemies are your traditional helicopters and jets, nothing special.

The soundtrack in Sonic Wings 2 is excellent as well, with each musical track matching the theme of the region well. The opening track for Japan sounds like classical Japanese style music. The weapon effects are average, and the explosions aren't particularly booming either.

Each of the 8 different characters has a slightly different weapon set consisting of a primary shot (from very focused shots, to some wider spreads). You can level up your weapon up to 4, however the fourth level does not last forever, and will fall back to level 3 after a short while. The secondary weapon is a bomb. This weapon varies widely for each aircraft, ranging from concentrated attacks, to bombs that take up the whole screen. The final difference in each ship is the speed at which it moves. Overall, with varying speeds, primary weapons, and bombs, each ship is worth trying out to see which suites your style the best.

As I noted at the beginning of the review, this is a no non-sense shooter. You don't need to memorize every nook and cranny of each level, nor the enemy positions, to be successful. Just move around and shoot. The controls are responsive enough where the first couple of times you play you can easily avoid enemy fire. As you begin to learn the enemy patterns, dodging becomes less of a necessity.

The bosses will require a bit of trial and error though, as they shoot massive amounts of bullets at once. A few of the bullets can be shot down though. So you must be able to react fast enough to shoot down some bullets, and wiggle your way through the spread to not die. Each of the bosses has multiple parts that can be destroyed. Using the B-2 bomber again, the left and right wings can be shot off, reducing the amount of rounds being shot at you. After destroying the two wings, taking on the meat of the ship becomes more manageable.

Sonic Wings 2 also features SNK's trademark Engrish translations. "Fry to the rain forest and save the nature." "Yes sir!" It's charming to say the least. It's fun playing through the game with different characters just to see what they say. Two player mode has even more funny translations. Adding to the craziness is the final boss fight, featuring a toy monkey clapping away at symbols. It's a bizarre twist after the rest of the game stays fairly realistic.

Like most Neo Geo CD games, there are unlimited continues. This does suck nearly all of the challenge from the game. You can easily cruise to the final level without any real trouble. Sonic Wings 2 is a lot more fun if you can limit yourself to a single credit and play in a more traditional way. There are 4 difficulty levels total (easy, normal, hard, and MVS) but I didn't notice much different between them.

I really enjoyed Sonic Wings 2. The speed of your aircraft and the excellent Neo Geo CD controller make for a smooth gaming experience. The simplicity of the weapon system keeps the focus of the game in check, killing everything in sight. You don't waste time waiting for power ups to change colors, realigning your orbs, or anything like that. A lesser game may not be able to pull it off, but Sonic Wings 2 does it without any trouble.

Overall, Sonic Wings 2 is a fantastic vertical shooter. The controls are superb, the graphics are what you would expect from a Neo Geo game, and the soundtrack has a lot of variety. The only real flaw is the unlimited continues. Some may be put off by the lack of gimmicks, but those looking for an old school shooter will love this game. Highly recommended.

Graphics 7/10 - Detailed and colorful
Sound 7/10 - Great soundtrack
Game play 9/10 - Simple and responsive controls
Overall 8/10 - Old school shooter fun