SNK Essentials: World Wars

The loose “trilogy” of vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups from SNK’s early days that began with Alpha Mission and Bermuda Triangle finally concludes with 1987’s World Wars.

Sometimes erroneously described as a reskin of Bermuda TriangleWorld Wars offers an interesting blend between the gameplay elements of its two predecessors, and manages to carve out an identity for itself as an enjoyable, addictive shoot ’em up in its own right in the process.

Alpha mission start! Launch all ZIG!

World Wars is a top-down, vertically scrolling shoot ’em up for one or two players simultaneously. It features SNK’s patented “loop lever” control scheme that allows you to fly freely using the joystick and shoot in any of 8 directions independently of your movement. In the console ports for the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, this is simulated through the use of the two analogue sticks.

Much like Alpha Mission and Bermuda Triangle, in World Wars you’ll take on both aerial and ground targets. A single fire button shoots both your air-to-air cannon (which can be aimed with the loop lever) and missiles (which always fire in front of you). Power-ups can be attained by collecting “E” symbols, which build a gauge on the left of the screen; roughly every three pickups, you increase in power, which causes your air-to-air shots to get longer range and become “piercing”, while your missiles initially upgrade to a cluster bomb that explodes several times in a straight line ahead of where it lands, and subsequently to a large bomb that causes a blast nearly 10 times the size of its base form.

Probably all sounds pretty familiar so far, yes? Let’s examine where that incorrect assumption about this being a Bermuda Triangle reskin comes from. It’s quite simple, really; despite being its own game, World Wars reuses a whole lot of assets from Bermuda Triangle, including graphics, sound effects, music and digitised speech. As such, it bears more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor — right down to the deliciously incongruous music in the demo mode and continue screen — but is absolutely its own beast.

For starters, rather than commanding the large capital ship you had control of in Bermuda Triangle, in World Wars you’re piloting a more conventional shoot ’em up spaceship — though it’s still called “ZIG” due to the reused speech assets. This has the rather significant impact on gameplay of meaning that you can only take one hit before dying rather than absorbing as much damage as your energy bar could take as in Bermuda Triangle; on the flip side, however, it means that you can’t “power down” once you’ve reached your weapon’s maximum potential, short of actually losing a life.

In another notable difference, losing a life in World Wars causes the screen to fade out (with a “triangle wipe” effect, just in case you had missed the other things this had in common with the previous game!) and you to be reset to a checkpoint; this means that you can’t “brute force” your way through a level, even if you credit-feed enough to give yourself a ridiculous number of lives. Yes, intriguingly, adding credits during gameplay while playing World Wars on its default settings (at least as part of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection) actually adds lives to your stock rather than simply allowing you to continue upon Game Over, allowing for a rather underhanded means of attaining high scores for the less scrupulous player with deep pockets. (Or, in the case of the Anniversary ports, the willingness to hammer the Start button a few times!)

The level structure is a bit different, too; rather than the emphasis on avoiding obstacles or using SYD outriders to “tank” them as in Bermuda Triangle, in World Wars the challenge comes from a combination of predictable, learnable enemy patterns and the necessity to pay attention to both the bullets on the screen and where your foes are coming from. The seemingly sedate pace of the game is deceptive; it’s all too easy to lose focus and end up crashing into a slow-moving bullet simply because you got complacent and weren’t paying attention to where you were going.

The game also lacks the “flying backwards” sections of Bermuda Triangle, meaning you can actually trust the distance meter at the top of the screen this time around. When that reaches zero, you’ll encounter a boss; in contrast to Bermuda Triangle’s fixed installations that required you to hit specific targets to destroy them, World Wars’ bosses move around and make use of learnable, recognisable attack patterns to try and defeat you. They’re not especially complex, but just like in the main bulk of the game, it’s easy to get tunnel vision or distracted and find yourself ploughing into a wayward enemy shot. Just one hit and it’s all over in this, remember!

While Bermuda Triangle saw your mission taking you on a journey through time as you progressed through the levels, World Wars, as the name suggests, takes you on a trip around the globe — starting in the mid-Atlantic, moving on to Antarctica and from there to Hawaii, Tokyo, Egypt, China and finally safety in South America. Not the most direct route, one might suggest — it would have been much quicker simply to fly from the starting stage to the goal point in South America — but at least it affords the game the opportunity to give us a varied mix of stages, each with their own unique colour palette and backdrop items to keep things interesting. Also there are lots of things to blow up along the way.

Of these three early SNK shoot ’em ups, World Wars in many ways feels like the most “traditional” — though it still has its own distinctive aspects, such as the use of the loop lever for firing in different directions. For me, I’ve found it one of the most accessible, addictive and overall enjoyable to play; this isn’t to say I don’t like the others, mind you — but World Wars is the one I tend to find myself coming back to most often.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for not getting too crazy!


More about World Wars
More about the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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4 thoughts on “SNK Essentials: World Wars”

    1. Ikari Warriors is actually one of the few early SNK games I was already familiar with — there was a very good Atari ST port that I used to play quite a lot. Definitely curious to try Victory Road and Ikari III though!

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