This is a little followup article inspired by a comment I received about my recent Zero Wing review for the Turbografx-16 CD, wondering how I got past level 9 in this difficult game. Here’s what I did. This probably won’t be helpful for those who are great at shmups, but for the rest of us it may be.
Warning: Spoilers below!
While there are hard parts in this game through the first eight levels, the ninth level is the hardest by a wide margin. It isn’t impossible, though, even for only average shmup players, as I am certainly not great at this genre, only okay; it’s just difficult and requires practice.
The most important key to beating level 9 is to have a run where you don’t die at all before reaching the final checkpoint, in the corridor that leads to the boss of the level. If you die before this point, you’ll probably need to get get game over to get another shot because of how the level is designed. That’s the key, stay alive through the level and get powerups. You MUST get the laser, and the speed powerup is really good to have too, and the bomb makes the boss easier so that’s key unless you’re really good at this kind of game.
At the beginning of the stage, the first wave of enemies can be tricky if your ship isn’t powered up, so learn where they are. Here the most important thing is to get the first two powerups. You MUST kill the two powerup ships early in the level, and CANNOT die here, to be able to continue without a game over and retry. You need the blue laser BEFORE reaching the first set of moving flamethrower enemies, because the flamethrower enemies are, as far as I can manage, impossible to beat with just the machine gun. I died every single time I tried to get past one of the sets of flamethrowers without the laser, it just isn’t possible for someone with my level of skill. This is the main reason I complain about the checkpoints in level 9 being unfair — many checkpoints set you too close to flamethrower sets to be able to get past them, because there often aren’t two powerups between where you start and the flamethrowers. I spent quite a bit of time just killing myself, so as to get game over and one more try at the level from the beginning, because of the impossible checkpoints. Fortunately game overs start you back from the beginning of the stage, giving you another try at the full level. Whoever placed the checkpoints where they are in level 9 must hate the players, or something, because it’s quite cruel to have so many near-impossible checkpoints, starting from right at the beginning of the level.
The key to the flamethrower sections, which there are at least three of, is that you need to start shooting them with the laser pretty much as soon as they appear. The flamethrowers need to die before they start moving, because they will follow you from behind and almost certainly kill you (unless you have the multiple speed powerups you don’t have unless you are quite good at this game!) if you fail to get them on approach. As for the rest of the level, just kill or avoid all the enemies. One wave comes from behind you soon after the second flamethrower section. These enemies are tricky and require memorization to avoid. I found that going all the way forward on the screen after that flamethrower section, then up to the top and back along the top of the screen as they fire, was the best approach. Then I could kill them from behind. Soon after that is the mid-boss. It’s fairly easy, fortunately; just dodge the waves of fire by moving slowly across the screen from a central point while shoot at the ship, moving down to kill the little enemies along the ground once in a while.
Soon after the mid-boss comes the final stretch. Fortunately, you’re past the flamethrower sections, there are no more from here on. Watch out for the turrets here; only move forward to take them out when they’re not firing. They got me several times when I wasn’t careful enough. There are two gates before the boss which take a lot of shots. The final one can be tricky to take down if you have died t the level 9 boss or in the final corridor before reaching it, and only have the basic gun with the helpers from that one powerup in the final stretch. If you only have the basic gun and not the laser, do NOT try to kill those last two engine things on that central block before the last gate; the peashooter takes a long time to kill the gate, so go around them over the top and start shooting that gate the first moment you can. When I tried to take it out after killing the two engine things, I always died, the gate would not be destroyed before I ran into the gate as the screen scrolled. At first I thought getting past that gate was impossible, but then I thought to try to go over the things… and it worked. Under is a bad idea though, there’s a floor down there that will kill you. :p Beating the boss with only the basic gun and helpers is possible, but it’ll be a LOT easier if you also have the bomb from one of the powerup ships before that final checkpoint, so do try to beat the boss on the first try, and don’t lose the bomb or let enemies set it off before reaching the boss!
So, the boss at last. It’s a giant train-tank, and it is really hard to beat. It takes up the whole right side of the screen, and has two homing-fireball launchers on the bottom, a laser gun in the middle, and a shuttle-launch point at the top. The hardest thing is avoiding the giant ‘shuttle’ ship or ships (I’m not sure if it’s one circling around or not, that might be the idea) it shoots at you throughout the fight — sadly enough, those things killed me the first time they launched, like, at least the first five times I reached the boss. The shuttles move fast and are hard to dodge if you don’t have several speed powerups, as you cannot unless you haven’t died since previous levels, because level 9 has only one speed powerup in it. Killing the shuttles is impossible, they have a lot of health. Finally I watched a gameplay video, but it wasn’t too helpful, that guy had all the speed powerups so he could just avoid the shuttles in a way you can’t do without speed powerups. I did get an idea for a plan based on the way the shuttle moved, though, and it worked. The time I beat level 9 is when I finally managed to get to the boss with the bomb. Having the bomb was very important! Before that I kept dying while shooting the homing-fireball launchers. You need to take them out first. The bomb took them out quickly, and I got the laser easily after that. Then I was able to get in close, because those shuttle things can’t easily hit you if you stay very close to the boss. At this point only the shuttle can hurt you. Shoot forward, hitting the shuttle when it appears. I moved back and in a small downwards circle each time the shuttle appeared, to make sure it wouldn’t hit me, and just kept up the pattern until it died. It was very satisfying to watch that guy finally go down, after so many hours of effort on level 9!
To conclude, I’ll mention a bit about the final fight in level 10. The level 10 boss is just as hard as the level 9 boss or harder, but there is no level in “level” 10, just a bossfight, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get past; I beat it in only a couple of tries. The most important thing is to do your best to NOT shoot the mines, because each one splits into several fast-moving small red bullets when shot. Some people can dodge that amount of fire, but I can’t, reliably. Once I figured that out the boss went down quickly, it’s not a long fight. Of course it helped that, as I described in the review, in the time I beat the game I got hit by a bullet after the enemy boss was defeated and exploited, but the game sent me to the final cutscene anyway instead of back to the beginning of the fight, but I’m sure I’d have won soon even without that; the bossfight that is level 10 is a fun fight, but it’s not nearly as hard as level 9.
So, that’s how I beat Zero Wing’s last two levels. The level 9 strategy should mostly be useful for the arcade/Genesis game’s eighth level, also. This is a great game, seriously under-rated for its high-quality and fun gameplay! Play it.