By ShellShock
Revised on 04/13/10
     
Legendary Wings

Players: 2
About: Greek shooter
Courtesy of: Capcom
Back in: 1986
Originally on: Arcade
Also on: NES, Xbox, PS2, PSP

 
             
 

Just like Namco's arcade Phelios, Legendary Wings also borrows some Greek themes in this early Capcom vertical shoot'em up. However, advanced alien technology plays just as big a role, giving the game a distinctive design contrast: ancient temples and ruins litter the landscape, while right beneath the ground all sorts of mechanical weapons pop up to the surface, armies of flying artifacts and electronic drones attack through the air, and mysterious tunnels lead to an often even more technologically advanced underworld.

According to the game's manual, a super computer by the name of "DARK" has been given the task of helping this alternate-reality Greek civilization to evolve quicker. Left by spacemen a long time ago, the system suddenly malfunctions and becomes a threat to human life on the planet. Ares, the Greek god of war (ergo the Japanese title Ares No Tsubasa, or "Wings of Ares"), gives two humans "Wings of Love and Courage" to confront the haywire system and put a stop to human race annihilation.

Japanese arcade flyer

Our characters starts with a basic shot that can be upgraded to conventional rapid, double, and spread type shots among others; but as many early shooters, the lack of any sort of automatic fire means sore fingers sooner or later. And there's a lot of heavy shooting to be done.
Enemies on the ground can be bombed using the second fire button, aiming through a Xevious-style crosshair.
Nothing special so far, but Legendary Wings's most striking characteristic are its platforming sub-levels. Each of the 5 stages include 2 optional subterranean sections: a trap dungeon and a bonus dungeon; plus a mandatory end-of-level boss dungeon. The first one seems to be made out of bones, you can jump over gaps and use ladders, is guarded by a Mother Brain-looking boss, and is generally nothing but a hindrance inhabited by a multitude of creatures. It can be skipped if you stay away from the big stone face halfway through the stage that tries to suck you into its mouth.
The secret bonus dungeon's entrance is randomly revealed when you bomb one of three statues found once on every level and arranged in a triangle shape. It's an auto-scrolling airborne stage and there's nothing but score-rising treasure inside.
The boss' dungeon, lastly, is the only one that's mandatory and is guarded by two statues like the ones shown on the title screen. Inside is an end-of-level guardian computer that is easy, uninteresting, and completely mundane. Shoot the core and it's on to the next stage.

Legendary Wings' optional dungeons:
The trap dungeon: Avoid getting sucked into the giant mouth at all cost, there's nothing in the trap dungeon worth the delay.
The bonus dungeon: Its hidden entrance is under one of 3 statues forming a triangle found on every stage. Plenty of free points.
 

Unfortunately, and even though further stage's landscape and enemies are completely different, the platforming sections' layout stays the same. Bosses also repeat themselves over and over again, so you won't find Medusa, Cerberus, the Minotaur or any of the classic cast of Greek creatures here. The rest of the enemy cast is very characteristic of early shooters and mostly composed of what you usually find in titles like Star Force and Exed Exes: lots of simplistic, geometrical-shaped flying drones and ground-based anti-air weaponry with glowing cybernetic eyes and almost no animation.

The art design quality seems to vary quite a bit, although fans of Trojan will find Legendary Wing's color palette familiar as they both run on Capcom's "Section Z" board. Sunken ruins, forgotten temples, and old statues seem to have been given the most care and detail; while sidescrolling dungeons abuse their use of generic background and platform tiles to the point where they will challenge your desire of entering them from the second stage on. And don't forget the repeated bosses, too.
The OK soundtrack is completely obfuscated by sound effects during battle, which sound a lot like Ghosts'N Goblins' samples. Because of this, short tunes like the ones in the "Continue" and "Game Over", and specially the one that plays in the bonus dungeon, stand out the most.

Arcade manual art.

As you can tell from the screenshots, Legendary Wings was produced in 3 official yet mildly different versions. The original Japanese release, Ares No Tsubasa, is the only one with a character intro screen during attract mode in which the heroes' original names (Kevin Walker and Michel Heart) and outfits (blue shorts and pink bikini respectively) are shown. Two other world releases followed, which I refer to as V.1 and V.2 in this article. The latter has the same sprites and characters of the Japanese release except Michel's bikini is now green, but the former features two male heroes whose sprites have been completely re-designed and now sport golden artificial-looking wings instead of their angelic counterparts. Do we smell religious controversy here? Most likely.

Legendary Wings is just as hard and frustrating as Ghosts'N Goblins, yet it doesn't provide any of the stage variety, interesting enemies, or sense of progress that propelled Arthur's quest through the years and into a full-blown series despite its infamous difficulty. If you are wondering why a lot of these early Capcom titles tend to be so prohibitively unforgiving, this line in Legendary Wings' owner manual, specifically from the "Optimize Your Profits" section, can shed some light on the subject: "Thorough research shows that two and a half minute games both satisfy players and also keep the quarters flowing." Interesting, to say the least.

American NES cover

There's a very good, North America-only 1988 port for the old 8-bit Nintendo that as many other arcade-to-NES convertions had to go through some heavy duty gameplay redesign in order to keep its appeal after the technical downgrade. In spite of the less attractive graphics, it greatly improves the way it plays by adding more power-ups, a speedier character, and a weapon downgrade system in which you lose power-ups when hit before losing a life. Easier stages, collectible credits, new but strange dungeons (Egyptian bonus dungeon?), and the ability to turn into a powerful Firebird after collecting all weapon upgrades make the NES version a must-try for shoot'em up fans. This port also supports two simultaneous players, but Michel is nowhere to be seen and both heroes have golden wings.

Just how crazy the NES port is?
The trap dungeon's boss. Whatever happened to Mother Brain?
The trap dungeon. Vampire mouths, hearts and ribs everywhere.
A green dragon?
The huge stone face now spits whirlwinds at you.
 

The legendary winged heroes aren't very popular nowadays, in great part forgotten due to arcade profit policies that quickly changed towards the late 80's and early 90's allowing for longer play sessions on a single quarter. After their great NES port and arcade perfect ports for Xbox and PS2 in Capcom's Classics Collection, as well as Capcom's Classics Collection: Remixed for the PSP, the only traces of these winged heroes you will find are Michel's negligeble cameos in Card Fighters Clash, Namco X Capcom, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. The rest is history.

Michel's / Michelle's cameos:
Card Fighter's Clash - NeoGeo Pocket Color
Namco X Capcom - PS2
Marvel Vs. Capcom - Arcade
 

 

 

Sources:

- Wikipedia's Legendary Wings article mentions the differences between the NES and arcade versions.

 

 

 

 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.2
This looks too much like Mother-Brain.
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
In "Chicken Valley" here, if you die, your
character will reappear at the bottom of the
screen only to be squashed between one of
the statues and the scrolling screen. Cheap.
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
Pac-Man island?
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
This piece of metal attached to the wall is
every stage's final boss.
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.2
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
 
Legendary Wings - Arcade V.1
Ares No Tsubasa - Arcade
Japanese-only character introduction
screen.
Versions comparison

Arcade
(Legendary Wings V.1)
 

Arcade
(Legendary Wings V.2)

Arcade
(Ares No Tsubasa)

NES