Review – Gynoug (Switch)
You have to love the swings that publishers and modern developers are taking on finding titles that have legacy and memories attached to them. When I think back to the Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, if you’re nasty), I had some excellent times with a ton of recognizable titles: Sonic 3, Phantasy Star IV, Kid Chameleon, and even older titles like Altered Beast. I enjoyed playing solo and with my best friend, so it makes sense that co-op titles, platformers and one of the most criminally underrated RPG series ever float to the front of my mind.
What I don’t think of, though, is a Christian mythological tale about mutants attacking the world and a single avenging angel destroying multiple waves of darkness through God bullet waves to work through steampunk mansions in order to shoot a boat in the face. Which is a shame, because everything I just said sounds like Aronofsky doing a fat rail and then pitching a stream of consciousness at an arcade cabinet.
The biggest reason that Gynoug didn’t make a bigger splash upon release is probably the damn unpronounceable name (Jin-augh, from what I can tell), but also the insane premise, which is all I mentioned up top. In a time where games sometimes had illustrious and deep lore that was put into the game manual due to software limitations, Gynoug made no attempt to put together anything bigger than a simple Heaven vs. Hell setup with total insanity peppered in. For those of us familiar with the Book of Revelations (and if you’ve read Clifford the Big Red Dog, you basically are), the Heavens are currently supposed to be a turmoil of angels and fallen angels battling it out.
Masaya Games decided that was a boring place to fight and said “Let’s take this celestial combat and bring it everywhere else,” so now I’m an angel named Wor on land, in the sea, apparently in the primordial ooze and then, finally, back to Heaven. I mean, we don’t have Satan, more of a giant fetus called The Destroyer, but that’s neither here nor there. Don’t expect any sort of reasoning or an ending to satisfy you: Gynoug isn’t here to placate you with “plot,” it’s here to blast the hell out of denizens of Hell, and that’s what it does best.
Gynoug is a horizontal bullet hell shooter that can easily transition from standard waves and madness to a full on danmaku depending on the difficulty level and location where Wor currently resides. As you move along, you can pick up general powerups that help increase your number and spread of bullets, as well as some general score multipliers. If you’re really eagle eyed, you can occasionally pick up an extra life, which are represented as miniature statues of Wor himself, and are hidden in very hard-to-reach corners that usually involve risking clipping the landscape and dying for your troubles.
There’s also a series of different Magic Shots, which have limited bullets and no way to fully recharge them. What you can do, though, is pick them up and hold up to three in reserve, and, if you pick up three of the same, you get a massive number of bullets for said shot. So get a bunch of M scrolls for tons of Magic Arrow, a bunch of L for lightning, E for energy ball, and so on. The best and my favorite was T for thunderbolt, where you are suddenly joined by a second little angel who throws down forked justice from on high and murders whatever is in the middle of the screen.
There may not be a ton of groundbreaking ideas in what Gynoug wants to bring to the screen, but what they do is fairly impressive. Considering this game is years after the original incarnations of Gradius and R-Type, it’s great that the developers chose something that’s more akin to Actraiser in terms of presentation and ideas. The avatar of God fighting off droves of monsters is always fun, and the monsters here have a good amount of variety for designs and ideas. You’ve got generic ships and blobs of evil, but then you have weird things like flying coffins, massive skull worms, angry white blood cells and, my personal favorite, clouds that cry rivers of murder rage.
There wasn’t a single level that didn’t unveil some new horror to behold, and I was genuinely impressed by the number of sprites and designs that were made for this game. Sure, The Mega Drive was a big step up from the Master System, but even the SNES showed some laziness on certain titles when it came to needing to throw a ton of enemies at you. Earth Defense Force is a magnificent game, but the consistency in antagonists is pretty straightforward and a tad dull. Not the case with Gynoug.
The soundtrack of Gynoug has been kept intact from the original release, and fans of older chiptune-adjacent tracks will find a lot to love here. While the usage of instrumentation through the game is rather sparse, the segregation of sound actually works fantastically. There’s something about the lone approach of Wor that makes the echo of his fanfare being so lonely perfect. You do move from general, triumphant marching music to sinister organ tunes and otherworldly vibes as you delve into bizarre stages, so the game is far from silent or awkward.
When you’re in the game, it’s a great accompaniment to the overall vibe of your journey, but you can easily enjoy it without the music in place, as the sound effects are all pretty generic. Muted thuds of bullets, the scraping “crash” sound that permeated every shmup of the 90s, and some distorted explosions meant to encapsulate the havoc that’s taking place on the screen. In short, it’s a video game soundtrack that was there to serve a purpose, not really to be a centerpiece.
As a sidescroller, Gynoug doesn’t incorporate many wild takes on how the level layouts go, but there’s a good attempt to make everything memorable. Some levels will pan up and down to imply ascent or descent, making you stay focused on play and navigating blind corners as they appear. The stage where the scroll speed is suddenly three times as fast as it’s as much about dodging as it is shooting was exciting, if a tad frustrating. At least twice the game decided to start waving and shimmering like it was going into a flashback, and this…well, this was disorienting, to be honest, and it happens in the first stage.
This isn’t so bad, because the enemy waves are still fairly straightforward at the time, but, when it happens again much later on, it’s when you start to get attacked from the back, and that’s a serious bummer. I’m honestly surprised I hadn’t heard more about this game before Ratalaika helmed a re-release on modern systems: the difficulty can be punishing.
To be frank, the layout of Gynoug, combined with the limitations of the technology at the time, make this a far more difficult experience than you’d think, but it’s more than doable. Even on the highest difficulty level, the most daunting aspect are the controls vs. the bullet hitboxes. Masaya Games did an incredible job of keeping the actual collision field limited to visible pixels, which is a complaint that I have against certain older shmups when you get killed but can’t really see why.
The inherent movements of the Mega Drive, though, mean that Wor can sometimes be jumpy even in trying to make small changes to his positioning, resulting in running face-first into projectiles, flames and everything else when you clearly would prefer to be alive. It’s a great game of trial and error, and, if taken from the original release style, it can take a very long time to complete the game. I’m simply not that good at video games (meaning I’m not good at games, period), so I really appreciate the augmentations that Nautlander has added to the experience.
While Gynoug’s new edition is lacking in a ton of filters and aspect ratios (only one CRT filter that can be fine tuned), the background cheats and time control make for a much smoother journey. If you simply want to power forward, just do what I did after a while: turn on unlimited magic and invincibility and watch the good times roll. You can basically shove yourself into the mouth of The Destroyer and pull the trigger from there. For the cheater who still considers themselves a gamer, you can turn on weapon continuation (don’t have your weapon reset on death) or unlimited lives (keep dying and keep trying).
Also, the rewind feature is a valuable tool regardless of which difficulty or level of modification you play with. Even the hardest player will find a cheapshot moment where you squint and want to back it up just a couple seconds so you can dodge that bullet and not interrupt your winning streak. Go ahead, do it: manipulate time in your favor. Who’s gonna stop you, the video game police? They have no jurisdiction here! This is, at best, a misdemeanor, and we’ve got the best lawyer in the state. You’re untouchable, kid!
Gynoug is a pleasant and exciting romp through a forgotten classic that keeps you on your toes if you want it to and gives you a pass if you’d prefer to IDDQD your way to the top. The graphics are sharp, the concept is novel, and there’s a decent variety in weapons, levels and enemies in here. While I don’t think there’s anything here that’ll dethrone a current favorite, it’s still fun, and that’s more than I can say for some. It ain’t Ikaruga, but it’s a solid game for seven bucks, and definitely worth your time.
Arguably muddy, Gynoug still has a fantastic amount of detail for such an old game.
Shoot baddies. Shoot more baddies. Don’t get shot by baddies.
Totally utilitarian, the soundtrack can easily be passed over in favor of your favorite Coheed and Cambria album.
A well presented classic shmup with a dash of cheat tweaks makes for a fun afternoon.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Gynoug is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Gynoug was provided by the publisher.