Wings Of Death - Thalion

Wings Of Death

Thalion - Amiga -1990

Reviewed by Alex Vormbrock (a.k.a. Herr Schatten).

Around the end of the eighties, a new software company emerged from the Atari ST demo scene. The name of the company: Thalion. The games they developed were very ambitious. Among them were such gems as the RPGs 'Amberstar' and 'Ambermoon' and the wonderful platformer 'Lionheart'.

All the games released by Thalion displayed enormous programming skills as well as beautiful artwork and exceptionally great music. One of their finest works is the vertical scrolling shmup 'Wings Of Death', which was released in 1990 for Atari ST and Amiga. Both versions are identical. Only the sound is a little bit better in the Amiga port.

The setting of Wings Of Death is a bit odd. It has a fantasy theme which gives it a feel slightly different from your average shmup. You maneuvre a creature (I can't really call it a ship) through seven levels each of which has its own sub-theme. This sounds like a blatant rip-off of Dragon Spirit, but it plays very different.

In fact, the powerup system reminds me a bit of Aleste. If you collect the same powerup symbol more than once, the power of the chosen weapon increases. If you collect a different symbol, you switch to the new weapon and the power level is reduced to level one again. Additionally, the weapon you pick dictates the shape of your character. More powerful weapons usually make you morph into creatures that are slower and larger, thus having bigger hitboxes, too. You can choose one of the following weapons:


This is the weapon you start the game with. It's pretty weak, but on higher levels of power it has a 180 degree spread. Your dragonfly-shaped sprite is very small and fast, so it's easy to dodge enemy fire.


Dragonfire is the strongest weapon in the game, but its shot frequency is low and it doesn't spread very wide. The dragon is slow and awfully large.


A very interesting weapon. It produces a kind of windscreen wiper with short range but also with a fair amount of power. The player's character is turned into the shape of an eagle, which is average in both speed and size.


The thunderball is a very powerful weapon which releases a stream of big yellow orbs that behaves _exactly_ like the blue laser from Gunhed. Unfortunately, the griffon shape that it is tied to is very large.


The circle blast is a very unique weapon. I haven't seen the likes of it in any other game. The bullets fly a little distance and then explode, sending projectiles in all directions. The bat the player's sprite turns into is pretty small. This makes the circle blast a highly desirable weapon.

There are two auxiliary weapons that show up once in a while:


The hunter is a little orb that actively hunts down enemies. Very useful to clear parts of levels that are packed with large numbers of weak enemies. Unfortunately, it lasts only a limited time.


The destroyer moves as if it's tied to the player with some kind of invisible rubberband. You can swing it around and strike enemies with it. Not as useful as the hunter, but very cool looking.

There are various other extras like speedups, life-refills, shields and stuff, but they are of minor interest. The only thing worth mentioning is the skull extra. If you take it, your current weapon is reduced to its lowest power-level, so, naturally, it's best to avoid those skulls.

Apart from the strange bosses of levels one and five, the graphics of Wings Of Death are spot-on. They are very colourful and excellently painted. The different landscapes are all designed very well and even the levels with more generic themes look exceptionally good and are a delight to look at.

The music is just wonderful. Jochen Hippel provided some very memorable tunes. The titlesong with the evil sounding speech samples is a true classic. Technically, the music is similarly perfect. The sound effects are nothing special, but they do the job well and the voice-overs you hear whenever you collect an item are clear and understandable.

The gameplay is excellent. The game is challenging, but never unfair. The controls are smooth and responsive. The shapechanging component gives the game a very unique and original feel. Wings Of Death is one of the best vertical scrollers ever released for 16-bit computers. It plays like a nice blend of Dragon Spirit, Aleste and Gunhed. What more could you ask for?


Level one is a castle. It always gives me the odd feeling I am flying over one of the dungeons from Ultima. There's great attention to detail everywhere.

The castle is divided into several rooms. Next to each door the name of the room is written. The variety of chambers includes the 'Hall Of Heroes', which holds some statues, a 'Laboratory' with flasks and tools on desks and a 'Treasure Room' containing a large pile of gold and jewels. Depicted here is the 'Hall Of Artifacts' in which, for reasons unknown, the ship from Xenon 2 is stored.


A very ugly looking three-headed dragon is the first boss. If you took the chance to morph into eagle shape, the eagle's powerful weapon will take him down in no time.


Level two is a garden and very reminiscent of level three from Dragon Spirit. The best strategy is to keep the eagle shape, as most of the enemies are relatively weak.


This beetle must be one of the most beautiful bosses ever. He moves up and down while showering you with bullets, so the best strategy here is to circle him. A fully powered-up eagle weapon is most desirable.


Level three is a swamp. Nothing special here.

Note the 'Danger' sign. Hints like these appear whenever the game introduces a new way of kicking your butt. I wish every game was that courteous.


Level three's boss is this large zombie. His hands throw rocks at you and the head flies around and shoots bullet spreads. He's relatively easy to dispatch, though.


Level four looks like level two of Dragon Spirit revisited, only that it's prettier. It's the first real challenge in this game.


At the end we meet this ...thing. I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to be, but I think the shading is done very well.


Another generic level. The ice world. Almost every shmup has a fire stage and/or an ice level. I don't know why, but I won't complain as long as they look this good.


And this is what you get if you cross insects and candy vending machines. You get a colourful insect that shoots pieces of candy out of its ears. I didn't even know that insects had ears.

Next to my dragon-shaped character you can see the destroyer subweapon.


Level six has a crystal theme. It looks beautiful, but I don't like it that much because the colours make it hard to see a thing.

Dragonfire is the best weapon to use here.


Time for another déja-vu. The creators of Wings of Death obviously love Dragon Spirit very much. However, this boss is much tougher than you might think. Hopefully, you've got a fully powered-up dragonfire weapon (and not the weak one I am using here).


The last level is a barren wasteland with some nice-looking buildings.

In the upper left corner of the screen you can see my hunter at work.


This is the last boss. The beast at the doorway spits homing fireballs that travel around the screen and come after you. The stone faces shoot bullet spreads and the little creatures in the holes fire aimed shots at you. You'll need your best dodging skills to survive. Circle blast or thunderball are the weapons that work best.

Btw, the stone faces make a guest appearance here. They originate from 'Dragonflight', an RPG from Thalion. In that game, they are magic mouths and are usually found on dungeon walls.

Damn! I completely wasn't aware of this little gem until now - serves me right for ditching my Miggy too early doesn't it! Thanks again to Alex for a brilliant review and lots of hard work htmling it up for me! I luv you man! - malc


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie