Zero Wing

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Zero Wing

Zerowing logo.gif

Zerowing-start screen.png

Zero Wing is a horizontally scrolling shoot-em up that was developed by Toaplan and released to the arcades in 1989 by Taito in Japan. Zero Wing is one of few and the last horizontal shmup that Toaplan developed. It is a slight departure from a typical Toaplan shooter as the spaceship does not have bombs but rather is equipped with a tractor beam that can grab some enemies. Mostly arcade faithful ports were made for the PC Engine CD-ROM in Japan and the Sega Mega Drive in Japan and Europe that added more story elements.

While Zero Wing is a decent and worthwhile game, most people know of it by the meme "All Your Base Are Belong To Us". The English translation of the European Mega Drive version with the added story elements was done very poorly and the opening story sequence became one of the most popular internet memes of all time.[1]

Gameplay Overview

Zero Wing has 8 way directional controls with 2 buttons for shot and tractor beam. Small enemies can be captured by the tractor beam. Captured enemies can be held and used as front shields or launched forward at other enemies. The tractor beam can also be used to collect items.


  • A (Press): Shoots a single shot
  • A (Hold): Rapid shot of blue laser and homing missiles
  • B (Press): Fires captured enemy forward
  • B (Hold): Activates tractor beam


Each weapon can be powered up to maximum of level 3.

Normal Shot (Red): Fires red bullets. Does not auto-fire by holding down the shot button.

Laser (Blue): Fires blue laser beams. Auto-fires by holding down the shot button. Can shoot through enemies but not walls.

Search Missile (Green): Auto-fires by holding down the shot button. Fires homing missiles that lock on to the nearest target


Weapon items can be collected to either switch between weapons or to power up the equipped weapon one level.

Normal Shot weapon power up (Red):

Zero wing red weapon icon small.png

Laser weapon power up (Blue):

Zero wing blue weapon icon small.png

Search Missile weapon power up (Green):

Zero wing green weapon icon small.png

Bomb: In order to be used, it has to be launched with the tractor beam button. It can be used as a front shield as well, and will go off after it takes three hits or collides with an enemy or obstacle.

Zero wing bomb icon small.png

Speed Up: Increases the ship's speed by one level, up to four times.

Zero wing speed up icon small.png

Special: Only appears under certain conditions. Increases your ship's power once more, beyond the normal level 3 cap. While in this state the option pods are greatly increased in size, enabling them to block bullets and enemies more effectively.

Zero Wing Special Item.png

Item Cycle

Items always appear in repeating sets of four, the second set ending with a bomb instead of a speed item, creating a simple 16-item cycle. Upon death, the cycle returns to the start. Unlike some other Toaplan games, the cycle only advances when an item itself appears, not when its carrier appears.


Zero wing red weapon icon small.png


Zero wing blue weapon icon small.png


Zero wing green weapon icon small.png


Zero wing speed up icon small.png


Zero wing red weapon icon small.png


Zero wing blue weapon icon small.png


Zero wing green weapon icon small.png


Zero wing bomb icon small.png


Zero wing red weapon icon small.png


Zero wing blue weapon icon small.png


Zero wing green weapon icon small.png


Zero wing speed up icon small.png


Zero wing red weapon icon small.png


Zero wing blue weapon icon small.png


Zero wing green weapon icon small.png


Zero wing speed up icon small.png

The number of item-carrying enemies varies between stages, and within the stages the exact number of carriers that appear may vary depending on the speed with which certain large enemies are eliminated. Starting at the second loop, the first stage contains two fewer item carriers. This is because the player enters the stage at a slightly later point in comparison with the first loop.

Stage 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Carriers 14 (12) 15 10 2 15 12 26 11

Special Power Up

In order for the special power up item to appear, the following conditions must be met when destroying an item carrier:

  • The player must have reached the standard maximum power.
  • The player must have reached maximum speed.
  • The player must not already have the special power up.

And either of the two sets of conditions below must also be true:


  • The item released is the 40th item from the start of the game or since the last death.
  • The player is either carrying or currently using a bomb (otherwise a bomb will be dropped by the carrier instead).


  • The item released would have been a power up of the weapon the player is currently using.
  • The number of frames the player has survived for is a multiple of 32.

Extend Items

Collecting extra items beyond maximum power or speed usually provides a 5000 point bonus instead. Occasionally, instead of a point bonus, the item will grant a 1-up, awarding an extra life to the player, or even a 10-up awarding 10 extra lives. The latter will be awarded if the number of frames the player has survived upon collection of the item is divisible by 64, while the former is awarded if it is not divisible by 64 but is divisible by 16. Therefore, each bonus item collected has a 1/64 chance of awarding the 10-up, and 1/16 - 1/64 = 3/64 chance of awarding the 1-up. This may only happen once per game, and receiving one of these will prevent the player from receiving the other without starting a new game. Naturally this makes receiving a 1-up item undesirable as it means the 10-up is lost for that game. It is therefore expected that one will see the 10-up in around a quarter of the games that receive either, with the 1-up appearing in the remaining three quarters.

Hit Box

The hit box of the ship in Zero Wing is narrower than the sprite but just about as long as the sprite minus the blue thruster flame.

Zero wing hit box.png


The two options of the ship always fly with one above and one below. They are indestructible and can absorb enemy fire. This can be used as advantage to protect the player ship especially to enemy fire that curves up or down towards the player.

Zero wing ship with options.png


Rank, along with the weapon the player is currently using, determines the speed of bullets and the frequency of enemy attacks. The red weapon contributes the least to the game's difficulty while the green weapon contributes the most. The player's power level also makes a minor contribution to the difficulty, but the vast majority of the effect comes directly from the rank level.

Rank starts at a base level determined by the difficulty DIP switch setting (starting at 0 for the easiest setting and adding 2 for each higher setting) and increments after each stage. Unlike most Toaplan games, both the rank and the bullet speed have no upper limit and will increase indefinitely.

Enemy HP is also affected by the weapon the player is using when the enemy appears. The HP is multiplied by the corresponding value for each weapon:

Weapon HP *
Red 1
Blue 2
Green 3

This opens up a potential strategy of delaying a planned weapon change until after a particular enemy appears in order to influence the amount of HP it receives to the player's advantage. This will usually consist of taking the red weapon before a particularly dangerous enemy appears so that it receives the minimum amount of HP possible, then immediately switching back to the more powerful green weapon to destroy it as quickly as possible.

There is some randomness to how soon after appearing enemies will first attack. Regardless of the current rank or stage, every enemy that appears will take either 16, 32, 48 or 64 frames before first attacking. This is determined by combining the current frame counter with an enemy spawn counter. After a death, both counters are reset to zero, making it possible to predict enemy behaviour for a while based on where the death occurred. As bosses will last a variable number of frames this predictability is usually lost at the start of the next stage (unless the player makes a deliberate effort to preserve it by waiting for the boss' time limit to expire). This makes some of the bosses that consist of multiple parts more challenging, as this randomness will cause the attacks of the various parts to synchronise differently. After the random intitial delay, the rank level will then determine the time between subsequent attacks. Although the bullet speed will continue to increase forever (even to the point where the collision detection begins to fail), the maximum attack frequency that the game allows is once every 64 frames. This limit will be reached some time into the fourth loop.


Both 1P and 2P arcade versions loop infinitely as do the Mega Drive versions. The PC Engine CD version does not loop. The difficulty continues to increase indefinitely through looping as each stage cleared increases the rank without any upper limit. Although the game has no end in theory, it is inevitable that the continual rise in speed of the enemies' bullets will eventually render the game unmanageable for even the most skilled player.

In addition to the increasing rank, many enemies that did not fire at all in the first loop will begin firing in the second, with the number of bullets increasing each loop until reaching a maximum in the fourth loop:

N-way bullet spread
Loop N
1 0
2 1
3 3
4+ 5

Having to deal with these additional bullet spreads, often from enemies that appear in great numbers, produces the most dramatic difficulty spikes in the game, during the transition between the second and third loops, and between the third and fourth loops.

As well as the gameplay differences brought on by looping, there is a small easter egg to be found in the ending story - the year of the battle increases by 8 (one year per stage), with each successive loop that is cleared.


The scoring in Zero Wing is very simple - destroying enemies increases your score with stronger enemies providing more points.

After reaching maximum power, each additional power up of the same weapon equipped provides 5000 points, as does collecting a speed up item while at maximum speed. Dying can cause an immediate loss of up to 35000 points as the items that would have provided these points must go towards restoring the player's power and speed instead. Holding onto a bomb item without using or losing it will cause the next bomb drop to be replaced with a speed item, which will also provide an extra 5000 points if the player has reached the maximum speed. Being at maximum speed will also allow the special power up item to appear, which provides 50000 points when collected. A 5000 point loss is incurred when receiving the 10-UP or 1-UP from a power item, but the benefits of receiving the 10-UP far outweigh this cost.

In most cases, capturing and launching an enemy with the tractor beam does not provide any score, unless you actually kill that enemy by hitting terrain, have it hit by a bullet or collide with another enemy. In this case, you get the same amount of points you would have gotten by destroying it directly.

Simply shooting some midbosses and bosses without destroying them will award points, repeatedly giving 10 points each time the enemy is damaged. Since the equipped weapon influences enemy HP, it also influences the number of points that can be obtained in this way. It is not necessary to destroy every single destructible part of the stage 4 and stage 5 bosses, as simply destroying the main part will suffice to provide all the points that are obtainable from these bosses.

In the fourth stage there are five instances of Toaplan's mascot, Pipiru, hidden behind scenery throughout the stage. Capturing Pipiru with the tractor beam awards 10,000 points, while destroying it only provides 100 points.

Destroying some of the mid-boss enemies quickly, perhaps with the help of a bomb, will provide some bonus enemy waves that would not have appeared otherwise, which can be destroyed for some extra points. On the other hand, the stage 5 mid-boss has no such enemies until very late into its existence, and continuously produces destructible objects, making it more score-efficient to delay the destruction of this mid-boss.


  • Holding up on the controls at the end of stage 4 will result in a special message from Toaplan's mascot
  • There is a warp zone in stage 5, by taking the path above the final upper section of rail. This warp brings the player straight to the final stage but only exists in the first loop of the game. Using this warp awards a bonus of 70,000 points, although this is much less than the amount that can be obtained simply by playing through the stages in full.


See (Template Page)/Strategy for stage maps, enemy and boss descriptions, walkthroughs, and advanced play strategies.

This section details some particular strategic information about the game and its gameplay, such as hidden 1UPs and some basic scoring tricks. For anything particularly deep or highly complex, you can probably leave it in the Strategy page.

(Currently evaluating whether or not this specific section should even include information outside of the separated Strategy pages. Worth thinking about as a community.)

Creating a new page

There are two ways to create a new entry in the wiki:

  1. Reference the new page that you would like to make on a page somewhere ( [[Your Page Name Here]] ), and then click the red link to be taken to the "missing page" screen. You can then click "create a new page" and start filling it out.
  2. In the search box on the top right, type in the name of the page you would like to make, and then search. You will be taken to a similar page as above, prompting you to create the missing page.


Arcade versions: They do not have an opening story. The ending of the 1st loop in the arcade versions describe that all bases of CATS were destroyed. However, things are not peaceful as CATS is still alive and ZIG-01 must fight CATS again.

Mega Drive version: This is the infamous opening story where in 2101 A.D. a space war erupted. The Captain has been informed that explosives have been planted in his ship and he receives an incoming transmission. It's CATS! He informs the Captain that he has cooperated with the Federation Government Forces and taken over all the bases. CATS threatens to blow up the Captain's ship and end the lives of the crew. The Captain immediately commands all ZIG fighters to launch and restore hope for the future.[2]

While the previous is a more accurate translation of the story, the original English translation tells it like no one other could:

Zero wing story 1.png Zero wing story 2.png Zero wing story 3b.png Zero wing story 4.png Zero wing story 5.png Zero wing story 6.png

Development History

If available, you can include information here about the hardware, the development of the game, and its general reception. Try to have as much information in this section cited as possible.

Version Differences

Arcade Versions

There are two version of the arcade game, a 1P and 2P version. Both play similarly but the 1P version has a higher penalty for dying and is considered the more difficult version. Both versions have a red flash that appears every time an enemy is destroyed. This is a natural part of the game and not a video error.

  • 1P arcade version: This more difficult version has checkpoints where you start a part of the stage after you die. You also lose all of your weapons including power ups as well as both of your pod options.
  • 2P arcade version: This version does not have checkpoints and you start where you die. You keep the weapon you had but powered down to the first level. You also keep both of your pod options.
    Some additional changes in the 2P version:
    • The number of shots each player can fire at once is lower.
    • The player begins the game with the pod options activated, instead of having to power up once to activate them.
    • The item cycle begins at the second item in the cycle. This is presumably to prevent the player from powering up too quickly, due to always starting the player with the two pod options.
    • Bomb drops occur twice as frequently as they do in the 1P version.
    • Dying does not reset the item drop cycle to the start.
    • The special power up item has been completely removed from the game.
    • Colliding a captured object with another object will only damage the captured object, not both objects involved in the collision.
    • Captured objects that are destroyed in a collision do not award any points, even when launched.
    • The 10,000 point bonus is no longer awarded for capturing any of the five hidden Pipiru characters in stage 4, only the 100 points given for destroying them with the shot.
    • Points are no longer awarded for damaging certain boss and midboss enemies. Points are only awarded for destruction of these enemies.
    • Points are no longer awarded whenever the indestructible enemies in stage 6 eat through walls.
    • The enemy waves at the beginning of stage 5 do not fire any bullets in the first loop of the game even when using the green weapon.
    • The secret warp zone in stage 5 has been removed.
    • The stage 5 boss's side parts are indestructible.
    • The main part of the stage 5 boss awards 10,000 points where it previously did not award any points.
    • The final stage's softlock bug has been eliminated by automatically launching the captured projectile before despawning it upon destruction of the penultimate stage's boss.
    • The hidden extend items are no longer purely time-based - the total number of enemies that have appeared so far is also introduced as a factor.

Home Console Versions

For both Mega Drive versions, there is a test mode where you can level select, change your weapon power, become invincible, and view the endings . Press: C, Up, B, Down, A, Left, Right, B, C, C, Right, Left, Right, A, Down, Start.

  • Japanese Mega Drive version: This version is a fairly faithful arcade port. It has a slight graphical downgrade due to the Mega Drive color palette. It has the same checkpoints and power down rules as the 1P arcade version. It provides more story and cut scenes to the beginning of the game. It contains 35 different endings that can be seen at the end of each loop completed. The latter 32 endings all have a picture of CATS with dialog underneath that makes reference to something in 1960's and 1970's Japanese pop culture.[3]
  • European Mega Drive version: "All Your Base Are Belong To Us". This is the version with that famous meme and broken story introduction translation. It is similar to the Japanese version but with a tad more "great justice"
  • PC Engine CD version:

Glitches, Bugs and Oddities

Final Boss Softlock

This is an unfortunate bug that prevents the final stage from ending after the boss, leaving the player only the option to crash into the ground to restart from the final checkpoint. It is ultimately caused by destroying the stage seven boss while holding one of its orb projectiles with the tractor beam. When the boss is destroyed these orbs instantly despawn including the one the player has captured. However the tractor beam is not appropriately updated as empty; it's still possible to launch this now nonexistent object and a pointer to what was once the location in memory of the captured enemy is maintained. The final stage is allowed to end only after there are no enemies remaining. Attempting to use the tractor beam before this point will 'launch' the nonexistent orb, turning on the relevant bit at the former location of the orb, flagging the object as being in a launched state. However since the object being launched no longer exists, the bit will never be turned off as this requires the object to either leave the screen or crash into something else. At the end of the final stage the presence of this bit will be counted as an enemy that still exists and the conditions to end the stage will never be met. This bug was fortunately corrected in the 2-Player version of the game, as the captured orb will be automatically launched upon destruction of the stage seven boss.

"All Your Base Are Belong To Us" Meme and Trivia

  • One of the earliest and most popular versions of the "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" meme was a dance track video hosted by New Grounds.[4] The music in this video was composed by Jeffrey Ray Roberts and called "Invasion of the Gabber Robots". It was a remix of Zero Wing game music with robotic voice samples of "All your base are belong to us". In February 2001, Bad_CRC created the infamous video using various images from a Something Awful AYB photoshop thread and Roberts' music.[5]
  • The meme was so popular in 2001 that it made it to local news broadcasts.[6]
  • The meme endures and was referenced in January of 2019 by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. [7]

References & Contributors

  1. Primary info provided by Coreo