WingNuts 2: Raina's Revenge

Back in 2001 Freeverse Software released WingNuts, a top-down scrolling arcade game in the spirit of coin-op classics like Time Pilot. Since then, many of us have waited for the oft-promised sequel, and Freeverse has finally delivered. Does this original Mac game live up to the hype that’s built during the half-decade wait?

WingNuts 2: Raina’s Revenge puts you back in the pilot’s seat as you hop to different geographical locations and different time periods in search of the wicked (and crazy) Baron von Schtopwatch and the mysterious Raina. An airborne aircraft carrier under the aegis of Commander Jen (Freeverse’s resident mascot of sorts) tracks Schtopwatch from period to period.

Schtopwatch has created massive fleets of flying machines—everything from vintage World War II-era aircraft to modern jets—using robotic pilots who are hell-bent on one thing: Blowing you and the Temporal Command carrier out of the sky. You’ve got to lay waste to these hordes of baddies, bomb ground installations like radar, missiles, beam weapons, and anti-aircraft guns, and reach various objectives—like collecting components of the Baron’s nefarious machines after you destroy them.

Each level ends with the introduction of a Boss—a super-powerful enemy that takes many, many hits to destroy. Sometimes it’s the Baron himself, commanding a super-robot vehicle; other times it’s bad guys in the employ of the Baron. Occasionally they’ll get away, but usually after the second or third time, Temporal Command will capture them, and it’s time to warp into a new location and face off against new bad guys.

Your vehicle’s arsenal and the formidable defenses of the Temporal Command carrier aren’t your only protection against the Unfriendly Skies, either. The sky is filled with parachuting Goodies—sometimes just extra points you’ll collect, sometimes rescued crew members, but most often power-ups for your vehicle that will top off your fuel tank, boost your shields, and even add permanent improvements, like expanded fuel capacity, improved guns, or more powerful bombs. My favorite is the temporary “Super Mecha Mode,” which turns your plane into a giant, devastatingly powerful version of itself, like a giant patchwork Japanese robot (but only for a few seconds).

WingNuts 2’s interface is clean and well thought-out—most of the screen is dedicated to the action, but a Heads Up Display (HUD) shows your fuel and shield status, the status of the planes in your hangar, how well the carrier is doing, your score, the number of the Baron’s components you’ve recovered for that level, and the status of your plane’s special move capabilities. Some planes can do barrel rolls, for example, while some can do loops; these are handy in tight situations when there’s a particularly nasty bad guy on your six that you want to get away from in a hurry.

As the game starts out, you have a limited number of vintage planes to choose from, and you can collect more by bombing occasional temporal rifts that appear after you’ve defeated a level’s boss. Before too long, if you’re careful, you’ll have a nice collection of different aircraft to choose from, and judiciously upgrading them with improved fuel capacity and defenses will help as the skies get more and more crowded with enemies.

Having a wide selection of planes is particularly useful during heavy combat. Different planes have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are better for bombing runs; others are better for dogfights. Some have higher top-end speeds; others have tighter turning radiuses. Also, you can land on your carrier at any time you want and change planes. Once you do that, the flight crew will start repairing and refueling your old plane. You can watch their progress from the Planes HUD counter—when it’s back to top shape, the plane’s status will turn green.

Some levels are positively frustrating—you’ll have to shoot down hundreds of planes before you get to the Boss or to the end of the level. It’s occasionally a bit too frustrating, but fortunately, the game saves in between levels, so you can always return when you want. (You can also save at any point you want separately).

While the screenshots may give you the impression that WingNuts 2 is a graphically undemanding game, nothing could be further from the truth—the game makes extensive use of OpenGL to create really stunning particle and smoke effects. Just like the original, you’ll watch as the planes you shoot down crash into the land or sea and explode—but this time with even more pizzazz. Fortunately, you can dial back effects on slower hardware in case the default level is too much for your Mac to push without stuttering.

Freeverse’s trademark humor is present throughout—the bad guys are chock-full of cheesy, occasionally pun-laden, and (in the case of the Baron) downright weird dialogue. Commander Jen occasionally pops up in humorous interstitial bits. The soundtrack and sound effects are great—the soundtrack was done by frequent Freeverse collaborator Andrew “Digital Droo” Tokuda. Even here the humor comes through: WingNuts 2’s main theme is a valentine to Top Gun anthem guitarist and frequent Billy Idol collaborator Steve Stevens.

A Universal Binary, WingNuts 2 runs natively on Intel and PowerPC Macs. A PowerPC G4/800MHz or faster machine is called for, and you’ll need Tiger. If you have an iSight or a webcam connected, you can even save a picture of yourself in the game’s high scores tables. It’ a bit of a useless feature, as there’s no online sharing of high scores, but it’s fun anyway.

You can play WingNuts 2 either using a keyboard or, optionally, a game pad, joystick, or other controller—they’ve built in support for it, so all you should have to do is calibrate your game controller and head off into the skies.

Best of all WingNuts 2 comes with a level editor that allows you to create your own scenarios (aptly called WingNuts and Bolts). It’s very complicated to use, as most game editors are, but Freeverse has posted documentation for it online and is continuing to work on it. I’m hoping that its release (with the game) will foster a cottage industry of WingNuts 2 mods, because this game’s rich graphics engine and overall play level is so high, it’d be nuts to see it go to waste (if you’ll pardon the pun).

I did run into a few problems early on, though Freeverse has been good about responding to user issues with patches following the game’s initial release (make sure to visit Freeverse’s Web site to download the latest patch). And at first, you had to buy the game from Freeverse’s Web site and download it—more than 500 megabytes’ worth, in fact—but by the time you read this you should be able to find the DVD on store shelves.

The bottom line

A fantastic sequel to one of Macdom’s most beloved original games, WingNuts 2 is a worthy successor—and it includes tools for crafting your own scenarios, too.

View to a kill You may think that WingNuts 2 isn’t graphically demanding, but you’d be wrong. The game taps OpenGL for excellent effects and explosions with more pizzazz.

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