Being that we're dealing with the PC Engine version of Zero Wing, we needn't devote any time to redundant commentary on that "base are us" bullshit. So let's get right down to business.
Zero Wing is a pretty decent shooter. It grants you only three weapons, and all are typical shoot-'em-up-gun fare (red vulcan shots, blue lasers, green homing things), but all are pretty handy when powered up, and I doubt you'll ever yearn for additional artillery during play. As it is, there are spots where your life will be significantly easier if you possess a certain weapon, so experimentation with the set can prove rewarding. Enemies will send enough spread-shot swathes your way to keep your attention occupied. The collision detection is ever so slightly off (your hitbox extends the tiniest bit beyond the front and rear of your ship), but this is hardly a major problem. There really isn't anything egregiously wrong with the basic gameplay.
Sadly, there's nothing particularly interesting about it either. The gimmick employed by ZW is a Boss Galaga-style tractor beam that allows you to capture small enemies and hurl them at their allies. The technique isn't conceptually awful, but it doesn't end up being all that useful. Should you forget all about it, you can still get through the game unscathed. And it's hard to be impressed by this "suck 'em in and spit 'em out" method of harassing foes when 16-bit peer Gaiares actually allows you to rob bad guys of super-awesome armaments.
It's too bad, as this game could've used a successful gimmick. Despite decent gameplay, Zero Wing is dull at times due to visually boring stage and enemy designs. You get a lot of the typical, tired "space 'n base" stuff; some water here and red sky there is about as far as the visuals go as far as variety is concerned, and there are way too many stages (ten) for the game to be able to get away with such austere backgrounds. The cinemas, too, are displays of poor artistry, particularly when it comes to character designs. And while ZW's music is certainly not poor and has a flavor to it reminiscent of Hellfire S's, none of the tunes are all that exciting or memorable.
These aren't the best cinemas you'll ever see in a Duo game. Going for drama is nice and all, but it doesn't work when the character art isn't up to par.
You can use your tractor beam to capture enemies, but the technique doesn't come in handy very often.
Holding a hostage will prove worth your while during the sixth boss battle, as you can use captives as shields to defend yourself from the big machine's bullets.
There's no shortage of enemies to blast, but when they look like these guys and appear in stages that look like this one, boredom sets in anyway.
Not that every stretch is simple and bland. The maze section of Stage 5 is anything but straightforward and contains some neat creatures, particularly the crawlers with the huge eyes.