The gameplay was quite well received upon release. British magazine Mean Machines gave the Japanese version a 91% score, praising the gameplay as well as the intro sequence, though this was before the release of the English-language version...
Zero Wing is incredibly infamous for the opening sequence of the game in the European version for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, which features a Broken English localization. The dialogue has been remixed several times and has even been sung about by Nirvana. The line: "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" has been used many times in pop culture and parodies.
Williams licensed the arcade version for distribution in the US, but the console versions of the game were never released in that territory. The infamous English translation comes from the European Mega Drive version of Zero Wing.