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Zunou Senkan Galg (NES) artwork

Zunou Senkan Galg (NES) review

"Zunou Senkan Galg is the video gaming equivalent of being waterboarded."

I've played bad games in my time. Mostly, this is my fault; I seem to have some mental deficiency that makes me seek out bottom-of-the-barrel media just so I can nod sagely and echo ďYup; thatís pretty terrible all rightĒ. Thing is, thereís a kind of twisted comedy to broken products that lend backhanded relevancy. Things can be so bad that theyíre funny, things can be so poorly put together that you canít help but stare at the train wreck they've become. But beneath this is another layer of awful thatís impossible to take any enjoyment from; then, beneath this layer is the bedrock of suck, where things canít be any worse. Where indulgence is pain and disbelief and slowly rising fury. Dig a little more, and youíll finally find Zunou Senkan Galg.

Zunou Senkan Galg was released only for the Famicom in Japan by a developer without a single other title to their name before or since. Itís also known as Scroll RPG because it brings to scrolling shooters the very worst aspect of early role play games -- the endless grind. Galg isn't interested in the established formula of battling through a stage concluding with a large boss fight; even in 1985 it declared this established progression trite and overused. Instead, it asks you to collect a hundred parts strewn across three maps. Only then would you be able to take on the end of game boss and finally see completion.

One hundred is a large number. Zunou Senkan Galg never wants to end.

The idea was that you would undertake the same small loop of a level to pick up a white triangle placed somewhere in the treadmill before you do it all over again. This would repeat over and over until you've picked up the hundred parts you need to summon the giant boss fight that would end the game. Each loop is about a minute or so long, and each time you complete a loop, the next retread would dial up the difficulty. The Marsh stage starts off with a few weird diamonds launching themselves into your meagre bullets (I assume they did, anyway; the bullets are so small and so hard to see that I only really knew I was firing when something in front of me exploded). Thereís the odd kamikaze worm enemy and some kind of electrified barriers would appear because theyíre famously synonymous with marshland. You scroll through without much trouble, grab the part then start again.

You know a loop has ended when you come to a junction where turning right spells dead end every single time. You scroll past these corridors, then the same loop starts all over again. The same lay-out, the same geography, only there are new enemies factored in that pose more of a threat. Now, weird albino frogs hop down the side spitting out mouthfuls of crap that will kill you upon contact. Trip three introduces gliding shrimp anuses; trip four brings in sickly looking Q-Bert creatures to burp out projectiles; trip five flips the hopping frogs 90į and has them charge at you like rival fighter craft and crabs rise from the bubbling waters to shoot at you before submerging once again.

One of the worst things about Zunou Senkan Galg is that there was obviously effort and talent behind it. Most of the enemies that appear in the Marsh stage aren't just random templates, but have reason to exist in that environment. The crabs that appear on the fifth trip are telegraphed by a series of bubbles appearing in the static purple waters. Itís a delicate little detail thatís easy to appreciate the first time you see it. After all, youíre only some five or so minutes in. You have more trips yet through the same stage to endure yet with only the odd new enemy and more frantic placement to offer anything new. Eventually, you hit a NORMAL WARP and a new stage is introduced.

Because, um, thatís a thing that happens.

Iím not sure what the next stage is supposed to represent. Itís an aqua blue backdrop with pipes, I think, and squares and stuff. Here you battle zigzagging coins, candy-striped Pong paddles and the letter V. Eventually, some squares start opening up to reveal hidden gun embankments. Missile pods walk up and down the sides of the screen while fly swatters appear to hunt you down. At one point, a yellow rocket flew up behind me and started following me. It didn't attack me nor aid me. It just flew to my right until something hit it and it exploded. Was it a buffer? Why was it there? Iíll probably never know.

I picked up a floating capital N. The word Bonus flashed on the screen. No bonus was given.


Now, youíre in space. You still have 75 parts to collect.

Space stage starts to recycle the odd enemy (mostly the platoon of flying coins) but still has a host of original craft. Small undestroyable meteors appear you need to dodge and a larger ship that soaks up more than one hit makes an appearance that could charitably be labelled as a mid-boss of sorts. The difficulty certainly spikes the further along the game you go, and extra lives are generously gifted at certain score benchmarks. Dying only puts you back to the start of the loop so you never lose anymore than a minute or so of progression. You limp your way through the conveyor belt of space stage then, just before the point where you expect to see NORMAL WARP flash up, you see this.

Youíll shoot this. Why wouldn't you shoot this? Thereís no reason to believe that this or anything else the game has thrown at you is not to be shot. So, youíll do so, sheathed in your ignorance and boredom and youíll see your points suddenly hit a massive spike. Thatís a good thing, right? Except, this windfall comes at a steep price; youíll find in exchange for your gift basket of points you've just sacrificed all the parts you spent the last half hour or so collecting. Youíre back to scratch; zero parts collected, one hundred needed.


Youíre back, once again at the Marsh level.

Thereís no starting again insofar as the stages are concerned; you might have zero parts, but youíll still face the albino frogs and submerging crabs that once served as end-loop threats once upon a time. By this point youíll be about half an hour into the game, and are facing the heart-breaking concept that those thirty minutes have been an absolute waste of time. You have achieved nothing. You could have avoided this by not shooting the bloody space butterfly, but only in doing so can you learn the consequences of your gun-happy attitude. You can press on accepting the increased enemy count or you can quit.

So, the Marsh stage again.

You work the loops anew, warping to one of the three backdrops periodically, collecting parts and bitterly ignoring the hell out of the butterfly when it appears. The parts collection slowly starts to dial back up as you repeat all the loops over and over and over again. One hundred becomes eighty, becomes fifty, becomes twenty five as you realise that you've ploughed well over an hour playing the same three levels with slightly different populations on a continuous loop. Even when you finally hit zero parts, thatís not enough. Oh, no no no; you have to have zero parts left and get yourself to the end of the space stage loop. Letís face it; youíre never going to get this far. Why the hell would you? Thereís no reward and the subtle touches that could have been lauded if not driven into the ground have long lost all meaning. Itís just grind; mind-numbing, unrewarding grind and youíd have to have severe issues if you stick it out. Youíd have to be a little crazy to see the end of game boss.

I saw him. He looks like this.

A static bloody weapons platform. Without any weapons. That glowy thing in the middle? You just shoot it a few times. Then Hit!! War is over. Almost two hours of playing three levels over and over again. But, hey, Hit!! War is over.

You know what? The hell with it. Spoilers abound, but we've both come this far, you and I. Hereís the ending in its entirety.

Zunou Senkan Galg takes a handful of minutes of decent gameplay then extends it out to infinity and asks you to be happy about it. It makes it a mission statement to wallow in redundancy and stagnancy, and then tries to use those things as selling points. Itís mechanically sound and the beeps and boops it advances as a soundtrack wonít make you want to hit the mute button for at least a couple of minutes, and thatís the only good I can come away with. Itís not nearly enough.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 28, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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