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Gun Nac (NES) artwork

Gun Nac (NES) review

"There are too few shmups that explore the terror of rabbits, trees, umbrellas, and flying briefcases. I believe that these things are too controversial for most developers, even the team behind Grand Theft Auto, to seriously address, and thus they hang over video games like a shadow that really wants to talk about dangerous rabbits, trees, umbrellas, and flying briefcases. Unable to release a game about these evil things directly, Compile was forced to set their game in outer space in o..."

There are too few shmups that explore the terror of rabbits, trees, umbrellas, and flying briefcases. I believe that these things are too controversial for most developers, even the team behind Grand Theft Auto, to seriously address, and thus they hang over video games like a shadow that really wants to talk about dangerous rabbits, trees, umbrellas, and flying briefcases. Unable to release a game about these evil things directly, Compile was forced to set their game in outer space in order to get it past Nintendoís censors.

Okay perhaps thatís not true, but the part about Compile and a shooter in which you go on a rabbit-killing, tree-chopping, umbrella-wacking, flying briefcase genocide is right on the money. Apparently the Japanese have a myth about rabbits living on the moon and pounding rice, which, much like the story we tell children about the moon being made out of cheese, makes very little sense Ė about as little sense as a lone spaceship flying through the bowels of an alien planet and leaving an entire armada in ruins (see every shmup ever made). Iím not quite sure what was happening at Compile during the NES days, but at the point between Serious Generic Shooter in Outer Space and Serious Generic Shooter not in Outer Space someone said ďwait a minute, why are we taking this seriously when itís so absolutely ridiculous?Ē and thus Gun nac was made.

Stop me if youíve heard this before: youíre a little ship. You are pointing upwards and everything around you is scrolling vertically at breakneck speeds. Hostile things are flying at you at from all directions and if you so much as touch one of them or one of the little dots that they fling at you, you will explode and come back to life as the exact same ship that just blew up. Enemies approach you in uniform waves as though they should have spent less time practicing synchronized swimming and more time learning to shoot bullets. Sometimes when an enemy dies, it drops an item which grants you a weapon such as a gun that shoots bullets or a gun that shoots lasers or a gun that shoots laser that also shoot bullets. You can collect and use bombs that cause the screen to flash and make all sorts of sounds, which cases everything except you to inexplicably die. After your ship has scrolled along for awhile, you come to a big enemy, the music changes, and the screen stops scrolling until you defeat said enemy and some sort of victory music plays.

Yes Gun nac does all these things, but what makes it keep its head above the water in a sea of boring mediocrity is that Compile decided to cross that crowded sea in a boat manned by rabbits and flying vases and to do so with style and charm. As the introduction tells you, peace is about to be shattered; plants, animals, and toys are attacking people; and the only way to save the universe is to send a hero into eight areas and destroy the creature that seems to be in control of this diabolical army of rabbits and dancing snakes. One of those bosses is a kitten that throws loose change. While it might seem like a minor thing to replace generic robots with rolls of toilet paper, this essentially gives the game license to throw whatever it wants at you, and it does just that. Compile wasnít new to shooters, having already developed Aleste, Guardian Legend, Blazing Lasers, and a little thing called Zanac which played strikingly like Gun nac without the rabbits, and their experience shines rather brilliantly here. The movements of these flying carrots and propane canisters are well organized and as beautiful as the NES could do; itís as though all of these things actually did spend their free time practicing synchronized swimming and performing ballets. Even if all the rabbits and flying balloons with cheerful smiles were removed, Gun nac would still be able to rise to the top of that heap of mindless shooters simply because it does shooting so very well.

Gun nac, in case you canít tell, is absolutely fantastic. I donít think Compile could have done more with the NESís hardware than they have done here. They wanted to make a fun shooter in which crazy objects fly at you and thatís exactly what they did. This might very well be the most technically proficient game on the adorable little NES. Thereís even an option (and just having an options menu is an accomplishment) to give speed priority over sprites or vise versa. Even with all these flying floor tiles and paper airplanes dashing around, the game hardly ever slows down, which is something that perhaps only Recca can boast of doing on the NES. Unlike Recca, Gun nac isnít difficult to the point that you must quit your job and live in a windowless, friendless room playing until your thumbs erode down to bloody little stumps because thankfully there is a difficulty setting. Thatís right, a shooter that accommodates both skilled and poor players. Not only that, there is a separate option to make enemies fire bullets whenever they die, that way people that actually managed to beat all four loops of Lifeforce will feel like the game wasnít dumbed down for grandma and granddad. And if you want to jump around and play different levels, there is even a level select code.

I donít think there is a bad thing to say about Gun nac. That isnít to say that it is perfect, but that is to say that Compile did exactly what they wanted to do and the results could not have been improved on the NESís hardware. Itís fun, itís challenging yet accessible, the music easily gets stuck in your head, and there are space rabbits and a killer octopus. The game is never frustrating, power-ups are not unforgiving yet reward players that donít die, and again there are freaking space rabbits and evil Christmas candles. Thereís even a little shop between levels that looks like a fast food restaurant that sells bombs so you can buy a different weapon if you donít like the one you currently have.

While Gun nac may not be a methodical masterpiece like R-Type and it may not come close to the intricacy of modern bullet curtains, it still manages to do what it sets out to do so well that if you like shmups and you own Gradius, Lifeforce, and Zanac but not Gun nac, you really should lower your head in shame and wonder at what youíre missing. Itís fantastic. And yes, there really are flying rolls of toilet paper.

dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (May 19, 2008)

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Felix_Arabia posted May 20, 2008:

Good review. I was beginning to wonder if we'd see any more content from you since it's been a while since I last saw anything from you. This game sounds better than Zanac, which I dislike, so now I am interested in playing it.
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dagoss posted May 20, 2008:

Thanks, and I'm glad I got you interested in the game. It is a much more coherent experience than Zanac. Sorry for not posting a review in some time. I'll have to write quite a few reviews to redeem myself. This past semester did not treat me well, but all that is left now is my thesis work.
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psychopenguin posted May 20, 2008:

I really enjoyed this review as well. It's the first one I read of yours and I will definitely check out some more. I remember playing this game quite some time ago as a kid and I might whip it out tonight if I have time. Keep up the good work, dagoss.
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qxz posted May 20, 2008:

Gun-Nac is easily one of my favorite NES titles, and nothing's as pleasant as seeing more love for it.
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dagoss posted May 21, 2008:

You guy's are so very nice! It's nice to see this love for Gun nac.
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Felix_Arabia posted May 21, 2008:

Haha, you don't have to redeem yourself, seeing as how you pointed out Recca and Gun Nac to me where I never would have tried them in the past. Keep on uncovering awesome old games!

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