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Zanac (NES) artwork

Zanac (NES) review


"From the sharp minds of Compile come Zanac (1986/1987), a vertically scrolling shooter. Amidst a world of other games of the same genre, Zanac manages to outshine many of them, proving to be a strong contender with a unique challenge system, great weapons controls, and excellent graphics and sound. 

 "



From the sharp minds of Compile come Zanac (1986/1987), a vertically scrolling shooter. Amidst a world of other games of the same genre, Zanac manages to outshine many of them, proving to be a strong contender with a unique challenge system, great weapons controls, and excellent graphics and sound. 



Thousands of years ago a life form created ''The System'', a self-perpetuating artificial intelligence capable of great growth. The System grew long after the life form's death, eventually covering the entire universe. The System was not without purpose, however. It could grant great rewards for those who correctly unlocked its secrets, but those who incorrectly tampered with it would receive brutal punishment. 



Eventually, a human attempts to gain The System's secrets but fails; soon after, The System powers up its weapons and begins attacking. Realizing their mistake, the humans attempt to gain proper access in hopes of shutting down The System. Eventually they succeed, but it was too late for The System would not heed the humans' instructions. Defenseless against The System's awesome fire power, the humans were quickly obliterated to the point of extinction. 



The few remaining survivors would not go down with a fight; they had a plan. The System was equipped to fight an armada, but its effectiveness against a single, powerful foe was unknown. Taking a gamble that a lone heavily equipped craft might stand a chance, the 256th Riot Fleet builds the AFX-6502 ZANAC. 



In order to defeat The System, the Zanac fighter must travel through twelve systems, defeating fortresses, mini-bosses, and other minions of The System in each. Each system has different amounts of fortresses and other mini-bosses. Shooting different types of enemies earns points toward the total score, and at regular intervals an extra Zanac is awarded. Upon reaching a fortress, scrolling halts, a timer starts, and you must destroy the fortress before the timer reaches zero, lest you forfeit the bonus points. 



Assisting Zanac are eight different ''power chips'' (special weapons) received from ground silos, fortress stockpiles, and random ships sympathetic to humans. Additionally, Zanac can power its main blaster with circular power chips received from floating boxes. Each special weapon has different attributes, rules of use, and usage allowed, and collecting additional units of the same weapon increases the power and effectiveness of that weapon. 



Zanac will never win the story of the year award, but at least it tells me exactly why I must fight legions of enemies by myself. Being a shooter, story line is not paramount, but the attempt at one makes The System seem all the more devious of a foe, a true irony considering its artificial nature. On a side note, I'd like to point out the amusing choice of 6502 for a ship number as that is the model of the NES' processor. 



The fighter is agile and responsive, and weapons are both interesting and effective. The hit detection is solid and logical, and the general rules of the game are clear. Very few times did I think the game was ''cheating'' or that shot really didn't hit me, traits crucial to shooter games. Wonderful control and mechanics overall. The extra weapons are a bonus as well; it's fun trying out different types of weapons in different situations, though accidentally picking up wanted special weapons by accident is annoying since it erases whatever existing special weapon currently in use. 



What truly separates Zanac from other shooters is its ''adjustable'' challenge level. The System monitors your progress and adjusts its attack strategy accordingly. Weaker weapons and conservative shots cause The System to hold back, while constantly shooting and more powerful weapons trigger more aggressive attack waves. Not only does the game's artificial intelligence regulate the quantity of enemies, types and strengths vary as well depending on your attack strategy and weaponry. 



Like most shooters, however, you're better off possessing the most powerful weaponry possible. While the computer becomes more aggressive, more powerful weapons yield more destructive power and allow more mistakes on the behalf of the player. The game becomes much less forgiving after losing a life as the game goes on, toning down its challenge less and less. Die once on a later boss and prepare to lose more twenty lives. Literally. 



Bosses in Zanac are interesting and fun but carry little variety. Mostly they are six or so different kinds of turrets arranged in different orders. Some bosses are even repeats, adding to the ''blah'' factor. Boss difficulty peaks early on, and stages become more difficult by introduction of new more aggressive and powerful stage foes. Zanac's challenge as a whole is medium, and the average player should be able to beat it in a few tries. 

Visually, Zanac is quite appealing, with distinctive landscapes, enemies, and weapon shots. The Zanac fighter itself is somewhat average, but plenty of thought went into the rest of the game's graphics. Like most NES titles, landscapes are tiled, which means backgrounds look repetitive, but Zanac is still well above the norm. Animations are equally impressive, with spinning shots, nifty explosions, and a neat ''warp'' sequence at the end of each stage. Finally, Zanac uses awesome fonts, with a smooth ''tech'' font and a shaded regular font. 



A problem with many NES games is that the music is written in a way where it would sound wonderful if performed by an orchestra but sounds terrible when processed by the NES' comparatively primitive sound chip. Zanac takes care of that with music suitable for electronic processing; most of the music is very good and suitable for a futuristic title. Even though most of the tunes are only approximately thirty seconds long, I found them quite catchy and suitable for looping. The sound effects are also quite well done, with varied effects for different shots and explosions. I especially like the effects for enemy shots. 



Perhaps the most amusing extra is Zanac's manual. Infamous for its typos and confusing translations, the manual is a hilarious read. Wading through the garbage, the manual is actually a worthwhile read as it contains hints, strategies, and insights into how the artificial intelligence responds. While printed on high quality glossy paper, however, the manual's bestiary pictures are grainy and monochrome. Otherwise the manual is short, but informative. 



Zanac is a fun play. Though often repetitious, beating up the bosses is fun, and the challenge is at a level where you don't have to spend weeks just to get past the first few levels. With the adjustable artificial intelligence and neat special weapons, replays are imminent. However, typical of shooters, Zanac becomes monotonous after enough sessions, but this does not stop Zanac from being well above the average shooter, and fans of classic space ship action should most certainly check this title out.

Rating: 8/10

whelkman's avatar
Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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dagoss posted May 26, 2008:

You posted reviews for two shmups and Radia Senki on the same day! I love you!

I saw a few problems though:

You spend like 4 paragraphs talking about Zanac's story -- why? While I agree that there is something (a little) interesting in the the enemy being a machine not unlike the player's actual NES, the story is still incoherent at best and non-existent in the game itself. You then write a paragraph that discusses power-ups, followed by another paragraph that returns to the story.

There are also a few wording problems, such as, "The game becomes much less forgiving after losing a life as the game goes on, toning down its challenge less and less." That whole paragraph actually reads a little odd. Another example would be, "accidentally picking up wanted special weapons by accident is annoying," which made me giggle a bit.

I think the review would benefit by talking more about Zanac's unique enemy generation system. Shmups are usually pretty "samey" and people generally approach them with expectations of "sameiness," so I think it's important to make clear what really sets the game apart from others. If someone booted up Zanac and only played for a few minutes, they might not even notice that the game changes based on their performance and current weapon.

I still like the review though. Any review about a shmup is automatically a success. I'm glad you enjoyed Recca too. Have you tried Recca Pure? It has an extra mode called "Zanki Attack" in which enemies explode into bullets when you destroy them!!
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Felix_Arabia posted May 26, 2008:

I'm obviously not Whelkman . . . .

But I'm glad you like the review. I'm sure he's glad, too.

For those of you who don't know, Whelkman just yesterday gave HG permission to let us host his old reviews. EmP, Jason, and I worked on getting them posted this morning. Whelkman actually had nothing to do with the process outside of agreeing to let us host them. As a result, they were added without any edits. If they have any kinks, that's because they've had them for years.

So while the feedback certainly is good, you may not receive a response from the author himself. But hey, maybe he'll see this eventually. That would be cool.

In other news, thanks to you Dagoss, I plan to review Recca and Gun Nac in the not too distant future. They're easily the two best NES shmups I've played ever. And I didn't even really know about them until you reviewed them. So thank you!

As for Zanac, well, thanks to Whelkman's review, perhaps I should give it a second chance.
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dagoss posted May 26, 2008:

I just noticed that there are like a billion Whelkman reviews posted.

It makes me so happy that I was responsible for introducing you to two games you actually liked. I try hard to review games that are presently overlooked in a feeble attempt to make them feel loved. I can't believe I'm sort of succeeding in doing that!

EDIT: Also, I saw that you had posted scores for both games. I'm going to post scores too once everything is running smoothly again (I think I read that we shouldn't upload images for the next day or two).
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sashanan posted May 27, 2008:

No review site is complete without Whelkman's work. NOW we're in business.
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psychopenguin posted May 27, 2008:

HG is now legit!
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whelkman posted June 22, 2008:

Chance would have it that I would come across this posting.

I wrote Zanac early in my career, so I hadn't yet found a style and flow that worked. This may be my first review without categories, but, as you'll see, it's basically a category review without the headers. As typical with category reviews, all the canned sections are represented, in the same order, regardless of their relevance. Luckily, I got out of the habit quickly.

Hard to believe I have the only Radia Senki review. I actually thought it would eventually become better known due to its high quality.

Virtually all my reviews contain at least one typo or oddly phrased passage, despite my attempts to curb such distractions. I rarely fixed them.

I would recommend Recca first to anyone on the fence between that and Zanac. Even if you ended up liking Zanac more, Recca is far shorter and more quickly represents itself. I never "got" Gun Nac. It was okay.
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dagoss posted June 23, 2008:

I have been intended to write a Radia Senki review. When yours was posted, I sort of lost the motivation though. However, I think it might have been overlooked by users in that sea of your reviews that was posted a few weeks ago.

By the way, didn't you used to post all the time on the GameFAQs Radia Senki board a few years ago?
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overdrive posted June 23, 2008:

I believe he did. That was actually the spot on GFs that I first latched onto when I first joined that site. Good times, there!

Uhh....I also must do a Radia Senki review at some time. Been so long since I've played the game (wasn't reviewing when I first played it) that I'll have to go through it again, but that'll be cool -- give me an excuse to pick it up again.
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whelkman posted June 23, 2008:

For a time I was a frequent poster on the Radia Senki board. My claim to fame is figuring out what "Strella" did. I was lured by "Casey" from the then quality FF2j board, replete with regular appearances from ROM hacker Alex W Jackson who explained/verified game mechanics that were never scribed to any guide.

I think Radia Senki was actually the #1 NES board for a week or two at its peak, beating Super Mario Bros. 3, but that attracted moderators who essentially dismantled the thing and it was never the same after that.

dagoss, based on your Recca review I believe you can do this game justice. I was never satisfied with my review despite being my only rewrite and always hoped someone would release something superior. dagoss, you have the power to resolve six years of disappointment!
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DrCasey posted June 23, 2008:

For a website I never knew existed before today, I feel strangely at home here. :)

No review site is complete without Whelkman's work. NOW we're in business.

Hiya, sashanan. Good to see you around. Now go play Radia Senki if you haven't.

I have been intended to write a Radia Senki review. When yours was posted, I sort of lost the motivation though.

I'd like to see your updated thoughts on the game, Dawhat - it's been seven years almost to the day since you posted your original review. It's pretty cool that you posted that review just several hours after mine. I really wish I hadn't deleted that thing... I erased it because I found it stupid and embarassing a couple of years down the road, but what did I care? I was 13 at the time, I was just a kid. That's like being self-conscious about crying when you were a baby.

I believe he did. That was actually the spot on GFs that I first latched onto when I first joined that site. Good times, there!

Hey there, overdrive. :) Whoa, you're a mod here? I'd have never expected that I was in the presence of royalty whenever you posted at GameFAQs.

Uhh....I also must do a Radia Senki review at some time.

I look forward to it very much. Do your best, good sir.

Been so long since I've played the game (wasn't reviewing when I first played it) that I'll have to go through it again, but that'll be cool -- give me an excuse to pick it up again.

It's been a hell of a long time since I've played through Radia Senki, too. I'd say that it was somewhere towards the end of 8th grade, early 2002.

My claim to fame is figuring out what "Strella" did.

I forget, what does Strella do? That name reminds me more of Senel's love interest (Tales of Legendia) than Radia War.

I was lured by "Casey" from the then quality FF2j board, replete with regular appearances from ROM hacker Alex W Jackson who explained/verified game mechanics that were never scribed to any guide.

Casey? What the hell, Whelk. You can't even remember my real name. :( But indeed, that was a fateful day at the Final Fantasy 2 board. I've always thought that Final Fantasy 2 was a worthless game, but I guess that if it brought you to the Radia Senki lands it was good for something after all.

I think Radia Senki was actually the #1 NES board for a week or two at its peak, beating Super Mario Bros. 3

I don't believe the game ever reached the top spot because Final Fantasy had a higher number of regulars (The top 10 list being based just as much on number of posters as number of posts), but in terms of post count we were indeed number one. I think we reached around ~1200 posts at our peak, beating Final Fantasy by a fair margin.

but that attracted moderators who essentially dismantled the thing and it was never the same after that.

Hmm. I don't remember any moderator attacks, but that might have been while my computer was crashed (August 22nd, 2001 - September 27th, 2001). I just remember coming back one day and being shocked to find Radia Senki reduced to 442 posts. A dagger through the heart, it was.


And maybe I'll jump on the bandwagon and post a Radia Senki review of my own, too. I think I'm a much better write than whenever I last tried my hand at a review (Ninja Gaiden III, November 2003), probably because I'm in the middle of writing a series which currently sits at 776 pages in Wordpad, size 10 Verdana.
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honestgamer posted June 23, 2008:

It's nice to see you here, DrCasey. I hope that you continue to find the site welcoming, and that overdrive writes that review, and that whelkman suddenly finds himself inspired and writes more stuff and that you do the same. I hope a lot of things, don't I?
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whelkman posted June 23, 2008:

Sorry, Mr. Casey, but FF2j was a great game. Strella heals status effects on all allies, I think. I recall the board's "social" threads being attacked, though I think that (legit) original thread which lasted for years suffered a deletion, too. It's been five or six years or something, so I don't know.

Venter, why is that picture so familiar? And what's with the oversaturated cheetos?
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overdrive posted June 23, 2008:

HELL YEAH!!!!! Dr. Casey is here in a blast from the past moment!

1. Believe me, back in the GF Radia Senki board days, I wasn't close to being a mod on any site. That was my first "home" on a video game site.

2. I don't remember it being first on GFs NES board list, but it was definitely in the Top 10. Our board had a fun rivalry with Heroes of the Lance in pure bullshitting boards that were mainly off-topic. Although, we never could contend with the utter insanity entailing the discussions on the power of Sturm's moustaches. Which is why our board got purged by mods more often than their's did, in my humble opinion.

3. Holy SHIT!!!! Dagoss is Dawhat??? Damn....it truly is a small world after all....a true Radia Senki AND Pool of Radiance master! With Nash's Turbo board on his own site now, we might have to create a new Radia Senki social board here and inform the other dudes who posted there (assuming they can be found).

4. Oh, and nice ToL reference. One of those love/hate relationships with games I've had during my reviewing days. Loved the characters and story, hated the gameplay (after it got old about 5-6 hours into things).
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bluberry posted June 24, 2008:

Turbo Board will always be cooler.
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sashanan posted June 24, 2008:

Hiya, sashanan. Good to see you around. Now go play Radia Senki if you haven't.

Hello and welcome to HG. Radia Senki, huh? Hadn't heard of it before today, I'll add it to the long, long list of things that need checking out.
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dagoss posted June 24, 2008:

The Internet is apparently very small. We should hold a Radia Senki review competition or something, and then have everyone post their review on the same day. It'd be like a hostile take over, except full of win.

(I just looked at the Radia and Pool of Radiance reviews I posted on GameFAQs -- they're terrible!)
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Felix_Arabia posted June 24, 2008:

Haha, what's your FAQs handle, Dagoss?

If you guys want to a hold a Radia Senki review competition, I will judge.

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