When you’ve got shooters of the calibre of Gate of Thunder, Soldier Blade and Super Star Soldier to choose from, it’s not unreasonable to question the sanity of downloading a NES blaster; surely anything available on Nintendo’s crusty old 8-bit couldn’t possibly compete with the aforementioned genre classics?
Gameplay, as they say, never goes out of fashion. That is certainly true when it comes to Zanac. Crafted by shooter experts Compile (of Aleste fame), this title may not look like much but in practically every other aspect it’s just as worthy of your time as the other games mentioned above.
The visuals are pretty basic but when the game is in motion things look a lot better. The screen is often awash with enemy sprites and bullets, but there’s no slowdown – an impressive feat considering the hardware limitations of the time. The scrolling is also fast and silky-smooth.
Sonically, things are pretty average; there are some excellent tunes here but as always the primitive NES sound chip can’t really do them justice. Of course many fans will argue that the ‘retro’ sound is what makes these tunes all the more appealing, so it’s largely down to personal taste.
Easily the most impressive facet of Zanac is the level of challenge. The game pioneered a unique AI system that adapted to your playing style; if you succeed in powering up your weapons, things become harder. This means that potentially each session on Zanac is different depending on how well you’re doing.
Considering the humble nature of the host hardware and age of the game, this is a pretty amazing achievement and it’s something that even modern-day shooters ignore almost completely. It helps make the game incredibly challenging, but it’s worth noting that over the years Zanac has gained a reputation as being a very frustrating game to play. I like my shooters tough, so it obviously didn’t concern me too much!
The NES isn’t exactly famed for having many essential shooters, but Zanac is undoubtedly a must-have download. If you’ve experienced all the other blasters on the Virtual Console and want to try something that will challenge and entertain at the possible expense of graphical and sonic splendour, then this is highly recommended.