|The only genre of games that can successfully get away with a nonsense name such as 'Zanac' must be in the shoot-em-up (or 'shmups') genre; there's some unwritten rule in existence somewhere that lets games like 'Xevious,' 'Gradius,' and 'Gyruss' get away with such nonsensical names. Even so, Zanac and the other shmups whose names make little or no sense prove the old adage, ""You can't judge a book by its cover."" Several elements work together to make ""The Prelude to The Guardian Legend"" (more on this later) a splendid example of a shmup.
The graphics of a shmup are usually the defining factor to the game's success. A good rule of thumb is that if it moves, it must be shot. Zanac has plenty of moving things to shoot at. You won't be disappointed. However, there seems to be an overall lack of variety in the enemies over time. There are eleven levels in the game, and by level three you've already seen 90% or more of the different types of enemies and gun emplacements that are there. Same goes for the backgrounds; there's only a marginal difference (usually just the dominating color) between one level and the next. If the game didn't run so smoothly with a huge amount of enemies, flak, and bullets on the screen (which is quite frequent, I'm happy to report), it would have scored lower in this category.
Another asset to this game is its sound. There's great music to be heard throughout the game, with a great beat and hummable melodies that filter through the almost constant explosions and laser zaps. A varied array of powerups, bullets, explosions, and bonus sounds await the player. An added bonus for those of you playing this on the actual console is that you can access the sound test for the game. If you hold down the A and B buttons, then press the reset button on the console, you can then cycle through a list of the game's 35 different sounds and tunes. I have no clue if this will work on an emulator, but you should give it a try; it's definitely worth it. Attempt to use your emulator's ""Reset"" emulation while holding down the keys for A and B.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Zanac--or any shmup, for that matter--is the Zen-like state of concentration you can experience when you finally get into a the game so much that you find yourself bobbing and weaving gracefully through all the chaos. You'll have plenty of opportunities to enter this state, since wave after wave of enemies come at you with greater and greater frequency. There are mini-bosses to encounter, and the end bosses, though repetitive, provide a great challenge to anyone, even if you have 'turbo' set on both your buttons. To help the player, you can powerup your normal weapon--a laser cannon--or you can choose and upgrade any one of seven different special weapons. These may run out over time, so take care and conserve when you can. My personal favorite is number 3, which is an energy ball orbiting your ship, serving as a force shield of sorts that destroys any enemies in its path. Power this one up, and eventually you'll have two of those energy balls spinning around you in different orbits, causing even more destruction. Jerk and twitch your controller through the eleven levels of ever-increasing shooting, dodging, and explosions that await you. Shmups rule, man.
This game is a great example of the NES and it's power to realize a vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up. All the elements cooperate to bring the player a fine experience rivaled on the NES only by Life Force, The Guardian Legend, and all those great Japanese shmups that never made it to the 'States. If you've got what it takes to give shmups a go, then have at it; it's a great ride and a fantastic challenge.
Have I beaten it? No, sadly I haven't. But I bought myself a NES Advantage joystick a while back, so by the time you read this I may have conquered level 11...!
I think of this game as ""Prequel to The Guardian Legend,"" or the beta version of TGL, for reasons that become fairly obvious once you've played them both. The graphics, sound, and gameplay for Zanac are almost shamefully similar to its fantastic brainchild. Even the player's ship is the same, with different colors. All things considered, however, TGL chose a great model to follow.
I was able to find a copy of this game at my local used game shop for less than four dollars. If shmups are your thing, then it's a golden bargain, and will provide several hours of shoot-em-up Nirvana for even the most discriminating player.