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Video Game / Zanac

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"First it was probably a tiny dot"
— Game story manual

Zanac is a series of vertical-scrolling ShootEmUp games made by Compile. It has produced 3 main titles:

  • Zanac - 1986. MSX. Two versions, both with simple graphics, differing mostly in levels.
  • Zanac - 1986. NES/Famicom Disk System, MSX2 (as Zanac EX).
  • Zanac X Zanac - 2001, Playstation 1. Contains a classic version and its variations and the main game, Zanac Neo. Zanac X Zanac was one of the last two games Compile published before going bankrupt.

Zanac is also one of the first shoot'em ups to feature dynamic AI and — contrary to most other entries in the genre — focuses on defeating normal enemies rather than bosses.

The storyline, such as it is, involves the System, a cybernetic construct left behind by long-dead precursors. The System was created to grant wisdom to those who opened its Icon properly, and destroy those who opened it improperly. Humanity's first attempt to open the Icon resulted in disaster, causing the System to assault human civilization. Facing extinction, humanity manages to open the Icon properly, but by this point, the System had grown beyond the Icon's control. However, the humans learned that while the System was designed to fight massive enemy armadas, a lone attacker could potentially slip past the System's vast defenses to destroy its core. With that, the AFX-6502-ZANAC fighter sets off on its desperate mission.

The Aleste series is related to these games; Compile were asked by Sega to produce games for the Sega Master System, but could not simply port Zanac due to Nintendo's anti-competitive regulations, so they made Aleste as a Spiritual Successor.

In 2021, the game was ported to the Nintendo Switch as part of the G-Mode Archives, itself based on the 2005 mobile phone port of the NES version.

Zanac contains examples of

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The System was designed for killing those who opened the Icon improperly. It was supposed to stop when the Icon was opened properly, but by then, the System had grown beyond control.
  • Asteroid Thicket: "Arer" 5 in the original takes place between tightly packed asteroids.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Weapon 2 provides you with a frontal shield that lasts for 50 hits, and can be made stronger and wider by collecting more 2's. But most of the time, it's highly advised that you never, EVER pick it up, as it will make the Dynamic Difficulty explode with anger.
  • Berserk Button: The System will not take kindly to you picking up Weapon 2 in the original game.
  • Big Bad: The "System" in the original. The "Original system" in the Zanac Neo.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The manual of the original game tells the rather weird story of a system going berserk because "someone opened the icon improperly". Also, areas in the NES port are called "ARER"s and Compile "desinded" the game. Fixed in Zanac X Zanac.
  • Boring, but Practical: Weapon 0. You start out with it, and it isn't fancy nor does it have high DPS, but most importantly it can shoot in any of the eight basic directions, making it ideal for hitting enemies to the side of or behind you. When upgraded to the maximum level, it can also shoot down basic bullets.
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": The "System" refers not only to the Big Bad but also the game's Dynamic Difficulty mechanic.
  • Chest Monster: The boxes that give you power-ups for your normal shot come in three varieties: the kind that actually give you a power-up, the kind that don't give you anything, and the kind that shoot at you when you break them open. All of them look identical (though at least if you shoot the box a couple of times it'll start flashing and you can see whether it contains a power-up or not.)
  • Collision Damage: It's a shmup series so it's pretty much given.
  • Continuing is Painful: Getting killed reverts you back to Weapon 0 and a minimum level main gun. Given that this combination is quite weak and that it takes a lot of items to power your weapons back up to full, getting shot down in later areas nearly guarantees you will lose all of your subsequent lives, even if you had 20 or so in stock.
  • Cores-and-Turrets Boss: Every boss in the original except a few capital ships.
  • Covers Always Lie: Subverted - the default player ship is different from the one in the cover, but holding A and B when starting the game changes the sprite of your ship to one that matches it.
  • Deflector Shields: Weapon 2 on the original game.
  • Destructible Projectiles: A lot of the enemy projectiles can be destroyed with any weapon. The most common ones (leads) can be destroyed by most of the special weapons. Or when the special weapon 0 is upgraded to maximum level.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: One of the first in shoot'em ups. The NES/MSX games also has sprite limits to keep the difficulty level from getting too high (and to avert flickering/slowdown).
  • Easter Egg: NES version had a few Easter eggs.
    • Holding select after the last life is lost will trigger alternate game over theme instead.
    • Holding A, B and SELECT when starting a new game will make ZANAC ship to have a different look.
    • Holding A, and B on both controllers after the credits are finished will make a fairy create a new message: "See you again in Guardic!"
  • Elite Mook: Certain enemy types only show up if the System is sufficiently pissed off. One such enemy, a Luster, comes from above and swoops by the bottom of the screen while sniping you. Another fires an endless stream of missiles that's nigh-impossible to overcome if you don't have a piercing weapon.
  • Every 10,000 Points: Extra lives are awarded after reaching certain scores.
  • Expy: Some enemies from Zanac actually originate from E.I. Exa Innnova.
  • Flash of Pain: Present in Zanac Neo.
  • Flunky Boss: Most bosses have normal enemies fighting alongside it.
  • Game Over: Game over screen appears after last life is lost.
  • Hand Wave: Of It's Up to You and One-Man Army. The backstory explains that the System is well-equipped to take on entire armies, but cannot cope with a lone enemy fighter.
  • Helpful Mook:
    • Very frequently, you'll encounter "enemies" that drop down onto the screen carrying a subweapon item. It hovers in place relative to the screen for a few seconds, doing nothing before flying back up if not shot in time.
    • Another common enemy type is a "recon"-type ship that, when shot, reduces the game's Dynamic Difficulty. If shot with a subweapon, it may drop a 1-Up. Like the item enemies, they fly down onto the screen then back up after a brief period of time, without firing a single shot.
  • Idiot Ball: Whoever opened the "Icon" improperly, dooming human civilization.
  • Last Ditch Move: Capital ships in the original which spawn projectiles when destroyed.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: One of the songs doesn't play in any level. Although it still can be accessed by pressing certain buttons after defeating each fortress in area 10.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Whenever you see a group of 3 boxes, you can play "box roulette": Without firing at any of the boxes, ram into one of them. There's a 1/3 chance it's a box with a powerup and you'll get upgraded to level 3 shots, and a 2/3 chance of obviously dying instead. If you succeed at box roulette 3 times without firing any shots at boxes or dying in the meantime, you'll get an upgrade to level 4 shots, with the only other way of getting them being to shoot a certain type of smiley-face statue.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The enemies shoot out missiles. There is one enemy that shoots out an endless stream of missiles so tight that they're pretty much head against a tail.
  • Magikarp Power: Weapon 5 on the original game. Known as the Rewinder, the first four levels fire relatively slow, but strong energy balls that yo-yo back to your ship and can neutralize enemy bullets. Takes finesse to use, but can quickly destroy turrets on enemy fortresses.
    • Once it's powered up to level 5, it completely changes into a viciously fast narrow laser that pierces enemies and only gets longer and stronger with each level of power, all the way up to level 10. And it still neutralizes enemy bullets!
  • Marathon Level: Levels are either really short or absurdly long endurance runs with multiple bosses.
    • The final level of Neo is the grand champion of this.
  • Mercy Invincibility: Inverted. Collecting power chips and special weapons is the way to grand 1 or 4-second invulnerability time.
  • Minus World: Area 0 (Zero)
  • Neglectful Precursors: Averted in a brutal manner. The creators of the System set up the Icon to ensure the System's power would never fall into the wrong hands. It's humanity's own problem that their hands weren't "right" enough the first time they messed with the Icon.
  • Nintendo Hard: Try to play this game as if it's any other shooter—that is, constantly firing away and abusing secondary weapons—and you will be punished severely by the System. As if that isn't enough, many of the game's 12 stages are very long, and dying completely depowers your ship back to basic levels, meaning that even if you have 20 lives in tow, all it takes is a single life loss to quickly lose the rest.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: A rather odd example: If, as you lose your last life, you hold down Select, a different game over jingle plays.
  • One-Hit Kill: If you collect a fairy, she'll instantly destroy the next boss for you.
  • One-Man Army: It's a shmup, so what else do you expect. Handwaved by describing the "System" as being able to cope with large-scale attacks but not small-scale ones.
  • Precursors: Organic Intelligence Body.
  • Recurring Boss: In the NES version, 3 of the capital ships and many of the fortresses.
  • Saving the World: The System is the threat to humanity and it's up to Zanac to stop it.
  • Sentry Gun: Basically any surface-mounted turret that shoots at the player.
  • Sequential Boss: The final boss in the original and several bosses in Zanac Neo.
  • Shoot the Bullet: Pretty much every projectile is destroyable in some way. Certain "indestructible" enemy bullets can only be destroyed by some Subweapons.
  • Shows Damage: In the original, capital ships and boxes belong to category 1 while the final phase of the final boss belongs to category 3.
    • In Zanac Neo, most of the enemies with multiple hitpoints blink red when low on health.
  • Skippable Boss: Collecting a fairy item will not only clear out all on-screen enemies, but she'll stay with you until you get to the next boss, which she will destroy instantly.
  • Smart Bomb: Enemy Erasers and weapon 6 in the original clear all the non-boss air targets. Fairies are even stronger since after they're used as such, they blow up the fortress as soon as you reach one.
  • Sound Test: Sound test can be accessed by pressing A and B while starting up the game.
  • Space Is Noisy: Everything makes sound even in space levels.
  • Spy Satellites: Sarts in the original which fly around and increase aggression when not destroyed.
  • Stalked by the Bell: Each boss (save for the Final Boss) is on a timer. Fail to defeat the boss in time, and you continue the stage (or advance to the next in the case of an endboss)...and the Dynamic Difficulty goes up. Only the Final Boss has no time limit, but Zanac X Zanac allows the player to enable one for that boss.
  • Super Prototype: Your Zanac fighter is prototype, according to manual.
  • Time-Limit Boss: Bosses are on time limits plainly shown on the screen; fail to defeat the boss in time and you continue on, but the game becomes more aggressive. The only exception is the Final Boss, although a toggle in the Zanac x Zanac version allows you to enable one for it.
  • Warm-Up Boss: The first boss in MSX and NES versions of Zanac is a simple ground turret.
  • Warp Zone: Smiling Icons in the original game spawn Enemy Erasers which then turn into portals that send you to different areas. A few of them take you backwards though.
  • "Will Return" Caption: Japanese version of NES Zanac announces "See you again in Guardic" during credits. In English version, this caption only appears when pressing certain buttons.
  • Womb Level: Area 8 in the original NES version.