Reviewed by Garrett M. Aja


The NES has a reputation of playing host to some of the greatest shmups of all time. Examples include: Gradius 2, LifeForce, Contra, Super C, and about 20 others I can't think of right now. But, like any good system, there are forgotten games. On the NES, one of them is Section Z.

Section Z was released by Capcom in 1987, just after Ghosts 'n Goblins and 1942 showed up and just before Mega Man emerged as Capcom's big money maker (ugly package and all). As a result, the hero in this game is nigh forgotten, too: Captain Commando. In this game, Captain Commando (Capcom's mascot at the time) was called upon by Earth forces to destroy a space station on the outer edge of our solar system, called Balangool (don't ask), which was/is taken over by the forces of the evil L-Brain.

It's basically a standard shooter, but with a twist: instead of going straight from point A to point B (much like the original arcade version-which I've never played), you had to negotiate through a maze, destroying various power generators in order to reach the boss. There are 3 stages, each with a boss that is insanely easy (and the fairly difficult L-Brain at the end of Stage 3) and a typically inane ending (Captain Commando rushes out of the fortress and it blows up, and you start over again) to round out the story of the game.

-No shmup is complete without special weapons. In Section Z, these powerups come in 2 types. The first is the standard-issue, Gradius-style system of better weapons and such. These are listed at the top of the screen (except for the speed-up option, which takes effect immediately). Your standard weapon, the Laser, shoots out in little bursts and can be fired many times (similar to the NES Commando), making Turbo an even better function than normal. The letter "L" is always displayed at the lower-right part of the black scoreboard (which is itself at the top of the screen). You always have it.

Next up is the Megasmasher. The powerup is shaped slightly like a greater-than symbol, similar to the shape of its projectiles. This is the best weapon, seeing as it is so powerful. The display shows "M" before selecting it. Like most of the special weapons, it is left behind by these little orange aliens that cling to Balangool's walls.

Then there's the Flashbuster, or "F" weapon. It's a slow, 3-way gun with a really cool "plough-plough-plough" sound. (As a matter of fact, this one positive for the lack of an emulation of this game. NESticle would definitely find a way to screw it up.)

In addition to these beams is the Mega Buster, a combination of the other two. But instead of a weapon on its own, you must have the Megasmasher equipped, and both a Megasmasher and Flashbuster in reserve in order to use it. This is THE choice weapon of the game (but it's squat compared to the good ol' Thunder Beam from Mega Man).

The other Gradius-style powerups are the speed-up option, "S", and the blood container-like energy recharges. The speedup is just like all the others (duh) and the energy containers recharge you in increments of threes. You get these by killing enemies. Also of note is the Barrier Shield ("B"), which protects you from 32 shots to Captain Commando's front. This makes defeating the Generators much more bearable.

The second type of powerup is the Special Transmission Shells, or STSs. These things must be found inside some of the special rooms that litter the game. While they are powerful, they take off 5 units of your precious energy reserves. They are accessed by pressing the A and B buttons at the same time to select which STS and pressing Select to activate it (more on this later). Of the 3 available, you receive the Megamissile at the start. The name sums up the it's function. The Flash Bomb blows up everything onscreen, like a smart bomb (everything, except bosses, of course). And lastly, the Crush Ball acts as a super shield, lasting for 6 seconds. (Note: the demo screens give good examples of the use of these weapons.)

Now, without further ado, is the actual review (like the rest of this stuff didn't actually count):

3.5 out of 5.
While the actual motion of Captain Commando is on par with most Capcom titles, the other controls aren't anywhere near as intuitive as I'd like. A and B control the direction of your shots, with A firing left and B firing right. Just like Double Dragon II for the NES, this can cause unneeded stress. Even worse are the processes for using the STSs and selecting special weapons. As I described, the STS selection process is even more involved than that of negotiating the fighting menus of an RPG. The special weapons select, though, is just plain chaotic. In order to select special weapons, you must press back and forth on the Control Pad and press A when you get to the item you want. Trust me, you will lose extra items from time to time. Not to mention the problems that can be caused by moving back and forth like that. (The great energy system removes some of this trouble, though.) Not excellent but better than Bad Street Brawler, that's for sure.

4 out of 5.
While the colors are cutesy in nature at times, (the good Captain appears a very light purple on my TV) the detail is AWESOME. Zelda I pales in comparison. That's how good it can get at times. If only the colors were better. The flicker also gets bad on some stages. On a side note, most projectiles purposely flicker as they move, much like the old Atari 2600 games did, in order to increase sprites. As a rule, this is nowhere near as bad as Commando, though.

1.5 out of 5.
Bad. Besides the opening theme, the first level music, and the Flashbuster sound, they suck royal @$$. I'm scoring it this low only because I know Capcom is and was capable of better (and worse, as 1942 illustrates).

4 out of 5.

Not too easy, not too hard. The huge maze-like structure is a huge plus. But I don't like the "attack" of the Generators. A constant stream of bullets is not cool. The bosses (except the L-Brain) are way too easy. But perfection is for the classics.

5 out of 5.
Hey, what can I say? Like most NES games of the time (pre-Zelda 1987), gameplay is simple but highly engaging. Most of the backround data was from stuff I downloaded at tsr's NES Archive last year. I bought this game used from a school teacher in 1991-1992. This is shmupping at its best.

3.85 out of 5.
While not exactly Capcom's best effort, Section Z is definitely a hidden gem of the NES era. What makes me mad, though, is the fact that Capcom never attempted a sequel for one of the newer systems. Woe is the life of the shooter addict!

- Garrett M. Aja.

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Thank you Garrett! (sorry it took so long to post this btw:) One thing I have noticed about NES arcade shootemup conversions is that they aren't really conversions at all - a lot of them are anything but faithful to the original, with extra levels tacked on and lots of bits changed and extra weapons being added (see the NES Lifeforce for a good example)... whether this is good or bad is up to you, but I always prefer a close conversion than a remix.

Not having played the NES version of SectionZ, and not having much luck finding a rom either, here's a few pics of the arcade one. From the sound of Garrett's review, I'm beginning to wonder if it's the same game at all!! Strangely, the MAME emulated SectionZ is also different to my PCB original of it too... there's new enemies and some level changes! Hmmm... here you go anyway! - Malc.

Looking pretty similar to the Spectrum's jetpac, the main character (Captain Commando!) descends into the complex... A bit of side scrolling ensues, followed by the awesomely huge end of stage E boss. I think Capcom nust have been practising at Bosses here.
The next area starts to scroll upwards, and becomes a real pain in the totty. Here a rogue piece of lego descends, and you nick into an alcove. You can flick between shooting left or right, and this ability is put to good use here.



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