Z-Out - Advantec/Rainbow Arts


Advantec/Rainbow Arts - Amiga -1990

Reviewed by Alex Vormbrock (a.k.a. Herr Schatten).

In 1989, game magazines reported about a new Amiga shmup being in development. It was created by a totally unknown team of German designers who called themselves 'Advantec'. The game was named 'Wargate' and the Advantec guys stated that the game was nearly finished, but they hadn't found a publisher yet.

One year later, the game was published by Rainbow Arts. Two changes to the game were made due to this cooperation: 1) An excellent soundtrack (including very exciting in-game tunes by Rudolf Stember and a mediocre title track by Chris Hülsbeck) was added. 2) The name was changed from the cool sounding 'Wargate' to the incredibly stupid 'Z-Out'. Obviously, this was a desperate try to repeat the enormous (and, considering the poor quality of the game, very surprising) success of 'X-Out', but I think that it was stupid nonetheless, because there are no similarities in the gameplay of the two games. (Same is true for Delta/Armalyte and Menace/Blood Money, but that's not the point here.) Without that unhappy connection to X-Out, people might have recognized Z-Out as the gem it is instead of telling stale jokes about the missing 'Y-Out'.

Alright. Z-Out, then. The game presents itself as a blatant R-Type rip-off. Everything is there: The force device, the extra weapons, the drones, the charge beam. You know the deal. Looking at the game mechanics alone, there's absolutely nothing new about Z-Out. What sets it apart from its competitors is the playability. The level design is outstanding. You can tell that the Advantec guys have played their share of Japanese shmups. There's no trace of the many minor flaws usually found in western-crafted shooters. The bosses, which are often another weak point of various games, are on par with those found in Irem, Konami and Tecnosoft games. Z-Out just plays like a dream.

The quality of the graphics varies a lot throughout the game. Levels one and three look very good, but parts of levels two and four look like they let the graphics trainee design them. Levels five and six, however, are absolutely astonishing. They were designed by a different artist and he created some of the best visuals I've ever seen on an Amiga screen. He even beats the efforts of the Bitmap Brothers. If he had done all the graphic artwork for Z-Out, the game might be remembered for its great visuals alone.

The sound is very good, too. Rudolf Stember created a couple of catchy tunes that suit the game perfectly well. He also added a lot of crisp sfx. Only the title track seems a little lacklustre. I think it has only been included to have the name of the almighty Chris Hülsbeck printed on the box.

In addition to some very innovative boss designs, Z-Out adds a couple of fresh ideas to the horizontally scrolling shooter genre. If you have drones attached to the sides of your ship, you can alter their positions by pressing the arrow keys. Unfortunately, you must be a three-armed alien to be capable of doing that. It's a neat idea nonetheless. Even better is the option to play with two players simultaneously. It makes the game considerably easier and doubles the fun.

To sum it up: When it comes to R-Type clones, I can't think of a better one than Z-Out. It's among the best Amiga shooters ever. I would even call it THE best one if there wasn't Apidya. Z-Out is an overlooked classic and a shining gem. I can recommend it to every shmup fan out there. It's a pity that the Advantec guys seem to have made no other games. I really would have liked to see more of them.


Level one is your standard alien base. Not much to write home about, but the colours are really well-picked, most of the enemy ships look very nice and there's some cool shiny metal surfaces around.

Depicted here is the cleverly designed mid-boss. In this state, his rotating shield is impenetrable. From time to time, he splits up into two seperate cores, each of which is encircled by only four of those rotating orbs. That's the state in which the core units are vulnerable. I didn't expect such a neat boss design so early in the game.


The mandatory shooter snake appears early in this game. This overweight worm definitely needs a diet. It takes up a lot of space, so there's not much room to maneuvre.

Like most bosses in Z-Out, this one adds a clever twist to the usual gameplay mechanics. The vulnerable spot is not the snake itself, but the rounded structure in the upper right corner. The problem is that it opens up only after a few direct hits at the snake. It can get very difficult to constantly switch between those two targets whilst trying to stay out the snake's path.


Nasty maze-like structures in level two force you to start the memorization process.

Foes like the silly green alien, half of which you can see at the top of the screen, are symptomatic of the slightly amateurish look from which a lot of western-crafted shmups suffer. The boss that appears at the end of the level is another good example. In spots like these, you can see that european shooters have been created mostly by enthusiastic hobby-designers, not by qualified professionals. Eastern pros would never have made these enemies look so very cartoon-esque. Probably they would have picked a better colour scheme, too.


Despite its appalling look, as far as the gameplay is concerned, this boss is excellently designed. The keys to his destruction are the strange blobs that come out of his claws and then slowly drift towards your ship.

In this picture, you can see them at the top and the bottom of the screen. I'm sure they are supposed to be some sort of amoebae, but they look exactly like the fried eggs I had for breakfast. If you shoot these things, they fly towards the enemy. You have to try to make them hit his face (while you're dodging the bullets he shoots from his eye and from the tip of the tongue/jaw-thing which protrudes from his mouth everytime he opens it).

After a couple of hits he vomits the broken pieces of the jaw/tongue and the claws (which now become the vulnerable spots) start shooting like mad. Take out the claws, then hit his face once again and he's history.


Level three happens to be a good analogy to the whole game: It's not very original to put in a crystal level, but this one is done exceptionally nicely in comparison to others of its kind. The background looks as if there's parallax scrolling, but there isn't.

Hidden trivia time: Where do these green enemies come from?
Identify the game and win a Bydo Empire!
3...2...1...TOO LATE!
The correct answer is (...drumroll...) 'Image Fight'. The Advantec guys must be REALLY big Irem fans, first copying the game mechanics of R-Type, then borrowing these enemy ships.


Another mid-boss: The shell of death. It appears twice in this level. Isn't it funny how many aquatic life forms take up a career as bosses in various shmups? (Z-Out, X-Out, Xenon II, Blood Money, Katakis, Catalypse and, of course, the whole Darius series, to name but a few.) If only we had thoroughly poisoned all our oceans in time, before these creatures grew big enough to strike back. Will mankind never learn? (*sigh*)


Hey, what's this? Why is there nothing crystal-related about this boss? I think he looks rather lame. He's quite nasty, too. He's got several ways of attacking (of which I hate the homing missiles the most) and chases you all around the screen. You need pretty good reflexes if you want to beat him.


Very much like level two, level four is not quite at par with the other stages (at least as long as the visuals are concerned). This is one of the better parts. Looks like the battleship from Thunder Force III is hiding inside those volcanos.

A special extra symbol exchanges the force device for three rotating orbs. You can see me using them here. However, it's not recommended to do that, because the extra firepower doesn't really make up for the loss of protection. I picked up the extra symbol by accident.


In looks and behaviour, this double-boss is very similar to some of his japanese buddies. I could easily imagine him showing up in an R-Type, Gradius or Thunder Force game.


Ahh, level five is my favourite. A different graphic artist takes over. Why couldn't he do it earlier?

I think we all know where the inspiration for this level came from. It's all very giger-esque and it really looks excellent. The water effect is very impressive, too. The music changes to a weird theme played on a church organ, which sounds very cool and unusual.
Note the nude lady in the upper right part of the screen!


Another stunningly crafted mid-boss. In fact, this is some kind of dexterity test. The floating heart doesn't fight back, but it's protected by an impenetrable barrier, which only opens up if you stay in the middle of the constantly rotating ring of bullets. To make things worse, the ring moves around a lot, so you have to maneuvre very carefully. This miniboss is really tricky.


As you could expect, the end-of-level-baddie makes clever use of the water effect. The water surface constantly moves up and down. You have to pass beneath the boss when the tide is high and fly above him when it's low. He has a very long neck, so it's rather difficult not to get hit. Thankfully, he doesn't take too many hits before he goes down.


Obviously, level six is a battleship level. But it's very different from the battleships we know from R-Type, Katakis or Thunder Force III. Instead, it behaves more like the huge submarine from the first level of Thunder Force IV, advancing and withdrawing at will.

The graphics are just astonishing. The design, the shading, the colours. I love it! Eventually, this level even features some parallax scrolling.


This is the mid-boss. The huge battleship has disappeared entirely and out comes this train thing, which reminds me a bit of the first boss from Gynoug. In this picture, you can see me sitting in the save spot. (No, I am NOT kidding!)


After completing the big tour around the battleship, we find out that it's not a ship at all. It's an oversized alien mum. As you can see, I already damaged her a bit. This is actually her second attack mode (two more are about to follow). Personally, I wouldn't like it much if huge circular saw blades flew out of my head. Seems rather unhealthy to me.

The queen is very hard to beat and the ending doesn't really make up for it, but that hardly dims the brilliance of this gem of a game, so who cares anyway?

Thanks Alex!! Cheers also for making up a bunch of reviews in perfect html as well - makes me get my lazy ass up and actually publish them :) I had both X-out and Z-out for a week, just before I stupidly sold my Amiga to buy a Megadrive and play Thunderforce III on it. Not sure if that was a good move or not, but I really missed a lot of the Amiga shmups for ages! - bye!! malc


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie