Title: G-MODE ARCHIVES 29: ZANAC
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 01/28/2021
Seemingly inspired by Arcade Archives, G-MODE, a mobile game company that owns part of Data East’s catalog, ended up launching this series last year, which aims to bring mobile games from the pre iPhone era to consoles in order to preserve classic titles that can’t really be emulated or even found by practical means.
This game is one of two to hit the US so far, this one being a phone port of Compile’s ZANAC from the early 2000s! Offering the same “destroy the evil technology” plot of the original game, this version doesn’t add much to story, but the story behind this new lineup of games is definitely interesting.
G-Mode Archives starts up with a nice intro screen, giving a description of the game and an image of it on a phone border, with the original release date of the application. Upon starting the game itself, you’ll find that after loading and taking you to the game, you can use L or R to bring up the menus, offering the little bit of customization this series has to offer. You can turn off the ugly blur filter that’s on by default, and even apply that phone border from the intro screen as a background, which causes the image to scale pretty nicely and look pixel perfect. You also have the option to adjust some other minor settings at will, though changing the controls isn’t one of them.
For the game itself, it’s pretty good for a mobile phone port from around 2004! Keep in mind, a lot of phones didn’t really offer much back then, nor even any practical way to control these games most of the time. The visual modes are both pretty good, with the original style not exactly looking 1:1 like the NES version, but still pretty close enough for the differing resolution.
Oddly enough, the arranged mode looks like a weird jumbled grab bag of assorted sprites, with the player ship looking very crisp, but the enemies and backgrounds looking weirder than the 8-bit originals, with some aspects being harder to see. It’s up to you to determine which mode is best for you, but I personally stuck with the original mode since it looked the cleanest and was more easy on the eyes.
As for the audio, that’s the biggest aspect limited by the technology of the time, since it’s the weakest part of this port: Zanac had pretty catchy songs for the NES, and a decent variety too, but this mobile port strips out most of those songs and replaces it with a tiny amount of MIDI renditions: for most of the game you’ll be hearing the stage 1 theme in midi form and it can get really damn annoying. There’s actually not much in terms of sound effects, so you won’t hear yourself firing shots or anything, though 1-ups and some other jingles will still play occasionally. While there are some other tracks, they’re pretty forgettable in their MIDI forms, making this a pretty archaic way to listen to the game’s OST, but it wasn’t a thing they could do much about back then.
As noted above, you have two game options: Original, which is the NES visuals and elements, and Arranged, which tries to modernize them and makes the game a bit easier in general. Each mode has three difficulty options, from easy to hard, and each combination has their own leaderboard, so there’s a good amount of scoring potential here and some replay value to boot.
Yet, both modes do indeed control and generally play out the same, so your main goal is to get to the end of each stage and take out the boss at the end of it. You have one shot button, which shoots a weapon depending on what numbered powerup you obtained. These powerups are hidden throughout the stages and stacking the same one on top of each other is an easy way to get stronger and take out the enemies quicker. All the while you have to dodge obstacles and the enemies that come after you.
On the original NES game, Zanac was fierce and aggressive, with adapting AI and a fast pace that made the game a force to be reckoned with. But on mobile, it was toned down a lot, understandably due to the weirdness of using phone controls to begin with: even on hard mode in Original, the enemies aren’t nearly as aggressive as the NES game, and it’s usually very easy to just dodge out of the way. Combine that with a stage select per combination of difficulty/mode, and you can pick a combo of your choosing and easily see the ending with some persistence.
This all sounds reasonable enough on Original mode, since there are still things to keep you on your toes, especially in the final stages of the game, but Arranged mode is a bit of a mess: somehow, it feels even easier in arranged than original, and I found myself being able to blow through several stages in a row without even trying. I don’t know if it’s due to patterns maybe changing, the different sprites making it easier, or even placebo, but no matter what I did, Arranged mode was just so much easier than original that it was honestly a bore to play regardless of the difficulty chosen. It has some interesting visuals unique to this port, but they aren’t really worth being wowed with.
Still, the online leaderboards really do add a lot of replay value to this port, and if you find a pairing that works for you, this can still be a pretty fun scorechaser, even if a bit of an easy one that definitely won’t satisfy fans of the original difficulty.
In conclusion, ZANAC is a pretty great port that somehow manages to hold up well all these years later! With the addition of online leaderboards, it adds more replay value to this curious port of the scorechasing classic, and despite the audio limitations, it still plays pretty darn well, if a bit easier than the NES original. While I still would recommend the original any day of the week due to the impressive scrolling and better audio, this $5 port isn’t a bad alternative in the absence of that version on Switch, plus it’s a neat little piece of mobile gaming history.
Having owned several of the other import G-Mode Archive games, I can definitely say this lineup has a ton of promise, and while most of the games aren’t practical to play for people outside of Japan, (hence why we barely have any of them) they are definitely well made ports doing a great job in preserving an obscure side of the industry, and if we could get other obscure ports on classic games like the mobile Valis, Rockman Dash, and Ys games, then this will be a lineup for retro gamers to be on the lookout for!
I give G-MODE ARCHIVES 29 ZANAC a 6 out of 10.