Title: Abarenbo Tengu and Zombie Nation
Release Date: 10/28/2021
In this dualpack of NES shumps, you take control of a revived spirit who sets out to free America from the alien possession of Darc Seed! Both games are the same, with regional differences, and the story is pretty similar too, even with the differences between Tengu and Zombie.
Right off the bat, this double pack does a pretty great first impression, starting off with a really catchy menu theme composed by the original composer, and offering a pretty snazzy menu, allowing you to pick between the two versions! The UI is a little similar to that of the Ninja Jajamaru Collection from 2019, but it has been tweaked significantly, and even has some new bells and whistles, such as a high-score display, control guide, and list of achievements.
There’s even a museum. However, it isn’t that in-depth, only really offering a couple of ads and scans of the US/JP boxes and manuals. Still, it’s a pretty nifty bonus, and considering they did include a couple of promo shots of the Japanese release, I’m assuming they flat out didn’t keep much from the development periods, which explains why it’s so barren.
As for the games themselves? Well, since they’re two sides of the same coin, they both look pretty decent for a 1991 NES game. The sprites are simple, but the backgrounds are pretty cool, with some neat visual effects, whether it’s the irritating lightning strikes in stage 1, or the thunderclouds of stage 2. The HUD shows a lot of helpful elements such as your lifebar and upgrade meter, but it vanishes during boss fights, which becomes incredibly annoying as you duel some bosses (save for the final one) in a lame black void.
The biggest difference between the two versions comes from the main character: In the JP version, you control a flying Tengu head, which has a red color scheme to it that pops out nicely and is easy to keep track of. On the other hand, the US version replaces it with a generic floating human head, supposedly that of a samurai, and the pale color scheme just looks far uglier than the cool Tengu mask. Besides this, the first stage boss changes color, and that’s basically it for presentation tweaks, as the music is exactly the same.
Very good music, mind you! Which is pretty great, since NES music tends to be hit or miss. The first half of stage 1 has an incredibly catchy melody that won’t leave your head for a good while, and Stage 4 is no slouch either. Some songs like the boss theme can sound like a complete mess of sounds though, so I can’t say that the whole soundtrack is as solid as I hoped, but it still lives up pretty well.
Being a compilation, I would say the usual rules apply… But they’re literally the same game outside of those presentation tweaks I noted. There is one benefit to Zombie Nation, though: by default, you can autofire! In Tengu, you have to reach shot level 2 to autofire, or you could turn on a cheat in the options, (unless you play in the challenge mode, more on that later) but in Zombie Nation it’s always on all the time. So thus, we’re gonna count this as one big game.
The main objective of the two shooters here, is to guide your main head throughout the four stages of the United States. You can start from any order you wish, and it goes consecutively enough to wrap around, so you can go III-IV-I-II for instance. There’s also an easy/hard mode toggle on this stage select screen, which completely changes enemy behavior and the overall difficulty of stages, though easy mode is still really tough. However you choose to start though, you’ll be off to fly and save America!
You have just one major button to worry about, and that’s the shot button. With it, you shoot, and shooting enemies and destroying environmental obstacles is the key to moving forward in a stage. However, you can gain upgrades by collecting humans that are ejected from destroyed rubble, which slowly increases a meter on the right, until it reaches the end and upgrades your shot, providing extra damage, range, and bombing capabilities (And as noted before, adds rapid fire in Tengu). If you max out your shot power, you can press the other button to unleash a screen clearing bomb, but then you’ll have to upgrade once again to use it.
Each stage is broken up into two halves, with the final one ending in a boss or series of bosses. These boss fights are enclosed arenas, and you’ll have to put your skills to the test to defeat them all. Luckily, handy QOL features like save states and rewind are here to make it easier, and with practice you can beat the games with these in no time at all, and clearing all four stages leads to the final fifth stage against Darc Seed, which is just a boss fight.
All this leads to ultimately pretty average shooters, mainly because while the controls are simple and the concept is fun, there’s several annoyances that are pretty big: for one, there are several stupid hazards that reduce your health to 1HP in an instant, such as lightning bolts, which leads to very quick deaths that feel as if they come without warning. The second is that your head literally feels as if he’s on ice, sliding all around whenever you press a direction, as some weird design choice. More than once it led to me overshooting a movement and flying right into a thunderbolt or enemy projectile when I meant to inch forward, and that ain’t fun either. On the bright side, there’s barely any input lag here at all (the icy head movements were a big problem with the OG, so input lag would make this game near unplayable), which was also thankfully the case for Jajamaru Collection, but with recent worries about Cotton Saturn Tribute, I figured I should make that noted.
One final cool thing to note: there’s a mode that disables all of the QOL enhancements such as rewind and save states, and forces you to play the games in a single sitting, just like the OG release. That seems like nothing more than a “purist mode”, and well, it is. Except this mode is the only way to unlock Steam achievements in both games, even though they’re literally the same for both titles. (meaning you’re basically doing everything twice) It’s not much, but it’s a cool little bit of replay value that even seems to apply to the Switch version of the game, despite the lack of an achievement system on that platform, so it leads to the QOL mode being a nice practice run for the harder experience!
In conclusion, this is one weird double pack I didn’t really expect to see, much less for two games that are basically the same, and pretty average at best. Still, considering the insultingly high resale price of Zombie Nation on the aftermarket, the quality emulation and QOL features, and fun bonus content, this is definitely a compilation that’s worth a look if you’ve always wanted to play this game in some way or another.
While I wish it could have maybe included more museum content, or even the prototype ROM Switch owners got for preordering the Japanese version, this double pack of Abarenbo Tengu and Zombie Nation shows me that there’s good hope and faith in City Connection for porting over more obscure gems: Will the Jaleco NES collection they announced two years ago be next to get this treatment? I sure hope so…
I give Abarenbo Tengu and Zombie Nation a 7 out of 10.