Capcom has created some of the most beloved games on the NES, but some of their earliest titles garner a lot of differentiating opinions. Section-Z is no exception to that, as some people seem to really like it, and others hate it. In this game, you play as Captain Commando as he infiltrates an enemy space fortress. While it lacks a bit in the graphics and sound departments, the game makes up for it in excellent control and an innovative play style that was a bit ahead of its time.
Section Z's graphics do not look all that bad for a game made in 1987. However, they look a little "washed" or faded. The backgrounds are flat and the quality of them seems to change from section to section. Some sections have really bold colors and interesting architecture, such as the areas that look like Egyptian temples or alien-like. But other sections are drab and sometimes the color schemes used are rather nasty.
One impressive aspect of this game's graphics is the sheer variety of enemies you will come across. This is surprising when you consider that most games made in this era only had a few different kinds of enemies throughout the whole thing. They look nice, too, and the bosses are big and colorful, in the true Capcom style. They are mostly all ships and mechs, with a few aliens thrown in here and there. Captain Commando is a large and well-drawn character sprite, and I like how he has a different stance for standing on the ground than what he does when he's up flying around. However, neither him, nor the enemies have black outlines, so they tend to "dissolve" into the background a bit, and Commando looks a little too "pink".
I found Section-Z's music to be quite repetitive and annoying. While it's true that this is a very early NES game, and the music at times is rather catchy, that doesn't stop it from grating on my nerves after awhile! The music changes with each major area of the game. For example, Sections 00-19 have a jazzy, futuristic tune. Sections 20-39 have a theme that sounds like circus music to me. Finally, Sections 40-60 have a more mysterious tune. There is also a rather decent boss tune and some weird music in the
hidden areas. Overall, I didn't like the music that much, because it can become too repetitious after awhile of playing. The sound effects are good, but many of them sound exactly like Atari 2600 sound effects that I remember. Strange.
Section-Z has some of the best and most innovative control that I've seen in an NES shooter style game. As in most shmups, you have complete movement all around the screen. However, because you're controlling a man instead of a ship, you can also land on the ground and other platform structures and run along them. This really added some depth and strategy to the game. You won't die just by touching the walls, unless you're behind one and get scrolled off the screen. Another innovative aspect of the control is the ability to not only shoot forward, but backwards as well. You can activate a special weapon by pressing Select.
The controls for moving and shooting are all extremely responsive. But I do have a few minor nitpicks: The first is that this game uses the Speed-Up system, which you should know by now that I hate. However, even at the slowest speed, the character is still quite maneuverable. It's not like Abadox, Alpha Mission, or Gradius where you become completely disabled if you lose all of your speed-ups. One speed-up item makes Commando move more quickly, and two speed-ups make him dart like lightning all over the screen! With two speed-ups, it will take some practice to control him well. Another problem I have is the missile system. By pressing A and B at the same time, a missile appears in the middle of the screen. You then have to touch it to make it fire. I found this feature to be completely useless, because the missile does not always want to fire when you press A and B! Other than these few minor quirks, the control is excellent.
Like many early NES games, there isn't much story in the actual game. It's all relegated to the manual. According to the manual, an enemy space fortress of the Balangool Empire is approaching earth. Captain Commando has to infiltrate it and find his way to Section-Z to destroy L-Brain, the commander of the fortress. Well, that's nothing we haven't heard before, but at least back when this game was made, it wasn't quite that overused, yet. There are some cool cinema scenes of Captain Commando flying around and an excellent ending cinema, but no dialogue. The atmosphere is average, but the game's action is what will entertain you.
This game can either be very frustrating or very easy, depending on how you look at it and how you play it. There are two major types of challenges in this game: The first is the action challenge of fighting the enemies and bosses. The second is the adventure challenge of navigating the game's many branching sections. Instead of being just a straight shooter, like Gradius, the game is divided into sections, and at the end of each one, you can often choose from one of two ways to go. Each area automatically scrolls until you get to the end.
The enemies in each section are patterned, and some are much more difficult to get through than others. You will need to memorize and learn enemy patterns and how to deal with them. Unless you have a very good memory, you will also need to map out this game, or you could get lost very easily. There are even a few infinite loops that will require you to find an alternate way out. The enemies are not all that difficult once you learn how to deal with them. The bosses can be challenging, but I personally didn't lose to any of them, not even the final boss, because I had plenty of energy stored up by the time I got to them. Overall, the challenge is okay, but it's not too steep. Expert gamers may get through it rather quickly, so long as they map out the maze. Even though the world seems big at first, the entire game is not really that long.
Section-Z is definitely a bit different from your average shooter in the way that it gives you a choice of paths at the end of each level. Almost any game could easily have incorporated such a feature, but Section-Z actually puts some kind of meaning behind all this level-hopping. Sometimes, one of the passages will be flashing red instead of the usual yellow. This indicates that you cannot pass through it unless you locate and destroy the Generator Boss that is creating the field. Therefore, you must find the right paths through the fortress to get to the Generator and blow it up. Once this is done, you can safely pass through the red gates and move onto the rest of the area, and eventually, the area boss. Each time you beat a generator, you will get a capsule that increases your total HP.
Another reason for the multiple level paths is for the many different special weapons that are hidden in some stages. You will need to find these special weapons, because the game is extremely frustrating to play with only your normal gun! There are also a couple of special hidden bombs. This game sort of reminds me a little of Metroid in this respect. Some sections scroll really fast, and it will be tough to dodge the enemies and obstacles in them. The boss fights are fun, too. Sometimes, you'll fight a boss on a stationary screen, and other times you'll fight while chasing the boss down a corridor. Each section has its own pattern of enemies, which adds a decent amount of variety to the game.
The game's continue system is kind of strange, but very fair. Shots from enemies will take away HP, but if you touch an enemy, you will die instantly. Each time you die, you lose 5 points off your HP total and begin again in the same section. But if your HP total drops to 0, you restart at the first section of the area you are on. The game has three major areas, altogether. Section-Z is a little short, despite its many levels, but that's easily forgivable when looking at the release date of the game.
While Section-Z is a game that some seem to love and others seem to hate, I neither loved nor hated it. I think it's a decent game, and one worth experiencing, but it isn't great, and despite its innovations, it doesn't quite rank up there with the best of the NES classics. Still, it's a game I recommend getting to NES collectors, or anyone who wants a quick, but different, shooter challenge. Incidentally, I now believe this is the game that Air Fortress patterned itself after, not Metroid, as most reviews, including my own, have said.
OVERALL SCORE: 3/5
BACK TO NES
BACK TO MAIN