[Score = 8, name written below, vertical scrolling, 1P, classic GameBoy]

Chikyuu Kaihougun Zas - T&E Soft

Chikyuu Kaihougun (Earth Liberation Army) Zas

1992, T&E Soft

Reviewed by Chris Covell.

Here's a rather unknown and completely overlooked vertical shmup that's miles ahead of what Solar Striker has to offer. I first saw a picture of this game while browsing through a catalogue of Japanese GameBoy releases and thought it looked interesting, like a version of R-Type turned on its side. Indeed, "ZAS" is similar to R-Type in some points, as well as Gradius or some Compile shooters. The action is fast enough for an old GameBoy release, and challenging enough to offer some fun for the average shmup lover.

T&E Soft are a Japanese company best known back then for their golf simulations and (later) Virtual Boy releases. They did, however, release several shooting games on the MSX computer. Their games usually show a good degree of technical skill, nice graphics, and good music, and ZAS is no exception.

What stands out at first, then, with ZAS are the great graphics and music. T&E used the blurring of the GameBoy's screen to good effect on the first and third levels, creating dual-scrolling backgrounds and transparency effects. Of course, on an emulator or SuperGameBoy, it looks flickery and horrible, so I recommend trying the game out on an original GB first. The enemy and background designs look very similar to a Gradius game, and are very attractive considering they are in 4 colours.

Music is also skillfully rendered, sounding very similar to the music in Red Alarm for the Virtual Boy. The first level's tune is a bit too peppy, but it gets more interesting in other levels, as well as in the boss fight music.

At first, the gameplay doesn't seem very special. Your ship moves a bit sluggishly, and the enemy's bullets crawl a bit too. However, the pace will gradually pick up to the point where dodging bullets and heat-seeking missiles is quite a challenge. And if it still isn't, you can crank the game up to hard mode (I recommend it!) You are armed with a basic shooter, which can be slightly upgraded by collecting power-up capsules. You have two options at the side of your ship which can also fire shots. Pressing the A button extends the options to the side for a greater spread, and retracts them for concentrated fire. Your options cannot block or destroy enemy shots, though. Finally, there is also a shield capsule that can be picked up to give you a few extra hits on your ship before you lose a life.

Levels are the typical shmup levels: in space, in a factory, above the clouds, inside a ruins/biological stage, then the final showdown in a fortress. Originality is definitely not T&E Soft's strong point with this game. Enemies are similarly unoriginal, firing basic shot patterns that can probably be dodged easily. The highlights of each stage are the bosses though -- they're quite large and fun to do battle with.

And that's pretty much all there is to it. ZAS starts out a nice simple shooter, and gets more and more challenging as the levels progress. That's not the half of it, though. The fun part of playing it is in spotting all the games that T&E Soft have ripped off along the way. Perhaps it would be a good drinking game, taking a shot of alcohol for each classic game "tribute" on each stage.

Anyone wanna join me?


Epileptics Beware!

Playing this game on a SuperGameBoy or in an emulator will probably result either in a flickery mess in stages 1 & 3, or only one of the two background planes being shown.

Most of the screenshots I have taken showed only one of the planes, so I have put together a couple of pics (like the one to the left) to show what it would look like on a classic GameBoy, with the LCD latency blurring the images quite nicely. On a real GB, clouds look transparent, and the star fields scroll by convincingly.

Stage One

The launch sequence. OK, so it's no Layer Section...

Watch out for enemies that sneak up from behind, as well as buggers with horizontal lasers.

These rotating spikes aren't so tough. Just don't shoot them too much or they'll rotate even faster.

A mid-boss. It's not so tough either. Just watch for its spikes and lasers.

The bubbles that this first boss releases are a little difficult, since they move erratically and transform into bullets when shot. Just dodge them and concentrate all your fire on the boss' weak spot (guess where?)

Stage Two

So we've moved into what can only be called a vertical R-Type factory stage.

Yup, we know who's ripping off whom.

Oh, strategy. Position your options inside of the cusp of those bars to destroy the walkers. You can hit them but they can't hit you.

Park your ship while a streetcar passes by.

This mid-boss shoots blocks at you (kind of like Quarth in reverse.) Just circle around the screen to avoid its shots.

Shoot through the cells like in um, er... I can't remember...

This boss is a nice one for a GameBoy game. First it'll shoot blocks at your ship. Lead them to the top half of the screen, then pull back and to the side when the tentacles come out. Shoot its face and repeat a few times.

Stage Three

This level in the clouds is the prettiest one in the game. The clouds appear translucent, and sway down the screen like in Space Megaforce.

The enemy attacks get quite annoying and hectic on this stage.

Shades of Compile here. This guy is a little tough since his hands usually block his face, and he shoots bullets and lasers.

Pass through the rings to get a bonus - and to survive.

A little bugger, this boss. While you are trapped between its laser walls, small enemies shoot at you. Plus, they rush at you when shot (a la Super R-Type), so spread your options out wide to take them out.

Stage Four

An ancient brick cavern giving way to a biological stage - that's an awful lot like a certain Game Boy Gradius game.

Then the walls close in on you. Take the left path; it's much easier than the right.

Just like Contra, aliens burst out of the cocoons when shot.

Right at this mid-boss, a cluster of eggs/bubbles becomes a cluster of bullets when you shoot at them.

Take out these "unicorns" as quickly as you can, for they shoot annoying homing missiles. Sort of reminds me of Castlevania IV...

The walls start closing in some more and...

The requisite Shmup snake appears! It's not so tough; just avoid the missiles that come out of its head and tail, and blast away!

The only safe spot is at the top centre of the screen, obviously.

This boss constantly shoots out... things, which stick to your options. Spread out your options or you won't be able to shoot at all. Weave through the bullet spread and hit its... er, groin area?

Stage Five

The final stage, and quite a nice fortress stage. Definitely Gradius turned on its side.

It all gets much more complicated when ledges fall from the top of the screen and become part of the background.

Watch out that you don't get penned in by late-falling ledges.

0 points for guessing which game these mini-bosses were ripped off from. Anyway, they're pretty easy to take out. Just follow them around the room and avoid their lasers.

Another mini-boss appears to make hand-shadows of star constellations, or something. Anyway, the hands rotate and he shoots out a shot spread. There is a safe spot at the bottom of the screen, 2.5 ship-widths from the left wall.

Here we go, hectic, hectic, hectic (for a GameBoy.)

Not a difficult boss. It'll shoot its ring at you occasionally, so move to the side where you're safe.

So, the final baddies. Watch out for the homing bullets that like to sneak up on you. When one of the things dies, the other will resurrect it, so it'll be necessary to destroy them both at nearly the same time. Just shoot away with your options spread out, and stay near the centre of the screen.

When they both collapse, you've done it!

Mama, I'm coming home!

The bosses destroyed, we get to watch a nice ending graphic.

But doesn't it seem kind of gross to have a pair of alien skeletons floating around the Earth?

Okay, I see... Super Star Soldier... <drink> Image Fight... <drink> definitely R-Type (several times)... <drink><drink><drink> Quarth... <drink> Gradius or Salamander... <drink> Space Megaforce... <drink> GG Aleste... <drink> Super R-Type... <drink> oh, Nemesis II... <drink> Contra... <drink> <hic!>


shmups!   © 1997-2003 Malcolm Laurie