Gun-Nac is a fast paced, action packed, vertical scrolling shoot-em-up that was published by ASCII in North America for the NES and released in September of 1991. It was developed by a company called Compile which I had never heard of before this game but it seems they favoured the shoot-em-up genre. They were the company behind other notable shoot-em-ups such as Zanac and the Spriggan games. I normally don't enjoy shoot-em-ups very much but this is one that hooked me, I couldn't put the controller down.
The story of Gun-Nac takes place in the IOTA Synthetica, a synthetic solar system created by the Galactic Federation surrounding a manufactured star that lies on the very opposite edge of the universe, as far away from planet Earth as possible. The IOTA Synthetica was a peaceful and prosperous solar system until an unknown, evil energy field consumed the planets and began causing random objects and animals to attack its people. In response to the catastrophe the Galactic Federation calls on Commander Gun-Nac to single-handedly eradicate the threat on all eight planets and save the solar system.
Gun-Nac falls in the vertical scrolling shoot-em-up genre but it stands above a lot of games of this type from this time period. I have found most shooters on the NES to be repetitive and shallow but Gun-Nac is something else. The eight levels have loads of variety and all the different weapons and power ups keep the gameplay fresh. Each level has different enemies, mini bosses and end bosses for you to mow through. The developers at Compile also pulled off some neat programming allowing for lots of sprites to be on screen over top of a very fast scrolling background. In the system configuration menu there is a setting for "Sprite Has Priority" and "Speed Has Priority". The default setting of "Speed Has Priority" allows sprites to flicker so that the gameplay is never slowed down. Changing this setting to "Sprite Has Priority" keeps sprites from flickering but the NES may slow down when there are lots of sprites on screen. Even with this setting on the NES CPU doesn't chug very often. It takes a huge amount of enemies and projectiles to slow it down even a little bit. I have played many games that are much worse for this. The programmers also included difficulty settings, bullet ricochet settings and a hidden stage select option to make the game as challenging as you want. Change the sound test in the system configuration menu to 05 and you can then change the area to whichever stage you like.
WEAPONS AND POWER UPS
There are lots of items to pick up as you travel through each stage to power up your ship and help you take out the enemies on screen more easily. There are 5 different main gun weapons for the ship and 4 different bombs you can pick up, as well as a few other items. You find these helpful items by grabbing power up icons that come out of downed enemies or from either of the two helpful star soldiers. There are also ways to power up each individual gun or bomb as well as your ship itself. Here's a breakdown of each power up in the game.
SHIP POWER UPS
Star Soldier - The Galactic Federation sends out these Star Soldiers to deliver power ups to Gun-Nac as he progresses through his mission. Shoot the soldiers to release the power up or just touch them to get whatever they have with them.
Power Up Chip - This little chip upgrades your main weapon's level by one.
Wing - Grabbing one of these will increase your ship's size and allow you to take one hit before dying. If you already have a large ship than it will increase your weapon level by one.
Money Bag - Each money bag has $3 in it. Between each level you visit a shop where you can buy upgrades for you weapon, increase your ship's overall fire power and buy bombs for future levels.
1-Up - These give you an extra life and they grow your ship like the Wing if you currently have a small ship when you grab one. You can also get extra lives by scoring certain amounts of points as well, first at 30,000 then 100,000 and every 100,00 after that.
The main guns are fired by pressing the A button. A lot of shooters are better played with a turbo controller but there is no need for one here. Just hold down the A button for a constant stream of unlimited ammo. The weapons are numbered 1 through 5 and they can be obtained by grabbing round power ups with their corresponding number on them. There are red power ups that always display one weapon number as well as blue power ups that cycle between all five weapons. Each weapon can also be leveled up by grabbing consecutive power ups with the same number on them or by grabbing one of the P Power Up Chips. Leveling up your main guns increases their damage given and how much screen coverage your weapon gets. Each weapon can be powered up to a maximum of Level 8. One good thing to note is that if you happen to grab a power up for a different weapon the weapon type will change but the weapon's power level will remain the same.
Weapon 1 - Your basic gun. It shoots straight and does little damage at first. Leveling it up increases the number of bullet streams going forward and backwards and increases the spread of bullets horizontally on the screen.
Weapon 2 - This gun shoots a large ball projectile that sends two more bullets out on an angle. Upgrading this gun increases the initial shot's size and strength.
Weapon 3 - My favourite of the 5 main guns, Weapon 3 is a heat seeking type shot with large boomerang shaped bullets. Upgrading this weapon allows you to shoot more bullets at once in all directions that will seek out enemies wherever they may be.
Weapon 4 - This weapon is a continuous flame thrower that shoot directly out of the ship and can be upgraded to increase the fire stream's range and the number of streams shooting out of your ship.
Weapon 5 - A space shooter isn't complete without lasers. Weapon 5 is a two shot laser at first and shoots straight out of the ship. Leveling this weapon up increases the number of lasers per shot and spreads them out over the screen area.
The bombs are fired by pressing the B button. Unlike the main guns on the ship, bomb ammunition is limited and you can carry a maximum of 20. The bombs are obtained by grabbing square power ups with their corresponding letter on them and just like the main gun power ups there are red and blue versions. The different bombs can also be leveled up, but only once. Getting the same bomb power up twice in a row doubles the bomb's power but it also takes twice as much ammunition each time a bomb is released. Grabbing a different bomb power up than the one you are already holding increases your bomb stores by one and changes the type of bomb you have. When any of the bombs are dropped your main gun is reduced to the most basic level of Weapon-1 which keeps the bombs from being too over powered and keeps the game well balanced. In addition to the Letter-Bombs there are also screen clearing bombs dropped by enemies that explode as soon as you touch them.
T-Bomb - When a T-bomb is dropped a single bullet shoots out of the ship that bounces off the walls of the field of view, covering most of the screen area. Upgrading this bomb sends out a second bullet, doubling the bombs chances of taking out on screen enemies.
W-Bomb - Dropping a W-Bomb will shoot huge water droplets out of the front of the ship which rain down all across the screen. Upgrading this bomb increases the screen coverage and duration of the bomb.
B-Bomb - This is the best bomb in the game in my opinion. This bomb creates a vertical bar of lightning that scrolls left to right and covers the whole screen more than once, killing any enemy it touches. Upgrading this bomb generates two streams of lightning that move in opposite directions.
F-Bomb - The worst bomb with the funniest name. This bomb creates a circle of explosions in front of the ship when fired. Powering it up makes the ring slightly bigger and more powerful.
This game is awesome and has very few flaws. The game is pretty challenging but I like that and I think the different difficulty setting makes it playable for most gamers. The balance between challenge and available fire power makes it so that when you get hit and die, you feel like it is your fault which makes you want to keep trying. This game is still some what of a hidden gem in the NES and not many people mention it when talking about great classics on the system. This is probably due to this game's rarity as a copy of the cartridge alone will run you upwards of $200 on ebay. If you come across a copy of the game, use a flash cart, or are the type that plays emulators, definitely give this game a try. You will have a great time blasting carrots into deep space oblivion.
Gun-Nac is a fantastic shoot-em-up that absolutely holds up to this day. Give it a try asap.