Gun-Nac (NES)

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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/26/2021 at Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

After my fairly disappointing playthrough of Tiger-Heli, I went looking for an NES shooter that would be a bit more fun to play.  I had heard of Gun-Nac, but I hadn’t played it before.  Still, I kept seeing it pop up on lists of the best shooters on NES, so I figured I’d give it a go.  I now see why it made all of those lists; this is a truly fantastic game.

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Gun-Nac was developed by Compile, a now-defunct studio known primarily for making the Puyo Puyo games before Sega bought the IP and for making fantastic shooters.  Gun-Nac has a goofy premise not totally unlike Parodius; stuff from factories across this seven-planet nation has started coming to life and attacking people, so you have to command a ship that fights the sentient merchandise.  As a result, you end up fighting clay vases, logs, piles of gold bricks, etc.  It’s silly, it’s light-hearted, but the shooter gameplay is legit, and it’s wildly entertaining.

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The first thing that stood out to me about Gun-Nac was that it’s a lot easier than I was expecting.  That’s not to say that the game is devoid of challenge – that’s certainly not the case – but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d gone in expecting it to be.  I managed to get to the end of stage four (out of a total of eight) before I lost a life.  It’s definitely a lot busier than Tiger-Heli had been, but despite that, it didn’t suffer from a lot of performance issues.  There were some sprite flickering and some occasional slow down in the latter half of the game when there were a lot of enemies on screen, but all things considered, it ran really smoothly.

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Gun-Nac is also a pretty good-looking game.  The stages were all unique and fairly colorful, and the sprites were well done and a lot more detailed than what some earlier NES games had showcased.  You’ve got five different weapons you can use depending on which type you pick up and four types of bombs.  It’s definitely worth playing around with each weapon type and each bomb type because they all handle very differently, so it takes some trial and error to figure out which gun and which bomb feels right and best fits your playstyle.

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When I think of retro consoles with great shooters, the systems that first come to mind tend to be TurboGrafx-16, Genesis, and SNES, but Gun-Nac was an important reminder to me that there were some really solid shooters on the NES.  It sounds good, looks great, and is an absolute blast to play.  I don’t often come back and revisit games once I’ve finished them, but I’ll definitely come back to Gun-Nac the next time I get the itch for an 8-bit vertical shooter.  If you’re a fan of the NES, this is definitely a game to check out.

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