Section Z

Review Date: March 5, 2021

Release Date: July 1, 1987

Platform: NES

Publisher: Capcom

Genre: Shooter

Anecdotes: During the 1987-1988 school year, I was a preteen and had discovered that if I got up at 6 am, no one else in the house would be up. I was already doing that on Saturdays to watch Muppet Babies and to get ready for the bowling league. CBS was the only good option. I refused to watch any other channel. It started at 6 with some forgotten show that I only put on to hear the community calendar commercial music. At 7, the cartoons started with Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater, a silly show full of cat puns. Whatever was on at 7:30 was forgettable, but 8 was Muppet Babies time. We left for bowling at 9 just after Pee Wee came on, and rarely saw any show after that time. However, I realized I didn’t really care about any show before 8, and started filling the time by playing Section Z. Once the school year ended, every morning became a “Morning Z” session until I saw the ending. It took months. I just kept playing and got a little further each time. The sticking points were the bosses in Sections 39, 45, and 59; how to get to Section 49; and hyperspeed sections.

Yes, this balloon shaped thing is known as Balba. It’s the second boss and is not easy.

Description: Players that are familiar with the arcade version and haven’t played this one might as well forget everything they know because Capcom changed nearly everything for the NES version. Captain Commando is the hero here. Each section auto scrolls. Sections may be fast, slow, or in between, but the speed does not change within a section except to stop for most bosses and at the end of the level. Most levels offer options at the ends of the sections to choose what section is next. Red teleporters are instant death unless the matching generator has been defeated. Players will have to navigate 3 areas of 20 sections each. Captain Commando will need to destroy the generators and defeat the bosses to open the way to L-Brain.

This is a generator. The core is guarded by lightning, but I snapped the shot on a frame it didn’t appear.

For the story, let’s go to the manual, found at 8-Bit City. Text copied or paraphrased from the manual is in red, with my commentary in italics: It is now the 21st Century. [true] High frequency radio and television communications between Planet Earth and the space-exploring Saturn Space Station blast warnings of approaching invaders, then abruptly cease.

Captain Commando must maneuver safely through four (4) levels [what a blatant lie; there are only three] of adventurous battle scenes, penetrating the defenses [they might want to beef them up a bit] established by the Space Soldiers of Balangool. [What is Balangool? A planet? A country? An after school astronomy club?] Captain Commando is challenged as he fights through Sections A [Sections?] to Section Z [Did the writer actually play the NES version of the game? There is no Section A or Z; just Sections 0-59.] — where “L-Brain,” Balangool’s Master Control, programs domination of the universe. [Programs? Huh?]

I see a space station and either a planet or moon. Maybe Balangool is one of them. Luckily, it doesn’t matter. Just start blasting things.

The goal: penetrate Section Z [which doesn’t exist], destroy L-Brain Master Control [where did the name L-Brain come from?], defeat the evil Space Soldiers of Balangool [whoever they are], and save Planet Earth. [Wait, how is that space station any real threat to the Earth?]


  1. Captain Commando, unlike the Vic Viper, can handle some damage. There a clear energy meter at the top of the screen. CC’s maximum health starts at 20 and goes up by 8 after any level boss, generator, or Galga is defeated and the capsule is picked up. Galga can be repeated, but health is capped at 99.
  2. CC loses a life when touching an enemy, but lives mean very little because continues are infinite. The penalty is that CC loses 5 HP and has to restart the section he died in, assuming that it didn’t reduce his HP to zero. The system is very fair. Getting hit by a bullet costs 1 HP (but not a life), which normally isn’t a big deal. If CC’s HP drops to zero, he is tossed back to the start of the area, or Sections 0, 20, or 40.
  3. To add some variety, most sections offer the choice to go up or down at the end. This allows the game to be a bit deeper than just “shoot everything and go to the next level.” It also makes backtracking, to a point, possible, but it’s really only useful to either pick up a Megasmasher or go after Galga a second time. I also found a trick where I can go back and forth between Sections 35 and 36 and take the 10 and 15 unit energy refills in those rooms each time. It also breaks up the linearity.
  4. Unlike the Vic Viper, CC can shoot left or right at any time. He can also safely land on floors and walk on them. The Megasmasher is Section Z’s equivalent of the Gradius laser. CC also gets a three way shot instead of two way. CC can also get a barrier shield, which can sponge up a lot of bullets.
  5. Capcom took two songs from the arcade version, but they happen to be the two best songs of the entire game. Those, of course, are the themes of stages 1 (Sections 0-19) and 3 (Sections 40-59).
  6. Plenty of colors are used, as there are plenty of palettes to choose from. They mostly saved black for the areas with generators or bosses, but there are plenty of reds, greens, and blues as well. Some of them, particular the red Sections of the third area, really give a feeling of discomfort in a strange area.
The feeling I get here is that I’m in a scorching hot place without much room to maneuver. The is the first Section of the level and they start by hitting the Captain with some Crowd Eyes.

Negatives: Section Z is a product of its time. Section Z came after developers realized they can make the games longer, but before they figured out how players can save progress. Therefore, like Rygar, there is no method of saving. The game has to be beaten without turning off the NES at any point. One good power flicker puts an end to a run instantly. My next review features a game with a password, so I’ll write more on this subject then.

The game also offers a few superweapons, but in practice, they’re not very useful. Pressing the A and B buttons at the same time reveals them, but if CC has multiple options, the buttons will have to be pressed multiple times to rotate to what he wants. Once it appears, Captain Commando has to fly to the center of the screen, then hit the fire button to use it. It costs 4 HP to use them. It’s all a giant pain. The more likely scenario, though, is that Captain Commando will want to switch directions when firing and accidently set off a Mega Missile. It will happen and there will be time when he has 5 HP, the Crush Ball gets set off accidentally, then a stray bullet hits him, and he’s bounced back to the area start.

More Screenshots:

The vast majority of Sections end with the option of up or down. With rare exceptions, they lead two different places.
This is a Spratter, and enemies like it will make staying on the far left side of the screen a bad idea.
That’s nice. I’ll never use it.
I got bounced by the generator.
The Captain can safety walk on the ground, making this enemy easier to hit.
This thing, called Zamuza, looks like a giant fish. It’s an easy boss with a pattern even a new player should be able to pick up on quickly.
All I want for my birthday is a pet Mansa.
What are Rippers doing here? This isn’t their usual habitat. Regardless, I have only 8 HP, so I’m getting tossed back to Section 20 soon.
This Section is full of Clone Soldiers. I wish they would go away so I can enjoy the music.

Final Opinion: I enjoy this game. It’s very intuitive and I feel the difficulty is fair. It has some flaws, namely the superweapons, but I can play through the game without them, so they don’t hurt the grade.

Grade: A


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