I never sold this game, but it seemed like a good game to me. So yesterday I tried it out. My main issue with shmups is that they often have limited continues. I only play limited continue games if they are so much fun that I don't mind restarting.
The NES version of Zanac has a start menu with a continue option. The FDS version doesn't have that, but luckily I have the manual and it says that Select+Start continues the game. This can be pressed as soon as the "Game Over" text is displayed. If you forget, you can press it at the start screen too. Starting with Level 5 the disk will then then re-read, but it only takes a few seconds in this game, maybe 5 seconds.
Zanac can be intense at times. I "cheated" with a turbo controller, but that is because I have the twin famicom with turbo and the turbo controller is the only controller I have. I don't think turbo is necessary though, because you can often just hold down the button.
Even if there is a lot of bullets on screen there are no slowdowns and I didn't notice any serious flicker either. I am impressed at how much the shmups matured from earlier games such as Xevious and Argus.
My goal was to play past level 4, and I made it all the way to level 11. On level 11 and 12, the last level, there are no continues. If you are game over, you continue at level 10. In the NES version there is a cheat around this, something with "Press Up, Down on 2 player controller, then Continue". I wasn't able to try this on the FDS version. Another NES cheat, the level select cheat, doesn't work on the FDS anyways (press Reset 13 times, etc).
The game has two kinds of power ups. The first one is in the three-boxes you see above. One of the boxes holds a shoot-powerup.
The other powerups is for the A attack. The A button has the alternative attack. There are 8 different alternative attacks and you can only have one at the time. It gets upgraded if you take another powerup with the same number. In the picture above, the ship has alternative attack #2, which is a front shield. Not one of the most powerful items but useful at times. I prefered number #3, which is an item that circulates your ship and is useful for both attack and defence. It takes away incoming bullets and kills enemies it touches.
The special attack you start with is #0, and that is quite good too because you can shoot in any direction.
Here is a video from nesguide of Area 1. Area 1 is not that intense, but I think it is the longest one so it can be used for practice. A comment is that is looks like Guardian Legend, and it is because the games were made by the same developer. They also made Gun Nac.
The little extra feature of Zanac is that gameplay can get harder or simpler, depending on how you play. There is no guide on exactly how it works. It is claimed that shooting a lot will increase difficulty, but you will have to shoot enemies and stop shooting isn't an option. I noticed that with the shield powerup I got some tougher enemies at one stage. With a good powerups I think it is best to shoot as many enemies as possible so that you will get extra lives.
I enjoyed the strategy elements of the game. You have chose the secondary weapon you have with some care because they are so different for attack and defence. Because the incoming enemies are different in between plays it makes the game feel more alive. That's what the AI of Zanac stands for.
A gamefaqs FAQ gave useful "advice" on this game in the style of "So simple level. Shoot enemies and shoot the boss". But actually there is a lot more that can be said about strategy. What weapon to use, how to best kill the enemies, and how to avoid making the game harder.
The first couple of levels took me between 10-15 minutes. Level 9 got harder and took 1:15. Level 10 took 45 minutes. But because of no continues on level 11 I had to quit for the night.
I think I did well considering my limited shmup experience. It is because this game is fun and fair. Unlike Salamander / Life Force -- I don't know how an adult can bother playing such an unfair game for the first time. Occasionally you will read comments such as "Oh, Salamander isn't really that hard", "Oh, Gradius is quite simple". But it is relative to how much time you have. If I would have spent months of my childhood on Gradius I would also beat it easily, but I am older and can only give it a couple of hours (and I made it to just before the Brain). ;) Playing shmups is supposedly better when you are young and have lightning reflexes.
Most shmups are too hard for the occasional gamer. That is why they often didn't sell very well and the genre is a small niche compared to for example Dragon Quest.
This was the last level I reached. Area 11.