Neo Geo CD
ADK / SNK
It’s not always easy being a console exclusive. It can be a heavy flag to carry for one’s particular system when video game enthusiasts far and wide scour the globe to play that special, often spoken of title that never left the machine it launched for (cue Panzer Dragoon Saga). Will the game’s exclusivity live up to the crown and mystique that the retro scene has awarded it? Or was it truly best to stay where it spawned – forever locked away within the library of games for its respective console. With regards to the Neo Geo CD, there are but a literal handful of games that can lay claim to being one of SNK’s disc based exclusivities. Better-known titles such as Samurai Shodown RPG reached the shores of Sony’s PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn, whereas the illustrious Ironclad even received a digital release on the Nintendo Wii, albeit over a decade later. Whether or not the games mentioned should technically be viewed as exclusives is up for debate, but for the releases that really never made it farther than the machines they started out on, there will always be that lingering sense of mystique and curiosity surrounding them. Like a great movie that never managed to make it past the VHS format – you find yourself wondering just what it was about and why it was destined to stay where it started. Such were my inquiries when I came across the “new type puzzle game”, Oshidashi Zintrick.
With one of the most fun and colourful looking covers that the Neo Geo CD’s library has to offer, it’s hard to not get pulled in by Zintrick’s impactful charms. Merry and whimsical, this unique puzzle game from ADK looks like positivity trapped in a jewel case. Released in 1996 (easily the most unique year in video game history), Alpha Denshi Corporation’s take on the genre of puzzle games falls anything but flat, as this is one of the quirkiest titles I’ve ever played in a 24-bit format. The game itself is an amalgamation of several fast paced head scratchers such as Columns, Puyo Puyo, and of course, Tetris. But as similar as Zintrick can seem to the games that inspired it, this near-forgotten entry in SNK’s diverse history offers up some sizeable differences from its contemporaries.
Much like the games mentioned, Zintrick is a puzzle game that has the player trying to clear rows of colourful objects in order to achieve high scores and defeat their opponents. The objects meant for clearing are little jelly-like creatures called “blobs”, most of which sport unique pieces of clothing or accessories such as hats or sunglasses (think Puyo Puyo playing dress-up). Chaining the jellies together by colour coordination is encouraged (three of the same coloured blobs must be combined for them to disappear) in order to achieve greater points while simultaneously flinging problematic stone blobs over to your opponent’s side of the screen, consequently taking up room within their playing field and inducing the sure to follow feelings of stress and controller hurling hysteria (don’t actually throw your controller… SNK stuff is expensive). The game is over when one of the player’s fields no longer has room for forthcoming blobs to occupy. Phew. That’s a lot of blobs. All these aspects of gameplay may sound familiar, but what sets Zintrick apart from other puzzlers is that it’s actually played in a horizontal plane of movement as opposed to the traditional drop down, vertical direction. Normally, I wouldn’t think of playing a horizontal version of Tetris as being completely mind-blowing, but this simple change alone gives Zintrick a life of its own. I can only imagine how well the game could’ve sold had it launched alongside (or shortly after) the original Tetris in 1984.
Getting back to the blobs, they can be spun before being shot in order to lineup greater colour combinations, and the player can also utilize a special item when enough points are accumulated. These items used within matches act as somewhat special moves that can assist the player in clearing a significant amount of blobs if used wisely. There are eight different characters to choose from at the onset of the game, each equipped with their own special item to use for clearing blobs. I like playing as Dark Sniper, as his special item is a barrage of missiles that fly in from one side of the screen, decimating helpless blobs on contact. Speaking of Dark Sniper, I really love how ADK occasionally manage to sneak in characters from some of their other games, meshing different franchises together with fun little cameos. Much like Kotaro Fuuma’s (World Heroes) appearance in ADK’s Aggressors of Dark Kombat, Ryu Eagle (of Ninja Commando fame) is a selectable character in Zintrick, whereas Dark Sniper himself claims to be from the planet Raguy on which the ADK classic Blue’s Journey takes place.
Visually, Zintrick is awesome. The game is impressively vibrant as it showcases a rainbow of colours for the player to behold. As if a bag of Skittles was made into a video game, there’s always a new combination of complexions to enjoy while playing through matches. On a side note, it’s interesting to look back on titles like this nowadays. In 1996, you had an entertainment behemoth such as the Nintendo 64 calling the shots across a considerable amount of living rooms all over the globe – a machine capable of all-out, three-dimensional action courtesy of impressive titles like Super Mario 64 and more. That said, it would’ve been easy back then to shrug off a cute little game like Zintrick as passé and being on the outside of the quickly evolving landscape. Skip forward twenty or so odd years and, ironically enough, Zintrick has actually aged better than a lot of its 3D contemporaries, but I digress.
With a soundtrack that is very characteristically ADK, the songs accompanying everything from the gameplay to the menu screens in Zintrick are all snappy little melodies with the only downside being that the same song plays during every match – thankfully, it’s a great tune that I don’t seem to tire of, though this isn’t a game that I find myself playing for longer than maybe half an hour per sitting.
I’m a fan of everything that Zintrick has to offer. The unique puzzle elements served by way of the horizontal plane of movement, the special items used throughout matches, and even the game’s winsome little story all add up to what makes for a charming game that perhaps made its debut a couple of years too late – during a time when the 2D ship had temporarily sailed and the world was fixated on the next big thing. Thankfully, as the appreciation for quality titles from yesteryear continues to grow, little known releases such as this are finding a second chance in the eyes and hearts of nostalgia hungry gamers everywhere. For a really fun way to burn half an hour or more, give Zintrick a spin if you’re in the mood for a different take on an old classic.