remember Captain Planet, the Ted Turner-inspired eco-superhero that
made saving the planet cool! He had all the power of the elements, and
also heart, but that wasn't quite as impressive as a tidal wave or a
fireball. Best of all, he taught us that we can all make a difference.
Especially if you have a magic ring and a team of international
acquaintances. But Captain Planet wasn't the only blue-skinned hero of
the environment, no siree, and if you ask me, he doesn't hold a candle
to Zen: Intergalactic Ninja.
Now if you knew of Zen before the NES game came out, bravo. I didn't,
but thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can pretend that I did,
and say to both friends and family alike that Zen was first a comic
book that attracted a cult following and would serve as the
inspiration for a video game and (perhaps) a movie. At that point in
the conversation, I would hope and pray that the other party had no
further questions about the comic, for they would likely discover that
I had never read a single Zen comic in my life, and that I was indeed
Fortunately, the details of Zen's thrilling existence, as well as why
he's fighting pollution on Earth of all places (Mars used to be such a
neat and tidy place), are contained within the game's manual:
"Zen would have been nothing more than a speck of space dust if he had
stayed on his birth planet. But lucky for him, and for intergalactic
ecology, he was rescued by the Masters. It was on their planet OM that
the young Zen learned a futuristic form of ninja and meditation for
superior mental ability. As he got older, these skills earned him the
reputation of being the most sought after soldier-of-fortune in the
Zen even captured the attention of the Gordons, an ancient alien race
of high intelligence. They observed the brash blue vigilante on
routine missions as he brought swarms of interstellar outlaws to their
knees with his Photon-Stick. Just the Intergalactic Warrior for the
job. The Gordons, being the environ-mental watchdogs of the entire
galaxy, hired our hero to be their enforcer. Zen thought it sounded
like an easy job on the third planet from a sun in the Milky Way
galaxy. Little did he know he was about to face his ultimate nemesis.
The trouble starts on Planet Earth, one of the Gordons' most amusing
favorites, at the brink of serious disaster. Just when Earthlings have
started to become more careful about how they treat their planet,
they're plagued by the crazy plans of the putrid Lord Contaminous. The
treacherous Contaminous emerged from a festering toxic waste dump and
he and his army of foul followers are out to trash the biosphere. To
make things more complicated, an Earthboy named Jeremy has
accidentally discovered the Geocrystal, a gem with the power to save
the world, and the forces of Contaminous will stop at nothing to snag
So Zen must save Jeremy the Starchilde, pocket the Geocrystal and
defeat the supreme forces of filth if Planet Earth is to ever see
another Earth Day!"
And there you have it. Gordons from space have hired a bounty hunter
to duke it out with the forces of pollution incarnate on earth. I have
to admit, after I saw the name "Lord Contaminous," I couldn't believe
that this hadn't been made into a cartoon like Captain Planet. I mean,
we're talking about a show that got away with names like "Looten
Plunder" and "Hoggish Greedly."
There are other great names in the world of Zen, but more on that
Obviously, Zen suffers from both male pattern baldness, and the lack
of a mouth. Fortunately, not having a mouth just makes it easier for
him to follow his practice of speaking softly and carrying a big
stick. Even better, Zen only speaks one language: PAIN!!! Yes, Zen's
method of solving the pollution problems of the world consists mainly
of him smacking the crap out of everything with his photon stick. Even
when he's just helping out, all he does is smack, smack, smack.
Observe him in action, as he smites the unclean in more than six, but
certainly less than twelve, of the stages:
In South America, Zen must save a species of giant flowers from the
sinister machinations of Sulfura, and her acid rain machine. The acid
rain will slowly wilt the flowers, and the only antidote for acid rain
poisoning: a quick smack from a photon sticky. Boy, talk about
In Europe, Zen must rescue workers trapped in a fire aboard an oil
rig. Fortunately, there are plenty of fire extinguishers around for
Zen to use, and if he ever runs out, he can just beat one out of the
animated globs of oil scurrying about. Once he's taken care of that,
he gets to beat on the biggest oil glob of all, the insidious Oil
Slick, shown here turned away from the camera so as not to reveal his
oily genitalia. His oily buttocks, however, you're stuck with.
In between missions, Zen discovers that the dastardly Lord Contaminous
has kidnapped young Jeremy and placed him at the top of a narrow gap
between two buildings. Thankfully, Zen's ability to make huge leaps
back and forth off of walls will allow him to catch up to the violet
villain and bludgeon him mercilessly.
In Asia, Zen must brave the perils of the dreaded runaway Asian mine
cart circuit - Temple of Doom style! Miles and miles of track laid in only four directions,
complete with rivers of lava, bottomless pits, and flashing slabs of
iron floating through the air. At the end of all this: the diabolical
Garbageman, with all the powers of garbage! Mind that he
doesn't get you with his plastic soda ring chokehold!
The last of the four main stages takes place in a factory in North
America. The Gordons inform you that the factory is spewing out toxic
fumes, and that Zen must escape before a bomb goes off. What they
don't tell you…
...is that Zen is the one who set the bombs! I didn't know what to say at
this point. This may very well be the first game to ever advocate
eco-terrorism. Still, I wonder why Zen only gave himself a minute and
thirty-nine seconds to not only escape, but to defeat the muscular,
giant fly-looking Smogger as well. He's too cocky, if you ask me.
the trail of Lord Contaminous, Zen freefalls through a perfectly
vertical cave filled with giant amoebas and ghosts, all the while
dogged by the rapidly-descending spiked ceiling! Not sure what any of
this has to do with the environment. Maybe the giant amoebas are a
byproduct of global warming. I am struck, however, by how much the
ghosts and mysteriously glowing holes in the wall look like… well,
some of the perverted things you'd normally see in one of our
rom hack reviews. Anyway, the
less said about that, the better. Moving on...
Fresh out of the mysterious floating cave, Zen confronts a hideous
monster in a stagnant pool surrounded by skeletons. This really
doesn't seem to have anything to do with pollution either, unless you
consider the piles of bleached bones to be a metaphor for landfills,
and the sewage-spewing monster that launches its young at you to be
some kind of sewage-spewing litterbug. Who would've thought you could
find such poignant ecological commentary in an old Nintendo game?
After a brief jaunt through a leaky cave with a flying mound of metal,
Zen encounters his evil twin, Orange Julius. Cloning is kind of
related to the environment, I guess. I mean, if we start cloning
people, there'll be even more people out there using up all our
natural resources. Plus, we won't know who to blame because there'll
be two (or more) of everybody. TOTAL ANARCHY!
Finally, after defeating his clone, Zen
finally squares off with Lord Contaminous. I think the manual sums it up best:
"You're about to come face to fang with the Prince of Pollution himself
in his own digs. But hold on to your granola because this fiasco is
only a preview of the ultimate showdown to come."
That's good advice, for the final battle is in the form of a
granola-gripping contest. The winner gets dominion over the Earth. Be
Other notable things about Zen include the bonus round, where even in
the course of recycling, Zen must hit things.
In this case, he must bat pieces of trash into the "Recyclotron". In
doing so, he will use the machine to recreate five other environmental
superheroes, who collectively make up the Recycled Superheroes.
Lawn Ranger, made from leaves and endowed with the power to
ruin a perfectly good autumn weekend. Pulp, made from recycled
magazines, and not shredded oranges and lemons as one might think.
Bottle Bandit, I can't imagine what he might possibly be made of, can
you? Can-it, made from aluminum (or for our international readers,
aluminium) cans. Lights-out, made from old batteries, and containing
within him all the power of a million spent AA's.
Evil doesn't stand a
The best part about Zen, though, is that unlike Captain Planet, he
didn't encourage any kind of activism on the part of the viewer:
"Oh, no, little Johnny, there's nothing you can do about pollution.
You see, overflowing landfills and the depletion of the ozone layer
aren't a result of our own lack of concern over the impact that our
busy and wasteful lives have on the world. No, it's all the work of a
purple demoniac named Lord Contaminous."
"But papa, isn't there anything I can do?"
"Pff, not unless you have a magic crystal or a fancy alien ninja
I hope that having read this article, you can all rest assured,
knowing that as long as mouthless blue men in black leather pants and
ski boots exist to fight off the spiky specters of pollution, we can
all be as irresponsible and wasteful as we want, and if you find a
magic crystal that can save the earth, for god's sake, give it to that
Questions or Comments about this piece?
email Dr. Boogie
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