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Zen: Intergalactic Ninja!
by: Dr. Boogie
 

We all 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.

Zen, Intergalactic Ninja, and motorcycle repair.

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 a fraud.

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 cosmos.

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 that rock.

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."

Yes, he is.

There are other great names in the world of Zen, but more on that later.

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:

Quit staring at her chest, man!

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 serendipity.

See anything you like, big boy?

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.

PARTY!!!

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.

His pants were thrown away by the Incredible Hulk.

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…

Quick! Escape from your own mayhem!!! Buzz buzz.

...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.

What's with the glowing knotholes?

Hot on 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...

Brush your teeth, mister!

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?

Through orange-tinted glasses...

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!

And yet, his throneroom is clean.

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 strong!

Other notable things about Zen include the bonus round, where even in the course of recycling, Zen must hit things.

Looks like an incinerator to me.

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.

He only has four fingers!

There's 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.

Hey, who invited the Jolly Green Giant!?
Evil doesn't stand a chance!

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 pole."

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 blue man!

Really, are they any lamer than the Planeteers?

Questions or Comments about this piece?
email Dr. Boogie


*** You too can play Zen: Intergalactic Ninja! ***

[CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD ZEN: INTERGALACTIC NINJA!]

[CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE NES EMULATOR TO PLAY IT!]


Want to see some more video game related content?
Then check out Dr. Boogie's feature on:

A real hidden character!
A REAL HIDDEN CHARACTER!



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