The more well-known NES version (starring Captain Commando, though in name only) was later released in the United States on July 1, 1987, in the Europe on September 27, 1989 and for the Famicom Disk System in Japan on May 25, 1987.
The player maneuvers the space ranger throughout the enemy space station, which consists of 26 alphabetically ordered corridors known as "sections", starting from Section A and ending at the titular Section Z. The game is divided into five stages, each consisting of five sections (with the final stage having six sections to accommodate the spare letter). The player will fight an enemy boss at the end of each stage, concluding with the final battle against the "L Brain" at Section Z. The game's stages alternates between horizontal-scrolling stage (left or right) and upwards vertical-scrolling stages. The player will lose a life every time they get hit by enemy fire. Additional lives can be obtained if the player achieves a high enough score. The game will be over if the player loses all of their lives, although a chance to continue will be provided.
The controls consists of an eight-way joystick and two buttons, one for shooting and the other for changing the character's aim to the left or right. This allows the player to shoot at one direction while moving away towards the opposite. The player will shoot their rifle towards the left or the right with the fire button, while dropping bombs at the same time to the ground. By destroying certain dome-shaped containers, the player can obtain one of three power-up items represented by letters: S, P, and B. S increases the player's mobility speed, while P increases their firing power; each can improved for up to three increments. However, these power-ups will be lost whenever the player loses a life. The B item will simply give the player bonus points.
Differences between the Arcade version and NES version
Many of Capcom's arcade "ports" for the NES were often two completely different games. Section Z is no exception. The arcade version (the first in a trio of "jetpack shooters") features a two-player alternating mode that is missing from the NES home version, but lacks the branching level design of the later iteration. The arcade version has the player moving in a linear path of 26 "sections" each named after a letter of the English alphabet (with "Section Z" being the final stage). Considering that the game had to be played with quarters with the player standing the entire time, it is also significantly shorter. Additionally, "Captain Commando" only applies to the NES version; the player character in the arcade and Famicom versions is known only as Lonely Astronaut.
"It is now the 21st Century. High-frequency radio and television communications between Planet Earth and the space-exploring Saturn Space Station blast warnings of approaching invaders, then abruptly cease."
"You shed your earthly identity to become the one remaining astronaut in space. You unite with freedom-fighter Captain Commando to enter the outer regions of space. Concealed in a special solar-energized, jet-propelled supersonic spacesuit, and armed with multi-directional weaponry, you depart Earth's surface on a death-defying mission."
"You and Captain Commando must maneuver safely through four levels of adventurous battle scenes, penetrating the defenses established by the Space Soldiers of Balangool. You are challenged as you fight through Sections A to Section Z - where "L-Brain", Balangool's Master Control, programs domination of the universe."
"Your goal: penetrate Section Z, destroy L-Brain Master Control, defeat the evil Space Soliders of Balangool, and save Planet Earth."
"L-Brain, Master Control of Balangool, secured in Section Z of Fortress Balangool, headquarters of this brutal enemy force, transmits communiqués throughout the universe. Balangool Space Soldiers receive instructions from L-Brain while engaged in interplanetary invasions. Their goal is to conquer the universe."
"Balangool Captains are stationed at each stage, guarding giant super powered transmitters. Strong, red barriers surround two transmitters found at Stage One. To clear these red barriers you must destroy the Enemy Generator supplying power to the barriers. Should you successfully eliminate the generator, proceed to eradicate the Balangool Captain. For only then can you proceed to another Stage."
"As you progress, increase your supply of weapons and energy. Without them, you cannot reach Section Z to bring L-Brain Master Control to extinction, heroically saving Planet Earth".
- Clone Soldier - Clone Soldiers have similar capabilities as the player, and appear in sizable groups. They are quite easy to destroy.
- Leeva - Leevas appear in groups of four. They travel from the right side to the left side, bobbing up and down as they fly.
- Cloud Eye - Cloud Eyes appear in groups of eight; four on the left, and four on the right. They only get so close, stick around for a while, and fly away if left alone. The last one will leave a capsule.
- Missile - Missiles fly straight to the left or right, at an extremely slow pace. They are also extremely well armored and take a number of shots to destroy. The enemy will try to overwhelm you with them.
- Mesa - Mesa appear in groups that fly in single file. They begin in the upper left corner of the screen, and fly down to the bottom and back up to the upper right corner in a giant U. They always leave capsules behind when destroyed.
- Crab - Crabs appear in pairs, one on the floor and one on the ceiling. They advance to the left and back to the right and fire bullets constantly. They have a lot of armor and can be difficult to shoot at since they are constantly moving closer.
- Groma - Gromas appear in squads of four. They can arrive from the left or the right, and they fly to the opposite side of the screen before turning around and attempting to ram the player.
- Vito - Vitos appear in huge numbers, starting in the lower left corner, and advancing to the right along the terrain. They will jump up whenever they need to, in order to continue. They spray the area with bullets.
- Mansa - Mansas appear in groups of four, one in each corner. They slowly advance in an effort to surround the player from all sides. They take a lot of shots to destroy.
- Spratter - Spratters are large worm-like aliens which appear from the left side of the screen and very slowly advance to the right, spraying bullets in every direction. They take a large number of shots to destroy.
- Ripper - Rippers are the guardians of a section where Generators can be found. They fly slowly from the right to the left. When shot, they release two energy orbs which bounce up and down and cannot be destroyed except by the Barrier Shield.
- Gush - Gushes appear later in the game. They blast out rocks that are difficult to avoid. They are well armored and can be difficult to destroy.
- Floating Batari - Floating Bataris appear in pairs, one on each side of the screen. They will each fire a pair of lasers. They have a high level of defense and should be dealt with one at a time.
- Kroga - Krogas will fly around in the player a wide circle, shooting as they move.
- Section Z (especially the NES version) has been compared to Konami's Gradius (released the same year as the arcade version), and Abadox. It is considered extremely difficult to complete.
- Section Z can also be compared to Namco's Baraduke (released only in Japan and also in the same year).