As I'm fairly sure regular Oldschool Gaming readers will have noticed by now, I absolutely love a good shoot 'em up, regardless of platform and with a good degree of flexibility as regards the form the action takes as long as it's 2D. And the Spectrum original of zBlast SD, with all of it's simple, solid, no-nonsense shooty action of the kind we sadly see far less of now than we used to even for the 8-bit machines, is exactly the sort of game I'll sit down with in short bursts every now and again. And Nicholas Campbell's Amstrad CPC port is pretty faithful on that level in that there is no pretense of storyline, it doesn't break the action up with mission information or cut scenes past a slight pause to give the player a breather between waves and the only thought required is to either fire at or avoid anything that may be moving and isn't part of the omnipresent starfield.
In fact, life for our intergalactic hero starts out fairly easy as his ship comes under attack from a small group of brightly-coloured nasties that are well armed and shielded but relatively easy to despatch. But as the game progresses the number of attackers and the skill needed to destroy them goes up rapidly and by wave five, when the first of the larger craft appear, things get more than a little hectic. There's a hierarchy of craft, the small drone fighters, a selection of mid-size warships that can launch more fighters into play and the gargantuan mother ships that, again, are capable of launching more of the smaller warships. Fortunately, the lone ship has a shielding system that starts off with 30 units of energy and one is lost with each hit those shields take, either from attackers or bullets.
zBlast SD is presented pretty much identically to the Spectrum original; the titles page is text-based and, along with retaining the status bar from the last game played, gives a few nice touches such as keyboard or joystick control selection and a record of the current highscore whilst the music hums away unobtrusively in the background. Graphically, this is a straight attempt to get the original Spectrum version's graphics into the lower resolution CPC mode 0 and some good work has been done; everything from the character set to the rendered cover artwork that was used as a loading screen is present and correct and, because the in-game graphics were pretty simple to start with, very little has really been lost during the drop in resolution. The actual movement of the game, however, is noticeably slower than the Spectrum and, as the playfield becomes more busy, which is what happens almost as soon as the game is started. In fact, as the game progresses, the action slows down to the point where it becomes possible to count the frame refreshes off!
It's a bit of a shame really, because no matter how much I wanted to like zBlast SD on the CPC, it just doesn't quite live up to the standards set by Spectrum version; what started out as a wonderfully manic little shoot 'em up that bordered on the edge of being a bullet hell game with the large quantities of projectiles and the player's collision detection reduced to just the cockpit of the ship has lost a lot of it's edginess due to the extreme drop in speed and, just about any impact registering as fatal, the hail of bullets still being issued becomes far more deadly. That slowing down on it's own could possibly have been lived with but the tightening of the collisions makes this a very different beast to the original and even at the reduced pace the dodging of bullets can be considerably more difficult, frustratingly so because now it's possible to see the bullets coming and still not get out of the way in time.