This week I wasted £4 on Halo 2 and was bored stiff within a matter of half an hour. In the same week I also downloaded ZBlast SD+ to review for OSG and have been far more engrossed with it, even past this reviewing phase. ZBlast SD+ evolved from a minigame entry done some years back and has been expanded and improved upon ready for a release on the Cronosoft label. The game has no plot at all but one simple rule, to shoot everything that moves. Think Galaga on steroids with hints of Centipede and Robotron thrown in. For VIC 20 fans like myself, you may get a sense that you are playing a conversion of Rabbit Software's Myriad, which features a "myriad" (I guess that explains its name...) of enemies which frantically fly down at you with a screaming shower of bullets and debris.
The game takes place across twenty different still screens of varying, crazy attack waves where you can move your ship all over the screen quite freely. You have no lives, but an energy counter which decreases as soon as you take a hit or collide with an enemy. This continues to decrease with no energy pickups, you basically must earn more energy points by successfully getting through an attack wave without getting hit - which makes a nice change to the standard three life approach to most games of this ilk. Once you've completed all twenty waves the game loops continually, getting faster and faster each time.
Gameplay is almost as frantic as the likes of Robotron, with enemies zipping around and bullets flying down at you. Gradually picking off enemies is very satisfying with their little meaty explosions, and homing in on the few remaining creatures to get to the next wave. There is a good learning curve with the game, where gradual progress can be made each time you play - until eventually its down to skill to cope with the faster speeds. Although not containing a great deal of variety compared to most games, zBlast SD+ is strangely compelling and pulls you in for that second, third and fourth go to get that little bit further. I keep mentioning Robotron, but it has that similar feel of where I keep going back to have that extra go each time to try and get a bit further. Maybe its the frantic action, or just the way the game is incredibly easy to just pick up and start playing without really having to think too much (which is great after a hard day at work).
Graphically the game is nothing spectacular, but is perfectly functional and colourful and certainly not bad at all - a little bit more variety in the enemies would have been nice to expand further on the original mini game, but things move so fast you won't really care. Animation is pretty minimal, with again not much progression from its mini-game form. Sonically the game comes with an in-game tune which is good, but not the best tune i've heard on a Speccy - and some good sfx for the bullets and explosions.
Presentation is excellent with a great loading screen and additionally with a start up menu offering three additional games in the form of an addictive Columns clone with a twist (Scrolly Stack - where the blocks scroll upwards) and two minigames - a simple tunnel-following game called Dotathon 2 and Soliyawn, a one player Solitaire game. All of these games are in a single load with ZBlast SD+ and are great fun little games in their own right. This makes the whole pack from Cronosoft great value for money - and even better with a free download available.
Sure, ZBlast SD+ hasn't got the depth or scalability of the likes of Halo 2, but it sure is bloody fun and is a testament to simplicity in gaming which can make for the most satisfying experience (look at how Tetris still stands tall in modern society). With it being free to download, and also available for just a small sum for an authentic tape original to play on a real Spectrum, you'd be silly to pass up on it.