• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatSinclair Spectrum
DeveloperRussell Marks
ReviewFrank and Jason

Main review

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.

Second opinion

What we have here is some unpretentious shoot ’em up action; as with the classic arcade and 1980’s home computer blasters, the graphics here are simple enough, but reasonably pleasing to look at and it seems that a little smoothness of movement has been sacrificed for the greater good of getting large amounts of on-screen colour into play, but that colour really does add to the pyrotechnics and, considering how busy the entire thing gets, the loss of smoothness goes almost unnoticed when the action starts to heat up since there is just so much moving at once. The sound is similarly unremarkable with some somewhat forgettable, burbly tunes in the background and a small number of decent spot effects during play, nothing that will set the world on fire but it all adds nicely to the overall atmosphere.

And the overall presentation is similarly functional; a simple text-based title page displays the status bar from the previous engagement of the enemy, the title and current highscore whilst offering control options for Sinclair or Kempston joysticks and keyboard, a detail that is always well received on Spectrum games and sorely missed when it’s neglected. Interestingly, a 128K machine is required here because, on completion of loading, there are actually several other games included in the file that can be selected from a menu along with zBlast SD+ itself.

zBlast SD+ is absolutely rock hard to play and any gamer who doesn’t like straight out blasting (and possibly quite a few of those who do) is probably going to find themselves getting massacred quite rapidly around wave four or five on their first couple of gies because there is a lot moving around and it’s all armed to the hilt. But with a little perseverance and some experimentation to understand how generous the collision detection is ways it can be used advantageously will open the game up considerably and then the “just one more go” factor kicks in as it becomes a fight to see just what the next wave looks like.