• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAmstrad CPC
DeveloperNicholas Campbell
ReviewJason and Frank

Main review

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.

Second opinion

When Jason mentioned that zBlast SD was on the list for review, it was the perfect opportunity to jump at a chance at playing this rather awesome shooter. I first heard of this game from a recent Minigame competition with its Spectrum incarnation and the ripples it caused through the retro community, but sadly never got round to playing it. This Amstrad version is a direct port of the original Spectrum game, but it was only fair that I played the Spectrum version beforehand to give a good comparison (Which brought about a few issues.. read on).

This game instantly appeals to me due to its nostalgic and similiar feel to a frantic shooter by Rabbit Software called Myriad on the VIC 20, a single screen shooter with hundreds of bullets and enemies flying towards you. I’m not sure if zBlast SD is inspired by it, but it may well have been. Essentially all you need to do is blast hoards of ships of different shapes and sizes which move in many different waves, frantically moving out of the way of huge sprays of bullets and oncoming traffic to keep your energy levels up across increasingly difficult stages. It is clean, simple fun and has been nicely souped up from its original minigame form. It has enough as a game to keep you coming back for a few more goes, although with it being fleshed out from the previous incarnation, maybe a lot more could have been added?

zBlast SD has transferred across to the Amstrad very well, and is an almost perfect translation but… there are one or two flaws sadly. The original Spectrum game suffers from some slowdown in busy places, but the Amstrad intensifies this even more so and quite annoyingly on busy levels. It’s not brief either, and lasts pretty much until you’ve got down to one or two enemies on the screen. Sadly this kills the game and what should be a fast and frantic shooter (it’s much easier too being slower). Additionally the sound is a little off in places (I think the bullet sounds are missing). Completion wise, the Spectrum edition also featured some other mini-games and bits built in, but here just zBlast has been converted – which is fair enough and not anything to lose marks on.

To be fair this is Nich’s first experiment at transferring a Spectrum game to Amstrad, and was a learning curve for sure. Nich also acknowledges that it is quite slow in places. For his hard work, Nich is to be congratulated – but unfortunately i’m going to have to recommend to stick to the vastly superior Spectrum version.