Quite a few people have asked me if I’m going to be covering the new Zosya Entertainment game, Angels for ZX Spectrum, and that was always the plan because I’m a huge fan of pretty much all of their output, especially that racing miracle Travel Through Time Vol. 1: Northern Lights that we gushed over on the Spectrum here last year! The trouble is, I’m not really sure I like this one quite as much, and my life’s too short to be playing games to the extent that I can do them justice here if I’m not really enjoying them… A compromise, then? How about a bit of a mini-review (by my standards!) because regardless of how much I like it or not, there’s an awful lot of magic going on here, and it’s a brand new ZX Spectrum game after all, and it deserves a bit of a spotlight!

The underlying story provided is very much to the point if not especially enlightening at the outset – “Kira and Rika, two girls from another planet, are serving their sentences on Earth, fighting crime.” As you’d expect of any Zosya game though, there’s way more to it than that, and it’s all going to be explained in some beautiful cutscenes that demand a watch… It’s also pretty bonkers, and in the interests of not spoiling it and making sure this stays a mini-review of sorts, I’m going to leave it there! But what it all translates to is alternating between 2D beat ‘em up on odd levels and vertically scrolling shooter on even levels.

After the mysterious but very well realised animated opening, we’re in The Bronx, New York, and it must be level one, and that’s an odd number, so it must be time to beat ‘em up! Before that though, you can’t help but take the opportunity to wonder at the colours coming out the screen in front of you – they’ve even got the Spectrum doing a decent impersonation of orange! None of this will surprise you if you’ve played a Zosya game before though, but I’m wondering if they’ve gone a step too far in applying it to this genre? Yes, I know the screenshots look great, but in motion you’ve got very necessary but distracting black boxes surrounding each element of your incredibly detailed player character as well as the goons you’re up against, and I just found it a little too clever for its own good at speed and in motion in the heat of battle.

The meticulous attention to detail is insane though, with stop-start parallax backdrops beautifully filled in with life as well as thoughtful colour, but the absolute highlight is the dynamic incidental lighting, whether the dodgy bulb outside a seedy apartment block or the passing cars whose headlights light up the pseudo 3D environment as they drive by. Animation is mostly very slick, especially the gymnastics, although I did find the punches and some of the kicks a little too quick and not terribly expressive. I know we’re talking ZX Spectrum here, but Renegade didn’t have that problem in 1987, and for me the actual combat suffers as a result, losing impact as well as an element of control. And I think that explains a lot of the relative difficulty in these sections too, even with the cool super punch mechanic that you build up by landing successful hits.

Complete the level and you’ll climb back into your little spaceship to fly around the world to the next crime hotspot, and that makes this level two, and that’s an even number, so it’s time to go vertical shooting! There’s really not a lot to this section – shoot a handful of enemies over a very plain star-field. Kind of reminds me of Light Force to play but without the cool graphics or much challenge – it’s not very long at all before you’re facing a simple boss, a quick cutscene and more beating up in a whole new great looking Sicilian setting. And so on…

The game works in 48K mode with a brief multi-load interlude, but you really want to be experiencing this with 128K in your pocket, which gives you a wonderfully layered AY soundtrack, additional enemy types, more offensive moves and all those cutscenes and special effects. But for all of that great stuff, I’m left feeling down because I don’t want to feel down on this! It’s so impressive and so ambitious despite some of the criticisms I’ve levelled at it just because it’s a Zosya-standard game, but unfortunately the all-important gameplay loop just isn’t clicking for me! Maybe I need a second player to take some of the strain, which will maybe lead me beyond fighting bears in a gorgeous Russian forest and onto more sophisticated shooter levels… But in the absence of one I’m just going to say you absolutely need to experience this if you have any interest in the ZX Spectrum at all, and who knows, it might not quite meet the heights of Travel Through Time for me, but it might just for you!

You can download Angels for ZX Spectrum for free from Zosya Entertainment here.