A couple of years ago, I looked at the vertically scrolling shoot-em-up Zeta Wing for the Commodore 64. Now, after what has felt like an eternity, developer Sarah Jane Avory has returned with its bigger and hopefully better sequel Zeta Wing 2…
Zeta Wing 2 – The Basics
Like it’s predecessor, Zeta Wing 2 pays tribute to the arcade classic Gemini Wing. The story continues pretty much straight on from the previous title and as you’d expect from an arcade shooter, you’re in charge of a lone fighter defending the Earth against an invading force. This time, it’s the strange mutant creatures from the first game who have returned to attack the planet once more.
Truthfully, I’ve always found storylines like this in shoot-em-ups pretty absurd. Will the Earth of the future really be in such dire circumstances that our survival depends on one person?! If we’ve got sizeable contemporary forces today for land, air and sea, then surely we must have similar in the future? If not, I think we’re doomed…!
That aside, first impressions for Zeta Wing 2 create a strong sense of familiarity. There are seven stages, each with a different visual theme closing with it’s own huge end of level boss. Graphics are bold, smooth and extremely impressive as before, with stunning multi-layer scrolling and an impressive collection of sprites on screen.
Gameplay follows the same format as before as well – destroy everything that moves as before, and each time you wipe out a complete enemy attack wave a star is dropped behind. Collect 9 of these and your weapon upgrades. As you continually power your weapon up it changes as it gets stronger with a total of 12 different weapon types available in total throughout the game. A new feature added for Zeta Wing 2 is the addition of a smart bomb, although these need to be collected by shooting a box that appears once per level so you have to be careful when you use it.
Now I talked about this in my review of the first Zeta Wing. While you’d expect some features to improve access for all gamers in modern releases, to find them in retro titles is impressive. The original offered a substantial amount of options but Zeta Wing 2 takes things even further…
As well as the options from its predecessor (variable difficulty levels, autofire etc) some new features have been added. Controls can be configured for the smart bombs with a choice of keyboard options. Support for second fire buttons is also there should your joystick have one. This is enhanced further with an auto smart bomb function, triggering them in times of need when you’re about to lose a life. It’s only a small detail but makes the game so much easier for those with limited dexterity.
I really struggled to put Zeta Wing 2 down and to be honest, spent so long playing the game that it delayed this review by a couple of days. It’s just as addictive as the first game and probably just as challenging. Visually – as hard as it is to imagine – it’s even better with more areas featuring parallax scrolling, more animated backgrounds, more on-screen action and more variety in your adversaries.
The action doesn’t let up for one second, but one nagging thing I did feel throughout is that the game felt more like Zeta Wing Part 2 rather than a sequel. Other than the smart bomb and new level designs, it didn’t really feel like a new game, just an extension of the first.
Irrespective of the similarities to the first game, Zeta Wing 2 is a must-have title for the Commodore 64. It’s an absolutely stunning shoot-em-up and one of the best to grace the system. It plays like a dream, looks remarkable and has all the addictive qualities you could ask for in an arcade shooter. The variable difficulty levels means that there will be plenty of life in it after you complete it and the high score table will always encourage you to come back for more to trying to beat your personal best. An essential purchase.
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You can get Zeta Wing 2 directly as a digital download from it’s page on itch.io at https://sarahjaneavory.itch.io/zeta-wing-2 for a minimum purchase price of $4.99. Download files are NTSC/PAL compatible and will run on all good Commodore 64 emulators including the C64Mini, TheC64 and real hardware using a suitable add-on.