Retro Gaming Review: Zeta Wing (Commodore 64)

Zeta Wing
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Regular Twitter users who are fans of the Commodore 64 can’t have missed the buzz surrounding Zeta Wing. Developed by industry veteran Sarah Jane Avory, it takes inspiration from the arcade hit Gemini Wing. Spread over seven sprawling stages, you just blast everything you see including the end of level bosses until you reach the end of the game.

Zeta Wing - C64

Zeta Wing – In Depth

Running happily on PAL or NTSC systems, it’s you against an alien invasion (aren’t all games like this?). It’s an uncomplicated affair, using the joystick or keyboard to move your fighter and a single button to fire. There’s a progressive powerup system and although there are no smart bombs, they’re not needed.  Each of the seven stages have their own unique visual style making the most of the C64’s hardware. Later levels push the system to the limit with some incredible parallax scrolling effects that have to be seen to be believed.

The weapon system is quite straightforward. Each time an attack wave is destroyed, a powerup capsule is dropped behind them. Traditionally, picking one of these up will upgrade your weapon. Instead, here it adds to a weapon upgrade meter. Once you’ve collected 12 to fill the meter, your weapon upgrades to the next power level. Lose one of your three lives and instead of losing all your weapons, it just drops a level but keeping some of your collected capsules collected.

Zeta Wing C64

Looking And Playing Great

I mentioned the parallax scrolling, but the whole game looks and sounds fantastic. Everything in Zeta Wing – coding, music and graphics – has been handled by Sarah Jane Avory. Not that you would think so looking at it. I say that because it’s hard to imagine that one person could deliver a game so polished. Flawless graphics, incredibly tight and addictive gameplay, great sound and music. There really is nothing to fault this.

When it comes to playability, this has it in droves. You’ll keep coming back time after time for one more go. It’s challenging but not frustrating and during the bullet hell moments you’ll definitely sweat a little as things heat up! It’s not one that will have you blaming the game when you lose a life either – it’s balanced so you know that you’ll be responsible for your own demise.

With the sheer variety of the visuals, size of the levels and amount of music it’s hard to believe it’s all crammed into 64k. If that wasn’t enough Sarah went back 48 hours after launch to update the game with a high score save function for the disk version of the game, making even more compelling to keep returning for high score addicts!

Zeta Wing C64

Accessibility

One thing that really impresses me with Sarah’s games are the options on offer. Just as she did with her previous C64 releases Neutron (and it’s Christmas sequel Santron) it offers the option to alter the difficulty setting and toggle autofire on or off. The difficulty option makes the game far more enjoyable for those who want a more relaxed gaming experience. More importantly it enhances the game for players with restricted use of their hands or with slower reaction times.

And the same applies to the autofire option. Some of us aren’t getting any younger and our trigger fingers (or thumbs) may be getting a little weaker. If, like me, you have early signs of arthritis this this is a godsend. It’s just as beneficial for those using the C64Mini which – to be honest – doesn’t have the most responsive joystick in the world.

Zeta Wing C64

Closing Thoughts

Without a doubt, Zeta Wing is one of the best games to grace the Commodore 64 for a long time and is probably one of its best shoot-em-ups ever released. It’s astonishing to think that this is all the work of just one person and created in such a short space of time. There’s no excuse for not having this in your collection.

Zeta Wing can be download right now from https://sarahjaneavory.itch.io/zeta-wing for a minimum download price of $3.99. It will run on emulators, original hardware with suitable SD card interfaces and the C64Mini (used for this review) and TheC64.

About Simon Plumbe 150 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe