I'm not sure if it was intentional, but as 2021 was drawing to a close - literally as we were in its final few minutes in fact! - Zosya Entertainment announced Angels. Zosya Entertainment appeared, seemingly from nowhere, a few years ago and they have so far produced a run of seven superior quality games. True, some have been more 'epic' than others - Travel Through Time is a far grander production than Bonnie And Clyde - but what they've all had in common are unique engines with each game having been built from the ground up in 100% machine code. In a world where it seems 80% of "new" Spectrum games have been built with the same tools, any new release from Zosya immediately attracts my attention. Here, I think, quite probably be something well worth playing.
And I'm happy to confirm that, yes, Angels is well worth playing. It's a sideways-scrolling beat-'em-up, a sort of cross between the Spectrum's Target Renegade [An absolute classic! - Ed] and 'what the Spectrum version of Golden Axe should've been'. It plays like a miniature movie, with an intro, cutscenes between levels, and a backstory that was obviously inspired by the first Terminator film. You can play it alone or with a friend, and it plays a pretty tough little game. Practice makes perfect.
The backstory, for anyone who cares, is that there are these two hard cases, Kira and Rika. Neither of them are the kind of girls you'd want to take home to meet your mother. On the contrary, even the Kray twins might think twice about messing with these broads. They can not only punch, jump, roundhouse kick and trip anyone who gets in their way, they've also occasionally got the power to throw out a bolt of plasma that'll send an enemy flailing into the dirt. And that's not to mention Kira's acrobatic abilities either - somewhere there's a circus missing its prize acrobat! Anyway, Kira and Rika are superhumans. They live somewhere 'far away' (in the X Files sense) but the scores they have to settle won't be fought on their planet or in their world. They will be fighting on Earth. Tonight.
Now I have to admit that my first impressions of Angels were actually not great. You get a generous amount of lives, and each life has a suitably generous amount of energy, but the bad guys in this game are really tough. Playing a one player game means you can flick between the girls - playing as Kira until your energy falls to a critical level, for example, then switching to Rika and hoping you can struggle through the level on her energy rather than have Kira lose a life. But the problem is that there is an incredible number of bad guys who attack you - sometimes it can be five against one (!), and bad guys who carry weapons (like baseball bats and whips) take huge swathes of energy off you when they hit you, which is often. When you walk, from left to right, the screen doesn't scroll with you, it's more than you have to reach the outermost right hand edge to force a screen scroll which puts you back into the middle of the screen again (a la Target Renegade).
With just six game controls, it's pretty clear that a direction key and Fire executes one of a number of fighting moves, but not all of your moves make contact with the thugs who need to be decimated. And it's easy to start pummelling the guy in front of you, congratulating yourself on all the blood-letting you're achieving with each impact, not realising that there's another guy behind you with a weapon who's actually doing you a great deal of damage.
The key to making progress, and not losing energy, is therefore about disarming opponents as quickly as possible, and placing your Angel in such a position that she can reign blows down upon whatever threat she encounters without being smacked in the face herself. The two women have slightly different fighting moves, with Kira able to impressively back-flip away from danger, and Rika able to jump much higher, and kick enemies out of the way whilst doing so. Hence there's quite a bit of skill involved in remembering exactly how the levels play out. On some occasions, it helps to be a particular character if you know what's coming next. The good thing is that, if you clear a screen of bad guys, no more will attack you until you force the screen to scroll, so you have plenty of time between bouts to take a breath.
Somewhat surprisingly, Angels is not purely a beat-'em-up. Clear level one and you'll find level two is a vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up. This is also the case when you clear level three, meaning the game alternates between sideways scrolling beat-'em-up and vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up. Whilst this is certainly different, and not altogether unwelcome because the 'movie' elements of the game cleverly segue these two game styles together, the shoot-'em-up bits are much easier than the beat-'em-up bits. That's not to say they're a walk in the park though. You'll still need your wits about you to clear them. But they are not like some of the bullet hell games we've been seeing recently and the spaceship ducks and dives around the playing area very efficiently. One thing I did notice was that there's no on-screen energy bar for these sections.
Set against it all is a thumping AY music soundtrack which is absolutely superb. Oh, and there's a bit of nudity too, if you like that sort of thing. (I do!)
How does it play? Well, after you work out how to play, very, very well is the answer. The graphics are multi-coloured, have no colour clash and look gorgeous. The girls react instantly to your controls, clearing a level gives you a good sense of achievement and the themed levels - and the shooty bits - introduce a lot of variety into a genre that, without them, might have felt a bit samey very quickly. It's all very slick, as we've come to expect from this software house, and, by level five, you get to beat up the odd bear, as well as the neighbourhood hoodlums, which again is a surprise you're not really expecting. As for what else is in store on later levels, well both my girls always get offed mid level five, so I'll leave its other secrets for you to discover on your own.
Reading back over this review, it doesn't seem to read as enthusiastically as I would like it to. Make no mistake, Angels is a brilliant Spectrum game. You might not think it at first because it's the sort of game that you have to play a few times in order to get to grips with all the different fighting moves and the necessity to tactically switch characters. But, once you do get to grips with it, and you realise all the tenets it has to offer, you can't really conclude that it's anything other than sensational. I don't think that I played a better Spectrum game than this in 2021, which would make it my Spectrum Game Of The Year. So go get it. Now.