The top 50 underappreciated ZX Spectrum games

The humble Spectrum was home to some remarkable games - including these underappreciated masterpieces...

I, like many, spend many years playing Spectrum games. I defended the computer in the school playground, I kept playing with the machine long after everyone had migrated to likes of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, and I spent an unsavoury amount of my meagre pocket money building up my games collection.

However, a lot of lookbacks at the Spectrum era tend to focus on the big highlights. What I wanted to do here is put together a personal listing of 50 titles that don’t seem to get that much attention.

So, if you’re wondering why Gollop brothers games, anything by the late, great Mike Singleton, the acclaimed works of Ultimate, the likes of Exolon, Head Over Heels, Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, Match Day, Batty, Wizball, Firefly, Nebulus, Fairlight, The Sentinel, Elite, Uridirum, Bubble Bobble, The Great Escape, and so on aren’t here? That’s why.

I’ve tried really hard, accepting one or two are higher profile, to cover games that generally don’t seem to get talked about much. A good number of these are legally available via the emulation scene too. I can’t recommend World Of Spectrum enough (link at the bottom) to explore these more.

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These, then, are the games I rarely hear about, but that robbed me of too much of my youth than I’d ever care to admit…

50. ROCK STAR ATE MY HAMSTER

Let’s start with a game that, in truth, I knew wasn’t much cop at the time I forked out nine quid for it. And yet I couldn’t stop playing it. Rock Star Ate My Hamster was only the second full price release for Codemasters, and the idea was to put together a successful rock band, and take them to the top of the charts. Sadly, your rock band would always prove to be a cursed venture, given the number of times members of your group would do. I lost more lives playing Jet Set Willy. And yet, there was something really quite compelling about it all…

49. GRAND NATIONAL

The low development cost of Spectrum games meant niches could be easily explored. Horse racing has never been served particularly well by computer games (D&H’s strategy title The National was worth a try, even if you missed three birthdays by the time it had done all its calculations). Grand National, though, showed that there was something in the idea of letting you ride a horse in the infamous race of the game’s name. It certainly wasn’t easy (that’s an understatement), and it never captured any sense of pace. But still, it was a lot more fun than it’s generally been given credit for.

48. TRANTOR: THE LAST STORMTROOPER

Not a great game this, in truth, but it makes it here for a slightly different reason. It rose to prominence after being included on a demo tape stuck to the front of Crash magazine, back when such demo tapes were a real novelty. It was the graphics that impressed. Trantor boasted visuals that the Spectrum wasn’t supposed to be capable of, and for a while, there was a riposte to the graphics argument whenever the playground battle of the 8-bit computers took hold. Said argument lasted up until the release date of the game which was where the happiness ended. Trantor turned out to be a hollow shell of a game really, but as a showcase for what the Spectrum could do? It was a big step forward…

47. VALHALLA

An adventure game that time is threatening to forget, what made Valhalla so interesting was the visual element to it. The crude graphics may kid you otherwise, but in 1983, a game where characters seemed to walk in and out on a whim was something really quite different. While the underlying adventure itself was never particularly strong, Valhalla was, even though you may not believe it now, a game that was simply good fun to sit and watch. Little Computer People, which was only available for the 128k Spectrum, was the same, albeit tonally a lot, lot different.

46. FORMULA ONE

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Formula One management titles generally miss the balance between detail and accessibility, in the way that the best Football Manager releases have managed. CRL’s 1985 game Formula One got surprisingly close. It showed the races from a fixed position, so basically you got to see the cars as they whizzed past the lap marker. But it still found space to fuse in enough strategic elements to make it feel as though you could make a difference. It got easy by the time you’d built your team up, but the journey there was excellent.

45. CASTLE MASTER

Incentive Software’s technically remarkable Freescape system predated the first person shooter, albeit without the pace, by many, many years. But for me, the games often never matched up to the technology on show. Driller, Dark Side and Total Eclipse all had merits, but it wasn’t until Castle Master, for my money, that the Freescape system played host to a really compelling adventure. A sequel followed, but the original, as you explore a dangerous castle, remains the best. It helps that Freescape had evolved to the point where a little more pace could be injected, too.

44. OVERLANDER

As the world got ready for a home computer version of the arcade machine Road Blasters, Elite stole just a little of its thunder with Overlander. It too involved cars, and it too crucially involved cars with weapons. Set in the year 2025, Overlander sees you driving cargo across vast deserts, in a world that’s been ravaged by the long-gone Ozone layer. The driving bit, at heart, was never particularly demanding, but the opposition you meet? Different story. And while I can’t say that Overlander was necessarily a better game than Road Blasters, it did have enough to it to make it an equal.

43. THE MUNCHER

The ZX Spectrum version of the coin-op Rampage left a little bit to be desired. However, Gremlin Graphics teamed up with, er Chewits sweets (an aside: Fizzy Chewits, along with Roy Of The Rovers Pineapple Flavoured Chewbars, are the best confectionery of the 80s) to basically out-Rampage Rampage.

The basic idea was that The Muncher, a monster from Chewits television adverts, was on the rampage. And you had to stop him. Featuring big, bold graphics, it was all a bit of a hoot. No classic, but lots of fun. A bit like Chewits, really.

42. RUN THE GAUNTLET

Based on the television show of the same name, Run The Gauntlet’s laborious loading system may have made it all a bit unbearable at times, but fortunately, it proved to be worth the wait. Not every individual event gelled. The driving and boating elements were great fun, but The Hill proved to be a real shit. It’s not quite on the same difficult level as the infamous Airwolf Spectrum game, but it’s not far off. Still, there was always enough in Run The Gauntlet to make it worth digging the tape out.

41. KARNOV

One of the many impressive arcade conversions that seems to have been buried in the history of 8-bit computing, Karnov put you in the shoes of a fire-breathing brute. It was at this stage of my life that I worked out it might be quite fun to be a fire breathing brute, but my mutations failed to deliver the goods. Bah. Still, Karnov was a hoot. There was a lot to battle through, and it hardly ripped up the platform game rule book. But strong execution always did count for a lot, and that was certainly the case here.

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40. RANARAMA

The glut of Gauntlet clones that emerged in the mid-80s gave the Spectrum some terrific games. Into The Eagle’s Nest and Dandy are both strong, but it was Graftgold’s Ranarama that was the best of the lot. It lacked multiplayer, but there was just a little more to it than its rivals. Set across an assortment of dungeons, and with the challenge just a little more involving, it naturally went on to sell less than most of the titles it was up against. Bah.

39. CABAL

Just as the build-up to Gauntlet appearing on the Spectrum brought with it a series of clones, so the impending Operation Wolf attracted interest. Ocean published Operation Wolf, of course, but also put out arguably its most impressive rival, Cabal. A conversion of the Taito coin-op of the same name, the gimmick here was that it was an Operation Wolf style shooting gallery title, albeit with your character in the foreground. The game behind it all, though, was one of the Spectrum’s more accomplished shooters. And just look at that loading screen!

38. DEFLEKTOR

The Spectrum, from the early stages of its life through to its retirement years, was always a home of good puzzle titles. It does sometimes feel as though Gremlin’s Deflektor has got lost in the mix (Einstein-focused e-Motion, too). Teaching just a bit of science, the idea was to gradually alter a series of mirrors so that a beam could hit its target on the other side of the screen. It was a taxing little beast at times, not aided by an eager time limit. It was the work of Costa Panayi, who was also responsible for the excellent Highway Encounter and Tornado Low Level.

37. CHUCKIE EGG 2

The original Chuckie Egg is rightly regarded as a classic of 8-bit computing. Broadening out the scale of the game for Chuckie Egg 2, away from a single screen format, did pay dividends though. It’s not as strong as the first game, and indeed, reviews at the time were really quite sniffy (it didn’t help that a previous attempt to mount a sequel was abandoned when programmer Nigel Alderton left the publisher), but it deserves more credit than it got. Sure, the frantic nature of the original might be gone, but there’s still an expansive and challenging platform game to be enjoyed.

36. FAT WORM BLOWS A SPARKY

No home computer in history has attracted game names of the ilk that the ZX Spectrum attracted. Can you imagine any modern publisher now putting out a title called Fat Worm Blows A Sparky? Thankfully, there was an excellent game behind the bizarre title, as you played – and I don’t make this up – a worm. More to the point, a worm that’s been chased around the circuit board of the Spectrum itself. Beyond daft, but actually quite progressive in the way it used vectors, author Julian Todd has since blogged about his thoughts on the game. It’s well worth a read.

As he points out, Fat Worm has its problems, but its quirks, ambition and fun factor remain unblemished by time.

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35. COBRA

It might have had next to nothing to do with the movie, but Ocean’s Spectrum game of Sylvester Stallone movie Cobra felt like a proper arcade title. The idea, and this is a surprising rarity in videogame history, was to basically headbutt as many people out of the way as you could, at least until you got hold of some hardware. I went through phases on this one too. Sometimes, I could blast through it no problem, others I died within meeting four foes. Obviously, that was always the game’s fault. Always wanted one more go though…

34. DAN DARE 3

Virgin put out a trio of Dan Dare games, and the first one is rightly regarded as something of a classic. The second, less so. Dan Dare 3, meanwhile, was terrific fun, boasting bold graphics, and more than a little tip of the hat to R-Type. Beautifully garish, with the Mekon the perfect villain for a Speccy title, Dan Dare 3 is the kind of game that the Spectrum wasn’t really supposed to be able to do. It didn’t start off life as a Dan Dare sequel, which probably helped. Turned out to be a really good one, though.

33. AMAUROTE

A corking little budget game, as you had to defend a futuristic city from a plague of insects. It’s simple enough, plagued by troubling controls, but the mix of strategy and action, combined with the amount of game you got for very little money, made it worth seeking out. I played this one for ages, and suspect I’m not alone…

32. SUPER SCRAMBLE SIMULATOR

The title of this one did publisher Gremlin few favours. It made it sound more like a Codemasters budget game, rather than a full price, excellent and ridiculously good fun motorbike scrambling title. I was originally going to put Enduro Racer in the list, but the more I thought about it, I simply had a lot more fun with Super Scramble Simulator, with the relatively big graphics and challenging courses standing out. The biking game that gets talked about the most on the Spectrum seems to be the wonderful Kickstart II, which is, of course, worth seeking out. You shouldn’t take my word for it though. I spent too long addicted to the bloody Milk Race game, after all.

31. TECHNO COP

Can’t afford the RoboCop licence? No bother. A quick flick through the thesaurus, and you have the generally disliked Techno Cop. The gimmick here was that there were two elements to the game – the driving, and the bit where you got out of the car to dispense justice. The racing part was arguably the best, but in spite of the middling to decent reviews the game attracted, it never seemed to have too many fans, and paled in comparison to Ocean’s excellent RoboCop game. That said, Techno Cop was never short of ambition, and while it’s not held up well, inevitably, it’s a good way to do what was effectively a bit of a knock-off.

30. CAULDRON

Loved this, even if I didn’t warm to its sequel quite as much. Play testing was rarely a big feature of early Spectrum releases, and that may account for why Cauldron – a game that put you in the warty nose of  witch – was so bleedin’ hard. The origins of the game are in the John Carpenter classic movie Halloween (the same publisher put out a game of The Evil Dead), and it married up a segment where you flew around on your broomstick shooting things, and then a more traditional platformer. Off the back of the success of Cauldron and Cauldron II, incidentally, its programmer, Steve Brown, was given the greenlight to go ahead and make the gorefest that became Barbarian

29. FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR 1 & 2

Oh, I know they weren’t very good really. But just as with Virgin’s F.A. Cup Football (where you had to manage ten teams at once!), I played both Footballer Of The Year games a lot. Both hinged around the idea of you being one player, looking to build up your career. Depending on which of the two games you were playing, you did this via goal cards, trivia quizzes, transferring from team to team, and buying attempts on goal during a match. It was all a bit of a mess, but surprisingly gripping. That said, New Star Soccer has come along and done it all a lot better now, while marrying it up to the idea behind Anco’s 16-bit hit, Player Manager (Avenger: Way Of The Tiger 2, advertised on the billboard in the screenshot above, is also still worth digging out).

28. TRAILBLAZER

I never got on with Marble Madness and Gyroscope on the Spectrum in the way that I think I was supposed to. For guiding a ball around, I instead went for Gremlin’s Trailblazer (the Spectrum never had a decent version of Bounder, after all). Basically, you guide your ball along a road that’s constantly coming towards you. And that’s when the assorted obstacles and different tiles with different effects kicks in. Hair would frequently be pulled out when the bastard ball kept falling off the edge though. I’ve never forgiven Trailblazer for that.

27. BOOTY

The first budget game I, and many of us, ever bought for the Spectrum. Published on British Telecom’s Firebird label, Booty was a rough around the edges, pirate-centric platform game, that I hold a special affection for seeing as it was the only game I could afford at the time I got it. It wasn’t massive, with just 20 screens to venture through, and there’s not much originality to the idea of picking up lots of treasure. It snuck up on you though, and while it was always easy to pick holes in, Booty consistently entertained. It boasted some of the finest colour clash to be seen on Sir Clive’s old baby, too.

26. BIONIC COMMANDO

As it reached the peak of its powers, the ZX Spectrum played host to some increasingly strong arcade conversions. Rainbow Islands remains the daddy of them all, and The New Zealand Story isn’t too far behind. I was torn between saluting either the 128k version of Bionic Commando or Midnight Resistance (both of which were strong in the audio department, incidentally), and the former won on points. I think because it’s a game that not only worked a treat, but given the angles you need to fire your arm gadget at, it lent itself well to the Spectrum’s keyboard controls too. It was the closest we had to the feeling of Spider-Man on the Spectrum. A shame the modern day take on Bionic Commando didn’t manage that.

Here’s part two of our countdown….

25. MAKE A CHIP

The ZX Spectrum+ game bundled with a six pack of software at first, that included Chequered Flag (overrated but ambitious), Scrabble (hilarious, once you worked out it’d take any made up word. ‘Bamfrilly’ on triple word remains a highlight) and word processor Tasword Two.

The oddity, and the attempt to make the pack educational, was Make A Chip. I hated it at first, clearly just wanting to play the games. But I kept getting drawn back to it, not least because I couldn’t afford too many games. And while I can’t sit here and tell you I had a blast with it, I’m still thinking about it nearly three decades later.

Make A Chip was basically the program, not even vaguely convincingly disguised as a game, that demonstrated remarkably clearly how chips worked, and how they fitted into circuit design. Billed as a tool to teach you how computer logic worked, it was, in hindsight, the one title in that pack of six that still works perfectly well today. Even if there’s a bit of you that’d rather be playing Technician Ted (not included in this list, incidentally, because I’ve read lots and lots of pieces on how much people love it).

24. SHOCKWAY RIDER

A large sprinkle of science fiction overhangs the concept to Shockway Rider, where instead of walking around on pavements, the people of the future travel along moving Shockways. Sadly, so do nasty people, along with numerous grannies, and thus riding them is a dangerous game. It’s a good job weapons are at hand.

It did all get a little samey by the time you got near the end, but I wanted to include Shockway Rider because for the first hour, it was amazing. There’s a drop of Frogger to it as you jump between the Shockways moving at different speeds, and the surprisingly good graphics serve the game well. But I think I also just loved the idea. As did, seemingly, the planners of every airport constructed since…

23. MY NAME IS UNCLE GROUCHO, YOU WIN A FAT CIGAR

Publisher Automata routinely got on my nerves for making you reload a game at the end of each turn. Fortunately, each turn lasted a while. My Name Is Uncle Groucho, You Win A Fat Cigar was a bumbling title, based around, er, Groucho Marx (Charlie Chaplin would get his own computer game too in time, a beat ’em up disguised as a movie making simulator). It was a brash text adventure, that rewarded outright madness if you wanted to make your way through it. For a whole generation, it was their first introduction to the Marx brothers. Me included.

22. AUF WIEDERSEHEN, MONTY

Some gaming series I never fully warmed to on the Spectrum, which is why there are none of the Wally games here. And truthfully, I struggled a bit with some of the Monty Mole titles. I did love Wanted: Monty Mole a lot though. I do appreciate that Monty Mole is pretty well known, but the reason I’ve mentioned it here is that it’s the controversy that attracts a lot of the attention (due to purported links with the miner’s strike of the 1980s), yet it’s the game that was brilliant. Auf Wiedersehen Monty was the best one for me though (hence its listing here). It was where every idea seemingly got crammed into the game, as the Speccy’s favourite mole traversed Europe with a verve rarely seen since Trashman went globe trotting.

Impossamole was a mess, though, and a sad swansong…

21. TRAP DOOR

Don Priestley will forever be credited with bringing big, colourful chunky graphics to the ZX Spectrum. Had I played it, his take on Minder may well have made this list. I also had a soft spot for Flunky, where your job was to wait on royalty (bloody hard though). But Trap Door was special. For starters, the TV series that it’s based on was excellent. But the way the game captured the characters and wit of it, and wrapped it into a fun puzzler remains impressive. The sequel, Through The Trap Door, was faster and more efficient. Trap Door felt like a tighter game though, and a real breakthrough. It deserves more love that it seems to get.

20. KRAKOUT

It seems bizarre that the Spectrum’s best Breakout clone appeared in the end on a magazine covertape and never got a full price release (that’d be Batty). The two Arkanoid titles were strong too, although level three of Arkanoid could rightly be described as ‘a bit of a bastard’. Krakout remains the forgotten one though, but it was just as devilishly addicted. It felt a little different too, given that it pretty much literally turned the game on its side. There are lots of bonuses, lots of levels, and, truthfully, far too many elements thrown into the mix. But it always was a bit underrated, and I always appreciated the fact that it was trying something just a little different with something oh-so-familiar.

19. MATCH POINT

The best tennis game on the ZX Spectrum was, if I’ve got my dates right, the first. Sure, the likes of Passing Shot came along later, with much fancier visuals, but Match Point got the mechanics of the game itself bang on. It’s a pity a sequel never came along to expand upon that core gamplay, but it wasn’t until Sega unleashed Virtua Tennis in the 90s that, for my money, Match Point was beaten.

18. BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER

Is this the forgotten Batman game? The Spectrum played host to the wonderful isometric puzzle Batman (which until Arkham Asylum and Arkham City came along, was the best videogame version of the iconic character for me. Ryan wrote about it here, in his look at how DC characters had fared in videogames. In that same feature, he mentioned Batman: The Caped Crusader, a comic-book feel action adventure, that boasted devious puzzles and a wonderful visual style. It had two stories to work through, and it eschewed the action that’s prevalent in most Batman games for a heavy focus on the character’s detective origins. That said, when the Batman: The Movie game came along, it seemed to be forgotten about again. A shame.

17. WRIGGLER

Confession: I actually eventually wore my copy of Wriggler out, so never got to see the end of it. Published by the gloriously-named Romantic Robot (mainly known for its Multiface devices), Wriggler is a game about four maggots going for a race. You played one of those maggots and, bluntly, your chances of seeing the end of the game were negligible, irrespective of whether you wore the tape out. The need to constant find food, while avoiding the many nasties on the race route, was tough enough. The fact that the other maggots were near-impossible to beat didn’t help either. I’ve since read that the game featured 256 screens to navigate. I’d be amazed if I saw half of them. Still, this is comfortably computing’s best ever maggot simulator. Put that on the box.

16. JUMPING JACK

If you were old enough to have a Dragon 32, then you might remember Jumping Jack under the guise of Leggit on that machine. For the Spectrum though, it was Jumping Jack, a simple game that just required you to jump to the top of the screen.

Naturally enough, this was easier sid than done, with gaps appearing to jump through, and then, as they made their way down the screen, appearing under you feet. Think of it as a moving version of snakes and ladders. With, er, no snakes, and no ladders. Very, very addictive though.

15. JOE BLADE III

Players built up quite a reputation for compelling, well-presented budget games, with Colin Swinbourne’s Joe Blade proving to be a real breakthrough for the firm. It was Joe Blade II that proved the massive critical and commercial success though, but for my money, it’s comfortably the weakest of the trilogy. Way too easy, Joe Blade II wasn’t bad, but the game that followed, Joe Blade III, was genuinely excellent. For some reason, it never really took off, but it expanded on the game mechanic in a far better way, and got the balance right between challenge and polish. One of the best budget games every to grace the Spectrum.

14. TRACK SUIT MANAGER

Football management titles proved to be a welcome source of business for many 8-bit publishers (I could have easily gone for The Double here, or Professional Soccer). They also fuelled a lively self-publishing business for some companies, and Goliath Games was one of those. Its game, Track Suit Manager, went up against Football Manager 2, and while it may not have won the box office battle, it certainly proved to be a hugely ambitious game. Its key gimmick, which had more substance to it than you might first think, was running text commentary. It worked well too. And while Track Suit Manager was focused on international football management only, it was one of the best of its ilk on the Spectrum.

13. KNIGHT TYME

The Magic Knight series of games deserve to go down in folklore, as evidence as to just how exciting and interesting the budget software scene was on the ZX Spectrum. Finders Keepers and Spellbound were both strong, but Knight Tyme was the best for me. It was far more adventure driven than Finders Keepers, and marked the peak of the series, before Stormbringer finished the Magic Knight games off. To be fair, any four of the Magic Knight titles are still worth trying. The Dizzy games were good, but it’s surely Magic Knight that’s the best budget series of all time on the Speccy.

12. ERIC AND THE FLOATERS

I’ve lost way too much time of late to the massively multiplayer online take on Bomberman, Bombermine. We wrote about it here. But the roots of Bomberman lie in Hudson Soft’s earlier piece of work, Eric And The Floaters. Crucially, it got the core dynamic in place and working from the off too, in that you lay bombs to blow other people up, while getting out of the way yourself. Plus, let’s face it, Eric And The Floaters is an extraordinarily brilliant name for a computer game. Nobody can ever convince me otherwise.

11. THUNDERBIRDS

The Spectrum had two excellent Thunderbirds games. The later one, from Grand Slam, tends to be the most remembered (and remains strong). But the earlier Firebird published version (that came in a chunky cassette box) kept me busy for hours. It was a game that used the ships of Thunderbirds and turned them into a puzzle game, as you worked out which craft you needed for which job. It was terrible to look at, but a real time gobbler to play.

10. SPLIT PERSONALITIES

Originally published as Splitting Images before some lawyers wrote a couple of letters, Split Personalities was a computerised version of sliding square puzzle games. Fortunately, quirks were introduced, and they transformed the game into one of the Spectrum’s very best puzzle games. The simple use of bombs and a constant countdown to battle against, along with some familiar, characterised faces to put together, made Split Personalities an absolute blast. Surely ripe for an iOS and Android version too…

9. SOFTWARE STAR

The finest beard of the ZX Spectrum era belonged to Kevin Toms, who’s best known for the Football Manager series. Toms also wrote a political strategy game, President, but his forgotten gem was Software Star. It was always going to be a title with niche appeal (although D&H put out Software House, on its Cult label, many years later), as the idea was to put together a successful games publisher. Key decisions, which are played out in the industry on a day to day basis, include whether to hype a game up or keep it honest. And should you release a game early, or put in some extra development hours? Simple decisions maybe, but the tension when it came time to release a new title was palpable.

Game Dev Story, for the iPhone, is the only game to really capture the spirit of Software Star since.

8. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Tools such as the The Quill, Graphic Adventure Creator (GAC) and the Professional Adventure Writer (PAW) saw a resurgence in the text adventure towards the end of the Spectrum’s active life. And for me, it was the Behind Closed Doors games  from Zenobi Software that marked the peak. The Spectrum has plenty of acclaimed, humorous text adventures – The Boggit and Bored Of The Rings stand alone – but Behind Closed Doors deserves recognition for both its comedy and its imagination. It’s, basically, a hugely entertaining collection of games about being locked in the toilet. You’d never see that on a PlayStation…

7. TURBO ESPRIT

And you thought it was Grand Theft Auto that introducing the whole driving wherever you like around a city mechanic. Durrell Software published games that were notoriously rock hard, but that shouldn’t cloud some of the firm’s technical achievements. Turbo Esprit was a game where you could ignore the plot if you wanted, and just go for a drive around a seemingly living city (complete with traffic lights to, er, obey). Four free-roaming cities were included in the game to explore, and while the main game was arguably less interesting than the technical breakthroughs here, it was long before Rockstar struck gold in learning that there’s a lot of fun to be had going off piste.

6. GHOULS ‘N’ GHOSTS

I maintain that, outside of perhaps Rainbow Islands and Ping Pong, Ghouls & Ghosts – particularly on the 128k – was about as good a coin-op conversion as the Spectrum ever got. It was nothing special to look at, in truth, but it built on the already-impressive Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, and with some style. Any game that reduces you to underwear when the undead get to you has to earn some credit from the off. As it turned out, Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts had an excellent platform game underneath all the humour. The last level’s a killer, though.

5. TRAVEL WITH TRASHMAN

A controversial release, this one. The original Trashman made much entertainment out of collecting people’s dustbins (in theory, a game about picking up rubbish was a gift for critics looking for a lazy headline. Fortunately, Trashman was excellent). Travel With Trashman sent the title character on a litter-collecting adventure around the world. Thus, you had to choose which job you could afford to take, and make sure you collected enough rubbish before your money ran out. The controversy arose with a part of the game which required you to collect tissues dropped at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. To my knowledge, no videogame game before it or since has asked you to do the same.

Travel With Trashman was, being blunt, brutally difficult, as the clock barely ever stopped ticking. But it was damn addictive too, and had circumstances prevailed, then a third game would have followed. However, while it was started, Trashman Through Time was ultimately abandoned. Author Malcolm Evans was also responsible for 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, incidentally. That one had no rubbish in it.

4. PIPPO

Two quid they asked for Pippo. Two measly pounds. For one of the most criminally addictive Spectrum games I think I ever played. The core concept, of jumping from square to square to change the colour of them, had of course been done before (hello, Q*Bert!). Pippo executed it really, really well though, before then adding in creatures, pick-ups, and a big blob of a creature at the heart of it all. In more litigation-prolific times, the author of Pippo may well have been sent a letter. As it stood, they took someone else’s already strong idea, added some quirks, and made it even better. Comfortably, for me, one of the ten most addictive games to ever grace the Speccy.

3. M.O.V.I.E.

The finest isometric adventures on the Spectrum would have to be Jon Ritman’s duo, Batman and Head Over Heels. But Imagine’s M.O.V.I.E. was quite brilliant too. I’m going to talk about another game shortly that was draped in the clothes of Hollywood detective noirs, but M.O.V.I.E. was rooted in them from the off (not for nothing is it said to have influenced L.A. Noire). Inevitably slow moving, M.O.V.I.E. was and is utterly engrossing, and it was just a shame that its pseudo follow-up, Phantom Club, never worked anywhere near as well. M.O.V.I.E. though is a treat.

2. CONTACT SAM CRUISE

You think Microsphere, and the games that instantly spring to mind are the rightly-regarded Skool Daze and Back To Skool. Both of them are the kind of games that either wouldn’t get past a pitch meeting now, or would be subverted into something ‘edgier’, along the lines of Bully.

There is a sort-of forgotten Microsphere title, built around the same technology that powered the Skool games, and the glorious detective yarn, Contact Sam Cruise. Written by David Reidy, with Keith Warrington providing the distinctive graphics, Sam Cruise is a private detective who could have been pulled out of any number of noir movies of old. The scope and scale remains impressive today, and the underlying humour is just one example of the attention to detail at work. The only thing that lets the side down slightly is the catapulting over bullets being aimed at you. Which was and is a bit of a sod.

More than anything though, Contact Sam Cruise was and is a blast to play. Tragically, it would prove to be the last game David Reidy would write. Disillusioned with the poor sales for Contact Sam Cruise, and finding his old fashioned way of designing games (pen and paper beat assemblers, apparently) difficult to continue with, Reidy elected not to jump aboard the 16-bit bandwagon, and went on to become an electrical engineer. There’s a lovely interview with him here. 

Contact Sam Cruise, then, remains his final game. It’s a flat-out classic, not without its problems, but a delight that videogame history should not forget.

1.     DYNAMITE DAN 1 & 2

The ZX Spectrum had no shortage of quality platform games in truth, but it’s generally Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, both grounded in wonderful insanity, that tend to be the most fondly remembered. However, history should not forgot the gloriously addictive Dynamite Dan games.

Pushing the Spectrum hard on both the audio and visual fronts, the goal of Dynamite Dan was simple: collect stick of dynamite. Objects were in different places each time you played, and assorted power-ups were available. The goal was to defeat the evil Dr Blitzen, and there were umpteen foes and obstacles in your way. Using the word ‘addictive’ barely comes close to covering Dynamite Dan though. And even though the best I ever managed was seven of the sticks of dynamite required, Dynamite Dan was my go-to game for a good two to three years. It was the loyal puppy of the Spectrum years, always by your side, and never failing to entertain.

The sequel expanded the already broad scale of Dynamite Dan, and crucially managed to keep the focus and what made the first game so wildly entertaining, in fact. It’s a shame that Dan’s adventures stopped after two outings, but both of them are most certainly worth tracking down. They might not be the best ever games to grace the Spectrum, but they deserve to be showered with a lot, lot more love than they usually are. Great music, too…

Honourable mentions:

The Rocky Horror Show (not a very good game, but bizarrely intriguing. The Time Warp through a Spectrum sound system is something to behold).

Sweevo’s World/Hydrofool. Both brilliant, but just I figured they were reasonably well known, if not always as appreciated as they should be.

Jack The Nipper In Coconut Capers. The original Jack The Nipper is rightly lauded, but the second deserves mention. The new environment never felt quite right, but the mischief making was still priceless.

Green Beret: Kids! Knife the bad guys! Good job the Daily Mail didn’t have a Spectrum. Corking arcade conversion, though.

Rick Dangerous. Just to say that I hated it. The most unfair videogame I think I’ve ever played.

Hewson: I just wanted to highlight a pair of Hewson titles that often get overlooked. Eliminator is one, but Maze Mania was a lot, lot better than people gave it credit for.

Minder: I never played it, but lots of people tell me it’s great. Thought I’d better mention it. Hammerfist, too.

Brewery: My parents bought me a pack of seemingly home-grown management simulations once upon a time, and, worryingly, the one I got hooked on was Brewery, where you basically had to make and sell your own beer. It was pretty crude, save for the graphic of all the unsold beer being poured away. Was I the only person on the planet to play this one?

Leave your own suggestions below…

World Of Spectrum

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