The ZX Spectrum’s 30th Birthday: 30 Greatest Spectrum Games
As the Spectrum turns 30, we take a retrospective look at some of the greatest games to grace the console.
Sharing DNA with iconic Spectrum smash Head Over Heels, John Ritman and Bernie Drummond’s Batman is a tough as nails platform platformer. The game follows a pint-sized Batman scouring the perilous Batcave in search of parts for his sabotaged jet. The classic Batman TV theme rounds off the package nicely.
29. Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
Publisher: Virgin Games
Based on the 1950’s science-fiction comic-strip, Virgin’s first Dan Dare outing was hugely memorable for its then ground-breaking Spectrum visuals (six colours on-screen at once!), fast-paced screen-by-screen side-scrolling arcade shooter action and a tension-building two-hour countdown clock in the bottom corner of screen, as players battle their way across an inhabited asteroid to foil the Mekon’s plan to blast it into Earth.
A challenge for the reflexes and the mind – you’ll need to remember where you’ve been – and a technical marvel that laid the groundwork for the impressive Dan Dare III.
28. Match Day 2
Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond are best known for the sublime Head Over Heals but, back in 1987, they laid the foundations for ISS, PES, FIFA and all other football games to come. That genius football game was called Match Day 2.
At the time it was the most realistic football simulation around: it had passable ball physics, league and cup options and a power gauge that enabled you to vary shot power and angle.
Like all football games of this era, Match Day 2 had its sweet-spot goals so, once these were learned it became a battle to manouver the ball into these areas to score.
Looking back now, its like watching a whole match in slow motion, but in 1987 this was revolutionary stuff.
27. The Sentinel
The Sentinel is a wonderfully abstract and creepy-as-hell puzzle game where the objective was to move – via the teleportation of consciousness – around a 3D landscape. Ultimately the player would gain enough height to absorb the level’s Sentinel, replace him, and progress to the next level.
The catch was that the player could only absorb or create objects on surfaces he could look down upon, and power to create objects and the Synthoid bodies to which the player could teleport to, was limited and had to be earned through absorbing trees, boulders and disused Synthoid bodies.
Graphics-wise, there have been few games to match The Sentinel’s bleakly abstract world and few that can offer the sheer number of levels. Amazingly, for a game that was contained in less than 48K of code, The Sentinel boasted 10,000.
26. Trap Door
Publisher: Castor Cracking Group
Trap Door wasn’t impressive because of its content. With only six screens for big blue Berk to explore, the idea was to have you discover your limits within those boundaries.
The only objective is to keep the ambiguously named ‘Thing’ content as he orders Berk to provide him sustenance. The game, therefore, is discovering exactly how those objectives are met – whether that’s crushing eyeballs, frying slimies or canning worms.
Trap Door’s excellent sprites and methodical nature of the gameplay were really something of a revelation back then, and really helped bring some character to the game.
Publisher: Hit Pak
Arkanoid may have received an extremely polished conversion on the humble ZX Spectrum, but it couldn’t compete with this monumental epic from Hit Pak.
Each level has been beautifully constructed, there are huge amounts of power-ups that include a bog- standard laser, your typical extender and a handy level warp, and there are also a variety of different options, including a wonderful co-op mode that effectively splits the bottom of the screen into two parts. You monitor one side of the screen, while a friend manages the other.
Add in some fiendishly well- put-together levels, some bold, cartoon-like visuals and some hellishly addictive gameplay and the end result is one of the best Breakout clones of all time. The fact that it was initially given away for free with Your Sinclair is absolutely staggering.
Publisher: Hewson Consultants
Raffaele Cecco’s wonderful Cybernoid harks back to the good old days when game testing was solely the responsibility of the developer, shoot-’em-ups were one of the most popular genres around and games required pixel- perfect timing in order to proceed.
Cybernoid is possibly the toughest game in our top 25. It requires insane levels of concentration, dextrous keyboard and joystick skills and the patience of a saint. Despite this, Cybernoid always pulls us back for one more go and remains so polished you can almost see your face in it. What makes it so essential is its jaw-droppingly vibrant visuals, intricately designed levels and spot-on controls (it has the sort of pixel- perfect precision normally seen in platformers). It’s not for everyone, but it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed under any circumstances.
Publisher: Hewson Consultants
There’s a veritable deluge of brilliant platformers and puzzle games available on the ZX Spectrum, but very rarely are these two rather distinct genres successfully combined.
Nebulus – which is also known as Tower Toppler or Castelian depending on whereabouts you live – is a wonderful example of this combination of genres and sees you guiding a cute bipedal alien named Pogo to the top of several towers. Once at the top, these towers must then be detonated.
Working against a tight time limit, you’re required to use lifts and handy doorways to zip back and forth through the cleverly rotating towers – a graphical feat that still manages to impress today – in order to avoid the tower’s numerous enemies. As challenging to play as it is gorgeous to look at.
22. Fantasy World Dizzy
Ever since Philip and Andrew Oliver’s ovoid creation 22appeared in the Ultimate Cartoon Adventure we’ve always had a soft spot for Disney. Fantasy World Dizzy is not only Dizzy’s greatest 8-bit adventure, it’s also the very last 8-bit Dizzy adventure from the Oliver twins – development duties for the game’s sequels were handed over to Big Red Software.
The brothers certainly left on a high though. Fantasy World Dizzy is a huge, beautifully crafted adventure that features well-thought-out and far better-balanced, puzzles, a new Magic Knight- style interface, the introduction of the Yolkfolk and a surprising amount of humour.
You may not be able to make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, but by not damaging their mascot the Oliver twins certainly proved that it was entirely possible to create an excellent arcade adventure.
After churning out cheap-and-cheerful licensed dross like Transformers, Knight Rider and Highlander, Ocean turned a corner and began releasing quality movie tie-ins.
RoboCop remains one of the best examples, and by using the template of the incoming Data East blaster and juxtaposing the action with clever mini-games, such as rescuing hostages and putting face IDs together, Ocean created a tie-in that few other developers (Ocean included) were able to improve upon.
The mostly monochrome visuals do a great job of capturing the spirit of the original film, and while the action is a little more pedestrian than we remember, it nevertheless remains great fun to play.
Film and TV licences were ten a penny on the 8-bit computers and it’s a testament to both Ocean’s development skills and RoboCop’s enjoyable gameplay that it’s the only example to make our list.
20. Sabre Wulf
Publisher: Ultimate: Play the Game
We’ve been playing Ultimate’s 20brilliant Sabre Wulf for 24 years now and we still haven’t been able to collect all four pieces of that sodding amulet. Not to worry, though, it simply allows us to appreciate what a staggering game Sabreman’s first outing actually is.
Taking place over an absolutely humongous 256 screens, you’re required to do nothing more than explore the vast and varied jungle to recover the four aforementioned missing pieces of a precious amulet.
Of course, as you would probably expect, this is much easier said than done, and Sabreman has to contend with some rather angry natives, the titular Sabre Wulf and all manner of horrible jungle critters before he’s able to complete his lofty goal.
With its gorgeous visuals, fast-paced gameplay and massive environment, Sabre Wulf is typical of the care and attention to detail that the Stamper brothers put into all of their early Spectrum games, so don’t be too surprised if you see a few more Ultimate games before our top 25 Spectrum games feature is finally complete.
19. Back To Skool
After wowing Spectrum owners with the brilliant Skool Daze, David Reidy and Keith Warrington returned a year later with a sequel that was even more ambitious.
You were once again cast in the shorts and blazer of the mischievous Erik, but this time he was able to get up to even more mayhem and mischief.
A new girl’s school increased the playing area. Erik also had access to stink bombs and water pistols as well as his trusty catapult now, while it was even possible for the little scamp to catch mice and frogs (of which the former could be released in the girl’s school).
Other improvements to the original included the ability to ride a bike and the handy option of opening desks in order to discover what was hiding inside them.
Back To Skool still proved hard going for those used to being hand led through their games, but it still managed a level of interactivity that few other Spectrum titles have ever been able to match.
18. Ant Attack
Predating It Came From 18 The Desert by a good six years, Sandy White’s Ant Attack remains a game of stark beauty and cunning gameplay.
Taking control of either a young girl or a young boy – don’t worry they control in exactly the same way – your task is to venture into the abstract walled city of Antescher in search of your missing beau.
While the first level is relatively easy – a quick hop, step and a jump over the wall and you’re practically done – later stages are anything but, and it’s here where White’s true genius becomes apparent.
Initially coming across as little more than a pile of hastily assembled Lego blocks, the city of Antescher soon reveals itself to be a deadly maze, where ants can jump out at you at any time.
Granted, you’ve got 20 grenades to take them on with, but the claustrophobia quickly sets in, and later levels became a frightening race against time as your ragged nerves deal with five or six ants, a missing loved one and a constantly ticking timer. Truly terrifying.
17. The Lords Of Midnight
Publisher: Beyond Software
You’ll never forget the 17 first time you played Mike Singleton’s The Lords Of Midnight. With its lavish packaging, accompanying overlay card and distinct gameplay, it proved that there was more to the Spectrum than simple platformers and arcade conversions, and it remains a very atmospheric title without equal.
What impresses most about The Lords Of Midnight is its flexibility. While the main objective is to lead your four adventurers on a quest to destroy the fabled Ice Crown, it’s possible to forget the task completely and just concentrate on amassing a huge army.
If that doesn’t take your fancy you can just as easily combine the two into an epic adventure that few other 8-bit games could match.
Massive in scale – the pseudo-3D graphics display over 31,000 different views – and rich in atmosphere, The Lords Of Midnight is a Spectrum title that everyone should experience. If you’re familiar with it, go back and play through it again. A true classic.
16. Turbo Esprit
Turbo Esprit, not to be confused with the Gremlin game 16 with a very similar name, is a criminally great sandbox game from the makers of Harrier Attack.
This sublime little gem had you taking to the mean streets of Wellington, Gamesborough, Romford and Minster and indulging in a spot of covert stakeout-type drug busting.
Boasting bustling cities crammed with Durell’s signature ant-looking denizens, staggering AI and a novel feeling of freedom, Turbo Esprit would later go on to become a major influence on Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series.
And while the game probably would have benefited from a slightly punchier title, such as ‘Turbo Elite Cokehead Apprehender’, playing the game was still like being in your own episode of Miami Vice. Quite simply there’s nothing quite like it on the Speccy and so, for that reason, it’s in.
15. Jet Set Willy
Publisher: Software Projects
We’ve all been there, the morning after the night before. In this case, a house party, probably the outcome of a careless exchange on a popular friendship website, has meant that Willy’s mansion, after being packed to the rafters with beer guzzlers and winos, has now been alcoholically decimated.
And to make matters worse for Willy, his lardy housekeeper has put her stomping foot down and is preventing poor Willy from going to bed, recharging the old batteries and promising to do something about the mess in the morning.
Matthew Smith’s second house of pain was a sublime and simple platforming jaunt that built on the brilliance of Manic Miner.
Jet Set Willy was released into a swathe of high expectancy, both by gamers, preying that it would be as good, if not better, than the original, and by its publisher, who was hoping to make a shed load of cash – which was the reason that the game came packed with an annoying copy protection card.
Jet Set Willy’s quirky and colourful palette, warped imagery and surrealist humour captured perfectly the irreverence of videogames of the time. And as it was built with the Spectrum in mind, it is widely considered to house the finest version of the game.
14. Chase HQ
Taito’s wonderful pursuit racer still gets 14 a lot of play in the Retro Gamer offices. While we would lovingly hand the best conversion accolade to the Amstrad for its colourful finesse, the Spectrum’s offering does feel fractionally more fluid, especially when you’re belting across Chase HQ’s quasi-3D tarmac, screaming, “Let’s go Mr Driver!”
The Speccy has been blessed with some truly brilliant racing games in its lifetime, but Chase HQ showcases a real eye for detail and technical ability from Ocean.
An almost impractical chasm sat between the arcade machine and the ZX Spectrum, and yet, somehow, Ocean managed to rev the Porsche 928 to pretty much clunking-out point before flicking a nitro switch and jumping that gorge magnificently.
Chase HQ was blessed with an almost perfect home arcade port – easily up there with the likes of Sega Rally and Buggy Boy. It is the quintessential Spectrum racing game and was massively popular with Speccy owners back in the game’s heyday… so popular, in fact, that Your Sinclair readers went on to vote it the best Spectrum game of all time.
13. Chuckie Egg
Publisher: A&F Software
Nigel Alderton’s classic 13 platformer is so ingrained in the minds of BBC owners that it’s easy to forget it started off life as a Spectrum title.
Based on some of Alderton’s favourite coin-ops, such as Donkey Kong and Space Panic, Chuckie Egg is an insanely fast platformer that sees hero Hen House Harry going up and down ladders and leaping across platforms in search of eggs, while avoiding the angry hens.
Unlike other platformers of the time, which were more methodical and slower-paced, ‘Eggy Kong’ (as it was originally known) dashed along at a cracking pace and really felt like it had escaped from your local arcade.
It may have only had eight levels, but they were fiendishly designed and it wasn’t until several loops had passed and the huge caged duck had been released that you began to appreciate just how expertly crafted they were.
It‘s not one of the Spectrum’s most original platformers, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the most polished. A classic in every sense.
12. Stop The Express
Publisher: Sinclair Research Ltd
If we’re honest, 12th seems a little 12 meagre for this sublime Hudson title, but the reasoning is this: there really is an abundance of top-notch games on the Spectrum.
Chunky arcade-style graphics, quirky premise and compulsive playability sum up all the factors that make a classic retro game, and Stop The Express succeeds in ticking all those boxes.
Playing a shaggy-haired blonde chap in green pyjamas, it was your job to stop a train by fighting your way from one end to the other. Trying to put a leaf on your track were ‘train gangsters’ who could be felled by grabbing and kicking ‘snake birds’ at them. Brilliant.
After you’d traversed the first ten carriages from the rooftops, the game put you inside the train, where you had to avoid more dagger throwers and the ectoplasm of trundling ghosts.
Stop The Express is a simple and beautiful Speccy game. We believe a “Congraturation! You sucsess!” is firmly in order here.
Publisher: Vortex Software
If you’re the sort of Spectrum owner who’s constantly hounded by C64 and Amstrad owners, show them Vortex Software’s amazing TLL and watch them shut up faster than a superglued clam.
Created by Costa ‘Deflektor’ Panayi, Tornado Low Level (to give it its full title) is an insanely slick looking title that features some of the smoothest and flicker-free scrolling you’re ever likely to see on Sir Clive’s humble 8-bit.
Taking control of a Tornado jet, you’re simply required to fly around and participate in strategically placed missile strikes. There are no actual enemies and nothing to shoot at; it’s just your fighter, a constantly dropping fuel supply and plenty of hazards – trees, houses, telephone wires – to avoid.
It sounds simple, boring even, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. TLL requires a cool nerve, insane gameplay skills and a hefty pair of balls – you have to fly dangerously close to the ground to bomb your targets – and is not for the faint-hearted.
Those feeling the need for speed, however, will discover a title that’s not only graphically amazing, but, more importantly, has the actual gameplay to back it up. Stunning. Simply stunning.
Publisher: Bubble Bus
Stephen Crow’s Starquake may share many 10 similarities with a typical Ultimate release – brilliantly drawn visuals, engaging gameplay, strong main character – but extended play soon reveals it to be something quite different.
Essentially a cross between a shoot-’em-up, platformer and an adventure game, Starquake is a fun title that casts you in the form of BLOB (Bio-Logically Operated Being) who must find the missing parts of his crashed spaceship.
Fortunately, in order to make traversing the huge – 512 screens – planet easier, BLOB has a number of handy abilities. As well as being incredibly fast – the game pelts along at a cracking pace – he can create platforms, which last for a limited time, to reach out of the way areas, or he can simply jump on to a nearby hoverboard (although this makes it impossible for him to pick up items). There are even handy teleports to use, therefore making the gigantic world far more manageable.
With its beautifully drawn visuals, clever mishmash of genres and addictive gameplay, Starquake manages to deliver an experience that’s quite unlike any other Spectrum release. Visit the World Of Spectrum website today to discover its magic for yourself.
9. The Great Escape
This hazy movie tie-in by Denton Design proved to be a very surprising hit for Ocean when it was released on the Spectrum. The Great Escape plonked the player into a peculiar monochrome ritual of breakfast, roll calls and wily absconding.
It was a brilliantly designed game that brimmed with a stellar cast of innovative ideas – it offered various different escape routes from the camp and your hero would automatically adhere to the camp’s routines if you left him to his own devices for too long.
The Great Escape proved to be a trailblazing Spectrum classic that benefited from the computer’s small colour palette by coating the game in a tense cheer-destroying bleakness.
It also helped to give movie tie-ins some credibility, dragging the much-reviled genre out of solitary confinement and proving that it could fit in with the rest of the law-abiding game genres that existed at that time.
Publisher: Electric Dreams
It’s been 20 years now and we still can’t work out how Bob Pape and Mark Jones pulled off this stunning conversion (if you’re reading guys, we’d love to hear from you).
Anyway, R-Type on the Spectrum is a thing of beauty and is easily the best arcade conversion to grace the machine. The graphics are incredible, with huge, brightly coloured sprites, very little colour clash, insanely smooth scrolling and amazing looking bosses.
Level layout throughout is virtually identical, with many classic scenes from the arcade original being instantly recognisable, making for a wonderfully authentic experience.
It wasn’t just R-Type’s gob- smacking visuals that impressed, as its gameplay was just as finely honed. The force might not have been as responsive as its arcade parent, but that’s our only niggle, everything else – enemy placement, movement and structure – is near identical, meaning that many of the tricks can be pulled off perfectly.
An astounding conversion that proved to Amstrad and C64 owners that the Spectrum was still a force to be reckoned with.
7. Knight Lore
Sabreman returns, but this time he’s gone isometric! After wowing gamers with titles such as Jetpac, Sabre Wulf and Pssst, Ultimate ushered in a new era of Spectrum visuals by dressing up Sabreman in some brand new isometric clothing.
Granted, an isometric Spectrum game was certainly nothing new – take a bow 3D Ant Attack. However, Ultimate’s new ‘Filmation’ engine pushed the unique-looking style to previously unseen levels and delivered a title that was both stunning to look at and an absolute joy to play through.
After receiving a wolf bite at the end of Sabre Wulf, Sabreman has to explore the enormous castle and create the potion that will help to free him from his lycanthropic curse.
Along the way he also has to deal with some incredibly fiendish puzzles that require critical timing, fast reflexes and plenty of skill. Oh, and did we mention that the poor blighter turns into a werewolf every evening?
Constantly imitated (most notably by Ultimate itself), but very rarely bettered, Knight Lore is a gloriously fun adventure that not only helped to cement the Stamper brothers as a force to be reckoned with, but also proved that Sir Clive Sinclair’s humble 8-bit machine still had the ability to pleasantly surprise.
6. Target Renegade
What do you do when you release a hit conversion of a popular arcade game that’s never been blessed with a proper sequel? If you’re Imagine Software you simply release your own unofficial spin-off that’s even better than the arcade original.
With its bold, cartoony visuals, incredibly violent gameplay and frantic two- player action, Imagine’s Target Renegade instantly captured the hearts of those arcade gamers who were obsessed with Technos’ Double Dragon and delivered a home experience that no other fighter of the time was able to match.
Never mind that the plot’s flimsier than a house of cards and has the disgraced gangs trying to redeem their honour by killing the renegade and his identical twin brother – Target Renegade was all about the action and Imagine did not disappoint.
Punches, vicious knees to the groin and flying kicks were just a few of the moves the brothers had access to, while weapons like hammers, chains and even pool cues could be used to dish out additional hurt to your hapless foes. Excellent stuff.
5. Manic Miner
For further insight into the nutty world of Manic Miner head over to page 22 and read our in-depth ‘Making of’. Manic Miner created many imitators, but none quite reached the heights of the original. It is the Spectrum’s best platformer and a stunning example of the genre.
Despite being only 20 screens long – although it would take you some time to finish – Manic Miner proved to be the crowning jewel of Smith’s short-lived career and delivered an experience that, if we’re truly honest, Smith never had a fair chance of succeeding. Indeed, it’s very much platform perfection.
Every enemy is well placed, the structure of each platform feels almost organic, while the pixel-perfect jumping will never – for the most part – test your patience.
With its jaunty opening, boot-stomping ending and bizarre enemies, Smith’s game proved to be a masterpiece that, 25 years later, still manages to impress.
An utterly ingenious piece of programming that shows just how far you can go with sheer talent and a very healthy imagination.
Publisher: Firebird Software
We came extremely close to leaving Elite out of our top 30 list altogether, mainly due to its heavy association with the BBC. However, after giving it a little bit of thought, we suddenly realised that there’s no other Spectrum game out there that offers the same kind of unique experience as Elite.
With Firebird owning the rights to a glut of new systems and David Braben and Ian Bell busy at work on other conversions, it was left to Torus to handle the highly anticipated Spectrum conversion.
Fortunately though, the end result was a highly accurate re-creation of the original BBC release that not only offered the same sense of wonder and astonishment that the BBC and Acorn outings had delivered a year earlier, but even added a few original touches of its own.
Armed with nothing more than a Cobra Mk III and 100 credits, the universe of Elite is literally your oyster and you’re given a real sense of freedom that is incomparable in other Spectrum releases.
It might be a little more sluggish when compared to its BBC counterpart, but the same gripping and absorbing gameplay remained, and Torus even had the foresight to include several new missions that had never actually appeared in the BBC and Acorn originals.
Ultimately though, for all its cosmetic changes, this was Elite through and through and it instantly received rave reviews from popular magazines such as Crash and Sinclair User.
With its sandbox gameplay, moral dilemmas – did you always play as the good guy, or occasionally go after some easy bounties? – and beautiful – if rather stark – wireframe visuals, Elite remains a true classic that no self-respecting gamer, Spectrum or otherwise, should go without experiencing at least once in their lives.
3. Head Over Heels
After the arrival of Knight Lore in 1984, virtually every videogame publisher began jumping on the isometric bandwagon, desperate to cash in on what was becoming a rapidly popular genre.
Despite many fine efforts – the majority of them usually being from Ultimate – none have ever come close to the sheer brilliance of John Ritman’s utterly sublime Head Over Heels.
After cutting his isometric teeth on the thoroughly enjoyable Batman, Ritman’s next project would be far more ambitious and included more devious puzzles, many, many more screens to explore, and, in a twist that was highly original for the time, two distinctive characters for the player to control; each with their own special abilities.
Head was a large-nosed… well, head… with a pair of stubby wings that enabled him to make mighty jumps and also glide for short periods, while Heels was an adorable puppy-like creature whose huge feet allowed him to quickly move through Bernie Drummond’s surreal-looking environments.
Originally known as ‘Foot & Mouth’ the duo are not only insanely cute (no easy task when you’re dealing with a limited amount of pixels), but instantly recognisable to anyone from the 8-bit era.
Initially trapped in the bowels of Blacktooth Castle, your first task is to actually escape. These early screens are not only filled with some brilliantly conceived puzzles, but also act as the perfect tutorial for both Head and Heels’ skills.
Of course, once you’ve struggled through these first 40-odd rooms and managed to escape, your adventure not only truly begins, but Ritman also plays his masterstroke by revealing that the two odd-looking fellows can be combined to create one super-being.
It’s not only a brilliant touch, but also enabled Ritman to create even more devious puzzles, as you were now forced to tackle rooms in a variety of different ways, with many of the later screens requiring a considerable amount of head scratching before you could finally move forward.
Spread across a total of five huge planets (each with its own distinct themes), and populated with some truly wacky sprites – Bernie Drummond created everything from a Prince Charles-headed Dalek to staircases made out of puppies – Head Over Heels is an unmissable adventure that’s not only filled with enough charm to sink a battleship, but proves that two heads (okay, a head and heels) really are better than one.
Publisher: Games Workshop
Julian Gollop lent his brain to some of the finest strategy games to appear on the 8-bit micros. His greatest works include: Laser Squad, Lords Of Chaos, and the sublime Rebelstar.
Set on the planet of Limbo, Chaos was a very early and deceptively deep strategy game. If you’ve ever wondered why Games Workshops still seem to inhabit the high streets, or considered taking that plunge into the ‘strat-’o’-fear’, then you should really make Chaos the next game you boot up and play. But be warned, set aside a quiet afternoon because it’s annoyingly addictive.
Beginning with a series of questions to help you create your hero and set you on course for the wonderful world of wizard duelling, the game then gave you the keys to a messy magical melee against up to seven other wizardly foes.
Okay, the graphics looked crude, and it wouldn’t do much to impress any of your C64 and CPC chums, but its rudimentary look made getting a head around all the spells and rules of engagement more accessible.
After you had created your wizard, he would be blessed with a random collection of spells to help you vanquish your opponents.
The most innovative feature about Chaos was the fact that during play, being that your spells were purposefully temperamental little buggers, there was no guarantee that they would actually work.
The more potent the spell, the higher the risk of seeing it seize up on you. So while the Giant Rats were reliable, trying to persuade your Speccy to let you have access to one of Chaos’s bashful Golden Dragons would prove a little trickier.
To improve your odds you could cast some of the smaller spells to influence the laws of the game board and make opting for the stronger enemies less of a gamble, opening up a world of tactical possibilities.
1. 3D Deathchase
Now if you’re a tree hugger, tree surgeon or a puppet you might want to avert your eyes, because this is a game that will more than likely cause you to grab the closest chainsaw and stick it into the nearest available hunk of wood.
Yes, this game does absolutely nothing for relations between humans and trees, but tons for the Speccy, 9K and gamer dealings. Now there really is only one word to describe 3D Deathchase and that word is: trees.
So, out of the billion or so Spectrum titles that were ever released, why should 3D Deathchase be considered the zenith of the machine? After all, many magazines of the day weren’t overly kind towards the game when it was released.
Sinclair User awarded the game a measly 60% and the oracle of Spectrum gaming Your Sinclair, weren’t massive fans of the game either.
It took Stuart Campbell to right past wrongs when he compiled and wrote the magazine’s Top 100 Speccy games of all time list and reserved the number one spot for this brilliantly simple game.
Admittedly, the game is blessed with the most inanimate of enemies: trees. So yes, to some it might sound like a profoundly stupid idea in principle, and with a lot of green, blue or black – depending on whether you were on ‘night patrol’ – permeated with plenty of lofty orangey thick lines, it would be fair to say that it didn’t really look all that fantastic neither.
We would have loved to have been in the room when Mervyn Estcourt pitched his idea to Micromega though…
“So then Mervyn, just so I’m 100 per cent clear on this. You want to make a pseudo-3D Space Invaders game about driving a bike through a forest. Oh, okay, so what do you have to fight? Other bikes, okay, and these bikes, they can fight back right? They can’t fight back, okay, right, so where’s the actual threat, where are the enemies in your game? The trees you say, as in the green leafy things outside? And these trees, you’re giving them guns right?”
Playing a futuristic bounty hunter, 3D Deathchase found you swerving through bountiful forests of ever-increasing density to chase and blow up two brightly coloured motorcyclists.
Your enemies rely on astonishing driving abilities to draw you into groups of trees, with the hope that the Ents dish out some tree-hurt.
The greatest aspect about 3D Deathchase was the sheer simplicity of the thing. The whole principle of the game was to avoid and invade. And the game occasionally threw in mothership- style bonus targets that allowed you to earn extra points.
Star Wars fans would probably find appeal from its peculiar similarity to the speeder bike chases in Return Of The Jedi, and wannabe Jedis would lovingly replay the scenes by booting up the game in tandem with a rather rich imagination.
The game also featured brilliantly swift scrolling and, with the trees on the later stages coming at you at breakneck speeds, an ingenious and visually fathomable difficulty curve was brought to the game.
And when the game switched from day to night, the menacing dark sky would cause the pursuit to become a shade twitchier and destroying those skittish bikes that extra bit harder.
It was all in your head though and, secretly, you knew it. You could never get angry at 3D Deathchase, though. With all of the game’s win/lose elements so clearly defined, unwittingly becoming one with nature was always of your own doing.
A genius game, with a genius concept… quite simply: genius. 3D Deathchase, we salute you.