Spectrum A-C

Alien Brigade – By Atari

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 180 – By MAD

Let’s be honest, any game based around the perennially popular pub “sport” of darts is never going to be complex. Veteran coders the Pickfords (aka Binary Design) did their best to tart up the concept, and to be fair, they did a pretty good job of it, despite a lack of variety. 180 presented a yellow and black dartboard with a nicely designed hand floating over it. Control over the hand was sharp resulting in a slight key-press sending it off in all sorts of directions. This was where 180 presented its challenge, and once mastered, the player could enter a knockout tournament where the remarkably consistent Jammy Jim always waited for you in the final. Ah, Jammy Jim. Did that bastard ever make a mistake? Very rarely, leaving the player with one valuable advantage: you went first! Nevertheless, 180 was great fun, if a little short-term. Different types of dart games would have added more variety.

Review by jdanddiet

6/10

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 Abu Simbel Profanation – By Dinamic Software

Spanish Speccy Software House Dinamic specialised in horridly tough games and this title, one of their first, was no exception. Essentially a platformer in the mould of classics such as Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner, it’s a flick screen adventure starring an Indiana Jones-type character raiding an ancient temple in an effort to plunder its treasure. The game is hamstrung by the aforementioned chronically demanding gameplay; enemies move quickly and are placed with devilish abandon around the maze. Not helping matters is the poor collision detection and a strange jumping animation that takes time and perseverance to even begin to master. What’s frustrating is the kernel of a good game is here. The graphics are neat and your odd little avatar responds nicely to key presses. In 1985 I think I got to explore about half a dozen screens; using an emulator on my laptop and a selection of save states I managed to complete Abu Simbel recently, and even with this help it was a considerably onerous task and not much fun – which is surely the point! Maybe I’m just a crap gamer (I don’t think I am), but I think you’d have to be some sort of gaming sadist to enjoy Abu Simbel Profanation!

Review by jdanddiet

5/10

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 Academy – By CRL Software

In 1986, CRL released Pete Cooke’s Tau Ceti, a brilliant space adventure boasting superb shaded graphics that evoked an astonishing depth of gameplay rarely seen on the ZX Spectrum. Charged with bettering the iconic game, Cooke produced the goods and more with this sequel from 1987. After the events of the first game, Gal-Corp formed the Skimmer Academy, and playing a new recruit, the player selects from a variety of different missions with the ultimate aim to become a fully-fledged Skimmer pilot. Academy offered an amazing freedom; not only could you choose the different missions to fly, but the player’s skimmer could be totally customised and designed just how you wanted it. The different missions call for a range of tactics, and whilst generally it involves shooting at stuff, often a lot more subtlety is required as well as thoughtful consideration to the weapons you select before jetting off. The sheer size of Academy meant the game was a dreaded multi-loader for the 48k Spectrum – fortunately I had a 128k model by the time I played it – much less time sitting around drinking tea and much more time shooting!

Review by jdanddiet

9/10

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 Action Biker – By Mastertronic

It must have been one of the oddest licenses ever to pitch, yet budget label Mastertronic duly acquired the rights to the Clumsy Colin character who was busy falling over and riding his motorbike haphazardly in a series of KP Skips adverts during the mid-eighties. Bolting on some bizarre story was obviously the first job for Mastertronic and it tells of the bungling biker having a dream in which he has to recover some essential items for his friend Marti so that he can get to the spaceport. I kid ye not. What this actually meant was biking around a colourful town, breaking and entering into houses to see if there were any of said required items inside. If there were…great. If not…ah. The problem with Action Biker was there was nothing to do other than ride around and look for the items, and it soon became very tiresome, even for £1.99. Apparently the Commodore 64 version is much better, but let’s be honest, it could hardly be worse…

Review by jdanddiet

3/10

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 Ah Diddums – By Imagine

One of Imagine’s early 16k games, Ah Diddums was a great concept sadly let down by poor implementation. Playing a little teddy bear, it was your job to comfort the baby by giving it toys from the toy box. This meant mother would come and turn the light out which the other toys didn’t like: they preferred the light on so they could muck about and cause mischief! With bright, colourful graphics and an intriguing premise, Ah Diddums could have been a 16k classic along the lines of Ultimate’s Jet Pac or Imagine’s own Arcadia. Cranky gameplay, flickering graphics and some dreadful colour clash let it down badly however, although it sold well thanks to Imagine’s well known publicity skills and presentation.

Review by jdanddiet

3/10

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 Alchemist – By Imagine

Alchemist was one of the games that gave Imagine the great reputation they earned in the early life of the Speccy. It may not seem like much now, but back in 1983, this arcade adventure was streets ahead of most other games in terms of both playability and presentation. You played the titular magical chemist and as per usual, there was an evil rival to be dispatched. Uniquely for the time, the Alchemist could transform into a huge eagle which was often necessary to progress through the screens. Via the collection of various ingredients and objects that your enemy had carelessly left strewn around his home, the Alchemist could create a powerful spell that had the power to destroy his nemesis once and for all. Alchemist was extremely well-presented for 1983 with huge colourful graphics and was a simple yet intriguing action-adventure that pre-dated the Magic Knight games by some years. Even better, some editions came in a lovely gold cassette and box. It always struck me as a shame that Imagine over expanded and got too far ahead of themselves when they should have concentrated on what they were obviously good at: making games.

Review by jdanddiet

7/10

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 Alien – By Argus Press

Long before “survival horror” had become a video game genre all of its own, Argus Press released this game based on successful the S/F horror flick of 5 years earlier. The programmers’ task was no easy one; they had to a accurately replicate the tension and fear of the movie on the limited computers of the time, and they did a pretty damn fine job all things considered. After the Alien hatches out of a random crew member (it had to be random, otherwise the player would always isolate Kane!), the player controls the crew in their efforts to track down and eliminate the nasty xenomorph. Each character boasts a unique personality that affects their actions as they become panicked, scared or downright catatonic (hello, Lambert). The general view is of a plan of the Nostromo with a small pic of the crewmember you are controlling and a portentous information bar that supplies helpful information. Using equipment and weapons, the aim is to trap the Alien and kill it, or escape from the Nostromo using the shuttle. Alien is a tough game with the eponymous creature almost impossible to capture. And should you mirror the movie’s ending, it awards you with a miserably low score which seems a trifle unfair. Despite this, it was a commendably brave attempt at producing a different type of movie adaptation which was nonetheless eclipsed by Electric Dreams’ Aliens a couple of years later.

Review by jdanddiet

6/10

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 Beach-Head – By US Gold

Beach-Head was one of the Spectrum’s famous early titles and US Gold’s first release on the computer. Whilst today it may be hard to see what the excitement was about, back in 1984, it had good reason to cause such a fuss as US Gold soon cemented a reputation for excellent presentation and varied, good-quality games. Beach-Head was a multi-level action war game; your first task was to guide your fleet to its destination, either directly or via the “secret” channel. Take the easy route and you’d be bombarded by loads of enemy fighters in the subsequent stage; take the secret passage and there’s a minefield to negotiate but less time for the enemy to scramble fighters, consequently less of them to shoot down. Next up it’s the turn the tanks on the beach-head itself. Storm the enemy barricades, make it through and take a punt at destroying the big Kahuna gun at the end and if you didn’t lose too many ships you’ll have plenty of tanks with which to do this. Beach-Head is still pretty good fun even by today’s standards and an early example of what the humble Speccy was capable of.

Review by jdanddiet

7/10

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 Bombjack – By Elite

Elite produced many superb arcade conversions for the Speccy; think Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, Space Harrier and, erm, 1942. Bombjack, however, was in my opinion, the finest, despite its apparent simplicity. Based on the arcade machine of the same name, Bombjack presents each screen with a series of platforms in front of a famous (and for the Speccy, colourful) scene. Bombjack must collect all the bombs on each screen whilst avoiding the numerous nasties that congregate around him. Extra points are awarded if you collect the bombs in the order of lit fuses. Elite wisely concentrated on making the game as playable as possible through responsive key presses and clear graphics. To be honest, that’s about it, and I can imagine if you’re reading about this game for the first time you’re thinking “that sounds rubbish!”. It’s not. It’s brilliant, go try it out!

Review by jdanddiet

9/10

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 Chaos – By Games Workshop

Julian Gollop’s Chaos is a brilliant game and one of my favourites of all time. Playing one of up to 8 wizards, controlled by either the computer or a friend/s, it’s a simple concept tweaked and curdled exquisitely by the talented Mr Gallop. Each player is given a random selection of spells, each of which have a percentage chance to succeed. These spells range from mythical and real beasties with which to attack the opposing wizards; shields, swords and magic bows to pimp up your own wizard and miscellaneous spells such as magic wood which creates trees from which your wizard (and your rivals!) can gain extra spells and gooey blob, a perfidious green mass that threatens to engulf the whole board if not destroyed. Tactics are the key to Chaos; choose your own style, aggressive or offensive, or even try and fool the enemy with illusions, creatures that have all the power of the real thing but can be instantly dispelled by enemy wizards should they suspect deception. There are few truly great multi-player games from the 8-bit era. Chaos is top of the pile.

Review by jdanddiet

9/10

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 Chronos – By Mastertronic

Shoot ‘em ups were everywhere back in the 80’s, but there tended to be few really excellent budget shooters. This little gem from the brothers Tatlock (who also created the excellent Agent X) received generally unenthusiastic reviews in the magazines of the time, reviews I ignored before shelling out my measly £1.99. Dubbed “A Tapestry of Time”, Chronos boils down to a horizontally scrolling monochrome shooter. There’s plenty of the stereotypical enemy sprites to shoot as well as walls that needed to be shot in order for your slim craft to proceed through. It wasn’t a long game, and most experienced gamers would no doubt not take long to complete it, but it was playable, attractive and fun. And what more could you ask for a penny shy of 2 quid?

Review by jdanddiet

7/10

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 Cobra – By Ocean

Movie licenses on the Spectrum didn’t have the best of reputations and Ocean were responsible for their fair share of clunkers in this respect. With the license of this dreadful Stallone movie, however, they handed programming duties to Jonathan “Joffa” Smith and he turned in not only one of the best movie license games, but also one of the best action games ever on the Spectrum. Playing the Stallone character (Marion “Cobra” Cobretti), it’s up to you to eliminate as many bad guys as possible and rescue the lady-in-peril, the Amazonian Bridget Nielsen – although she appears somewhat more feminine in the game thanks to an animation-saving ankle-length skirt. To help you are various weapons scattered around every level, cunningly hidden within giant hamburgers; alternatively Cobra delivers a pretty mean head-butt! Once Cobra has taken on three levels worth of baddies then the main villain of the piece appears, the Night Slasher, and he must be despatched before the game loops back to the beginning and the battle starts all over again. Cobra is a fantastic game. The graphics are clear and the 3-layer parallax scrolling lovely. The main sprite moves really well and it’s possible to pull off some cool moves whilst traversing each level. Jonathan Smith’s customary sense of humour is satisfyingly imbued in to the game as well, almost as if he knew the film was terrible and he was determined to mock its camp 80’s machismo. As scrolling run-and -runners go, it has few peers on the Spectrum, if any.

Review by jdanddiet

9/10

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 Confuzion – By Incentive

This was one of the first games I bought way back in 1985. Basically a puzzle game, it sees the player trying to detonate a series of bombs using a stockpile of “sparks”. The sparks passage across each is screen is manipulated by sliding segmented squares of the room, a bit like those sliding picture puzzles games crossed with a bit of pipe mania. Confuzion was an intriguing and playable game with one fatal flaw: it was just too damn hard. Sure, the first few levels were easy enough, but soon the game throws so much at you and at such a frantic pace, that it is impossible to utilise any tactics, reducing the game to pure random guesswork. It’s a shame because otherwise Confuzion is a technically accomplished game.

Review by jdanddiet

5/10

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