It may come as something of a surprise, given that it was 34 years old this year, but the ZX Spectrum continues to be a hive of gaming activity even today. 2016 was another brilliant year for new releases, many of which put the even the best commercial games of yesteryear to shame in both the technical and gameplay departments. So as the year draws to a close, I thought it might be nice to collect together my TOP TEN ZX SPECTRUM GAMES OF 2016 like those ‘proper journalist’ types do.
It’s been very difficult to narrow this list down to just ten games and a few that I genuinely loved sadly had to fall by the wayside, but on the whole I reckon this is a very solid collection. If you’ve been following the scene closely this year then I’d be interested to hear how my list compares with your own. And if you had no idea this kind of thing was even still going on, then the following games are a remarkably good place to start educating yourself – all are freely downloadable by clicking the pictures below, or playable in your web browser from the really quite wonderful ‘New Spectrum Games’ site at http://speccy21.co.nr.
So without further ado… the list!
10: ‘Seto Taisho vs Yokai’ by Alessandro Grussu
Alessandro is nothing if not prolific, producing an unbelievable number of games this year. His finest for me is this one, a single-screen platforming/combat game with some quite beautiful graphics and animation. Smooth and fast, and quite tricky to boot, this is a great console-style arcade game that’ll keep you coming back for more.
09: ‘Sewer Rage’ by Davey Sludge, Frank Triggs, Yerzmyey
Mr. Sludge is another Speccy over-achiever, but for my money this is the best one he’s produced this year. A super-colourful arcade game, you try to repair the pipes in each single-screen sewer by punching them to the top of the screen. Various bugs and nasties try to get in your way and drain your energy, so punch their lights out too. Very simple, but great fun to play and packing a serious ‘just one more go’ factor.
08: ‘Car Wars’ by Salvador Cantero, David Sánchez
A fast-paced flick-screen arcade/puzzle/adventure, Car Wars is an incredibly slick production. A superb use of colour makes this game really stand out from the crowd, and the maps are cleverly designed to make the most of each level. Be warned – controlling your car takes a little getting used to and colliding with any of the nasties causes you to go flying all over the place, so I can take a little getting used to, but it’s well worth the effort.
07: ‘Descending Dungeons’ by James Broad
A procedurally-generated dungeon crawler, Descending Dungeons is quite unlike anything else released on the Speccy this year. Leading a party of four differently-skilled characters, you explore the dungeons in a turn-based manner, looting chests and fighting monsters with a variety of attacks. Slow-paced but very immersive, this is a fantastic strategy RPG to try if you have a few hours spare.
06: ‘Double Bubble’ by Miguel Ángel Tejedor López, Rui Martins
A clever single-screen puzzle game, Double Bubble tasks you with guiding your bubble to reach a second bubble, then lead it to the exit. This is made incredibly tough by a variety of spiky hazards and a very tight time limit. Superbly drawn and coloured, this is an excellent action puzzler.
05: ‘Magical Tower Adventure’ by Timmy
A compact turn-based dungeon/puzzle combo, this is based on an old Japanese game and really requires some careful thought rather than just piling in and hoping for the best. Gorgeous graphics really show off the Speccy’s limited capabilities well, and this was one I kept coming back to repeatedly and doing a little better at each time. Hopefully we’ll see an expanded version with more puzzles at some point in the future!
04: ‘Sam Mallard – The Case of the Missing Swan’ by Ersh
This is a menu-driven adventure game which puts you in the boots of private investigator Sam Mallard as he tries to locate a client’s missing wife. Well-written text and some tricky puzzles combine with some incredibly well-drawn black and white location graphics to really create a fantastic noir atmosphere, and I found it hard to put it down until I’d completed it. Alas, it’s not nearly as long as I would’ve liked – fingers crossed that Ersh builds on his success here to produce something a bit longer next time around because as a taster this is superb.
03: ‘Tourmaline’ by Denis Grachev, Vasiliy Kostin, Ivan Seleznev
Denis has produced some of the Speccy’s most solid and playable games in recent years, and Tourmaline is no exception. A cross between Boulder Dash and Bomber Man, the game has you exploring numerous scrolling levels, collecting diamonds and blowing up nasties. The graphics are superbly-drawn and incredibly colourful, the animation is cute and slick, and the tunes are all great and really add to the experience. Another great game from a great developer!
02: ‘Castaway’ by Juan J. Martínez
An excellent flick-screen platforming adventure, Castaway takes its cues from console games of old and proves to be a really slick and playable game. Guiding your marooned spaceman through a complex full of malfunctioning robots, you must help to shut down the computer in order to repair your ship and escape. Numerous objects can be collected to help you along, including a good-old-fashioned ray gun to zap any particularly feisty nasties. Pitched just right on the difficulty scale, the game is really easy to get into and goes to show that the humble Speccy was just as capable of producing this kind of smart, playable adventure as its 8-bit console cousins.
01: ‘Vallation’ by Soren Borgquist, Craig Stevenson, Johan Elebrink
Based on a C64 game produced for the RGCD cartridge development competition in 2013, this Speccy version takes the original and improves on it in several ways to create a quite brilliant Cybernoid-alike flick-screen shoot-em-up. Super-smooth and fast as all heck, it’s quite a challenge to make your way through the beautifully-drawn levels, shooting and dodging as you go, and I still haven’t made it to the end despite playing it regularly since the summer. A further-updated 128K version is apparently in the works too, which I’m itching to have a go at!
And that’s it! Congratulations to all of the winners, and to everyone who produced a new Spectrum game this year – here’s hoping for yet another stellar crop in 2017.
Happy new year, Spec-chums!