Top Ten ZX Spectrum Games

Time for a bit of eighties nostalgia . . . but not of the usual kind! I wanted to take a look at what must go up there with Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath albums as truly formative influences for yours truly – my favourite speccy games, from when I was growing up! For anyone who was around and rockin’ the Sinclair machines in the eighties, hopefully this post will bring back some funky memories.

10. Chess: The Turk (Oxford Computer Publishing, 1983)

There were plenty of decent chess sims to choose from for Spectrum users back in the day – but for sophistication married to a certain indefinable cosiness, Chess: The Turk wins the day for me. The one flaw with the game is the fact that, on the highest levels, the computer’s ridiculously long thinking time makes the game practically unplayable (unless you’re hoping to finish War and Peace at the same time). Luckily, Level 4 is plenty challenging enough for a patzer like me.

Play while listening to: Mahler’s 4th Symphony.

9. Xeno (A ‘n’ F Software, 1986).

A rather bizarre futuristic sports game, kind of like hockey, in which you zip around the pitch in what looks like a giant puck, trying to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal. Addictive and immensely playable, the only real problem is that, after a while you will probably get the hang of scoring direct from your computer opponent’s puck-off pretty much every time (to get around this, and keep the competitive element of the game alive, I advise imposing a rule on yourself of having to go backwards on your first move, after the computer pucks off).

Play while listening to: Aerosmith, Rocks.

8. Quazatron (Hewson Consultants Ltd, 1986).

An ingenious sci-fi arcade adventure, with cutting edge (at the time) isometric 3D graphics, in which you are humble repair droid KLP2, battling the might of the Quazatron technopolis of Quartech. Like many of the best speccy games, Quazatron is wonderfully imaginative, evoking a strange universe-unto-itself, with charm and panache. Quarktastic!

Play while listening to: Rush, 2112.

7. Fairlight (The Edge, 1985).

The 3D isometric fantasy side of Quazatron‘s sci-fi coin, Fairlight (along with its sequel) is absorbing, epic and delightfully atmospheric. I still haven’t managed to complete it, but frankly, that’s the way I like it. Onward, Isvar, and smite those rascally orcs!

Play while listening to: Ten, Spellbound.

6. Ikari Warriors (Argus Press Software Ltd, 1987).

Modelled squarely on Elite’s classic Commando, but improving on the earlier game in terms of scope and playability, this scrolling military shoot-em-up is a top laugh, and fun to play in the two player mode. It ain’t rocket science, that’s for sure – just power manfully ahead, and take out as many enemy soldiers as you can! Commandeer a tank, and you can just mow ’em down . . .

Play while listening to: Poison, Greatest Hits.

5. Chucky Egg (A ‘n’ F Software, 1984).

Ah, Henhouse Harry. A classic early game that brings out the competitive spirit in all of us, zipping around those platforms and ladders, scooping up the eggs (and the birdseed for extra points), and steering clear of the pesky chickens who are as keen to take you out as they are to gobble up the birdseed. The game gets increasingly hectic, chaotic and intense the further along you go – but the promise of the glory of a new high score will keep you glued to it for sure!

(Also meriting honourable mention is the suitably bonkers Jet Set Willy-esque sequel released by A ‘n’ F in 1985.)

Play while listening to: Uriah Heep, Wonderworld.

4. Batty (Hit-Pak, 1987).

Quite simply, the King of Breakout Clones. Smooth, slick, and scarily addictive, with some brilliantly designed screens, this really is one to bring out the steely determination in all of the hardened gamers out there. Speaking of which, I have to make special mention of my so-frequent-nemesis, that horrible pinball-style Screen 9 . . . yeaarghh!

Play while listening to: Journey, Live in Houston 1981.

3. Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (Audiogenic Software Ltd, 1989).

While many sports stars of the decade put their names to some truly shocking computer games, late lamented Liverpool and Question of Sport legend Emlyn Hughes could have been rightfully proud of his own endorsement which ranks, for me, as the all-time greatest speccy footy sim. Some gamers might have been put off by the rudimentary graphics and the inordinately long side-viewed pitch – but if so, they were missing out. The game has tremendous scope for its time, in terms of kick directions and power of passes and shots, headers, backheels, fouls and free kicks – even in-play substitutions! All players are individually scored for speed, defence and attack (all customisable), with players tiring in play, depending on how much of a shift they put in, and also losing fitness when fouled. On top of this, the team and player names are fully editable, with full appearance and goal-scoring statistics being recorded over the course of a season which features the eight teams in league and cup competition. With ten skill levels, match lengths of up to the full ninety minutes (! – I recommend twenty minutes as the optimum length), the option to watch computer vs. computer matches, and a practise mode to master all those tricky skills, Emlyn Hughes undoubtedly offered the most absorbing football experience around for speccy fans.

Play while listening to: Deep Purple, Machine Head.

2. Chaos (Games Workshop, 1985).

The ultimate battle of the wizards, Chaos is an ingenious board game-like fantasy affair that never gets old. You will never tire of taking out Wizard 4 on the first turn with a Magic Bolt or Lightning blast, nor of the megalomaniac rush of commanding an undead Dragon – an opportunity that comes around but very rarely! It’s also great fun to Wall an opponent into a corner and keep hitting him with a flying creature until he succumbs. Perhaps most satisfying of all, though, is starting a Magic Fire or Gooey Blob and then walling yourself in, and watching it spread all over the board to take out your opponents one by one. Even in such a commanding position, though, victory is not assured – if one of your opponents hits you with Justice or Dark Power, your world could come crashing down all around you at a stroke!

Play while listening to: Magnum, Storyteller’s Night: The Collection (especially Disc 1. Nice selection, Mr Ling!).

1. Jet Set Willy II (Software Projects Ltd, 1985).

First there was Manic Miner, and then there was Jet Set Willy, in which the eponymous hero of the earlier game was set loose upon a whole world of surreal and alarming adventure, replete with oodles of Pythonesque humour, as he endeavoured pluckily to fulfil the gargantuan task of clearing up his mansion after a party, at the behest of Maria, his formidable and unbending lady. Jet Set Willy II was basically a new version of the (as it turns out, uncompleteable) original Jet Set Willy – but it was smoother, even crazier, and expanded to what seemed at the time like infeasibly vast proportions for a computer game. The cult status of Jet Set Willy – and the near sacred regard in which our hero is held in certain quarters – is most powerfully attested by the fact that vintage computer buffs continue to write new adventures for him to this day.

Poor Willy. All he wants is to get some sleep – but he’ll have to face a multitude of scary nasties, navigate platforms and rope swings with unerring dexterity and precision, brave the sewers beneath his house, and even take a trip in a rocket before there’s any chance of that. Legendary stuff!

Play while listening to: The speccified Hall of the Mountain king snippet that provides the game’s original soundtrack for as long as you can stand it (about two minutes in my experience) –  and then whack on some Ozzy-era Sabbath. You’ll need to be an Iron Man to get anywhere in this game, and you’ll likely ask yourself the question Am I Going Insane? on more than one occasion in the course of events . . .

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