Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My 5 Favourite Spectrum Games of All Time

As I have already mentioned on this blog, 1988 was the best year of my childhood, and it was also when I got a ZX Spectrum +2. For those too young to remember, the Spectrum was a kind of basic home computer, and had games that came on cassette tapes. These had to be loaded in the Spectrum's tape deck, and could take anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes to load (depending on the game). This seems like a hell of a hassle now, and it did then a bit, but we didn't know anything better. Loading errors were commonplace, and it wasn't uncommon to get 7 minutes into a load and be suddenly jerked back to the start screen. But whilst the loading process was often annoying, it did mean that once the games loaded we tended to appreciate them more. As was often the case, this appreciation was misplaced, as the Spectrum was responsible for some of the worst excuses for games in the history of gaming, partly due to bad programming, limited technology and ill-conceived ideas. But when the Spectrum got it right, it got it right, and this blog entry is dedicated to a handful of those. So without further ado....

Number 5 Robocop

Robocop is one the better movie tie in games that flooded the market in the late 80s. One of the reasons I liked the game is that the levels were quite varied. Aside from the generic side-scrolling shooter levels, there was a level in which a bad guy had a hostage and you had to aim the crosshair and shoot him, and also a photo fit level. A reason that I didn't like it was that, for me anyway, Robocop was a very difficult game. I only got to the photofit level a couple of times, before running out of time and being shunted back to the title screen. It caused me pain, but it was always fair, and I respected it for that. My lasting memory of Robocop is from the summer of 1990, when a young family friend that was visiting our house (called David Kershaw) kept calling me inside from my game of football to tell him how to play "Robotcop".

Number 4 Oh Mummy!

Oh Mummy! was one of the 5 free games that came with my spectrum (the others being Alien Destroyer, Crazy Golf, Punchy and Treasure Island). It's a classic example of what a good spectrum game was - simple, addictive and despite being easy enough for a small kid to enjoy, you had to use your loaf to progress far. As young children, my brother and I tended to stick with Alien Destroyer and Crazy Golf, but Oh Mummy! did get some screen time. As an aside, I firmly believe that Oh Mummy! introduced me to the concept of peripheral vision, as later levels in requires the player to watch both their character and each portion of the screen very closely at the same time.

Number 3 Footballer of the Year

When I bought Footballer of the Year whilst staying for the weekend at my Grandparents, I had no real idea what it would be like. I trusted the cover illustration and the "actual spectrum screenshots" on the back. What it turned out to be was a decent management/play hybrid that occupied countless hours in my life circa 1990.
Always huge, football seemed even more important that summer, what with Liverpool being all-conquering
and the world cup dominating everything. Footballer of the Year had been out for 4 years, but it still seemed quite new, thanks to a stylish interface and quirky style.
Of course, given the option of starting in any division, I chose what was then Division 1 and Liverpool, but I soon found that my money ran out quicker than it would if I were in a lower, cheaper division. The system of goal cards (literally chances to score a goal) was an interesting idea, and it worked well. As was the case with many of the games of my childhood, I was never fantastically good at them. I seem to recall earning a transfer to a higher division only twice, and I only got the chance to play for my country a couple of times. My lasting memory of Footballer of the Year is when, 4-0 down after the first leg of the FA cup 4th round against Arsenal, I scored 4 in the return leg, winning the match 6-1 and pipping them at the last.

Number 2 Kikstart 2

To a casual observer, Kikstart 2 would have seemed a rather dull game. No music, no in game sound or effects, just a man on a bike going from left to right over an assortment of obstacles. For me and my younger brother, however, Kikstart 2 was addictive and challenging, and best of all, there was a level editor, which was simple to use but rewarding. It may not sound like much, but brothers pitting their wits against eachother to see who could negotiate the wooden fence without falling off seemed very important back at the tail end of the 80s. Our times were scrutinized and bragging rights were there to be lost and won. The memory I still treasure is the day that my brothers score and mine were perfectly identical through endless rounds, and in the end, he pipped me by something ridiculous like 1/100th of a second. He had the bragging rights that day, and I was happy for him.

Number 1 Target Renegade

If you went into a primary school in England around the end of 1988 and talked to some of the older boys, sooner or later the conversation would turn to Target Renegade. This was the big game of its day, a definitive sidescrolling beat 'em up that not only stood its own against the likes of Double Dragon and Final Fight, it bettered them. True, in hindsight the graphics were rather basic, and there was the classic spectrum glitch of your sprite being whatever colour the background was, but all in all Target Renegade was new, fresh and utterly playable. The controls were devilishly simple, with only one button used for attacking. With various directions added, you could punch, back kick, fly kick and grab someone by the ears and put your knee into their family jewels. As an impressionable 8 year old, I loved the "fly ckick someone off a motorbike or get run over" intro to some of the levels. I also loved the way that the phone would ring at the end of some levels, and you had to answer it. Simple idea, big effect back then.
Target Renegade was a tough game to beat. I never managed it, getting as far as the bar before being pasted by the bald guys with the pool cues. My lasting memory of Target Renegade is when I parted from it, a little reluctantly I must say, when I sold it to a boy at my school (called Nathan Miles) for about 5 quid (5 weeks pocket money for me back in 1990). Even today the game plays well, and it's perhaps the definitive misty-eyed-whilst-remembering games of all time. A true classic.


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