10. Escape - New Generation Software
Escape, programmed by Malcolm Evans of 3D Monster Maze fame, was one of
the first Spectrum games I played. It's premise was straightforward. You controlled a little stick man who's objective was to escape from the green-tinged maze- but of course there were a couple of tincey-wincey problems in his way. First of all, the exit to the maze was barricaded with a sturdy wooden door; secondly, there were dinosaurs chasing after you! The solution was obvious: pick up the axe and chop down the door, whilst dodging the oncoming T-Rex; yet Escape threw in a couple of ingenious ticks that elevated it to a frantic, tense game that belied it's basic origins. These elements were sly, yet logical: when carrying the large axe, your man moved appreciably slower; it was also not possible to see the axe's location, leaving you to desperately search the maze, the dinosaur's hot breath on the back of your neck. At the time, many were disappointed with Escape. A lot of 3D Monster Maze fans were expecting a dinosaur-ridden version of the ZX-81 classic, but the 16k Spectrum simply wasn't up to such a demanding concept. The resultant simple maze game looked crude, but actually offered much nail-biting and tactical gameplay.
9. Jumping Jack - Imagine Software
Long before things went belly-up as witnessed in the infamous Commercial
Breaks documentary, Imagine made their name by releasing crowd-pleasing and playable titles such as Jumping Jack. It's appeal is vague; the screen contains several lines (or levels) in which appear gaps that Jack (who starts at the bottom of the screen, naturally) must jump up through, with his ultimate aim the top of the screen. These trapdoors move pretty rapidly, and mistiming a jump means Jack is temporarily stunned, leaving him vulnerable to falling down another trapdoor, or
getting caught by one of the enemies that are out to get him. So other than the simple appeal of trying to get to the top, there's little else to Jumping Jack: but it's still a fun, if slightly frustrating platform game.
8. Planetoids - Sinclair Research
Of course, the Spectrum was awash with arcade clones in it's early years. No-one was going to fork out for the official license when you could simply release a shameless copy and change the name to protect the not-so-innocent. Planetoids, an Asteroids clone, was by-and-large the best of the bunch, probably helped by the elementary nature of the arcade original and is one of the earliest games in this list, released in 1982. The Spectrum inevitably replaces the wireframe vector graphics with solid, blockier sprites, yet all the other features are there, including the smaller fragments, flying saucers, inertia and the use-with-caution hyperspace option - which all add up to a great conversion. Did I say conversion? I meant original game. Of course.
7. Pool - CDS
This early sports simulation from CDS ate up hours of my life as a kid. Despite being perhaps as basic a simulation of the bar game as you could imagine, the ease of play and "slight" changes to the existing game made it a winner. Each player gets three goes at potting a ball and despite some necessary 16k sacrifices (there are only six balls in play and no black ball), only the lack of a computer opponent really detracts from the game. If you had a friend to play with, however, Pool was one of the best 2-player experiences available in the early days of Spectrum gaming.
6. Pssst! - Ultimate
In my school, the pupils who owned a Spectrum tended to fall into two camps: those who liked Cookie and those who liked Pssst! I was most firmly in the latter, even if it was only because I got to say "pissed" to my Dad whenever he asked me what game I was playing. Oh the joy of schoolboy humour...fortunately the game itself is brilliant, with the already-accepted high standard of presentation and graphics from Ultimate all present and correct. You play Robbie, a robot gardener,
who must protect his precious flower from the multitude of pests that plague his garden. The gameplay was original, fast, frantic and fun - all the hallmarks of an early Ultimate game.
5. Pheenix - Megadodo
The strangely-named Megadodo released one game for the Spectrum - and this was it. Cunningly changing one letter of the arcade parent's name (Phoenix) to give it a more phonetic spelling, Pheenix was a limited but supremely fun blaster that more or less included all the elements from the coin-op. As a result it suffered from the limited nature of the original game, but that's hardly the programmer's fault. In fact, he (Martin Ward) deserves fine praise for the excellent presentation and colourful, sharp graphics. The gameplay is indeed limited - Phoenix is not much more than a tarted-up Space Invaders clone - but for a quick, enjoyable blast, you'd do well to find a better 16k game, except perhaps...
4. Harrier Attack! - Durell Software
Mike Richardson was an early idol of mine on the Spectrum. Not only did he program this timely shooter, but he also came up with the super Scuba Dive and underrated Jungle Trouble, before going on to devise many a classic on the 48k Spectrum, not least the wonderful Turbo Esprit. Back to Harrier Attack!, and taking off from an aircraft carrier, the purpose was to scoot through a horizontally-scrolling landscape, dodging enemy fighters (that were intent on colliding with you) and flak from the guns below. After this hilly terrain was a set of factories, your target, onto which the Harrier could drop bombs: then it was back to the carrier for another (trickier) mission. Harrier Attack was an impressive game squeezed into 16k by Richardson. It didn't offer much in the way of complexity, but was just about one of the best pure shoot 'em ups at the time.
3. Sir Lancelot - Melbourne House
Ok, so it was a Manic Miner rip-off - of this can be no doubt. But Melbourne House's Sir Lancelot had enough charm and playability to set it apart from the 16k platform pack. Packing 24 screens into the machine, was a colourful adventure where your aim was to search the castle in order to find an elusive and stereotypical Holy Grail. Sir Lancelot had to collect all the items on each particular screen to unlock the door to the next room. Spare lives were depicted as marching versions of your own character and numerous nasties are out to stop him.
2. Jet Pac - Ultimate
It's a testament to Jet Pac's enduring quality that when I first got my Spectrum + in 1986, a full three years after Ultimate released this classic, that it was one of the games I played first and for the longest time. Like most 16k games, it has an uncomplicated premise: you must collect all three parts of your rocket which are spread over an unchanging platform level, drop them into one section and then collect the fuel before jetting off to the next level. The graphics for the time were very polished and colourful; but the key of course was the superb gameplay. Collecting rocket parts and fuel whilst leaping from platform to platform, gunning down aliens with your impressive laser was a whole lotta fun. The Stampers also expertly fine-tuned the movements of Jetman; he moved slowly when walking, quicker when flying but with predictably less control. Fortunately the screen was wraparound, leaving a get-out for sticky situations. A stonewall classic.
1. 3D Deathchase - Micromega
What can I say about the superb 3D Deathchase that hasn't been said before? Not much, I reckon. Yes, it's furiously addictive, as you dodge the trees and try to shoot those elusive bikes over alternate night and day levels; yes, we all pretended we were Luke Skywalker on a speeder bike from Return of the Jedi; and yes, author Mervyn J. Estcourt has remained stoically elusive since. 3D Deathchase is still a fantastic "in the zone" game; it's so easy to get drawn in, speeding through the increasingly denser forest despite it's actual lack of gameplay depth: the bikes and tanks you are chasing don't fire back and the only real danger are the trees, the player's temperament and the awkward keyboard layout. If you haven't tried it before, you may struggle to see what the fuss was about: for those of us who grew up with the Spectrum, however, it's an experience we will never forget, and the best 16k Spectrum game ever!