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Forgotten Games of the ZX Spectrum

Well maybe not 'forgotten' so much as ...ignored ever since.

You can read many articles about the quintessentially British computer, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the ground breaking games that graced its decade-long life. You'll hear mention of classic games such as Knightlore, Jet Set Willy, and Skool Daze, each blazing a trail for the 3D, platform and sandbox games that were to come.

But for every classic lovingly remembered, there were hundreds of titles that didn't define a genre, didn't get awards, and most certainly didn't sell a million. Most were immediately forgotten.

Now, for one reason or another, some of these games tickled me - I can't explain why. Some weren't particularly good, and others were really awful, but I just want to give them a little nod here.


Plummet - 1984

ZX Spectrum game - Plummet

Playing the hero of this particular story, you're placed in a 'skyscraper' in which the Mayor has gone and got himself stuck in the lift. Your job is to stop this lift from 'plummeting' to the ground by collecting the rope that's littered around the building and securing it to the top of the lift shaft.

It's a small game, there's no sprawling wilderness to explore or labyrinth of corridors to wander around. It's just three screeens tall and absolutely packed with things to collect, avoid and shoot (strangely).

The graphics are really neat (apart from that of the Mayor as he sits in the lift which is a shocker. I mean, he couldn't even stand up in that thing - it's more of a dumb-waiter than a lift). However, they're generally well defined and they move really smoothly which I always like.

Things that make me smile

Let's start with our protagonsit, Orson. How the heck is this person from the same planet as the Mayor - look at them! One's shaped like a lemon, the other like a 7 year old's drawing.

What a nice room this is. I'd be happy here.

Not only is there what seems to be a double-cavity wall which will aide heat retention, but the chair actually seems to offer lower back support. Perfect when you're bashing out that best-seller on the typewriter.

And guess what this is --> I honestly thought it was a razor blade - after all, touch one and you die. However, according to the instructions, they're mutant revolving doors. And how do you open a mutant revolving door? You shoot it of course (but remember, you can't shoot without holding a length of rope, silly).

Fluorescent strip lighting. Even in pixel form it's giving me a headache.

Valve radio c.1937 and a dot-matrix printer that spews that old style paper where you had to tear off the sides - jeez, I remember using that stuff during my first job; it was held in a great big sound-proof canopy type thing. Them were the days.

And this, this is my favourite by far: the blue motor at the top of the lift shaft. It looks just like the real thing and I can almost see the copper wire inside.

Other graphics worthy of a mention are: the plants - some are vibrant and healthy, while others have clearly been over-watered and are on their last yellowing legs; the clock stuck at 5pm on the wall (which is obviously why Orson is on his own as everyone else has gone home ...leaving the monsters), the bell on the front desk and the helicopter on the roof with the seriously unbalanced rotor blades - no way would I get on that thing.

The game itself? Well Orson has really smooth movement which you'll need to judge the distances accurately and keep from touching the monsters and falling building materials (smooth character movement was never really possible when using Spectrum Basic, so stuff like this still makes me envious of the programmer's abilities). However, Orson does not check for collisions ina pixel-perfect way, rather it uses the surrounding box that holds Orson's sprite. It's just a tad annoying in such a busy screen where every pixel is catered for, that you can get killed when it's obvious you're not even touching a meanie. In my mind, this could have been easily sorted by just giving Orson a larger hat so at least part of him would come in to contact with whatever caused the death.

Beatcha - 1984

ZX Spectrum game - Beatcha

I never knew how to pronounce this game. Is it like, 'I bet ya I could do it', or is it like, 'I beat ya that time'? Does it matter? Probably not. However, what does matter is that you gather all the keys that are dotted around the school and escape before all the teachers that roam the halls and classrooms take your, generous, 26 lives away.

For some reason, it's all set on a planet called Sirius B, I guess so the teachers' disembodied heads come as no surprise as they hunt you down the corridors (the comprehensive system, huh!). Even more strange is the fact that the sparse instructions on the cassette inlay end off by saying 'WILL YOU BE THE SUPREME WORLD CHAMPION?' - huh! Well which is it to be? Is our aim to escape from school, or is it to be world champion (of Sirius B, remember) - and does that mean that there are other schools on Sirius B each with kids trying to escape?

Furthermore, Sirius B, this mysterious planet with the failing education system, seems to have drawn a few cultural references from planet Earth (or maybe it's the other way around), as the loading screen shows us a teacher with a cane , a game of noughts & crosses , and a key which would appear to fit a three-lever mortice lock (if they were that worried about their students escaping, they should have used five-lever locks - quick mock-up ). Not forgetting of course, that all this is drawn in chalk on a good old-fashioned black-board.

Things that make me smile

Actually, this was one of the first games that made me smile more than it really should have done. From [fading] memory, I think around the time I was playing this game I was also trying my hardest to sort out some form of collision detection system using ZX Basic in my own primitive games - without much success I might add. And here was a shining example of a player-controlled character shifting around a maze, going from room to room, bouncing off of walls and getting zapped by meanies (I'm referring to Mr Meanie, Geography]. It had everything I wanted to achieve in a game and, what's more, although a blocky/jerky approach to movement, it was obviously programmed in machine code. What was not to love?

A semi-undocumented feature of the game is your stun-gun, referred to only on the title screen. It's more of a smart-bomb than a gun, as you can fire it anywhere and it freezes all the meanies on the screen for a short while leaving you free to sweep up the keys. It does this at a cost of around 250 steps (whether there's a maximum number of steps you are allowed to take, I don't know. Actually maybe it's a subtle reference to teachers always urging kids not to dawdle and get a move on - maybe I'm searching too hard for tenuos links, who knows!)

Still love this game 30 years on, and it seems a fine example of a game's original design document not making the inlay. I mean - Sirius B - come on!

Oh, by the way - Teacher (unhappy) = bad / You (happy) = good

Zorro - 1986

ZX Spectrum game - Zorro

I love the instructions to this game...

"Zorro, the famous Mexican hero, sees the evil Colonel Garcia abducting a beautiful maiden. As he's a hero, it's up to him (and you) to rescue Garcia's captive..."

"As he's a hero"!? ...so he might not even fancy this maiden, but he's got to rescue her just because he's a hero! What if he was having his tea? What if he's half-way through a Burrito when this Maiden gets nabbed and everyone looks at him to step up and save her. I think he'd be pretty narked off to be honest - I know I would be. I'd be like, "Ay Caramba!" (that's 'bloody hell' in Spanish) "I'm halfway through me enchilada and a brew here - you go and save her!" (...uncomfotable pause) "Sigh... well at least let me watch the end of Bake Off, first!".

So who is this evil Colonel Garcia?

This is him - - as he escapes with the maiden. He looks a bit shifty to me: never trust a short man with a ribbon in his sombrero.

And let's have a close-up of this maiden we're risking our life for (and missing what's on TV because we're a hero!). This is her....
...phwoar! I know I would.

Things that make me smile

The local Lager-Louts Winos Tequilla-heads - I love these guys - they're either really short or the bar has purposefully been placed at eye-level in a failed bid to keep the drinks out of reach. Didn't work for the guy on the right, obviously.

Standing on the sofa - - his mum better not be watching!

And what about poor little Juan Manuel? Taken from us so soon, from a loving caring family. We shall never forget him and the light he brought apon our own lives. How should we best remember him? I know,let's bury him right outside the front door - it's what he would have wanted.