ZX Spectrum Games You Must Play

Classic 8-bit gaming with the ZX Spectrum

The humble Spectrum, known as the "Speccy" to its many fans.

The delights of the ZX Spectrum may be unfamiliar to many American readers. But as one of the very first home computers aimed at a mainstream audience, the humble machine dominated the European market for years.

It's easy to see why. The rise of the ZX Spectrum led to an industry of bedroom programmers, producing games ranging from thoughtful to eccentric to downright strange. In many ways, it can be seen as the early eighties precursor to today's PC indie scene.

Any modern gamer owes it to themselves to check out the Spectrum and see what made the computer such a prominent presence in the early days of gaming. From shooters to strategy to adventures, the Spectrum had it all.

But where to start? Pick yourself up a Spectrum Emulator (The ZX Spectrum emulation scene is one of the very few to have taken the legal route, negotiating with copyright holders. So you can rest easy in the knowledge that you aren't doing anything legally dubious). Then head over to the essential World of Spectrum and download some of the following games.

Not all of them are the generally accepted classics or even that well known. But all of them contain that special something that made the Spectrum so much fun.

Laser Squad

Julian Gollop, the creator of the seminal XCOM series, spent many years putting out games for the Spectrum. The vast majority of his games for the system are worth checking out. But Laser Squad is as good a place to start as any.

Featuring the turn based strategy gameplay Gollop was to become justifiably famed for, the most impressive thing about Laser Squad was the range of scenarios offered. From heading up a squad of corporate assassins to fighting your way through an alien infested valley, there was a myriad of possibilities to explore.

The range of tactics was similarly diverse. You could send your squad in carefully, sweeping the ground gradually and flanking your opponent. Or you could just stock up on rocket launchers and blow throw the walls.

The two player option only added to the appeal. Although the lack of online multiplayer meant you had to close your eyes while your opponent moved.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit should never have existed. It was ambitious to a ridiculous level. Real time adventuring, with all of the nonplayer characters doing their own thing while you tried to solve the game. One of the first ever attempts to model physics seriously on a home computer. And all this with a mere 48k of memory.

Did it succeed? Not exactly. But it was a glorious, messy attempt.

Try it out and you too can thrill as Thorin manages to get himself killed by wargs at the worst possible moment.

The Great Escape

Inspired by the classic World War 2 movie of the same name, The Great Escape found you as a prisoner of war trying to escape from a camp that wasn't actually called Colditz but might well have been.

Slower paced than many ZX Spectrum games, the first part of the game was best spent studying the routine of the guards and working out the layout of the camp. Only with patience would you be ready to even consider escaping.

When you finally attempted escape, the game came into its own. Rare for games at that time, there was more than one path to victory. Each required its own tactics and equipment, giving the game real replayability value.

Add to that some of what were the best Spectrum graphics ever and a genuine feeling of tension throughout the game. It's no surprise that The Great Escape is still talked about as one of the true video gaming classics today.

Skool Daze

A sandbox game more than a decade before Grand Theft Auto was even conceived, Skool Daze allowed Spectrum owners to play in their very own school based comic strip.

With obvious nods to classic British children's comic characters like the Bash Street Kids, the game starred naughty schoolboy Eric and a cast of amusing stereotypes.

There was a plot of sorts, involving Eric trying to falsify his school report, through the convoluted method of hitting the school shields to hypnotize the members of staff into giving the combination away.

But that was soon forgotten by most players, as they ran around school beating up the bully and found themselves being tattle-taled on by the school swot.

You could even change the character names and get your own back on your real school bully.

It was also notable for requiring the players to find out the date of an obscure battle. In the days before the Internet, this leads to many a teenager going to the library to find out exactly when the Battle of Clontarf took place.

Elite

A space trading simulator and the first truly open world game, Elite was groundbreaking.

A procedurally generated universe meant that the universe truly was a place of unknown bounties and dangers. Not only that, but you didn't have to stick to trading. Other options included mining, bounty hunting, military missions and, for the less ethical among us, piracy.

Originally a BBC Micro game, the popularity of Elite meant that the game was quickly ported to all the important home computers out there. And the Commodore 64.

The game's impact is still felt today, with CCP Games giving it credit as one of the main inspirations for the EVE Online MMPORG.

Aspiring space pilots should make sure to check this one out. But watch out for those Thargoids!

Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina showed that the Spectrum could manage bizarre art games as well as anyone.

It was genuinely quite mad. Borrowing heavily from Shakespeare's As You Like it, the player is taken on an hour long journey from the cradle to the grave.

Not only was the game itself like nothing seen before, it was a multi media pioneer. The game came on two tapes. One was machine code. The other a fully synchronized soundtrack, to be played alongside the game. The latter came with an all star cast, featuring John Pertwee of Doctor Who fame, pub rock stalwart Ian Dury, and camp comic favourite Frankie Howard.

Perhaps inevitably, Deus Ex Machina was a commercial failure. The games refusal to conform to commercial conventions meant retailers refused to stock it and the game was sold solely through mail order.

But as an underground art classic, Deus Ex Machina deserves all the accolades it garnered.

Beaky and the Egg Snatchers

Another sample of the ZX Spectrum at its gloriously oddest, Beaky and the Egg Snatchers was a platform game of the likes that had never been seen before.

The titular Beaky, a goggled Andromeda Armed Condor, was only trying to make sure her chicks were born and raised. But the evil alien Egg Snatchers were out to stop her.

The game is made up of three main sub-levels (12 levels overall). Firstly, Beaky gets the eggs into the nest while the Egg Snatchers try to steal them. Then Beaky needs to keep the eggs warm until they hatch, fighting off aliens with snowflakes. Finally, Beaky needs to feed worms to her chicks, waiting for them to reach adulthood.

Then a new Beaky is born and the sequence starts all over again.

For the time, both the speed and smoothness of the game were phenomenal Beaky and the Egg Snatchers may not be a famous Spectrum game, but it's certainly one with a lot to offer.

The Trap Door

Based on the kid's television show of the same name, The Trap Door brought the weird and wonderful characters to life on your very own television screen.

From show staples Berk, Boni and Drutt, to entirely original giant egg laying birds and flame breathing wheeled monsters, it was this novelty that gave the game its unique charm.

It was helped by the graphics, which were truly impressive considering the limitations of the hardware. It really did manage to capture the essence of the television show perfectly.

Knight Tyme

Part of the Magic Knight series, Knight Tyme saw the pint sized medieval hero somehow find his way onto an obviously Star Trek inspired space ship. (There are plot reasons for this, but they were too lengthy and complicated to go into here).

The gameplay is puzzle based, with a menu of possible combinations to choose from when trying to help Magic Knight on his adventures. Alongside this, full advantage is taken of the setting, with the ability to journey to various planets and star systems. (Some of which can be visited via the teleporter).

A very early example of the menu based adventure, Knight Tyme has stood the test of time (or should that be “tyme?”) with gameplay that still appeals and challenges for the most modern of gamers.

Jack the Nipper

One of the ZX Spectrum's finest adventure platformers (a genre that sadly seems to be out of fashion in the modern gaming world), Jack the Nipper allowed players to release their inner naughty child.

It probably couldn't be made now. Modern sensibilities would object to the fact that Jack gets “spanked” by adults he comes across.

But there's nothing quite as satisfying as finding yourself in the garden, just when Jack happens to be clutching a large can of weed killer.

Truly, being bad never felt so good.

Renegade

A fine conversion of the arcade machine beat em up, Renegade was one of the grittier offerings on the Spectrum.

The hero flying kicked, punched and knee groined his way through a variety of opponents, from bikers to prostitutes.

As was typical of games taken from the arcade, it was also ferociously difficult. If you weren't prepared, the first level would instantly see you go down in a flurry of attacks from your opponents. In the worst case scenario, they'd just punch you onto the subway tracks.

With a fine mixture of challenge and atmosphere, Renegade is a must see for any fan of classic side scrolling beat em ups.

Sam Flintlock
Sam Flintlock

Despite rumours to the contrary, I am not in fact William of Malmesbury. I like music, video games, history and cats. Not necessarily in that order.

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ZX Spectrum Games You Must Play