Category Archives: Old Computers

Bugaboo! retro review for the ZX Spectrum


Back in 1983 the choice of Spectrum games was pretty limited, but one that stood out for me was this game – Bugaboo! Written by two (probably) Spanish zoologists (Paco & Paco) and it shows, with the game premise seeming somehow European…

Bugaboo ZX Spectrum
Bugaboo Spectrum screenshot
The objective of the game was incredibly simple. Your frog (it was actually a flea called Bugaboo but I thought it looked more froggy) is dropped into an alien gorge, and you had to use the natural features of the landscape to jump out. Controllled using just two keys, to jump left and jump right, the game required you to time the length of the key press to make Bugaboo safely jump the right height to a ledge above him.

To complicate this, the jump meter was very twitchy, and difficult to judge accurately. There was also a time limit imposed by a dragon, who would fly in after a certain period and try to eat you. Just to add a bit more drama to the proceedings. A bit like the big chicken in Chuckie Egg.

Bugaboo Gameplay Video


Bugaboo Cassette Inlay
Bugaboo Cassette Inlay

To help matters you could use the cursor keys to browse the playing area, which is bigger than screen, and plan your jumps several moves in advance, plotting a course through the maze of ledges.

Bugaboo featured some well defined and colourful graphics, which complimented the simple yet addictive gameplay. I can remember playing for hours at a friend’s house and getting in trouble with mum for coming home too late. I also remember copying the game using a twin cassette recorder, and for this Quiksilva I am truly sorry.  If it’s any consolation the game refused to load every time, and I spent more time playing with the tone control on the cassette player than I ever did playing the (pirated) game.

A winner from Quicksilva, a novel idea very well executed the (then) fledgling Spectrum.

If you want to read more, a history of the game can be found here – useful if you an speak Spanish though

10 reasons why the BBC Micro was an underated classic

BBC Micro
BBC Micro
The BBC micro has some passionate fans, but it never really managed to generate the sort of passion reserved for some of the more popular home computers of the early 80’s such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Maybe it was the association with the BBC, maybe the fact that it was used in schools, perhaps the price tag put people off, whatever the reason, it just doesn’t seem to attract the kind of fanatic devotion that surrounds other home computers of the time.

I am here to set the story straight, and put my case for why the BBC was a true classic and deserves a loftier place in the annuls of home computer gaming history.

1) The Graphics

mr ee! for the BBC Micro
mr ee! for the BBC Micro
Whilst Spectrum owners had to put up with with a single graphics mode and some fairly horrific attribute clash (only 2 colours could be displayed in any 8 x 8 square of pixels), the BBC had multiple graphics modes, and was able to replicate arcade games of the time very accurately and in full colour. Arcade perfect clones of Frogger, Defender, Pac Man, Space Panic and Donkey Kong were therefore possible, all running at full speed and providing the closest thing to the arcade at home.

2) The Sound

Simple one this, 4 sound channels on the BBC meant that some pretty good sound effects and music could be played simultaneously. The Spectrum could only claim one sound channel, resulting in the strange kind of warbling bleep and white noise mixture that accompanied most Spectrum games. There were add-on packs for the Spectrum in an attempt to address the sound limitations but nothing that really became a standard for gamers.

3) Great arcade conversions

Before copyright infringement was a major issue for games developers, it was possible to produce fairly blatant rip offs of arcade games and not even have to change the name – Defender being a great example on the BBC. The speed, sound and graphical ability of the BBC micro meant that games could be reproduced with a level of accuracy not possible on any other home platform of the time. My personal favourite is Mr Ee!, a perfect rendition of the popular arcafe game Mr Do!, and the main reason for me buying a BBC micro. It may seem basic by today’s standards, but you just couldn’t get this close to the 80’s arcades without braving a trip to Southend.

4) A proper keyboard

Anyone familiar with the Spectrum will declare their love / hate relationship with the rubber keyboard. With almost no feedback, and only a click to tell you you have managed to press a key, it also required a maddening combination of CTRL, SHIFT, ALT and CAPS to achieve the most basic of data entry. Contrast this with the BBC, with a full keyboard more like a word processor, and keys robust enough to take a hammering from unruly schoolkids, it made the perfect programming device, and allowed for great control in multi-key games such as Elite and Revs.

5) Disk drive connectivity

Unlike the Spectrum, which had to make do with temperamental cassettes to load games, the BBC had a proper disk interface. This allowed 3rd party 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drives to be utilised in order to store programs or load commercial games in the (relative) blink of an eye. Remember that at this time there were no internal hard drives, so when you turned on your home computer it was like you had never used it on before, with no recollection of your previous visits.

The Spectrum had a micripodrive later in life, as well as a Rom interface, neither of which were a massive commercial success. Chalk one up to the Beeb!

6) BBC Basic

Back in the day before Visual Basic, context sensitive help and predictive typing, there was BBC Basic. A great learning tool, you could type hundreds of lines of code and store them on tape or disk for later use, with a full parser built in to trap errors along the way. Contrast this with the Spectrum and its “parse as you go” coding, and horrible keypress combinations, it took forever to enter even the most simple code. God help anyone who attempted to type in a game from a magazine (yes you could do that), 4 hours later and the code would not work, or the Spectrum would crash and you would lose the lot.

7) Educational value

The main reason for the existance of the BBC Micro was its selection as part of a national programme for education of IT in schools. Many adults in the UK today will site their first real computer experience being with the BBC Micro, learning to program using BASIC or LOGO, or solving puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi.

Beating an alternative offering from Sinclair in the selection process, the BBC Micro can claim unique educational value as a home computer. Fortunate students could convince their parents to shell out the 300-400 quid required buy a BBC Micro, purely for the educational advantage offered to them (not to play games, no that was purely a fringe benefit). Being the local “computer expert” when I was at school, I would often be asked by frustrated parents to come around and “fix” a wayward BBC for them.

I even completed my A level computing project on a BBC Master system, as it was used at my 6th form college.

8) Launchpad for some classic retro games

Elite BBC Micro

I have raved about the arcade clones released on the BBC, but it was also home to some classic original games. Take your pick from puzzler Repton, space trading game Elite (released first on the BBC), platformer Frak!, racing simulation Revs and shooter Strykers Run. There were some very loyal software developers for the BBC, most notably Superior Software and MicroPower, who alongside in-house team Acornsoft produced the vast majority of the games on offer.

Check out for some great reviews of classic BBC titles.

Of course the BBC could never challenge the Spectrum for the volume or variety of games available, but it did host some unique titles that were not (or could not) be ported to other home computers of that era.

9) Grange Hill

The BBC Micro on Grange Hill

You may think I’m just running out of reasons, but no, the BBC Micro was (probably) the only home computer to ever appear on 80’s childrens TV show Grange Hill. The program was famous for kick starting the careers of stars such as Todd “Mark Fowler” Carty, and er that teacher bloke that was the baddie in Star Wars… and many others.

Respect is due.

10) Fred Harris and Computer Live!

Whilst not a feature of the machine itself, the BBC dedicated an entire TV series to the machine, called Computer Live, featuring eccentric presenter Fred Harris. It was the BBC who commisioned the creation of the machine in the first place, as part of their educational mission to bring computing knowledge to the masses. The show highlighted the many ways a home computer could be used to manage finances, help with word processing, solve logistical problems and even play games (admittedly this was mainly chess). No other machine at the time can boast a companion TV programme!

Top 10 Spectrum Games: the best Speccy games ever!

Games every ZX Spectrum owner should play

Every ZX Spectrum owner will have had their own personal favourites on Sinclair’s popular home computer, and I have drawn up a list of what I believe to be the best. My Top 10 is based on my experiences of innovative games, that even 30 years later will spark fond memories of the fantastic little machine.

You could claim that I have made some noteable exclusions, such as footballing classic Match Day, perennial favourite 3D Death Chase, and various games featuring the Spectrum mascot Dizzy. All I can say is that this is my list, and I have my reasons for every game included here.

I have also included a mix of 16k and 48k Spectrum games, as I owned both versions and early arcade titles that fit into the smaller memory could be just as good as the (relatively) memory hungry versions. Remember this is a time when their were no hard drives, every game had to be loaded from tape (or usometimes micro-drive) directly into memory whenever you wanted to play.

So in no particular order, my Top 10 Spectrum games…

Jet Set Willy

Every Spectrum owner will have played one of Matthew Smith’s classic Spectrum platformers starring Miner Willy. The first game, Manic Miner, was a sensation and its sequel, Jet Set Willy was even better.

Jet Set Willy ZX spectrum screenshot

Having made his money in the first game, Miner Willy has bought a huge mansion and held the mother of all parties. Before he can go to bed, the housekeeper is inisiting on him tidying up the place, requiring him to explore the many rooms of the mansion and collect various misplaced objects. The first really good attempts at a platformer on the Spectrum, these games featured many tricky hazards including conveyer belts, melting walkways, devious enemies and also required some pixel perfect jumping skills. Jet Set Willy improved on the linear nature of the first game by allowing free movement between the rooms of the mansion, creating a truly unique sequel.

Knight Lore

Knight Lore ZX Spectrum screenshot

This was the first game from Ultimate to feature the innovative Filmation graphics engine, which enabled rendering a game world in isometric 3d. This viewpoint was subsequently used in a number of classic Spectrum games including Head over Heels and Batman. Knight Lore itself was the third in the series of Sabreman games, this time our hero suffering from a nasty case of Lycanthropy, resulting in him spending half the game in werewolf form as he explores a huge castle seeking a cure. Each room of the castle featured puzzles and obstacles to overcome, in order to access the ingredients required to place in a central cauldron and create a potion. A smash at the time, it was a huge leap ahead in terms of graphics on the Spectrum, and set a standard for other games to follow.

Atic Atac

Atic Atac ZX Spectrum screenshot

At the time this “haunted mansion” themed game seemed epic, a colourful and action packed game like nothing before it on the Spectrum. Your mission was to play as one of three medieval characters, each with different skills and different routes that must be taken through the game. Find the various pieces of key, avoid or kill the numerous monsters, and fight your way to the exit. This game featured some great graphics, shown from a top-down perpective, and some well animated creatures – but my favourite component was the chicken based life-meter which shows your character’s health.

One of many Spectrum games that required you to draw a map as you progressed in order to remember your way the next time, often resulting in lots of bits of A4 paper selotaped together as your map grew ever larger and more complicated.

Click here for the full review


Underwurlde ZX Spectrum screenshot

The sequel to Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde transported the hero Sabreman to a underground world, which saw him turned on his side and become a platformer rather than a top-down adventure. Much like Atic Atac and Sabre Wulf before it, the gameplay required you to explore a complex series of rooms, avoid baddies, and find specific items (in this case weapons) in order to escape. Along the way Sabreman would be required to jump gaps, climb ropes and ride on bubbles in order to traverse the huge maze of over 500 screens.

Some might say 3 Sabreman games in the the Top 10 but each had a different graphical style and unique gameplay elements that merit their inclusion.

Skool Daze

School daze ZX Spectrum screenshot

Another game that could really only work in the UK, Skool Daze was the closest thing to a Spectrum version of popular 80’s TV show, Grange Hill. Your mission was to survive the various challenges that school threw at you, from grumpy teachers through to evil bullies, and uncover the combination to the school safe, which held an incriminating report card. Get caught using your catapult, or any other number of misdemeanors, and you will be given lines, too many lines and you are expelled.

Another game featuring classic British humour, this was a unique game concept that was platformer, simulation, puzzle and adventure in equal parts, and a firm favourite with many Spectrum owners.

Daly Thomson’s Decathlon

Daley Thomsons Decathlon ZX Spectrum screenshot

Famous for its ability to destroy joysticks, Daly Thomson’s Decathlon was a clone of the Track & Field arcade game, which required players to bash buttons and waggle joysticks furiously in order to make the on screen characters run, jump and throw their way to athletic victory.

Ocean’s version for the Spectrum featured popular decathlete Daley Thomson, and gave the player the opportunity to take part in all 10 events. The game featured some great animation, although slightly strange graphics in that the black Olympian was portrayed as an all-white sprite – probably more due to the limited colour palette and attribute clash issues of the humble spectrum than anything else. My personal favourite was the Javelin, which required maximum speed and just the right throwing angle in order to get a qualifying throw.

A great game and must feature in any Spectrum fan’s Top 10 list.

Click here for the full review

Sabre Wulf

Sabre Wulf ZX Spectrum screenshot

The third game from Ultimate in my Spectrum Top 10 game, this featured the first outing of Sabreman, reappearing in Underwurlde, in wolf form in Knight Lore, and finally as a wizard in Pentagram. Sabre Wulf was an adventure set in a huge flick-screen world of lush vegetation, back in the day when there were no maps on your head up display, if you wanted to find your way through the many screens you had to get busy with a pencil and paper. Avoid the jungle critters, collect 4 pieces of the amulet and you were free, but not without a long battle with numerous enemies and a lot of back-tracking through the game’s 256 screens. An obvious inclusion for my list of Top 10 Spectrum games.

Everyone’s a Wally

Everyones a wally ZX Spectrum screenshot microgen

Microgen released the much loved series of platform / adventure games featuring the affable Wally on a number of platforms including the Spectrum. All of these games featured large colourful sprites and challenging gameplay, culminating in this version which allowed players to adopt the personas of various members of the Week family. Each had special skills which had to be used to full effect in order to solve the various puzzles required to complete the game, and each had their own health bar which had to be independently maintained.

A novel game with some innovative features, most Spectrum owners will have at least one Wally game in their collection.

3D Ant Attack

3d Ant Attack ZX Spectrum Screenshot

Before Ultimate kicked off the craze for isometric adventure games, Quicksilva gave us 3D Any Attack. Set in a scrolling isometric 3D world (think Zaxxon with movement in 4 diagonal directions), the objective was to rescue your partner, boy or girl depending on your chosen character. Avoid the giant ants, and climb ever more complex structures to locate your mate and escape the city, armed only with a few grenades with which to stun the overgrown insects.

Another unique Spectrum game, this was a great retro memory for me and still playable today.

Chuckie Egg

Chuckie Egg ZX Spectrum screenshot

This game was available on a number of platforms, and everyone has their favoirite, but I loved the Spectrum version. As a farmer charged with collecting eggs from around a multi level henhouse, you used some fairly atheltic running and jumping skils to navigate the various levels and platforms whist avoiding the resident hens. Take too long to complete the level and the Boss Chicken would escape his cage and chase you around the level.

Some frenetic gameplay and excellent controls ensured that an apparently simple platformer became an enduring Spectrum classic and a dead cert Top 10 inclusion.

Pyjamarama for the ZX Spectrum

Pyjamarama was part of the series of Microgen platform games, including “Automania”, “Everyone’s a Wally”, “Herberts Dummy Run” and “3 weeks in Paradise” that starred our hero Wally Week.

Pyjamarama ZX Spectrum
Pyjamarama ZX Spectrum
Playing the part of the sleeping Wally’s “dream” alter ego, the object of the game was to explore the many rooms of Wally’s house, find a key to wind up the alarm clock and wake Wally ready for work. Each screen featured a number of platforms, allowing Wally to navigate to different locations through doors linking the various rooms.

This involved finding objects which could be used to solve puzzles, unlock rooms, and exchange objects for other objects which would eventually lead to the key. Controls were simple, just left right and jump. The player could carry up to 2 items at a time, and picked up the items by walking over them. Puzzles in Pyjamarama were solved by using the right combination of items, and therefore the game became a memory test of what items were left where.  This would necessitate manual documentation of the screen layout, something that gamers of the early 80’s will be intimately familiar with – rather than the system plotting where you have been with a helpful map screen.  This lead to pieces of a4 graph paper being taped together to recreate the map when you ran out of space, or until you bought the latest copy of CRASH! magazine which often included a handy map for games like Pyjamarama.

To complicate matters, various enemies patrolled Wally’s dream world, and contact with them drained Wally’s “snooze energy”, and ultimately lead to a loss of life. Lose 3 lives and the game was over.

I had the Spectrum version of Pyjamarama, and was blown away by the large colourful graphics that seemed to avoid the worst colour clash that the Spectrum was prone to (only having two colours in any one 8×8 pixel portion of the screen at a time).

Pyjamarama was also released on the C64 and Amstrad CPC.

Snapper retro game review for the BBC Micro

Acornsoft’s Classic PacMan Clone

Snapper was one of the many quality arcade conversions that Acornsoft created for the BBC Micro, being a very faithful example of Pac Man. Anyone who remembers the early 80’s will have experience of Pac Man clones on every platform, many of them pitifully poor (yes Atari 2600 I’m talking about you).

Snapper BBC Micro
Snapper on the BBC Micro, or is it Pac Man?
Most consoles or home computers of the time did not have the graphical capability, and just couldn’t to replicate the complex maze structure. So the results were often a compromised mess that whilst playable, did not give you that “arcade at home” feel that gamers at the time craved.

Arcade Clones on the BBC Micro

This is where the BBC Micro shone due to its graphical capability being much closer to dedicated arcade boards of the time. Strange in that the BBC was an experiment in education, to teach IT in schools, and not designed as a games device. And yet the rendition of Pac Man was so faithful in Snapper that Namco took offence, and later versions of the game replaced Pac Man with a sort of grapefruit, and the ghosts with generic monsters.

Snapper's revised graphics in later versionsAll other aspects of the arcade game are retained in Snapper, including the power pills and bonus items (with the Acorn bonus item a nod to BBC owners), and even the ghosts eyes escaping back to the central area after being eaten.

Rather than the ghosts in the BBC version having set patterns, they patrol their own corners of the maze, before breaking out to home in on the Pac Man. As the game progresses the ghosts become more aggressive, breaking out of the pattern earlier to chase you.

Snapper was a great PacMan conversion due to the graphical capability of the Beeb and a world away from the famously rubbish attempt on the Atari 2600.

Snapper gameplay on the BBC Micro

Frak! retro review for the BBC Micro

Back before the word Frak! became a swear word on the most recent incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, or a controversial form of mining, it was a 1986 platform game on the BBC Micro. My friend had a BBC Model B and a Sony colour monitor, and we would play Frak! for hours, as well as the excellent Mr Ee! (a clone of the arcade game Mr Do!).  The game was written by Nick Pelling under the Aardvark Software brand, although he preferred to be known by the name Orlando M. Pilchard.

Frak! on the BBC micro

Frak! game for BBC Micro
Frak! Screenshot for the BBC Micro
You control a caveman called Trogg, who had to traverse various platforms and defeat monsters armed with only a yo-yo. Timing had to be pixel perfect, and Trogg could only fall a short distance without dying – with no floor, falling from the edge of a platform often meant instant death. The game itself was not exactly Chuckie Egg in terms of speed, with progress more of a puzzle than a rush through the levels. Trial and error was often the way to progress, plodding your way through the various obstacles to collect the keys to the exit and complete each of Frak’s 3 basic levels.

Along the way you would meet one of three stationary monsters, whose touch was deadly, so you had to work your way around them or destroy them your yo-yo. In addition to the monsters, balloons would rise from the bottom of the screen, and daggers would fall diagonally down the screen, and colliding with either would also end in death. Fortunately you could also destroy them with a well timed yo-yo strike.

To score extra points you could collect light bulbs and jewels that are dotted around the platforms, often in out of the way places that made your journey longer and more treacherous.


After completing 3 levels the game screen turned itself upside down and you would play again, a novel way of extending the life of the game by re-using graphics, important when you only have 32k of memory to play with. Most toasters these days have more than this.

Most memorable for the fact that the caveman would cry “FRAK!” in a speech bubble whenever he died, clearly a way of swearing without swearing, ultimately influencing the writers of Battlestar Galactica (possibly). The back story for the game was never really clear to me though. Why was he a caveman? Why did he have a yo-yo? Why monsters, if he was a caveman why not sabre-toothed tigers or mammoths? Perhaps we will never know.

Frak! was also released on the Electron (I had a copy of this and it was monochrome and very disappointing) as well as the Commodore 64, but the BBC Micro version was the original and best.

For and interview with the developer head on over to the BBC Games Archive.