Category Archives: ZX Spectrum

Daley Thompson’s Decathlon for ZX Spectrum

Like many sports games, definately a game “of it’s era”. Who over the age of 35 could forget Daley Thompson’s cheeky performances in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics? He was a hero to every boy in the UK at the time, me included, and I once got to meet him at my local athletics club, albeit fleetingly…

Daley Thompsons Decathlon
Daley Thompson Hurdles

Anyway, this game was loosely based on Konami’s Track and Field, and was notable for 2 reasons:

1) Daley Thompson was a black athlete, and yet (probably due to the Spectrums dreadful pallette and colour clash) he appeared in the game as a totally white sprite

2) Daley Thompson’s Decathlon broke a LOT of joysticks due to the frantic waggling required to make Daley run – you could use the keyboard but the rubber membrane would also give up the ghost after too much bashing.

Like the regular Olympic event, the game is set over two days in which Daley must compete in the 100 metres, long jump, the shot, high jump and the 400 metres, 110 metres hurdles, pole vault, discus, javelin and finally the 1500 metres.

Using a similar approach to the Track and Field game on which it is based, waggling or button bashing is required to build speed, and buttons pressed at the right time to either jump or throw depending on the event. My personal favourites were the Javelin and the High Jump, which required both speed and perfect timing in order to progress.  Each event required a certain score to qualify and move on to the next stage.

Despite looking a bit pale, Daley himself had some very smooth animation, with reactive controls that enabled some pixel perfect jumps to be executed, important at the later stages of the game which became very tricky.

 

The game was followed by 2 sequels on the Spectrum, Daley Thompson’s Supertest and Daley Thompson’s Olympic Challenge, as well as conversions for the Amstrad CPC and C64, but it was the original Spectrum version that will be best remembered by retro gaming fans.

JetPac for the ZX Spectrum by Ultimate Play the Game

A new kind of game for the Spectrum

JetPac was one of the first of the games released for the early 16k Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer, and developer Ultimate managed to fit a lot into the tiny memory. This game didn’t fit into any easily definable retro gaming genre, as it had a number of elements, being part shooter, part action-platformer.  What it did do was deliver to early adopter Spectrum owners the arcade experience they had been looking for in their humble home computer.

Jetpac gameplay gif
JetPac for the ZX Spectrum

JetPac Gameplay

Due to the memory constraints of the basic 16k Spectrum model, JetPac did away with multiple screens and stuck to a very simple formula. Use your JetPac to collect space ship parts that fall from the sky, kill the aliens that try to attack you, build a rocket from the parts and take off in it when its complete. Then do it all over again, repeatedly, until you die. And that’s it.

JetPac loading screen for the ZX Spectrum

Despite the simple premise, one which would not hold the attention of many 10 year old game veterans today, Ultimate managed to build a sense of achievement into JetPac, as well as a desire to progress further through the game. You were pushed to tackle just one more screen, in order to see a new alien type with a different attack pattern. Every few screens you would get a new rocket, starting with an Apollo 13 style vehicle, and ending with a space shuttle (Tetris on the Gameboy also did this as a reward for completion).

There was also a great sense of colour in the game, from the garish alien designs to the multi coloured laser blast, but again due to memory limitations the only sound was the squeak of your laser and the plop when the aliens were destroyed.

Jetpac Spectrum Game Screen
JetPac screenshot on the ZX Spectrum

JetPac was a masterstroke of packaging in a time when memory was incredibly expensive. Developers Ultimate had to think about not only the gameplay but how they could most effectively fit it into the space available, and maximise the number of Spectrum owners that could play the game.

Jetpac forZX Spectrum Cassette Inlay
Jetpac forZX Spectrum Cassette Inlay

JetPac Critical Reception

Reviews of Jetpac on the ZX Spectrum were overwhelmingly positive, with several contemporary magazines lauding its graphics, gameplay, and overall design. Crash magazine praised the game for its “colorful and well-defined sprites,” deeming it “one of the best-looking games on the Spectrum.” The gameplay was frequently highlighted as a standout feature, with “Crash” describing it as “immensely playable and addictive,” while “Your Spectrum” echoed these sentiments, calling it “fast-paced and engaging, with responsive controls.”

Jetpac is a real scorcher…fast and frenetic gameplay that will have you coming back for more

Your Sinclair Magazine (1983)

Although the sound was recognized as basic due to the hardware limitations, it was still considered effective and adequate for the gameplay experience. The consensus among critics was that Jetpac was a landmark title for the ZX Spectrum, combining visually appealing graphics with compelling and addictive gameplay.

JetPac on other platforms

The success of JetPac on the ZX Spectrum lead to conversions various home computers of the era, each with their own strengths and limitations.

Commodore VIC-20 Version (1983)

The VIC-20 version of JetPac is much closer to the Spectrum than the BBC version, with almost identical graphics and gameplay. The game relied on an 8k expansion pack being fitted to the VIC-20, although still less memory than the already tiny 16k of the Spectrum.

The VIC-20 version of JetPac was a huge success, like the Spectrum it stretched the boundaries of what was possible on a simple home computer, and a standout title for the Commodore 64’s baby brother.

Vic 20 JetPac
Vic-20 version of JetPac

There was never an official release for the Commodore 64, but unofficial conversions exist online.

BBC Micro Version (1984)

JetPac on the BBC Micro was visually different to the Spectrum version, with more chunky graphics and a quite basic sound effects. Gameplay was marred by annoying aliens which were incredibly difficult to avoid, resulting in a frustrating gaming experience.

JetPac for the BBC Micro
JetPac for the BBC Micro

JetPac Sequels and Modern Revivals

Ultimate have survived to the present under different brands and owners, and as such have been able to sporadically revive the JetPac franchise.

Lunar Jetman (Ultimate – 1983)

Lunar Jetman was released by Ultimate the same year as JetPac, and is probably the closest thing to a true sequel to the original game.

In Lunar Jetman you had a buggy to ride around the planet surface, with items scattered across a map which was much larger than the side-scrolling screen.  You still had to exit the vehicle to collect the items, and return to the buggy to refuel your JetPac. The mission in Lunar Jetman was to destroy 3 enemy bases using bombs that first had to be located and transported.

Lunar Jetman
JetPac sequel Lunar Jetman

Development for the 48k Spectrum allowed more depth of gameplay and variety of graphics than the original, and it even featured voice synthesis if you had a Currah Speech Pack. It’s difficult to describe how excited I was to play Lunar Jetman on its release, and I wasn’t disappointed.

a worthy successor to JetPac

Crash Magazine (1983)

Solar Jetman (Zippo/Rare – 1990)

JetPac’s author Ultimate later transitioned to “Rare”, and in 1990 rebranded one of their acquired titles as Solar Jetman. The game was originally developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Zippo games, who were bought by Rare during the game’s development.

The links to JetPac and Lunar Jetman are tenuous, as there is no actual Jet Pack in the game. It’s more a gravity-based game, similar to arcade title Gravitar, where the mission was to use thrusters to safely traverse rocky landscapes. As such it is a sequel in name only, and due to poor sales of the NES cart, never made it to the Spectrum or any other home computer.

Jetpac Refueled (Rare – 2014)

Jetpac Refueled was commissioned after Rare were acquired by Microsoft, the original JetPac game being refreshed as part of the XBOX Arcade series of games.

The original game was enhanced with modern graphics and sound, and a number of new features introduced including weapons upgrades, smart bombs and a speed boost. The game also featured a 2 player mode, both local and online, where players could compete for high scores and places on a global league table.

JetPac refuelled was a remake rather than a sequel, given the almost identical gameplay. Although modern reviews claim it was an improvement over the original, its impact on the gaming landscape of 2014 was nothing like that of JetPac in 1983.

Link to JetPac Refuelled on xbox

Final Thoughts on JetPac

JetPac, like many of the early 16k Spectrum games from Ultimate, showed what could be achieved with fairly basic computer hardware. With this title Ultimate set a new standard for gaming on the home computer platform for other developers to follow, and established them as the premier games developer for the platform.