Stop the Express was a game for the 48k ZX Spectrum, created by Hudson Soft, who are best known for their work on the PC-Engine console, and also some great console games such as the Bomberman series. The game was published by Sinclair Research in 1983 as part of a series of games promoted by Sir Clive’s in-house team.
Casting you in the role of an action hero in the style of James Bond or Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, your objective is to traverse the length of a moving train in order to stop it, and thus prevent some unexplained tragedy from occurring. Set over 2 main stages, the game saw you start at the rear of moving train, with carriages that take up most of the screen. The movement of the train is indicated by passing telegraph poles in the background and the ground scrolling beneath the train.
Working from the final carriage on the right, towards the front of the train on the left, the first stage took place entirely on the roof. To progress to the front of the train required you to jump between carriages, whilst avoiding overhead gantries which could know you off. You also had to deal with the intentions of the evil “redmen”, who rather than communist sympathisers were actually red men, armed with throwing knives which had to be avoided with a well-timed duck or jump. The redmen could also be dispatched with a flying kick, knocking them off the roof, or by catching a passing bird, which could be let loose to dispatch the evil henchmen.
Any contact with a knife, gantry or the red men would see you thrown from the train, as would mis-timing a jump between the carriages. Make it across the roof of 10 carriages and the first level is complete, and you then move inside the train for the second level.
Once inside, you are now attached from the front by red-men, and have no birds to come to your aid. To avoid the flying daggers you can jump and hang from the straps attached to the ceiling, but don’t linger too long as a ghost (yes it’s also a haunted train) will attack you and knock you down. Your only weapon once inside the carriage is your flying kick, which can be used to see off the red men.
Once you reach the end of level 2, which comprises of 10 more carriages, you are greeted with the immortal words – Congraturation! You Sucsess! To this day I have no idea how this made it through quality control for UK gamers, or whether it was an intentional piece of “Engrish” intended to spice up the game and give it an exotic flavour. On completion of the second level, you are back to the start, with increased difficulty in the form of more enemies, which later attack you from both sides.
Difficulty wise, Stop the Express game did suffer from control issues, with 7 separate keys for running, jumping and ducking left and right, as well as button to release the bird. With a compatible joystick however the game became much easier to control.
This is a highly original game, and looking back it’s a surprise it did not have more of a following – CRASH magazine gave the title 80%, and Sinclair User described it as an “industry stardard”. Your Sinclair actually had the game as number 4 in it’s list of the top 100 Spectrum games of all time, but the game somehow did not receive the same adulation from Spectrum owners – except maybe me, it was one of my favourites.
Stop the Express was also Commodore for the 64, and due to the Hudsonsoft connection, Japan’s MSX compatible machines.