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Top 10 Atari 2600 Games

The Atari 2600: The original Retro Gaming Console

The Atari 2600 console was one of my earliest video game experiences as a child growing up in the 80’s, having several friends who owned one, but I never had one myself until around 10 years ago, when I started collecting retro video games.

As an early arcade manufacturer, Atari were able to produce some classic home conversions of their popular coin-ops, allowing gamers to experience the “arcade at home” that we all longed for at the time. That’s not to say that the Atari 2600 didn’t have it’s share of exclusive titles, with some fantastic original games being produced for the console.

The graphics on the Atari 2600 were fairly basic, and the gameplay restricted by the design of the processor, but it supported a surprising array of titles, and skilled programmers were able to work around its limitations to produce some amazing games.  So much so that a list of the 10 best games barely scratches the surface of the little wooden Atari’s excellent back catalogue.

The Atari 2600’s popularity was also its downfall, suffering from an avalanche of “shovelware”, with a huge volume of poor quality software released as companies jumped on the video game bandwagon. Ultimately this contributed in a crash that took the games industry several years to recover from.

But we are not looking at shovelware here, far from it, as I look at some of the greatest games ever created for the Atari 2600 console.

Atari 2600 Top Ten Games

Pitfall

Atari 2600 PitfallBox ArtMy introduction to Pitfall was via the arcade version which I stumbled across whilst on a family holiday. Remember this was a time when video games consisted of mainly of Pong, and the idea of controlling a character who could run, jump and swing across the screen was something truly magical.  The term “platformer” had not been invented at this stage, when all arcade games were referred to as Space Invaders.

The inevitable home conversion on the Atari 2600 was a revelation, managing to capture the spirit of the original game in all it’s “flick screen” platform glory. The pits, rope swings, scorpions, alligator filled lakes and rolling logs were all there, as you embarked on an Indiana Jones style mission to get to the 32 treasures spread throughout thegame, and get back in one piece before the time runs out.

Pitfall was seminal, in that it marked a move away from the “quick fix” of arcade inspired titles before it, having a 20 minute duration and more open world feel.

 Ms PacMan

Atari 2600 PacMan vs Ms PacMan
PacMan (top) vs Ms PacMan (bottom)
The story of the original Atari 2600 PacMan is the stuff of gaming legend – a truly horrific conversion that is held up as the beginning of the end of the first era of videogames, heralding the great crash of the early 80’s. The original game was made in huge volumes, on the expectation that everyone (pretty much anyone who owned a 2600) would want a copy, but it was so poor that many of them ended up in a New Mexico landfill which was rediscovered in 2014.

The sequel Ms PacMan was effectively a PacMan 2, and second chance for Atari to perfect the format on the 2600, and the result was indeed perfect. All of the horrible screen flicker of the original was banished, replaced with a detailed (if condensed) maze, characters that actually looked like the original arcade version, and some decent sound effects.  Most importantly it was fun to play, unlike the original 2600 version, and deserves a place in the Atari 2600 Top 10 games of all time.

River Raid

The vertically scrolling shooter has been a hugely popular video gaming genre, but the Atari 2600 had relatively few of these games due to the difficulty in creating the scrolling effect on the limited graphics hardware.

Atari 2600 River RaidRiver Raid however managed to work around these limitation to create a hugely playable shooter that is a firm favourite with Atari 2600 fans.

The game featured some novel risk / reward elements, such as the need to refuel your ship on a regular basis by flying over fuel depots, which often required you to fly perilously close to the canyon walls.  There were also multiple enemies to be avoided or destroyed, from fighter jets to helicopters and warships, and bridges that needed to be taken out before you crashed into them.

River Raid was famously banned in Germany due to the level of aggression and destruction on display, only being permitted many years later to allow its inclusion in a PS2 anthology.  They missed out on a great Atari 2600 game!

Space Invaders

The original “must have game”, Space Invaders was the title that lead many people to purchase an Atari 2600 in the first place, such was the interest in owning a home version of the classic arcade game from Taito.

Atari 2600 Space Invaders
Space Invaders
All of the features from the arcade were there, including the descending alien ships, bonus mothership, defensive shields and sound effects that increased in tempo as the on screen action became more frantic.

The number and shape of the aliens may have been different, but Atari compensated for any cosmetic variations by introducing multiple variations in the game, with features such as 2 player, moving shields, invisible aliens and zig-zagging missiles.  In fact there were so many variations of the Space Invader format that up to 112 unique game types could be played.

The standard game however is still the best, and the reason that the game sold in the millions. Space Invaders is a game that no Atari 2600 collection should be without.

Defender 2

Much like PacMan before it, the original Defender game on the Atari 2600 had a number of key differences with the arcade original that made it less than perfect, for example….

The second game, which was titled Defender 2 on early versions but renamed Stargate later to mirror the Arcade sequels to Williams classic horizontal shooter.

Atari 2600 Stargate Defender 2All of the key features were there in the game, which focused on a lone pilot defending the surface of a planet that was several screens wide, and preventing aliens from picking up the inhabitants and converting them into hideous mutants. Your only guide to the location of the aliens was the radar at the top of the screen, allowing you to locate the aliens before they kidnapped the humans, or rescue any humans that had already been accosted.

Somehow, despite the variation in graphical detail of the 2600 compared to the arcade version, which also included a complex control system that used a joystick and 3 different buttons, Atari pulled off the impossible and created a perfect port of Defender.

Missile Command

Missile Command Atari 2600
Missile Command
Much has been written about this seminal game, a smash hit for Atari and one of the most fondly remembered from early 80’s arcades. There was huge gamer demand for a home conversion for the 2600, and it was a very passable effort. It was always going to be difficult to replicate the original, given that it used a trackball and 3 different fire buttons compared to the joystick and one button of the 2600, but the programmers managed to replicate the feel of the game if not the actual look and control scheme.

But putting aside the differences, it is a great game in its own right and very playable, and another solid entry into the Atari 2600 Top 10 games.

Adventure

Atari 2600 Adventure
Adventure
Adventure was for many their first taste of an “open world” game, albeit one contained in a cartridge that wouldn’t be big enough hold the code for your toaster today. The objective of Adventure was to locate a chalice and return it to it’s home in the Yellow castle, and along the way battle dragons, avoid troublesome bats and solve problems using items found along the way. Swords kill dragons, keys unlock doors, magnets drag items from inaccessible areas, everything has a purpose which is automatically revealed when you carry the item into the right location.

Although space was tight on the Adventure cartridge the developer found space to create one of the world’s first video game “Easter Egg’s”, where an invisible object could be carried to a particular room resulting in a display of the author’s name.

Adventure was a great game, unique at the time and playable even today.

Combat

Atari 2600 Combat: Bi-Plane Battle
Atari 2600 Combat: Bi-Plane Battle
As one of my earliest video game memories, Combat will always represent what is best about 2 player video gaming – where the competition is fierce but fun, and what starts out as a quick game becomes “best of 3” then “first person to 10” and ends up in an all night gaming marathon.

Taking a very simple premise a dogfight, 2 players start in different parts of an arena and have to position themselves so that they can shoot the other player before they shoot you. The arenas in question vary from aerial battles in the sky between 2 pilots, to land based battles between rival tanks, but always with the same objective. The aerial battles differ in that your planes have to keep moving and require deft control to get into an attacking position, whereas tanks can remain stationary and rely on walls for cover – more a game of cat and mouse.

There were 27 different variations in the game, including jets as well as bi-plane battles, different types of terrain and cloud cover and different missile types including guided missiles controlled by the joystick once fired.

Better than Pong, Combat took the two player gaming experience to a new level and delivered an Atari 2600 classic.

Asteroids

Asteroids Atari 2600
Asteroids Atari 2600
Much has been written about the original asteroids, a game that used unique vector graphics and an oppressive soundtrack that ramped up as the titular Asteroids filled the screen.

Asteroids was an important game for Atari 2600, another reason to own a 2600 console and play the game you loved in the arcade.  Given the basic nature of the graphics the game had no right to exist (see my full review of Asteroids for the Atari 2600) but Atari managed to pull off the impossible task of making it playable – if not graphically identical.

Although the Asteroids were solid, and the ship could only fly in one of 8 directions, the game was great fun and managed to capture the spirit of the original.

Kaboom

Kaboom for the Atari 2600
Kaboom! Miss and you lose a bucket
Kaboom is one of those Atari 2600 games that you just had to be there to appreciate – the premise being one that would fail to shift a free to play iPhone game today, it’s that basic.  Your job is to foil the evil plot of the “Mad Bomber”, identified by his stripy jumper, catching the bombs he drops from the top of the screen in your bucket.  And that’s about it.

The secret of Kaboom on the Atari 2600 is the addictive nature of the gameplay, as you whizz around the screen in your paddle controlled bucket collecting explosives thrown by the increasingly erratic bomber.  The game doesn’t end until you reach the high score of 999,999 – by which you will have been steering your bucket for nearly 3 hours, and with no reward apart from the knowledge that you have mastered one of the Atari’s 2600 best games.

The best of the rest – Atari 2600 Games outside of the Top 10

There are a few games the deserve an honourable mention, including arcade greats Frogger, Pole Position, Pong, Joust, Galaxian, QBert  and Centipede, all of which were every popular on the Atari 2600.  I also had  soft spot for Phoenix in the arcade which was replicated on the humble 2600, as well as Phoenix clone Demon Attack.

Although ET was rubbish, there were some other successful film tie-ins, my favourite being The Empire Strikes Back where you get to take on an Imperial AT-AT Walker in a snowspeeder, just don’t try any of the other Star Wars games on the Atari 2600 as they were mostly terrible.

If you are after an original space shooter for the Atari 2600, you could do worse that try out the excellent Yars Revenge, which should maybe have been in my top 10 as Atari’s second highest selling game after Pac Man, and it’s highest selling original game.  Rather than multiple enemies, you need to battle a single enemy through a force field by breaking through its defences and avoiding its homing attack.

And no review of the top Atari 2600 games would be complete without a mention of Haunted House,  an early example of “survival horror” which was as memorable for the disturbing box art as the game itself.

Playing Atari 2600 Games Today

Atari 2600 Console Box
Atari 2600 Console Box
I should probably be pointing out all of the different Atari 2600 emulators available, so that you can try out some of these great games, but that would miss the point of this console.

You need to experience tuning a TV to the right channel, blowing the dust out of the cartridge slot, untangling the wires and then hitting the power switch.  You need to see the brightly coloured screen fizzle into life, select the right game mode and then bash the single big orange button on your joystick to start the game.  Check out my own Atari 2600 renovation project if you want further inspriation.

So  get yourself onto ebay, and pick up a console with a bunch of mixed cartridges for less than the price of a new XBOX or PS4 game.  Just like I did.  You won’t regret it.

My Top 10 Sega Megadrive – Genesis Games

An All-Time Top 10 List of Games for the Sega Megadrive – 10 is not enough!

The Sega Megadrive (Genesis in the US) created many a playground row, mainly with loyal Super Nintendo owners who insisted that their machine was superior.  In reality both were great machines, capable of producing arcade quality graphics, and each with its own catalogue of unique games.  Today I’m looking at the best games for the Megadrive, based mainly on my personal favourites. I’ve also backed up with some research and feedback from the web, retro games forums and my friends on Twitter.

Sega Megadrive Genesis
Sega’s 16 Bit Megadrive Console

For a console that had many hundreds of quality games released, this is no mean feat. I think any Megadrive owner will find something here to relate to – if not please let me know the error of my ways!


So without further ado, my Top 10 Sega Megadrive Games of all time.

10. Aero Blasters

Sega Megadrive Aero Blasters
Aero Blasters

The Best of the Megadrive Shooters

The Megadrive had no shortage of great shooters, from the ThunderForce series to the fantastic Gynoug, but for the me the best was a game from Namco called Aero Blasters (aka Air Buster). Unlike some shooters which are overly reliant on the amassing of a huge arsenal of weapons in order to progress, Aero Blasters focuses more on old school avoidance tactics.  Progressing to later levels requires a steady hand and memorising ship movements and bullet patterns, presenting a real challenge to even the most hard core shmup fan. The levels themselves are hardly groundbreaking, featuring shooter staples ranging from bright coastal areas through to dark caves and mechanised fortresses, as well as huge and fiendish bosses to defeat. What the game does do well is maintain a fantastic pace, with no hint of slow down despite the huge number of enemies, bullets and explosions that seem at times to completely fill the screen.

No Megadrive Top 10 would be complete without a decent shooter, and although it was a tough choice with so much to choose from, Aero Blasters is my pick of the bunch.

9. Golden Axe 2

Sege Megadrive Golden Axe 2 Box Art
Golden Axe 2 Megadrive Box Art

Golden Axe was one of those arcade games that was best played with a friend – and once you got started it had to be played through to the end.  The first conversion for the Megadrive was a great game, and the sequel was, basically, the same.  But better!

There is a bit of a “sequel” theme running through this Top 10, where games that were already good are made truly great with small but significant enhancements.  This is true of Golden Axe 2 which is identical to the first game, set in a fantasy medieval world, where you play as one of 3 warriors, a barbarian, an Amazon and a dwarf battling through 7 stages to defeat the evil Dark Guld. Where the sequel differs is in the small details, the improved fighting moves, more controllable magic, as well as better character and background graphics.

Many people criticised Golden Axe 2 for being being too similar to the original, but experienced in isolation it is a great game, and a firm favourite amongst Sega Megadrive owners.

8. Strider
Sega Megadrive Strider
Strider vs. Gorilla Boss

The 16bit Megadrive was ideally suited to arcade conversions, and Sega had a great back catalogue of games to plunder. We’ve already covered Golden Axe in this Top 10, and the next game to get the home makeover treatment is iconic platformer Strider. Famous for its huge sprites, multiple mini bosses and incredibly detailed graphics, Strider at times feels more like an animated film than a game.

Your character, the Strider of the title, runs, somersaults, dives and slides acrobatically through the 5 varied levels on a mission to defeat the evil Grand Master.  Along the way Strider must defeat all manner of enemies, with the help of his mechanised pals, including an eagle, and a huge robot panther.

As well as being one of my Top 10 Megadrive games, this is also one of my favourite arcade games, and you can read the full review here.

7. Revenge of Shinobi

Sega Megadrive Revenge of Shinobi
Revenge of Shinobi Box Art

The Shinobi series of games follows a tradition of side-scrolling platform games, such as Ghouls & Ghosts and Contra, that offer players a real challenge, games that require patience and continued play in order to progress – a contrast to many of today’s “casual” games.

Revenge of Shinobi is the second game in the series, and sees your character Joe Musashi battle against the criminal Zeed clan, who have kidnapped Joe’s wife in revenge for their defeat in the first game.  Joe uses traditional Ninja weaponry including throwing knives and stars to fight his way through 8 levels, starting in Tokyo and finishing up in New York.  In addition to his weapons, Joe also has access to special magical attacks that can act as smart bombs, wiping out multiple enemies, as well as improving jumping and defensive capabilities.

The bosses in Revenge of Shinobi are famous for including likenesses to  famous comic book characters, Batman and Spider Man, and for a cameo from Godzilla.  Later versions were adjusted for legal reasons, although Spider Man was officially licensed and was retained in all versions.

6. Rocket Knight Adventures

Attack of the Armoured Opossum

Sega Megadrive Rocket Knight Adventures
Rocket Knight Adventures

Video games are not short of bizarre animal mascots – such as Sonic the Hedgehog, or Crash Bandicoot, but none quite as strange as Sparkster the Opossum, star of Rocket Knight Adventures.  Konami’s game was a side scrolling platformer similar in style to Gunstar Heroe’s, featuring slick animation and huge screen filling battles and explosions.

Rocket Knight Adventures features a complex storyline, which can be boiled down to Opossums vs. Pigs.  Sparkster was the most heavily armed marsupial ever, having a full suit of armour and a working rocket pack, which could be used in short bursts to traverse obstacles and attack the enemy porkers.  Some of the gameplay and animation is reminiscent of Metal Slug, with various vehicles such as tanks being used by the enemy forces.  As well as classic platform levels, there are shooter style flying levels, with Sparkster shooting waves of enemies attacking from the right of the screen.  There is a great sense of humour in the gameplay, with some wonderful sprite animation, as well as huge multi-part bosses that require use of the rocket pack to attack weak spots.

Rocket Knight Adventures never had the following of many

10 reasons why the BBC Micro was an underated classic

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.

BBC Micro
BBC Micro

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

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.

Elite BBC Micro

Check out http://www.bbcmicrogames.com/index.html 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

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.