Tag Archives: ZX Spectrum

Stop the Express for the ZX Spectrum

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.

Stop The Express Cassette Art
Stop The Express Cassette Art
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.

Jumping Jack for the ZX Spectrum

Jumping Jack was released for the Spectrum early in it’s lifetime in 1983, and was one of my earliest experiences of Sinclair gaming in colour. Looking at it now, it would barely pass muster as a free flash based app, given it’s basic graphics and incredibly simple gameplay. But if you consider that the ZX Spectrum was for many people their first colour computer, and that they had previously had to make do with the blocky black and white graphics of the Sinclair ZX81, Jumping Jack was still a revelation.

Jumping Jack - ZX Spectrum Screenshot
Jumping Jack – ZX Spectrum Screenshot

The premise of Imagine’s game is simple. Jack must reach the top of the screen by jumping through moving holes in the 8 platforms above him. Time the jumps correctly and you pass through the hole onto the next level, time it badly and collide with the platform and you are momentarily stunned. You could also be stunned by falling through one of the holes that move beneath you – fall far enough back to the bottom level and you lose a life. To complicate the challenge further, every jump would create a new random hole somewhere, increasing the potential risk. The holes themselves would travel in both directions, and rise up the levels as they wrapped around the screen, requiring some quick thinking in order to progress. Fortunately Jack could also wrap around each level, giving you an extra escape route when the holes start to close in.

Once you reach the top the level is complete, and you progress to the next which has more holes, and then monsters that inhabit the platforms and must also be avoided, including planes, buses, snakes and strangely what appear to be angry shotgun wielding farmers.


The graphics used could hardly be called cutting edge, with Jack being a crudely drawn but well animated stick man, and the monsters simple coloured sprites. The fast pace however made up for any graphical weaknesses, and resulted in a surprisingly addictive game which took time to master. Magazines at the time lauded the game for it’s playability, despite the basic graphics which hardly compared with other games released in 1983. Remember this was the year that Ultimate released the excellent Jet Pac, and Quickskilva introduced 3D isometric gaming with Ant Attack.  Jumping Jack therefore represents the last of it’s kind, a simple Spectrum game that whilst good, would not cut it amongst the new wave of developers pushing the Sinclair machine to its graphical and gaming limits.

The game was also released on the Atari 800XL and the Dragon 32 as “Leggit”.

Fruit Machine Simulator for the ZX Spectrum

Fruit Machine Simulator
Fruit Machine Simulator by Codemasters

I’ve always been partial to a bit of a flutter, and I was particularly drawn to the fruit machine and casino game simulations on the early home computers.  Due to the relatively simple graphical requirements of these early games, they would often appear as listings in magazines – I can remember spending hours typing in a BASIC listing for a really very mediocre offering.

The Spectrum had it’s fair share of commercial fruit machine and casino games, which were launched 20 years before the availability of online gaming sites such as partybingo.com, and casual gaming apps for Blackjack and Poker on iOS and Android devices.  Home computers really were the place to be if you wanted this kind of gaming experience outside an arcade or Bingo Hall.

Back in the early 80’s the arcades were not only full of great games, but also the more traditional slot machines which had to become more exciting in order to retain the attention of their shared audience.   As the fruit machine developed more features and become more game-like, rather than just repeatedly spinning reels waiting for a win, it was only natural that home computers would be the natural target for fruit machine simulators.  The home computers at the time were owned by a much wider demographic than that of the equivalent consoles, which were targeted at the under 18’s, and unlikely to release these kinds of games.

Fruit Machine Simulator
Fruit Machine Simulator

My first experience of these games was Codemasters Fruit Machine Simulator, a popular distributor of budget games, this one being available for £1.99, which was probably about right for a niche game of this kind.  The game attempted to recreate the feeling of a fruit machine of the time, which started to feature special bonus games as well as just matching fruit.  The simulation centred around the usual Fruit Machine formula – match fruits to win, or hold fruits with numbers on to light up the bonus letters until full, unlocking the bonus game.  Once unlocked the bonus game could earn you extra cash through features such as a skill stop, my personal favourite, where you had to time a key press to stop a flashing light at the right time and increase the cash prize.

The game received mixed reviews at the time, ranging from tedious to brilliant depending on your perspective – I loved fruit machines so I loved the game, I am sure there are other who just wouldn’t get it.  Play it in isolation of a real Fruit Machine and it just wouldn’t be the same.

Looking back, the game seems representative of a time when we were still working out what home computers were for, people would experiment with different programs to see what worked and what didn’t, as we didn’t really have a frame of reference, and everything was a first.  I’m sure you would struggle to get interest in this kind of game as a free browser based application today, but in the 80’s it was yet another reason to fire up the Spectrum and try something new.  Plus you didn’t risk losing your pocket money to the one-armed bandits.

Chuckie Egg Spectrum vs the BBC Micro

What was the best version of Chuckie Egg?

Back in the 80’s my friend Jason and I would share time playing between my humble ZX Spectrum and his much more powerful (and expensive) BBC Micro. Many of the games that we played were exclusives to that platform, with few titles spanning both computers. At my house we would be playing games such as Manic Miner and School Daze, and at his house games such as Mr Ee! and Frak, There were some exceptions however, such as Yie Ar King Fu, which always gave rise to arguments about which one was best.

Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum
Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum

The biggest argument debate of all centred on Chuckie Egg, the classic platformer from A&F software that featured a farmer and some very grumpy chickens, battling out for farmyard supremacy. Both versions had their fans, as both were excellent games in their own right, but which version of this classic performer really was the best?

There’s only one way to find out……FIGHT!

Round 1 – Chuckie Egg Graphics

The graphics on the Beeb were always deemed better than the Spectrum, due to the bright colour palette and lack of attribute clash on the BBC Machine.

Chuckie Egg for the BBC
Chuckie Egg for the BBC Micro

That said, the characters in the game were intentionally small, lending themselves to the Spectrum’s less colourful but higher resolution screen, with the Beeb version using the chunkier low resolution screen mode.

The animation on the Spectrum was incredibly smooth, with each jump forming a perfect arc, and the animation of the birds spot on, but this can also be said of the BBC version, which always managed to produce great scrolling graphics.

So for me that’s round one to the Spectrum, edged slightly into the win by the clarity of the graphics.

Round 2 – Chuckie Egg Sound

The Spectrum was always going to struggle with soudnd being it’s Achilles heel. The tiny internal beeper (speaker is probably too strong a word for it) had to fight for space with all of the Spectrum’s other internal parts, and could only emit a vague beeping noise on one measly sound channel. The BBC however had a great 4 channel sound chip and internal speaker, which allowed for great sound effects and some proper synthesised tunes.

As a consequence, many Spectrum games had no music at all, and Chuckie Egg was no exception. All the lowly Speccy could manage was a series of clicks and buzzes to accompany the action on screen. Strangely, given the greatly enhanced sound capabilities of the BBC, it was exactly the same as the Spectrum, almost as if the BBC version was emulating the earlier Spectrum version.

So that’s has to be a draw, with a point for each, making the score 2-1 to the Spectrum.

Round 3 – Chuckie Egg Gameplay

Always going to be a tricky one this, as many people will have favourites based entirely on the game they played, as few people would have had access to the game on both machines at the time. Looking at this clinically, a replay is required of both games on the original hardware, which I am lucky enough to possess, so no emulators for me… or at least that was the plan.

After a bit of messing around with cassettes and my trusty WHSmith tape player, which was part of the challenge of playing games back in the day, I gave this up as a bad job and fired up my PC to access the emulator software after all. Time had not been kind to the already sensitive tape and I couldn’t get either game to load via cassette.

Playing the games on a PC emulator is much simpler, and at least allows me to use a keyboard to control Henhouse Harry, as nature intended on the originals. First up the Spectrum version, and it’s not long before I have Henhouse Harry leaping about like a lunatic. The pace of the game is frantic, but due to the excellent collision detection you could leap onto ladders half way up, and clear gaps easily without having to the jumps perfectly – unlike arcade forebear Donkey Kong which was famously difficult to time your movement.

Playing the BBC version straight after the Spectrum and it definitely feels different, but difficult to immediately put your finger on why. After a while, you realise that the BBC version actually has more realistic physics – Henhouse Harry’s jumps are subject to gravity as he decelerates when jumping up and accelerates when dropping down. This may be more realistic but it actually make timing jumps more easy on the Spectrum, with Harry maintaining a regular speed regardless of how high he jumps or how far he falls.

For this reason alone I find the Spectrum version easier to play, as you get into the zone and zip through the many screens capturing eggs and avoiding the giant chickens.

So for me the third round also goes to the ZX Spectrum.

Verdict: 3-1 to the ZX Spectrum

Despite the games playing in a very similar way, with virtually identical graphics and sound, the Spectrum just edges it for me, but the 3-1 score does not really do justice to the BBC version, which was an excellent game and has many fans. Perhaps my semi-scientific approach is not really appropriate when comparing these versions of Chuckie Egg – perhaps you are always going to favour the game you played as a kid, and for me my favourite will always be the Spectrum.

Yie Ar Kung Fu for the ZX Spectrum

Yie Ar Kung Fu started life as an arcade game released by Konami in 1985, having features that were seen for the first time in a fighting game, including multiple opponents, a health bar and multiple special moves. This really was the birth of a genre which has spawned 100’s of one on one fighters, including series such as Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Caliber.

Yie Ar Kung Fu ZX Spectrum
Yie Ar Kung Fu ZX Spectrum
The Yie Ar Kung Fu game on the Spectrum was a faithful rendition of the original game, and featured a martial arts master, Oolong, whose mission was to fight through a series of bouts against increasingly difficult competitors. Moves were achieved through the joystick and a punch and kick buttons, and included jumping attacks. With practise you could pull off moves such as leg sweeps and roundhouses, which were needed to defeat each of your opponents different fighting styles. Whilst not the first game to feature hand to hand combat, earlier games such as Kung Fu Master had a very limited move set, with basic punch and kick moves. The Spectrum version of Yie Ar Kung Fu managed to replicate all 16 special moves from the original arcade game, providing a great variety in the approach to defeating each opponent. This did however mean that playing on the keyboard required use of 9 different keys, and so a joystick really was the preferred option.

This video is the enhanced 128k version with fancy fonts and improved music and effects

Yie Ar Kung Fu advert
Yie Ar Kung Fu advert

The winner is the first to 10 points (or hits) in a single bout, each hit reducing the opponents life bar, a feature that carried across to pretty much every fighting game that followed. Each of your 10 different opponents had unique moves and attacks, some armed with weapons such as swords, nunchaku, chains and throwing stars. A different strategy was required for each, dodging attacks and timing your strikes at a moment of weakness.

The graphics of the Spectrum version of Yie Ar Kung Fu were detailed, if a little less colourful than on other conversions, mainly due to the Spectrum’s attribute clash issues. But this didn’t stop it from being a great game, and remembered fondly by many Spectrum owners.

Along with “Way of the Exploding Fist”, this game represents the height of fighters on the Spectrum (a machine not ideally suited to the genre) and is memorable for being my first experience of a proper fighting game.

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