yslogo.gif (1158 bytes)

THE YS TOP 100 SPECCY GAMES OF ALL TIME (EVER!)

July-November 1991

 NOTE: A MUCH PRETTIER VERSION OF THIS FEATURE CAN NOW BE FOUND HERE

Meet STUART CAMPBELL. He's a bit of a vintage Spec-chum, and works for Matt B on another Future mag, something to do with (spit) Amigas. But not today. Because, as we approach the tenth birthday of the Spectrum (sort of early next year-ish), he's consented to wander down to the bottom of the garden and let loose his searing opinion on the funkiest and most downright megabrilliant games ever to pop up on the Speccy. So over to you, Stu.

 

Spectrum games, eh? Don't you just love 'em? I know I do, which is partly why this top 100 was so bloody difficult to do. I mean, have you any idea how many Speccy games there've actually been? We're talking in the area of 10,000 and then some, so I'm sure you can imagine how hard it was to pick out just 100 of the best. How can you do an all-time best Spectrum games chart without Sabre Wulf, for example? Or Wheelie? Or Brian Bloodaxe? Or Fairlight? Well, for my sins, that's exactly what I've done, and if you think there's anything wrong with it (as I'm sure you will), then why don't you just get - er, why don't you write and tell me? Anyway, it's round about this time of the day that I usually like to shut up and get on with it, so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, it's The Best 100 Spectrum Games Of All-Time...

 

 

 

100. ZZOOM (Imagine)

This was probably the first Speccy game designed with sadists in mind. In itself it was a zappy and challenging shoot-'em-up, but the most fun in Zzoom was to be had by mercilessly slaughtering the refugees you were supposed to be protecting and watching them spin up into the air in a bloodied mess. If you had the immense self-discipline needed not to do this, though, you could console yourself by playing a fast and smooth 3D blaster that was more than a little bit ahead of its time, as well as being probably the original Imagine's finest hour.

 

99. MAZIACS (DK 'Tronics)

The advertisements for this claustrophobic maze game (actually an update of Mazogs, probably the most popular ZX81 game ever) claimed that the fight sequences were choreographed with the aid of a real live stuntman, and for once you could almost believe it. It wasn't a game for arachnophobes, though, as seeing your brave little adventurer clamped broken-backed between the jaws of an evil spider-like Maziac was enough to put a shiver up the spine of all but the most stout of heart. Maziacs was a game with more character than a thousand Turricans, and more horror than all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies put together.

 

98. PHEENIX (Megadodo)

There are people who would have you believe that Pang, or Toki, or even Midnight Resistance represents the pinnacle of the art of Speccy coin-op conversion. Not so. The true zenith was reached as far back as 1983, with this flawless copy of the arcade game Phoenix (forerunner of this year's Megapheonix from Dinamic). It's still the zappiest Space Invaders-type shoot-'em-up there is, and if you don't need higher education to play it, who gives a monkey's?

 

97. MINED OUT (Quicksilva)

There aren't many games in this top 100 written in BASIC. That much won't surprise anyone. What might surprise you is the quality of this one. Mined Out set the player down in an almost-blank screen full of invisible mines and challenged you to reach the other side with the aid of a mine detector which told you how many mines were beside you, but not where they were. The resulting logic puzzle made for one of the greatest mind-teasers ever devised, and when the later levels added a distinctly ponderous chaser, the frantic self-inflicted pressure could make a bald man of Jon Bon Jovi.

 

96. CRUISING ON BROADWAY (Sunshine)

Take a look at that screenshot. Does it look like the dullest thing you've ever seen on a Spectrum screen? If it does, think again, because to a veteran gamer it looks like a pic of one of the most addictive games ever to grace a computer screen. Cruising was a painter game, where you controlled a character square around a series of mazes made up of single-pixel lines, pursued by another character square (or on later levels, two other character squares). And that was all. The only way to discover just how compulsive it was, though, is to play it. Alternatively, take my word for it. I wouldn't lie to you.

Cruisin.gif (2335 bytes)

95. THE TRAIN GAME (Microsphere)

...or 'How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love British Rail'. Once you've played The Train Game, you'll forgive BR for every delay they've ever had, because the terrifying pressure brought on by trying to direct half-a-dozen trains simultaneously around a track with 26 sets of points, stopping them from crashing into each other or derailing, diverting runaway locos away from potential disaster and keeping five or six platforms full of impatient commuters happy all at the same time is almost too much to bear in a Speccy game, never mind doing it for real. A perfect difficulty curve leads you up the garden path, then The Train Game ties you to the tracks and runs over your head.

 

94. ROBOCOP (Ocean)

I shouldn't have to blow a trumpet for this game, and I don't need a drum either to beat up support for possibly the longest-running title on any computer games chart since the dawn of time. Robocop's mix of perfectly-executed sub-games kept it at No. 1 for almost a whole year after its release, and it's easy to see why. Almost certainly the best movie conversion job the Speccy's seen, and probably the best one it's ever likely to.

 

93. GYRON (Firebird)

It's almost inconceivable these days, but the reward for completing this game wasn't a naff little well-done message, or a pretty picture inviting you to buy the 'coming soon' sequel. Nope, for finishing Gyron, you got a Porsche. A real one. Of course, it wasn't easy, the team of mathematicians who programmed the maze and the movements of it's guardians to repeat only once every 10,000 years saw to that, but it was such an absorbing game that for many players, 10,000 years didn't seem too long to wait.

 

92. GREEN BERET (Imagine)

A pretty low-key release on the resurrected Imagine label, Green Beret nevertheless quickly became one of the Speccy's most-played games. It's hard to put your finger on quite why it works so well, you could certainly never accuse it of being too involved, but the utter simplicity defies you to accept that you've just been killed yet again, and makes you start another game almost before you've realised the last one was finished. I still play this game, and I've still never been to level four. 'Nuff said.

 

91. AVALON (Hewson)

In its time, Avalon was called 'the first adventure movie'. If that's true, it would have to be a David Lynch movie, because I haven't got a clue what's going on in it half the time. Still, you could well argue that this game was a direct ancestor of Fantasy World Dizzy and the like, with it's mix of adventure, puzzle, and arcade skills calling for a real all-in effort to make any progress. This wasn't a game to pick up for a few minutes, Avalon drew you in and demanded all of your attention, and it usually got it.

 

90. BOUNDER (Gremlin)

A strange fish, this. You played a tennis ball with a mission to bounce across a cityfull of skyscrapers, placed just closely enough together for you to be able to stretch from one to the next. At least it looked that way, but the frequency with which you found yourself plummetting to the ground, or impaled on some obstacle or other, suggested that there was trickery afoot. Of course, the next time, the next time you'd be ready for it...

 

89. COBRA (Ocean)

Humour and Sylvester Stallone aren't normally two things you associate with each other. Unless, that is, you've played this brilliant platform game where laser-sighted machine guns are hidden in hamburgers and babies in prams paralyse our hero with fear, enabling the bad guys to kidnap his sweetheart and then shoot him into lasagne. The connection with the dire movie was extremely tenuous, but the game was so much fun that nobody cared.

 

88. WHEELIE (Microsphere)

Another game where playing to lose was more fun than trying to win. Your motorbike-riding hero took such spectacular dives when you crashed him into a double-decker bus that it was well worth losing a life or five to see it. All the same, even when you got bored of that, Wheelie was a great game in its own right, with a gloomy, sinister atmosphere and a big level of challenge that made sure you'd be at it for quite a while. Undoubtedly the greatest underground motorcycling game ever made.

 

87. CODE NAME MAT (Micromega)

Or 'Mission: Alien Termination', which doesn't really convey the amount of brainpower called for in this second-generation Star Trek game which was probably the first to put you in control of more than one ship or character at one time. In many ways more complex than, say, Elite, it could still be played more or less as a straight 3D space shoot-'em-up, and it was this instant playability that made it such an enormous hit in its day. Yes, you too could blow up the entire solar system with Code Name Mat.

 

86. TRASHMAN (New Generation)

If I was to tell you that this game captured perfectly the feeling of being a dustbin man in a leafy suburb on a sleepy Sunday morning, would that make you want to play it? If not, you don't know what you're missing, because Trashman is just about the loveliest and most relaxing game you could ever hope for. Combining Frogger with Terry And June-style humour might not seem like the ideal recipe for a classic (and indeed it most certainly isn't), but in this case it works perfectly. Play it and love it.

 

85. GUARDIAN II (Hi-Tec)

Or Stargate by any other name. Williams' monster classic arcade games have been oft-imitated on the Speccy (most notably by Interstella's Defenda and Softek's Starblitz), but this angry giant of a game is the first one to truly capture that 'locked in a cupboard with a swarm of psychotic hornets' feel. Tough enough for all but the most dedicated zapper, this game will have you punching the keys off your Spectrum in frustrated rage. And then having another game. Unputdownable.

 

84. TECHNICIAN TED (Hewson)

This game set a whole series of standards in Speccy gaming. It was the first (and indeed, practically the only one to this day) to have an animated loading screen, the first to have pixel-perfect collision detection, and the first Manic Miner-type platform game to call more on brainpower than ladder-leaping precision. Not to say that there wasn't plenty of that needed too, though. Massively difficult but equally compulsive, Technician Ted was the peak of a genre, and the end of an era.

 

83. FOOTBALL MANAGER (Addictive)

Or the game that etched the face of a fat, bearded old man called Kevin unforgettably into the minds of 100,000 Spectrum owners. Written in BASIC and with a lack of depth bordering on the insulting, Football Manager still somehow contrived to be one of the most gripping games in the Spectrum's history. There isn't an FM player alive who hasn't found himself screaming at the players in the animated (ha!) highlights sequence, and the 101 tedious number-crunching copies that have followed it all somehow failed to grasp that this was just what made Football Manager so wonderful. Still unbeaten in its field. (Sorry.)

 

82. HYPERACTION (Silversoft)

One of the best games never to sell a dozen copies, Hyperaction was a Pengo-like puzzle game with addictive qualities that belied the simplicity of the two-rule gameplay. Years ahead of its time, this is the kind of thing that screams for a second chance, and it's a tragedy that so few people have ever had the chance to curse and swear at it. Write a letter to your favourite software house now, demanding that they buy it up and re-release it. Or would you rather play Sooty And Sweep for the rest of your life?

 

81. DARK STAR (Design Design)

Every picture I paint with a screenshot completely fails to capture the nature of Dark Star. Arguably the biggest cult game ever, the staggering speed of this game was what lifted it out of the mire and into the stratosphere, where only the best games can breathe the air. Like the arcade's Star Wars in many ways, Dark Star also boasted the best-named spaceship of all time (the Liar), the most redefinable front end of all time, the best high-score tables of all time, and the best giveaway Teletext spoof of all time. Er, okay, the only giveaway Teletext spoof of all time. (Nearly.) Trop belle pour toi.

 

80. SIR LANCELOT (Melbourne House)

If you've got any friends with 16-bit machines, complaining that their best games don't fit into 512K of memory, why not show them this? A classic platforms-and-ladders game with sharp graphics, loads of speed, and more addictiveness than a big bag full of really addictive things, Sir Lancelot was programmed in just over 9K. Yes, nine. Not only a great game, but an amazing feat to boot, it makes you wonder what they're feeding programmers these days.

 

79. ATIC ATAC (Ultimate)

In the first few years of the Spectrum's life, buying games was a fraught business. Software houses sprang up and folded daily, and gamesplayers had to suffer any number of pig-in-a-poke purchases. But there was an eternal light in the gloom - Ultimate. They took the Speccy closer to its limits with every release, and Atic Atac was only the first in a long line of true classics. The design is nothing out of the ordinary, but the care and attention lavished on every detail of this arcade adventure makes it a joy that anyone who calls themselves a games lover should own.

 

78. FLYING SHARK (Firebird)

This came out just around the time when software houses started releasing games on the 16-bit machines only, but it proved, if proof was needed, that the 8-bits were more than up to anything their big brothers could manage. In terms of gameplay this is a near-perfect copy of the coin-op original, and the graphics are as good as you could ask for. Not many players ever finished it, but if you fancy trying to join the elite, you couldn't ask for a better vertical shoot-'em-up to test your skills against.

 

77. GYROSCOPE (Melbourne House)

Marble Madness was something of a Holy Grail for Spectrum software developers in the 80s, but the only game which came close to the arcade's abstract beauty was this shameless clone. Slick and pretty, it was also fiendishly tough, and it kept many a talented gamer glued to their screen into the early hours of many a morning. The scrolling judders horribly, but in the game everything flows so well that you just don't notice.

 

76. THREE WEEKS IN PARADISE (Mikrogen)

Everybody's fool, Wally Week was one of the most unlikely computer gaming heroes ever. Pot-bellied and flat-capped, Wally and his lamentable family starred in a whole series of classic arcade adventures that probably more than anything led to the hugely popular Dizzy series and imitators which seem to make up half of today's Speccy releases. Three Weeks In Paradise was the most accomplished of the lot, and if you want a perspective, imagine Treasure Island Dizzy's sexy older brother and you'll be halfway there. Gormless but beautiful.

 

75. WRIGGLER (Romantic Robot)

There are, of course, hundreds of games which ask you to swallow your biological pride and play a worm, but Wriggler is undoubtedly the No. 1. Beautifully animated graphics, bright, lush colours, big scary beasties for enemies, and classic arcade adventure gameplay made for a game which could have changed the public perception of hermaphrodite non-vertebrates for ever, if only anyone had ever bought it. Wriggler had all this, and heavy metal too. Why don't you ever get free soundtrack tapes with games any more?

 

74. PANG (Ocean)

While this curious Galaxians-meets-The-Prisoner slice of harpoons'n'balloons tomfoolery isn't actually as original as everybody thinks it is, what's undeniable is that it's one of the best straightforward old-fashioned arcade games the Speccy's seen in a long time. A superb conversion of the coin-op, Pang is a game that'll have you blowing (up) bubbles forever, not to mention punching out your friends if you play the infuriatingly novel two-player option.

 

73. POPEYE (DK 'Tronics)

The Spectrum's straining technology was stretched to critical mass by this incredible game. Gorgeous graphics half the size of the screen, packed with non-clashing colour, stunned everyone who saw them, but they were only part of the appeal of a tricky arcade adventure with more imagination than most of its contemporaries put together. Programmer Don Priestly took the style even further with his subsequent (brilliant) Trap Door games, but Popeye is the original and best.

 

72. HIJACK (Electric Dreams)

Most of you should already know how good this strategy epic is, as we gave you it for free on the covertape a couple of months back. Still, it doesn't hurt to mention for the benefit of any latecomers that this is a game which proves the Spectrum is more than capable of holding its own when it comes to games of depth and intelligence. Surprisingly atmospheric, Hijack was also one of the most original ideas in years, and though it didn't sell worth a hoot, that's more an indictment of game buyers than of the game. Take the padlock off your brain and give this a go, you'll be pleasantly shocked.

 

71. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (Ocean)

Do you remember Frankie? The most controversial band of the 80s, parents said they were the classic example of a Catholic education gone wrong, but didn't the kids just love them? Ocean stunned everyone first by buying the licence, and then resisting the temptation to cobble together a quick rip-off platform game, presenting instead one of the most insidiously charming and bizarre games they'd ever released. Only a bug preventing it from being completed properly kept this one from the top 20, but it's still a bona fide classic.

 

70. G-FORCE (Euro-Byte)

Of all the Tempest games available for the Speccy, official version or clones, G-Force is almost certainly the most obscure, which is a shame as it's easily the best. Forsaking the tricky geometric shapes of the original for straight rectangular screens, Euro-Byte used the extra freedom this gave them to produce a game looking like no other on the Spec, with big chunky graphics zipping around the screen in huge numbers, and a level of speed which didn't let up no matter how much was happening on screen. This is a brilliantly frantic shoot-'em-up which recreates the spirit of the coin-op better than anything else I've seen.

 

69. MATCH POINT (Psion)

For some bizarre and unexplained reason, tennis has always been one of the most popular subjects for computer game writers (indeed, Pong, the first ever video game, was a tennis sim of sorts). This is one of the earliest attempts on the Speccy, and it can still show all the subsequent efforts a thing or seven about natural, uncomplicated-but-flexible controls, understated but beautifully-animated graphics, and a wide range of skill levels and other options to ensure that players of all ages, talents, and attention spans get never-ending enjoyment out of it. Unsurpassed.

 

68. TAPPER (US Gold)

Or as it would have been called if Code Masters had released it, 'Advanced Barman Simulator'. Yep, the sole purpose in life of your character in Tapper was to serve drinks to a never-ending flow of thirsty punters, who were apt to sling him the length of the bar if their (ahem) 'soda' wasn't delivered promptly. Cleaned up from the arcade original (where the glasses were filled with beer), this conversion nonetheless retained all the frantic fun of the coin-op, with a fair touch of humour to boot. Oh, and the dancing alien girls were worth seeing too...

 

67. THE WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST (Melbourne House)

The first real Spectrum beat-'em-up, and still the best. Fist's crisp, elegant graphics, instinctive control system, wide range of moves, precise collision detection and crunching sound effects make it more than a match for anything which has been released since. You really do wince when your fighter takes a punch in a sensitive area and crumples to the ground, and it's that character that makes this game stand head and roundhouse above all the competition. Inscrutably beautiful.

 

66. SPLAT! (Incentive)

Ah, speech on the Spectrum, I remember it well. Mostly it went 'mxchxtrrrbkstxtprrkkk', but in Splat! the joyous 'Yippee!' your character Zippy (an 'X' with legs) let out after completing a level was crisp and coherent. Amazingly though, it was just about the least impressive aspect of this enormously original and monstrously addictive scrolling maze game, where your character stayed in one place, the maze moved around, and the edges of the screen were the game's main danger. Deceptively fast-paced and always exciting, this is the kind of game that you just never see any more. What's happened to all the new ideas?

 

65. BATTY (Encore/YS)

This is still the best Arkanoid-style game available for the Spec (better in my opinion than even the hugely popular Arkanoid 2), with fast, smooth, and above all clear graphics, and a serious level of challenge too. You might think this would have made it a huge chart success, but Batty was never even released as a full-price game. First a covertape freebie with Britain's Brightest And Biggest Sinclair Magazine (you're reading it, dolt) and then a budget game, Batty was the best game Elite never put their name to.

 

64. BUGGY BOY (Elite)

Could this be the biggest central sprite ever seen on a Speccy game? Very probably, but Buggy Boy had rather more to recommend it than the huge and colourful dune-hopper you controlled. A racing game without racing-game pace, Buggy Boy compensated with big, bold graphics, lots of varied courses, and most importantly of all imaginative and addictive gameplay. Steering the buggy across a precarious and obstacle-littered bridge on two wheels is a challenge for the most talented, but mostly this game's attraction is pure and simple sweetness. And if that seems a bit of an intangible concept, try playing it. You'll see what I mean...

 

63. SCRABBLE (Psion)

This is really touching. Scrabble plays a great version of the classic word game (with an 11,000 word vocabulary in just 48K), but it's most endearing feature is that if you enter a word like 'QXWWVAR' on a triple word score box, it'll ask you if you're sure it's a legal word, then if you reply 'Yes', it actually believes you! What's more, it adds the word to its vocabulary, so that if you use it again, it won't even question it! Now that's what computers were always supposed to be about, none of this 'taking over the world' nonsense. Play Scrabble and feel superior.

 

62. THRUST (Firebird)

Another budget-only classic, Thrust borrows heavily from classic arcade games like Asteroids and Gravitar and then adds some serious physics to produce a tense and tricky game of precision manouevering and panic-stricken blasting. If you haven't battled against a Level 4 planet with reverse gravity and a heavy pod swinging beneath your spaceship threatening to slam you against a cavern wall in the blinking of an eye, then you just haven't lived, buddy. Can you believe this was released for just 1.99? I can't, and I bought it!

 

61. ERIC AND THE FLOATERS (Sinclair)

Crude, jerky graphics, simplistic gameplay, awkward control keys and dull, lifeless colour are just a few of the 'features' which completely failed to wreck the appeal of this strange and brilliant little arcade game from Japanese software house Hudson Soft. The only thing it really had going for it was the incredible addiction brought on by it's deceptively tricky nature and Tetris-style 'finish-the-screen-or-go-for-the-big-but-risky-bonus?' dilemmas, but then, what else do you need? That it's still getting rave reviews (in a slightly revised form) on the console machines is proof of just how timeless it's appeal is.

 

60. KNOT IN 3D (New Generation)

New Generation were one of the first software houses to write for the Sinclair machines, and they specialised heavily in 3D games, but this, for me, is the very pinnacle of their achievements. A kind of Tron light cycles game (you know the type), but set in a 3D spherical cube (look, play the game, you'll understand), Knot looked incredibly bizarre. To play it though, all you needed was a keen sense of spatial relations and fast reactions, and your reward was a gameplay experience which could be nothing short of breathtaking. Completely unique, and absolutely gorgeous.

 

59. HYPER SPORTS (Imagine)

Or The Game That Smashed A Thousand Speccies. Joystick-waggling (or keyboard-pounding) multiple-sports games were all the rage back in 1984, after the coin-op Track And Field (later converted appallingly to the Spec on an Imagine compilation) gave millions of arcade athletes blistered and bleeding hands for weeks, attempting to recreate the Olympics with two fingers. Hyper Sports was a touch more thoughtful than the rest, calling for skill and timing as well as pure brute force, but that didn't mean your machine wasn't going to take the most fearful hammering anyway as you strained realistically to lift the 250kg bar in the weightlifting section. Violent but beautiful. (Just like Wild At Heart)

 

58. OPERATION WOLF (Ocean)

More than anything else, Operation Wolf is a triumph of 8-bit practicality over 16-bit aesthetics. On the big machines, this is a great-looking copy of the arcade game rendered unplayable by disk swapping, but the Speccy version packs in all the arcade thrills in a fast-moving game of massive slaughter where the action never lets up. One of the most mindlessly violent games ever, Op Wolf spawned a hundred clones, but none of them matched it for sheer brutality, speed and slickness. This is such a good game, you won't even miss the plastic machine gun.

 

57. DUN DARACH (Gargoyle)

I had a really hard time picking out just one of Gargoyle's series of games (also including Tir Na Nog, Marsport and Heavy On The Magick), but in the end the overwhelming atmosphere of Dun Darach won out. A whole city was yours to explore, complete with bars, gambling houses, and all manner of shops where you could even get a job to make yourself a spot of cash. In fact, there was even an area containing, er, 'houses of ill repute', but Gargoyle locked it off to avoid getting into trouble... Dun Darach was one of the most involving games ever written, and if you haven't already, I strongly suggest you invest in a back issue of YS (it was on the covertape on Issue 63), cancel all appointments for a week, and discover it for yourself.

 

56. BOUNTY BOB STRIKES BACK (US Gold)

The sequel to what was almost certainly the first ever platforms-and-ladders game, although that game (Miner 2049'er) didn't ever appear on the Spectrum. Bounty Bob Strikes Back took a pretty traditional approach to the timing-and-climbing style, but the screens were all so ingeniously designed and the whole thing was so carefully and thoughtfully designed that it transcended the formula to be one of the most playable games ever in the genre. Un-Speccy-like graphics gave it a unique look too, and there's no harm in that.

 

55. SABOTEUR (Durell)

Famous (well, these things are relative, it depends how old you are) for being The Game That Didn't Give You Any Points For Shooting The Dogs. ('So why bother?', as the manual pointedly asked). Actually, this was a masterful piece of psychology, as the dogs (guard dogs in the installation you were attempting to sabotage) snapped at your heels so annoyingly that you really wanted to kill them, but couldn't because your conscience wouldn't let you. This of course meant that you got yourself killed with embarrassing regularity, but you just couldn't bring yourself to do anything about it. Damn sneaky. (Oh, and it was a great game too, incidentally).

 

54. RASTAN (Imagine)

This is one of the very best-looking Speccy coin-op conversions ever, with big, sharp graphics and atmospheric backdrops giving it a real feel of the epic arcade game. Rastan itself was by far the classiest of a whole slew of generic muscle-fantasy orc-slashers which were popular a couple of years back, and this port retains all the elegance - and all the violence - of the original. As a game it's far from the most innovative piece of design ever, but the best of any genre is always worth having, and that's exactly what this is.

 

53. PING PONG (Imagine)

Ping Pong? Oh yeah, great idea for a computer game, I must say. Imagine my surprise, then, when I played this Konami coin-op conversion and found it to be one of the most absorbing and playable sport sims ever. Your bat follows the ball, leaving you only the playing of the actual shot to worry about, which frees you of all that tedious trogging around and makes the game a pure exercise in tactics and reactions. Slick presentation and brilliant music add to the enjoyment of this simply beautiful piece of software. Ping Pong is an object lesson to programmers everywhere in How To Do It Properly.

 

52. JUMPING JACK (Imagine)

And continuing in our series of Screenshots With Lots Of Lines In Them And Not Much Else... Jumping Jack is every bit as simple as it looks, but the duff graphics hide a game of almost frightening addictive qualities. All you have to do is jump through moving holes to the top of the screen, but miss one and Jack falls stunned to the ground, and while he regains his compusure you can be sure that another hole will sneak up on him, until he ends up back at the very bottom of the screen, leaving even the most hardened gamer in tears of frustrated rage. Rhythmic, heartbeat sound effects and the hypnotic cycle of the gameplay, though, make this a game that's practically unputdownable.

 

51. ROBOTRON (Atarisoft)

You might have read in last month's ish that Williams' Smash TV prequel Robotron never made it to the Spectrum, but that's only half true (sorry, James). It certainly wasn't ever released, but it was completely written and even reviewed, and the fact that it never saw a shop shelf is one of the biggest mysteries (and disappointments) in Speccy gaming's history. This is a superb conversion of an unconvertable coin-op, with huge numbers of enemies on screen at a time completely failing to slow down the insane shoot-'em-up action. Almost nothing was missed out, except for the chance for zap fans to actually buy the thing, and that's nothing short of criminal.

 

 

 

woscomms.jpg (23316 bytes)

 

 

 

woscomms.jpg (23316 bytes)

 

 

woscomms.jpg (23316 bytes)

 

THE OFFICIAL YS ALL-TIME TOP 100

 

1. 3D DEATHCHASE (Micromega)

2. REBELSTAR (Firebird)

3. ALL OR NOTHING (Abbex)

4. BOULDER DASH (Front Runner)

5. STOP THE EXPRESS (Sinclair)

6. HEAD OVER HEELS (Imagine)

7. THE SENTINEL (Firebird)

8. RAINBOW ISLANDS (Ocean)

9. R-TYPE (Activision)

10. TLL (Vortex)

11. CARRIER COMMAND (Rainbird)

12. SIM CITY (Infogrames)

13. LORDS OF MIDNIGHT (Beyond)

14. ANT ATTACK (Quicksilva)

15. CHUCKIE EGG (A&F)

16. ELITE (Firebird)

17. STARQUAKE (Bubble Bus)

18. UNDERWURLDE (Ultimate)

19. BACK TO SKOOL (Microsphere)

20. SPY vs SPY (Beyond)

21. ALIEN (Argus)

22. CHASE H.Q. (Ocean)

23. THE GREAT ESCAPE (Ocean)

24. STARSTRIKE II (Realtime)

25. MANIC MINER (Bug-Byte)

26. LIGHTFORCE (FTL)

27. SUPER HANG-ON (Electric Dreams)

28. DEACTIVATORS (Reaktor)

29. THINK! (Ariolasoft)

30. LODE RUNNER (Software Projects)

31. LUNAR JETMAN (Ultimate)

32. JET SET WILLY (Software Projects)

33. KNIGHT LORE (Ultimate)

34. DEUS EX MACHINA (Automata)

35. I, BALL 2 (Firebird)

36. CYBERNOID (Hewson)

37. NEBULUS (Hewson)

38. GAUNTLET (US Gold)

39. MERCENARY (Novagen)

40. HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER (Vortex)

41. FANTASY WORLD DIZZY (Code Masters)

42. THE HOBBIT (Melbourne House)

43. MIDNIGHT RESISTANCE (Ocean)

44. RESCUE (Mastertronic)

45. INTERNATIONAL MATCH DAY (Imagine)

46. ANTICS (Bug-Byte)

47. BOBBY BEARING (The Edge)

48. RENEGADE (Imagine)

49. TETRIS (Mirrorsoft)

50. ENDURO RACER (Activision)

51. ROBOTRON (Atarisoft)

52. JUMPING JACK (Imagine)

53. PING PONG (Imagine)

54. RASTAN (Imagine)

55. SABOTEUR (Durell)

56. MYTH (System 3)

57. DUN DARACH (Gargoyle)

58. OPERATION WOLF (Ocean)

59. HYPER SPORTS (Imagine)

60. KNOT IN 3D (New Generation)

61. TIME SCANNER (Activision)

62. THRUST (Firebird)

63. SCRABBLE (Psion)

64. BUGGY BOY (Elite)

65. ARKANOID 2 (Imagine)

66. SPLAT! (Incentive)

67. THE WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST (Melbourne House)

68. TAPPER (US Gold)

69. MATCH POINT (Psion)

70. G-FORCE (Euro-Byte)

71. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (Ocean)

72. HIJACK (Electric Dreams)

73. POPEYE (DK 'Tronics)

74. PANG (Ocean)

75. WRIGGLER (Romantic Robot)

76. THREE WEEKS IN PARADISE (Mikrogen)

77. GYROSCOPE (Melbourne House)

78. FLYING SHARK (Firebird)

79. ATIC ATAC (Ultimate)

80. SIR LANCELOT (Melbourne House)

81. DARK STAR (Design Design)

82. HYPERACTION (Silversoft)

83. FOOTBALL MANAGER (Addictive)

84. TECHNICIAN TED (Hewson)

85. GUARDIAN II (Hi-Tec?)

86. TRASHMAN (New Generation)

87. CODE NAME MAT (Micromega)

88. WHEELIE (Microsphere)

89. COBRA (Ocean)

90. BOUNDER (Gremlin)

91. AVALON (Hewson)

92. GREEN BERET (Imagine)

93. GYRON (Firebird)

94. ROBOCOP (Ocean)

95. THE TRAIN GAME (Microsphere)

96. CRUISING ON BROADWAY (Sunshine)

97. MINED OUT (Quicksilva)

98. PHEENIX (Megadodo)

99. MAZIACS (DK 'Tronics)

100. ZZOOM (Imagine)

50 ENDURO RACER (Activision)

I could do a Top 100 of motorbike racers alone. But in any genre there are standouts, and this is the best one where you have to jump across rivers by wheelying into logs, and ride around the backs of palm trees on a beach (ahem). Enduro Racer is the slickest and prettiest racer around, and it's the kind of game that still won't be showing its age in 20 years time. If you ever wanted to cross Out Run with Helter Skelter, this is the game for you.

 

49. TETRIS (Mirrorsoft)

Yes, it's the game that makes Amiga and ST owners look at your Spectrum with jealousy in their eyes, 'cos the Speccy version of this classic Russian reaction-tester outperforms the 16-bit ports every time. In avoiding the temptation to dress the game up unnecessarily with complicated graphics and pointless shimmering backdrops, Mirrorsoft made sure that Tetris on the Speccy captured all the pure compulsion of the original without distractions, and even though it's since been done a dozen times on the big machines, our version is still the best computer Tetris you can buy.

 

48. RENEGADE (Imagine)

Never mind your Final Fights, never mind your Way Of The Exploding Fists, never mind your International Karates, this is comfortably (if that's the right word) the most brutal beat-'em-up there's ever been. Eye-watering knees-in-the-groin, sickeningly vicious headbutts, enemies ganging up to hold a player's arms while someone else punches the living daylights out of him, and the player retaliating with flying kicks at speeding motorcycle riders (don't try this one at home, kids). And all without the slightest danger of ending up in Casualty - what more could you ask?

 

47. ANTICS (Bug-Byte)

There's no shortage of games which call on you to rescue someone or other, but most of them simply ask you to battle through a hostile scenario and reach your goal, at which point everything magically becomes alright. In Antics, when Barnabee (the bee) reaches his kidnapped cousin Boris (the, er, bee), the story is only half-complete. Barney has to guide the weakened and slow-moving Boris all the way back to the start again, and if he goes too fast, poor Boris gets all confused and lost. The frantic rush to go slowly (if you see what I mean) against a tough time limit makes this just about the most heart-wrenching game in the world.

 

46. BOBBY BEARING (The Edge)

Or Spindizzy with balls... This absolutely beautiful game never achieved the success it deserved for reasons which are a complete mystery to me. It's another Marble Madness lookalike, but in place of Spindizzy's sharp angles and sudden edges, Bobby featured properly rolling balls, round tunnels, curved surfaces, and much faster-moving gameplay. Funnily enough, it also called on you to shepherd other characters around, and if pushing a marble across a curved slope with another marble while contending with moving blocks, nasty enemies and sudden gusts of wind sounds like a tricky proposition to you, then you're halfway to understanding what made this game so addictive. Viciously loveable.

 

45. INTERNATIONAL MATCH DAY (Imagine)

'There's only one International Match Day, one International Maaatch day, there's only one - ', well, it doesn't really work, does it? All the same, there is only one International Match Day, and it's the best - but least well-known - of this incredibly popular series of Spectrum footie games. Slicker than Match Day and more playable than Match Day II, IMD was, unfortunately, only available for the 128K machine, but it's well worth searching out if you're a 128 Spec-chum in search of the ultimate soccer experience. Kick Off? Gazza 2? Don't make me laugh.

 

44. RESCUE (Mastertronic)

A classic budget game, there isn't really anything outstanding about Rescue at all. The graphics are great but not outstanding, the sound is zappy but nothing remarkable, the number of rooms and so on isn't anything out of the ordinary, and the runaround-arcade-adventure-zapping-collecting-and-rescuing (obviously) game design has been seen a thousand times before. Why do I love it so much, then? To tell you the truth I'm not entirely sure, but until I can put it into words, just trust me.

 

43. MIDNIGHT RESISTANCE (Ocean)

Coin-op conversions on the Spectrum these days tend to be production-line churn-'em-outs that are nothing but pale-faced mumbling shadows of their ST and Amiga counterparts. What a rare pleasure, then, to see one turn out as good as this. Programmers Special FX refused to take the easy way out and do yet another monochrome yawnerama, coming up instead with an action-packed blaster which positively glowed with 8-bit pride, not to mention lovely colourful graphics stuffed with life and character. This is the game that proves the Speccy can still compete with anything.

 

42. THE HOBBIT (Melbourne House)

Oh my god, it's an adventure! Well, it had to be done. The Speccy's first successful adventure is also, to this day, one of the best. Converted faithfully from the book with all your favourite characters present and correct, The Hobbit perplexed gamers for months on end, but it was so atmospheric and rewarding that players stuck at it until the bitter end. It's also the game that introduced the phrase 'Thorin sits down and sings about gold' into the national consciousness. No, I don't quite understand it either, but that's adventure fans for you.

 

41. FANTASY WORLD DIZZY (Code Masters)

Of all the Codies' immensely popular Dizzy games, I decided to put this one in the chart because of the character interaction, the well-balanced puzzles, the charming atmosphere, but mostly because of the broad Glaswegian accent on the speech sample at the beginning. All the adventures of the world's cutest egg are great games, but this one mixes together the best attributes of each one to the best effect, with lasting chart success to answer the old bores who criticise the formulaic style. The game which finally made budget software (not to mention Code Masters themselves) respectable.

 

40. HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER (Vortex)

Costa Panayi was quite possibly the Speccy's biggest-ever cult programmer. From humble beginnings with Android 1, he built up a catalogue of incredible games that took the Spectrum closer to its limits with each succeeding release. This one was one of the most stunning, colour-filled 3D graphics in a game which (in it's basic concept) predated the 16-bit smash Lemmings by five years. Extremely clever and very tricky indeed, only the most dedicated of gamers ever saw the last of the 30 screens of zapping-and-puzzling action, but every second of effort was a joy.

 

39. MERCENARY (Novagen)

Jon Pillar recently reviewed this as a budget re-release and gave it 99%. I'm not arguing. A bit like Elite played underground, Paul Woakes' epic of espionage, sabotage, trading and blasting has an atmosphere of electric tension and suspense which belies the simplistic look of the vector graphics. Clean, sharp, fast and deep enough to keep you playing for weeks, Mercenary on the Spectrum was visually indistinguishable from the 16-bit versions but with the kind of playability you only ever seem to get on the older machines. Now more than ever, don't miss it.

 

38. GAUNTLET (US Gold)

Do I really need to tell anyone about Gauntlet? The arcade's four-player epic of dungeons-and-dragons slaughter-filled mayhem transferred to the Speccy better than anyone had dared to expect, with every last level of the original crammed in with the aid of the least intrusive multiload in history. As a recreation of the coin-op's feel, it hasn't been bettered to this day, and as a game in its own right it's as great as it ever was. One of the true milestones of Spectrum gaming.

 

37. LODE RUNNER (Software Projects)

Doesn't look like much, does it? Character-square red-and-black bricks with tiny little white stick figures running around it. What you probably don't know is that Lode Runner is just about the longest-running computer platform game in the world, with roots going right back to the Apple (ask your grandad), and all the way up to the Game Boy. A game doesn't last that long without being something pretty special, and Lode Runner's just that. Actually more puzzle game than platformer, it's just one of the most addictive things ever. That's all.

 

36. CYBERNOID (Hewson)

Remember what I said about Costa Panayi? Well, forget it, because Rafaele Cecco was an even bigger cult. The difference is, poor Raf only ever wrote one really good game, and it was this one. Flip-screen shoot-'em-ups with add-on weaponry aren't the stuff which legends are usually made of, but the imagination, playability and attention to detail of this one lifted it way above its origins and into the realms of the unforgettable. It's worth getting just for the huge maces which swing around your ship and pulverize everything, but it's a fab game too.

 

35. I, BALL 2 (Firebird)

Originality is something you don't see much of in the budget world. Great though they can be, budgies tend to be simply rehashes of previous successes, but this game broke the mould and later inspired programmer Tim Closs to write one of the best 16-bit games ever, Kid Gloves. Essentially a pretty basic puzzle game, I Ball 2 gleamed with slick presentation and imaginative design, and all for 1.99. Don't blow 12 quid on this month's latest crappy licence, scour the bargain bins and find yourself a copy of this instead.

 

34. DEUS EX MACHINA (Automata)

This is probably the most ambitious entertainment software project ever attempted on any home computer. Two loads full of stunning graphics and a synchronised audio soundtrack including proper real-life stars like Frankie Howerd and Jon Pertwee, coupled to a madly over-the-top story of totalitarianism and genetic engineering made Deus Ex Machina an experience the like of which had never been seen before or since. Genuinely affecting and disturbing at times, this is software as art.

 

33. KNIGHT LORE (Ultimate)

We're really getting into 'legend' territory now. Knight Lore was the game which pioneered the 3D isometric graphic style, later to be imitated into oblivion by a hundred lesser designers. It took Spectrum graphics into a whole new world, and up to a level which simply hadn't been believed possible, even by the machine's creators themselves. The game was (conveniently) brilliant too, and the traditional Ultimate polish gave the whole thing a shine which was almost blinding. Revolutionary.

 

32. JET SET WILLY (Software Projects)

Matthew Smith's second Miner Willy game (the first being Manic Miner) was probably the Speccy's most eagerly-awaited title ever. Impatient gamers beseiged shops for months until it finally appeared, and no-one was disappointed with the end product. A superficially simple platform epic set in Willy's surrealist mansion, some of the most tortuous timing traps in the history of computer gaming were to be found here, along with a genuine 'being there' feel which has rarely been topped. It looks a bit slow today, but the superlative gameplay will soon make you forget about that.

 

31. LUNAR JETMAN (Ultimate)

'We triumph without glory when we conquer without danger', said the French dramatist Pierre Corneille in 1636, and you know, I like to think that when he said it he was thinking about Lunar Jetman. Ultimate's incredibly tough moon-based alien-stomper was their first attempt at a game using the Speccy's expanded 48K (wow!) memory, and what a stonker it was, too. Hugely clever and funny, it was also the game which you simply had to be able to play if you wanted to have any peer status at all in 1985. Funny the way things turn out, isn't it?

 

30. NEBULUS (Hewson)

Here's another game which (with versions newly out for the NES and Game Boy) looks like transcending machine boundaries for years to come. John Philips' beautiful tower-ascending game featured amazing rotational scrolling, but the truly staggering thing was that it was overshadowed by the overwhelming addictiveness of the absurdly simple gameplay. Climb up, fall down, climb back up again and that was about it. It just goes to prove (if there's still anyone out there who doesn't believe it) that the simplest ideas are always the best.

 

29. THINK! (Ariolasoft)

As top playwright Samuel Beckett once said... 'We all are born mad. Some remain so. Especially if they've been playing 'Think!' for any significant period of time'. And he was right, too, because this 'board-game-that-you-couldn't-play- on-a-board' is one of the most brain-torturing ever devised. The whole balance of the game can alter with a single move, and if you can beat the computer you've got something to be proud of. Take on a friend though, and you've got something which can change the look of your face. If you're going to play this with a chum, take your boxing gloves...

 

28. DEACTIVATORS (Reaktor)

Most puzzle games rely on their simplicity to be instantly graspable, but here's one that glories in complexity and, for once, didn't suffer from it. Computer games have taken some strange approaches to bomb disposal over the years, but having teams of robots roving around in strange gravitational fields throwing the things through windows to each other has to be the most ridiculous yet. Strangely though, it was all so tensely gripping that players were completely hypnotised by it. If you're after some serious weirdo cyberpunk thrills, give Deactivators a try.

 

27. SUPER HANG-ON (Electric Dreams)

Do you sometimes feel a need? A need for speed? Well, sod off. We don't want any of that Tom Cruise nonsense round here, we're all too busy having fun playing this immensely wonderful motorbike racing game to be bothered with any dim-witted macho posturing. Super Hang-On is even more thrilling than going for a ride with Andy O, and that's saying something. Fast, slick and stomach-churning, this is the real thing brought to life on a Spectrum with a vengeance, and with some pretty damn spiffy graphics to boot. If you were born to be wild, grow up with this.

 

26. LIGHTFORCE (FTL)

It's a terrible pity that these screen shots are in black and white, because Lightforce boasts the best use of colour in a Spectrum game there's ever likely to be. FTL somehow managed to pack this brilliant vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up with more colour than is actually physically possible on the machine, and made it on of the very few Speccy games ever to truly have the feel of an arcade. An insanely frantic thumb-wrecker, Lightforce plays as good as it looks, and while lots of games can claim such an accolade, this is one of the few where it's actually a compliment.

 

25. MANIC MINER (Bug-Byte)

It grieves me to think that there are some of you out there who haven't heard of this game. Manic Miner is the first game which always crops up in conversation whenever a group of Spec-veterans like me get together to drink cocoa and talk nostalgia, and it's a game which holds a special place in the heart of just about every kind of computer owner. The first real Speccy platform game, Manic Miner's character, sense of humour, brilliant design and mammoth addictiveness (in fact, it's even more addictive than a mammoth, and that's saying something) made it one of the first true computer gaming legends. It's still a great game now, almost nine years later, and I doubt if any of today's games will be able to say the same in the year 2000. Come to that, in the year 2000 I'll probably still be playing Manic Miner.

 

24. STARSTRIKE II (Realtime)

Realtime made a name for themselves in the Speccy world with Starstrike, their excellent clone of the arcade game Star Wars, but this sequel improved on even the coin-op. The fast-moving solid 3D graphics are, with the possible exception of the Freescape games, still the most impressive the machine's ever boasted, and the game itself took Star Wars a step further and added a non-intrusive strategy element to the space blasting. Stunningly impressive, stunningly atmospheric, just generally stunning.

 

23. THE GREAT ESCAPE (Ocean)

And while we're on the subject of atmosphere, we'd better say a word or two about The Great Escape. Much-feted programming team Denton Designs had their finest moment with this mostly black-and-white Colditz-style arcade adventure, capturing the prisoner-of-war camp feel perfectly with the aid of an innovative design and the automatic ability to wander around the camp simply obeying the rules, touching the controls only when you wanted to do something naughty. Even your score was calcluated in medals! If your dad thinks computer games are a waste of time, show him this.

 

22. CHASE H.Q. (Ocean)

After you've shown your Amiga and ST-owning chums Tetris, why not really sicken them by loading up this superlative driving game? Amazingly fast and incredibly well programmed, Chase HQ turned a mediocre arcade game into a Speccy classic. Even the title sequence was bursting with character, and indicative of the kind of loving care that so few people bother to put into Spectrum games any more. Only WEC Le Mans comes anywhere close to this for car-driving thrills, but the added plot gives Chase HQ an element of compulsion which lifts it into the realms of the special.

 

21. ALIEN (Argus)

Your Speccy might have done a lot of things in its time, but has it ever scared you? If not, you've obviously never played Alien. Based, unsurprisingly, on the terrifyingly spooky movie, Spectrum Alien was a tension-filled strategy game where you controlled the entire crew of the Nostromo in an attempt to blow the evil beastie up and escape to safety. Just like in the film, the alien was wont to appear without warning from air vents and munch a member of your team in seconds. The game was so taut that when you did stumble across the old E.T., even the neighbours could hear you scream.

 

20. SPY vs SPY (Beyond)

The game which ruined more beautiful friendships than any other, Spy Vs. Spy is, in its own right, a supremely entertaining, funny and playable game. But take on the two-player mode and you'd better be prepared to experience bitter rivalry, ecstatic triumph and crushing despair, all within the first 90 seconds. The traps which the witless Black Spy and White Spy incessantly blundered into were alternately hilarious or teeth-grindingly infuriating, depending which side you were on, but the split-screen display meant you had no excuse for not spotting what your opponent was up to. All you could do was get back up and perpetrate some of the same slapstick violence in return, and if both of you somehow forgot what the actual point of the game was in all the excitement, well, so what? Get Spy Vs. Spy and electrocute a close friend today.

 

19. BACK TO SKOOL (Microsphere)

Or the game that brought teenage romance back to the Spectrum. In the sequel to the brilliant Skool Daze, Microsphere added a school full of girls to the original formula of sneaky backhanded japery and unusual escapades with amphibians, and ended up with a game which provided many a Speccy owner with some of the happiest days of their lives. The wonderful atmosphere in Skool Daze was just part of a recipe which also included incredibly devious puzzles, a whole cast of genuine characters, superb graphics, and gameplay combining platform dexterity with beat-'em-up violence and strategic planning for a game with a feel of completeness that's never really been bettered.

 

18. UNDERWURLDE (Ultimate)

'Boing! Time for bed, everyone', said Zebedee once, and Underwurlde fans knew exactly what he meant. Ultimate's brilliant platform arcade adventure had only one real difference from the thousands which the Speccy's played host to. The nasties didn't kill you, they bounced you around the screen in an attempt (usually successful) to send you plunging to your death down a mineshaft or somesuch. The stratospheric level of frustration made this at the same time the most-loved and the most-hated computer game of its day, and if you play it now, you'll see why. Devilish.

 

17. STARQUAKE (Bubble Bus)

And speaking of Ultimate... Programmer Steven Crow was never strong on originality (his games had a habit of looking very much like 'tributes' to earlier Ultimate classics), but his knack for writing superb software was undisputed. This hybrid of Underwurlde and Atic Atac was fast and frantic, with a target which was difficult but attainable. Brimming with playability and addictiveness (thanks largely to the attributes previously mentioned), Starquake was Steve's finest hour, and many people maintain to this day that it's the Speccy arcade game's finest hour too. A classic in the truest sense.

 

16. ELITE (Firebird)

Were you deadly? The all-time classic space trading and blasting epic, Elite combined Star Trek with Minder (that's what it boils down to) in a game for which the word 'legendary' seems like a severe understatement. Deeper than space itself, Elite created such a believable world that players immersed themselves in it totally, and the sneering ranking system ('What do you mean, I'm 'Harmless'?') added a compulsion to progress that was, well, incredibly compulsive. It was big, it was hard, and it was clever, and that's good enough for me.

 

15. LORDS OF MIDNIGHT (Beyond)

In the days of 48K, software houses would often make a big issue of the number of screens contained in their latest game. Companies boasted of games with 20, then 50, then 100, then 250 levels, but Beyond stunned everyone with the 32,000 accurately-mapped views in this complex and wonderful strategy wargame. For the first time, you really got the feel of being lost in a huge land in another world somewhere, and this overwhelming atmosphere went a long way to ensuring that Lords Of Midnight was a colossal and deserved success. It also brought us Mike Singleton, but we'll forgive it.

 

14. ANT ATTACK (Quicksilva)

There's a strong case for calling this the Speccy's most beautiful game ever. While the graphics were made up of simple blocks and the characters fairly unremarkable stick men and women, the stunning architecture of Antescher, the lost city inhabited by huge ants that the player had to rescue their girl/boyfriend from (no sexism here), was quite startling. 'Atmospheric' is a much-overused term (especially in these Top 100 articles, ahem), but if ever a game deserved the accolade it's this one. Completely unique and utterly wonderful, Ant Attack was one of those games that took the Spectrum a step further than it had ever been before.

 

13. CHUCKIE EGG (A&F)

Very probably the most-played computer game the world's ever seen (if you don't count Super Mario Brothers as a computer game, that is), Chuckie Egg was converted for just about every machine under the sun, but the Speccy incarnation was the original and best. A straightforward platform game with the emphasis on speed and playability, Chuckie Egg rose above it's daft title and total lack of promotion to become the longest-running chart smash until Robocop, some six years later. If you want to see how thought and care can transform the most basic concept into a classic, take a look at this.

 

12. CARRIER COMMAND (Rainbird)

Now this...this is just silly. For Infogrames to even consider for a second that this stunning 16-bit epic would ever make a Speccy game was quite obviously self-delusion of the very highest order. Luckily, like the bumble bee which can only fly because it doesn't know that the laws of aerodynamics forbid it, they went ahead and did it anyway, and in the process brought one of the most engrossing games ever to the Spectrum in all it's glory. Absolutely nothing from the original version was left out, leaving this monster of sea-going strategy and shoot-'em-up action as the most atmospheric and endlessly playable warfare experience ever seen this side of Davy Jones' Locker.

 

11. SIM CITY (Infogrames)

Now this...this is just silly. For Infogrames to even consider for a second that this stunning 16-bit epic would ever make a Speccy game was quite obviously self-delusion of the very highest order. Luckily, like the bumble bee which can only fly because it doesn't know that the laws of aerodynamics forbid it, they went ahead and did it anyway, and in the process brought one of the most compulsive games ever to the Spectrum in all it's glory. Absolutely nothing from the original version was left out, leaving this monster of municipal planning and political manoeuvering as the most compelling strategic experience that anyone ever lost a night's sleep for.

 

10. TLL (Vortex)

For me, Tornado Low Level (to give it its Sunday name) still represents the most astonishing technical achievement on the Spectrum ever. Stunning solid 3D full-colour graphics, scrolling smoothly and swiftly in eight directions, stunned everyone who saw them, but testing gameplay and perfect playability made it a game worth having in its own right over and above the sheer 'Gosh, wow'-ness of it all. The next time some lazy incompetent tries to tell you your machine simply can't handle more than two colours at a time, even in some poxy 2D arcade shoot-'em-up conversion, show them this and watch them die of shame.

 

9. BOULDER DASH (First Star/Front Runner)

Yes, Spec-chums, physics can be fun! Well, it can as long as you're playing Boulder Dash, anyway. The classic underground diamond-collecting epic relied heavily on calculating the effects of gravity on piles of dangerous boulders, but fiendishly-designed levels and extra baddies complicated matters to a horrendous level. While based on existing concepts, Boulder Dash transcended its roots and turned out to be one of the most original games in years, and that it's one of that select group to be converted from the Speccy to the Game Boy proves the broadness of its appeal.

 

8. RAINBOW ISLANDS (Ocean)

For many (me included), this is the best 16-bit game of all-time. The adorable graphics, lovably naff music (a pocket-calculator version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow), instinctive gameplay and a level of hidden depth that would shame the Pacific Ocean make it all but the perfect arcade game. Unfortunately, on the Speccy the graphics become just a little bit too indistinct for comfort on the later levels, making it a real bitch to complete in a slightly unfair kind of way, but that's its only flaw. If you've got keen eyes or a really good monitor, this is just about the only game you'll ever need.

 

7. THE SENTINEL (Firebird)

In direct contrast to Rainbow Islands, The Sentinel is a sombre, slow-moving game of mental exertion and tactical acumen as the player struggles to reach the top of a complex 3D landscape while avoiding the deadly gaze of The Sentinel himself and his evil minions. How did you manage it? By absorbing energy from trees and converting it into boulders to stand on and raise yourself ever higher until you could absorb the big guy himself and move on to the next of the 10,000 landscapes, of course. Twice as weird as it sounds and fifty times as much fun, this is a game no-one with a brain should be without.

 

6. R-TYPE (Activision)

We're into the realm of the staggering now, and R-Type is a game which certainly fits that description. An impossible conversion, the programmers flicked two fingers at the world and produced a game with non-stop high-speed frenzied blasting, huge graphics exploding (literally) with colour, and a near-perfect replication of the arcade gameplay. The Speccy's finest shoot-'em-up by a mile, indeed almost certainly the best shoot-'em-up on any 8-bit machine ever. Every time I see this, I still refuse to believe it's possible. Amazing.

 

5. HEAD OVER HEELS (Imagine)

After Knight Lore, there were a hundred isometric 3D arcade adventure puzzle games, but this is undeniably the peak of the genre. It may well also represent the peak of the game designer's art full stop. Monstrously cute and gorgeous-looking generally, Head Over Heels toyed with the player's emotions as he struggled to join up the two independent heroes, only to have the joy of success cruelly shattered by another problem which could only be solved by splitting them up again. Mind-wrenchingly devious but always tantalisingly solvable, this is so addictive it hurts.

 

4. STOP THE EXPRESS (Sinclair)

Is this the cutest Speccy game ever? I certainly think so. The Japanese influence of Oriental programmers Hudson Soft shone through like a beacon, with your gorgeous mop-headed hero swashbuckling his way across the roof of a speeding train, killing bad guys by throwing plucked birds at them (!). The graphics were impossibly bright and lovely and the gameplay hugely addictive, but the very best thing was the way that the demo mode consisted of a re-run of your last game in it's entirety. Pure arcade beauty.

 

3. ALL OR NOTHING (Abbex)

Even if you ARE as old as me you probably won't have heard of this one. The crude graphics and mostly purple screen ensured that most gamers gave this a wide berth, which is a shame as it's an unrivalled classic in the espionage field. Sneaking around an enemy complex, letting off bombs to distract guard dogs, stealing stuff from dead guards' pockets, breaking into locked warehouses to steal important documents, bribing the enemy with money looted from their comrades' bodies, every devious and downright sneaky trick you ever wanted to try was catered for in this enormously entertaining piece of software. Too compelling for words.

 

2. REBELSTAR (Firebird)

This one came a very close second, I can tell you. Julian Gollop's atmosphere-packed epic turned wargaming from a minority interest characterised by tedious number-crunching and amateur programming into an experience unrivalled for thrills by all but the most adrenalin-pumping blaster. The one or two-player battle for the rebel spacestation was fast-moving and violent, and the incredible glow of satisfaction you got from beating the thing at the highest difficulty level was incomparable. And the price of this masterpiece? 1.99. The second best game in the world ever.

 

 

1. 3D DEATHCHASE (Micromega)

No apologies, no regrets. Y'see, Spec-chums, I've been playing computer games for as long as computer games have existed. I've played thousands of them, from coin-op games to ZX81 games to Apple Macintosh games and all points in between, and the simple fact of the matter is that there isn't one in existence that's as exciting, as gripping, as tense, or as downright thrilling as this is. Written in 1983 in just 9K of memory, Deathchase puts you on a motorbike in a forest, with no other purpose in life than to chase other characters on motorbikes and kill them for bounty money. Your enemies don't shoot back at you (not even the bonus-point tanks and helicopters), there are no power-ups, no end-of-level bosses, and the only things which can kill you are the trees of the forest itself. They don't TRY to kill you, of course, they just stand there, growing leaves and photosynthesising and doing whatever it is that trees do over the countless millennia, and wait for you to crash headlong into them at full tilt. And you will. The inanimate nature of your only enemy gives Deathchase addictive qualities which are almost unimaginable to anyone who hasn't played it. Y'see, when you get killed in Deathchase, it's nobody's fault but your own. The trees don't move, nothing shoots at you to distract you, it's possible to slow down or stop to catch your breath anytime you like, there just isn't any excuse for getting yourself splattered all over the forest except your own carelessness and impatience. Which means, of course, that the next time you play, you won't make any of those silly mistakes. Will you? Well, of course you will. The thing is, the game is so utterly simple (I mean, 'avoid the trees', it's almost insulting) that you don't see any reason to slow down, you can't accept that your skills as a games player aren't equal to such a laughably straightforward task. So off you go at top speed again, whizzing through the forest in fine dramatic style until you remember that you've got enemies to chase, swerve after them with your bullets zipping past just centimetres away, edge just that bit further over to get them into your sights, and BLAM! Another faceful of bark.

There's more to Deathchase than this, but not much more (as a wise man once said, more or less). For one thing there's the sound. Not that there's a lot of it, all you get is a scary siren effect at the start of each level and a jarring screech when you collide with one of those ubiquitous giant redwoods. The result, though, is so effective you wonder why no-one does it more often. The silence as you whip soundlessly between the trees just makes the sudden explosion of noise all the more terrifying - this is a game that'll make you jump off your seat in fright if you play it at night with the lights off. And that reminds me - there's night time too. Every second level of Deathchase is a night level, with the same number of trees as the previous one but with the light blue sky turned pitch black. Theoretically it shouldn't make things any harder, but the atmosphere is so gloomy and oppressive that you find yourself crashing almost on purpose out of sheer subconscious despair. The coming of dawn (when you finally manage to nail the level's two bikers) heralds an increased level of danger, but the relief of being back in daylight is so great that you almost welcome it.

And then finally there are the 'bonuses'. Every now and again a tank or helicopter cruises slowly across the horizon from left to right. They don't shoot at you, they don't get in your way, they don't drop reinforcements for the bad guys, they don't do you any harm at all in any way. Except that sometimes they're just too much of a sitting target to pass up, and you deviate from your path just for a second to bag the juicy points bonus you get for shooting them, and...BLAM! Time to leave your teethmarks for posterity once more. They never hurt you, but you'll grow to hate them.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? Bikes, trees, bonus targets and crashing. (Lots of crashing.) Only two real controls, hardly any sound, totally basic character-square graphics and gameplay your dog could probably learn. I'm probably talking rubbish, all those years in front of flickering screens have probably destroyed my mind. It can't be that good really. So why not prove me wrong? Why don't you give it a try? What have you got to lose? Except the rest of your life, that is...

THE YS READERS' ALL-TIME TOP 100

1. Chase HQ

2. Rainbow Islands

3. R-Type

4. Sim City

5. Chaos

6. Manic Miner

7. Elite

8. Bak 2 Skool

9. Robocop

10. 3D Deathchase

11.  Midnight Resistance

12. Myth

13. Target: Renegade

14. Head Over Heels

15. Mercenary

16. Laser Squad

17. Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge

18. Spellbound Dizzy

19. Quazatron

20. Lemmings

21. Lords Of Chaos

22. Knight Lore

23. Skool Daze

24. Space Crusade

25. Lords Of Midnight

26. Operation Wolf

27. Starquake

28. Chuckie Egg

29. The Great Escape

30. 3D Ant Attack

31. Commando

32. Rebelstar

33. Jet Set Willy

34. New Zealand Story

35. Peking

36. Turrican

37. Fantasy World Dizzy

38. Football Manager 2

39. Gauntlet

40. Jack The Nipper

41. Pang!

42. Smash TV

43. Atic Atac

44. Rodland

45. The Way Of The Exploding Fist

46. Carrier Command

47. Super Off Road Racer

48. Renegade

49. Spy Vs Spy

50. Football Manager

51. North And South

52. Robocop*

53. Total Recall

54. F16 Combat Pilot

55. Rebelstar 2

56. Slightly Magic

57. Auf Wiedersehen Monty

58. Bubble Bobble

59. Turbo The Tortoise

60. Golden Axe

61. Hero Quest

62. Monty Python's Flying Circus

63. Switchblade

64. Turbo Esprit

65. Bomb Jack

66. Contact Sam Cruise

67. Sabre Wulf

68. The Hobbit

69. Wonderboy

70. Crystal Kingdom Dizzy

71. Doomdark's Revenge

72. Hudson Hawk

73. Jetpac

74. Match Day

75. Pyjamarama

76. Tetris

77. Alien

78. Arkanoid

79. Cybernoid

80. Dan Dare

81. Flying Shark

82. Fred

83. Horace Goes Skiing

84. Popeye

85. Stunt Car Racer

86. Block Dizzy

87. Continental Circus

88. International Matchday

89. Kwik Snax

90. Mr Freeze

91. Nodes Of Yesod

92. Pacmania

93. SAM Astroball

94. The Wild Bunch

95. Trashman

96. Where Time Stood Still

97. Underwurlde

98. Batty

99. Nigel Mansell's World Championship

100. Moon Strike

 

 

*Robocop appears twice in this list. No-one knows why.