The 16K ZX Spectrum was only around for a year, but it got a surprisingly large library of games. Here’s part 2 of our top 100, counting down from 50 to number one…
The lowly 16K ZX Spectrum only had a short lifespan – launched in 1982, it was withdrawn just one year later – but a surprisingly huge number of games were compatible with it. So many, we decided to compile an exhaustive list of its best games.
We published part one last week, which counted down from 100 to 51 – if you somehow missed it (you clot) then you catch up with it here. Already read the first part? Then let’s get on with part two, counting down from 50 to the coveted number one spot. You’ll find all kinds of shooters, puzzlers and indescribable oddities in here – including what might be considered an unexpected choice in first place.
With all that out of the way, let’s kick things off with a shooter that has absolutely nothing to do with Rod Serling…
50. TWILIGHT ZONE
Looking a bit like Jeff Minter’s Laser Zone, this is a simpler and more frantic twin-axis shooter where you just have to survive an onslaught for a set period of time to move onto the next stage. The keyboard layout is rubbish (IJNM and 0 to fire your Gorf-style abortable laser) but that’s easily fixed in the modern emulator age or with the Kempston joystick option, and what’s left is a busy, noisy and absorbing arcade blaster.
49. DI-LITHIUM LIFT
(Hewson Consultants, 1983)
Some say there is no such thing as true evil, only competing sets of sincerely-held values and unmoderated self-interest. Those people haven’t played Di-Lithium Lift. Di-Lithium Lift is hatred distilled to a digital essence, a grossly warped exploitation of humankind’s better nature. It is ugly to both the eye and the human spirit. It does not provide you with the necessary tools (in this case, key response speed) to perform the tasks demanded of you. It is a grotesque slur on the game it shamelessly plagiarises (the beautiful Solar Fox).
And yet you will persist, even after your 50th failed attempt at Level 1, for it is his endurance in the face of horror that separates man from the beasts and feeds the soul.
(Digital Integration, 1983)
This is a real brain-bender from Jeff “Cruising On Broadway” Naylor. The premise is the same as every taxi-based game ever – pick up passengers and drop them off – but this one takes place in some sort of massive Place De La Concorde-style town square in which people are presumably taking cabs for journeys of less than 100 metres because they’d have no chance of walking across the insanely busy road without getting mown down.
The choice of “in and out” controls rather than four-directional ones might be a bit questionable, but your brain does adjust to it after a short while and you can focus on the brutal, anarchic traffic that would seemingly rather die in a tangle of twisted and crushed metal than either give way or indicate.
47. BOUNCING BERTY
(Power Software, 1984)
Among the Speccy’s many, many attempts at Q*Bert, this is one of the least sophisticated, but it’s so hectic (you can zip through an entire game in four seconds if you’re not careful) that it has a highly entertaining and addictive quality of its own (helped by an instant restart).
SEMI-FUN TRIVIA FACT! Value for money wasn’t a factor in this chart, but Bouncing Berty was released as a £3.50 double-pack with a pretty respectable Pengo clone that’s also worth a play.
46. HORACE AND THE SPIDERS (mod version)
(Sinclair Research, 1983)
We mentioned Space Panic earlier in the Monsters In Hell entry, but where that was a quite distant relative, we also wanted to include an almost arcade-perfect clone, in the form of the splendid Sam Spade by Silversoft. Unfortunately it turned out to be another supposedly-16K game that in fact crashed every emulator we tried unless it was run in 48K mode, so it got disqualified.
Digger Dan by Ocean got ruled out as a replacement for being too boring, so we’ve ended up with Horace And The Spiders (a dozen or so places further down the chart than Sam Spade would have been) – another derivative that plays quite differently to Space Panic around the same basic structure.
The main differences are Horace’s constant movement, your inability to fill in holes (making it a bit more strategic), and the fact that a key gameplay feature of the arcade game – dropping baddies through multiple floors at once – is something to be avoided here, as it just gives you a lot more work to do for no benefit.
All of that would have been fine – vive la difference! – if HATS wasn’t spoiled by two inordinately tedious subgames before every level, but fortunately there’s a modded version that bins them and turns it into something that isn’t as good as Sam Spade, but is still a pretty diverting Panic with a twist. (NOTE: Sheer Panic, Spectral Panic and Super Digger are all cruder versions but worth a look too.)
A really neat little pure action game, of the genre where it looks so simple that you keep acting recklessly and getting killed. Snakes and snipers attempt to interfere as you collect objects from around the screen and drop them into the central furnace and that’s it, but at skill level 1 it’s fraught from the word go.
(Stonechat Productions, 2021)
We’ve been long overdue a game about one of the planet’s most astonishing animals, and the almost-indestructible pico-bug has certainly been done proud here in a very smooth challenge of intricate manoeuvring in which, like Jungle Trouble, the highly-skilled player can pull off a display that’ll have onlookers cooing and applauding.
43. GALACTIC TROOPER
Astro Invader is a coin-op the Speccy really should have had a near-perfect conversion of. It would have taken no more effort at all for Ian Morrison and David Anderson to give Galactic Trooper arcade-accurate colours and graphics, given that the 1980 original basically ran on Space Invaders hardware with monochrome sprites and colour clash.
Still, as it stands – especially if you play the version modded to remove some ugly BRIGHT attributes that weren’t noticeable on 1980s CRTs but very much are on modern monitors – it captures every element of the gameplay nicely, and at the top speed it’s a frantic and challenging shooter.
(Add-On Electronics, 1983)
Head-On is one of the most ported videogames of all time, but despite its extreme simplicity it’s often done very badly, and the Speccy is short of decent versions. The obscure but excellent 48K Spanish release Amoto’s Puf is the best, but Ed-On is another of the very few exceptions to the rule, with what – for the genre – is a very sophisticated control system particularly standing out. A little colour variation might have been nice but this is a solid take on an early arcade classic.
41. DON’T PANIC
This seems really dull at first. You’re a slow-moving space robot with a gun that’s no use against the only baddie – all it can do is knock contaminated objects along platforms towards a spaceship so you can load it up and clear the stage. But as you play, the subtle rules unfold – like how the alien can only move one vertical level at a time and you can use the rocket as a wraparound bridge – and reveal a clever and absorbing challenge. It never really changes after Level 2, but you’ll always want to see what the next object is.
The best version of Robotron on the Spectrum is of course the unreleased Atarisoft port, but this is also a decent effort which can’t match the number of enemies onscreen but does restore the dastardly ricochet-firing Tanks, so there are swings as well as roundabouts. It even offered multiple control options to give you very different styles of game. Which is, y’know, nice.
There were a lot of Spectrum ports of Pengo, and a fair few in 16K, but this fast and full-featured effort really nails the coin-op vibe as you’re harassed mercilessly from the opening seconds by a swarm of snow-bees, to the point where you don’t even miss the jaunty music. Slightly sharper control response would have moved it further up the chart, but it’s highly playable as it is.
38. HANDY ANDY
This is a peculiar one. In some ways this fast, colourful romp is the essence of a video game boiled down to its most basic form – you’re on a black screen with some baddies who you have to avoid while collecting stuff for points. According to the inlay you’re actually the caretaker of a shop trying to stop dolls escaping from the toy department after everything in the shop inexplicably comes alive.
The dolls march from left to right across the screen while you’re dodging everything else and grabbing bonuses, and if one of them reaches the right-hand edge the game pauses and makes a big aural song and dance about the fact, at which point… absolutely nothing happens.
You don’t lose a life, you don’t lose any points, the number of dolls required to finish the level doesn’t increase. As far as it’s possible to tell, the player suffers no penalty whatsoever for failing in their primary task.
Now, that’s not a problem because rest assured, you’re NOT going to find it difficult to lose all your lives in this game. (And while we’re on the subject, the POKE to speed up the death sequence is highly recommended). But it’s odd to have so little incentive to actually progress through the levels other than the satisfaction of achievement and getting to see the next type of enemy, even though they all behave identically.
(The only tangible reward you get is a 10-point increase in the value of the dolls, which start at a mere 10 compared to a juicy 100 for the bonuses. As the game goes on you get up to four dolls at a time, but their value maxes out at 50 so they’re still barely any more lucrative than harvesting bonuses.)
Handy Andy is arguably the simplest game in a list full of really simple games, yet we’ve written more about it than any of the others just because it’s so odd. What actually matters, though, is that it’s such a pure stripped-down Zen experience it’s almost transcendental.
37. BLIND ALLEY
Sadly nobody ever attempted a full Spectrum conversion of Bally Midway’s excellent TRON coin-op (although its sequel Discs Of TRON did get a half-decent port in the form of Discs Of Death by Artic). At least two of its four subgames did make it out as standalone releases, though, by far most commonly the light-cycles battle.
Sunshine’s version was the best by a distance in terms of aesthetics, and its enemies were numerous and fast. Blind Alley is a game of extreme intensity, with levels rarely lasting as much as 10 seconds, and all the brains and tactical acumen in the world won’t help you unless you can deploy them in a blink.
36. BRAIN DAMAGE
Another of the TRON subgames, this time the tank maze, is also another of Silversoft’s impressive early catalogue. Like the same firm’s Exterminator from a few places earlier, you get multiple control options so you can tailor it to how you like to play, and it’s very slickly done and reminiscent of its arcade parent, right down to the crucial bouncing laser blasts.
35. WINGED WARLORDS
(CDS Microsystems, 1983)
This is an early work from Mike Lamb of Renegade, Robocop and Arkanoid fame, and you can see the class already shining through. Based on Joust, it’s a heavily-simplified version that takes place as a single continuous level with no crumbling platforms, lava or special waves, but it’s as smooth as butter with perfectly-judged physics that for our money are still superior to those in Allan Turvey’s excellent Roust from 2018.
34. 4K DRAG’N’JOIN
(Tom Dalby, 2012)
The Spectrum didn’t get as many puzzle games as you might think, but this one, based on a Japanese classic that’s survived from the days of paper magazines up to modern-day formats like the Switch and iPhone, is a real peach. All you have to do is fill the grid by drawing lines between pairs of symbols, but from easy tutorial beginnings it turns into a brilliant brain-twister. This version has been really snappily executed – the system for undoing mistakes, for example, is really simple and clever (you just draw over an existing line and it gets completely wiped). The only thing wrong with it, apart from the totally pointless Blitz mode, is that it’s only got 100 levels.
33. BOZY BOA
(CDS Microsystems, 1983)
After Digger Dan at No.42, here’s another blow for unlucky Silversoft, who were going to be representing Snake in our chart with their Slippery Sid, but while it’s again a slightly slicker and prettier version of the timeless classic than the one we’ve included, Sid is plagued by an unfortunate and unpredictable tendency to change direction all by himself, so Bozy Boa from CDS snagged the spot instead.
There’s little between them, though, in either design or execution, and both offer five speed levels from ponderous to whirlwind.
32. MICRO MOUSE GOES DE-BUGGING
(MC Lothlorien, 1983)
Micro Mouse is perhaps the first ever meta-video game. Your objective is to debug very short BASIC programs by collecting and replacing characters nicked from your code by some mischievous creepy-crawlies, and when you succeed the program is actually executed to produce a little display for you as a reward. It’s a super-clever touch that really pulls you into the game’s inside-your-CPU environment, and while the run-and-fetch gameplay is pretty standard stuff, the setting lends a touch of narrative class.
SEMI-FUN TRIVIA FACT! Bizarrely, MC Lothlorien produced a completely different game with the exact same title six years later.
Menace is Mikie in a borstal school on supply-teacher day. It’s complete mayhem from the opening seconds, and it takes quite a while to even work out what the hell you’re meant to be doing as the other pupils go on a mad murderous rampage the minute the hapless master turns to the blackboard.
Once you’ve sussed it out – and good luck with that, as the instructions appear to be only passingly related to what actually happens in the game – it’s pretty repetitive, and the scoring system is even more unfathomable than the ridiculous control layout or the bizarre decision to put big square black borders round most of the characters. But it’s somehow m
anically compelling fun.
30. BEDLAM (Turbo Edition)
(AWA/MC Lothlorien, 1983/2020)
AWA’s smooth and swift Targ-alike was undermined by a really weird and awkward control system and some ugly BRIGHT attributes around the sprites, but both of those things are fixed in this subtly but significantly tweaked mod, which lets the intense and satisfying gameplay shine through while actually giving the player half a chance of not putting their fist through their screen in frustration.
Borrowing from a whole series of rotate-and-thrust arcade games like Rip-Off and Star Castle, and with the control complexity of Space Tactics, Sentinel is a remarkable piece of work in which you have to defend your space station with a laser, force-field and guided missiles.
You have to make decisions every second about which enemies to prioritise, which weapon will be most effective, whether to defend your backup ships docked in the station or the superstructure protecting the vulnerable core, and so on, all at lightning speed. And it even came with easy and hard versions on the tape, and a basic form of highscore saving.
This is another entry that benefits hugely from modern emulator controls – not this time because of bad layout, but because there’s just so much to do and a multi-button stick really helps – and it’s an even better game now than it was in 1983.
In 1983 David Jones (later author of the acclaimed Magic Knight trilogy of Finders Keepers, Spellbound and Knight Tyme) was working for a company called Procom, where he produced this fast-moving and fun cross between Frogger and an upside-down Jumping Jack. It’s very little-known among Jones’ work, and undeservedly so – it’s a cracking little arcade runabout. But wait! There’s more!
SEMI-FUN TRIVIA FACT! The same year, Procom also released a game called Break-Away by John A. Campbell, a slight little affair where you have to free an unfortunate tied-up maiden via a combination of eyesight and typing skills – you have to see which ropes are connected to which numbers/letters and type them to break that rope.
“So what?” you might justifiably ask.
The observation became pertinent in 1985, when Jones, who was by now working for Mastertronic and about to deliver the first Magic Knight game, produced Type-Rope. Other than the addition of multiple people to rescue (and not running in 16K), it’s manifestly identical to Break-Away, but of the four people credited with its creation, John A. Campbell’s name is nowhere to be seen.
None of which reflects in any way on Bonkers, of course, which is still great. But it just goes to show you that the infamous Harry S Price wasn’t the only well-known Speccy coder who could be guilty of essentially respraying other people’s work in an extremely blatant and shady way.
27. SEA WAR
This chart was compiled in the modern day and therefore makes allowances for games having flaws at the time of release which no longer apply. (And/or could also be circumvented back in the 1980s by things like programmable joystick interfaces.)
Sea War is a prime case in point. In 1982 this ZX81 conversion was plagued with a ridiculous keyboard layout which rendered it close to unplayable. (Caps and Z for up and down, Symbol Shift and Space for vertical and horizontal firing, and M to move forwards, spanner-fisted-idiocy fans.)
But that cretinous design choice belied a brilliant pure arcade game that ramps up the intensity within about 30 seconds of the start, until you’re dodging an absolute hailstorm of incoming fire from enemy submarines, corvettes and helicopters. With the controls fixed, though, your rapid-firing hunter-killer is up to the task, and this is a high-adrenaline blaster with few parallels on the machine.
SEMI-FUN TRIVIA FACT! Because the 16K ZX81 had considerably more available memory than the 16K Speccy, the 81 version features a nice “mothership” intro bit that didn’t make it across to the Spectrum port.
26. STARCLASH (Arcade Edition)
Derek Brewster’s conversion of the Astro Fighter coin-op was a near-perfect replication of Data East’s original, and this modded version eliminates the only real difference, by restoring the deceptively-important scoring for fireballs that provided much of the arcade game’s tension. Astro Fighter wasn’t the most adrenaline-rush game in the arcades, but the shorter playfield on the landscape screen actually improves it.
Compared to its sister game Pssst!, Cookie is all action all the time. There’s no finicky shelving and retrieving of the right weapons here, you just hurl flour bags frantically in all directions like the end of a particularly chaotic episode of Crackerjack.
It’s incredibly intense from the first couple of stages, and brutally hard if you’re stuck with using Ultimate’s trademark terrible keyboard layout, but hook up a joystick and Cookie has the vibe of a version of Robotron where you have to occasionally stop firing lest you somehow make things even worse.
24. JUNGLE FEVER
A really smooth and nicely-animated variant on Hunchback. Interestingly it came with an extra bit of code on the tape that loaded if you had 48K and gave you a couple of extra stages, but while the basic game doesn’t have all that many, it’s difficult enough that they’ll keep catching you out and taking your lives, which is all you need in a looping highscore game. After all, Pac-Man and Space Invaders are just one screen over and over again, right?
If you remember Sentinel from a few places ago*, you’re going to find this extremely familiar, because it’s basically the same game by the same author and just as good, but based on a foundation of Missile Command rather than Asteroids and Space Zap. It edges higher because it’s slightly easier to control, although the over-extended rub-your-nose-in-it Game Over sequence almost reversed the order.
(*) If you DON’T remember Sentinel from a few places ago, please consult a medical professional urgently. That’s actually quite alarming.
22. 3D SEIDDAB ATTACK
(Hewson Consultants, 1984)
The gameplay is basically Targ in 3D, and the graphics are barely less minimalist, but they’re a masterclass in atmosphere creation. It really feels like you’re prowling the streets of a big city at night battling off a massive alien invasion, and the way you can swerve your tank to take hits on relatively unscathed bits of its armour is pretty advanced stuff for a 1984 action game in 16K. Add in a live map, some satisfyingly crunchy sound effects, a boss baddie and two types of attack wave and you’ve got an impressive package.
21. CRUISING ON BROADWAY
Talking of minimalist atmosphere creation, though, nothing will ever beat this. It only has four screens, the graphics are pixel-wide lines and coloured squares, but with a bit of presentational flourish and judicious use of sound, Cruising On Broadway became an evocative and timeless tale of urgency, menace and steely nerves. It’s actually remarkable that it hasn’t been updated by some homebrewer, either as a simple level hack or a full-blown modernised remake with 128K sound and scenery between the tracks or whatever. (The “chasers” move randomly, so you could draw any maze and not have to change their code, and you’d think people could come up with some interesting new levels.) But as it stands it’s still a masterpiece.
(CDS Microsystems/Omega, 1984/1985)
There’s absolutely nothing to choose between these two conversions of Check Man, the Zilec-Zenitone bomb-defusing coin-op that may or may not be connected to Ultimate in their original guise as Ashby Computer Graphics. Timebomb is a bit slicker and faster, Stomp is a bit more challenging, they’ve both got their own quirks but both of them capture the look and feel of the arcade game.
19. SNAKE PIT
A secret fact that nobody ever admits about Spectrum games is that while it’s hugely technically impressive, Lords Of Midnight is actually really boring. Mike Singleton’s 8-bit creative peak was in fact this brilliant action game where you have to eat eggs in a maze whose living walls change every second and which is full of enough fast-moving and slithery snakes to give Indiana Jones recurring nightmares forever.
As with Shadowfax and Siege, you only have one life, so a single moment’s lapse in concentration is fatal, and – very much like being in one in real life – Snake Pit requires relentless maximum alertness and the reaction speed of, well, a cobra. It’s super-addictive as a result, and gobbling a twisty, bendy snake from the tail to the head is also one of the most satisfying moves in gaming.
(John Prince, 1982)
This is one of the oldest games in the list, dating back to late 1982, but despite its simple graphics and character-square movement it still stands up 40 years later. It is, of course, essentially Deathchase viewed from overhead (the UFO standing in for the helicopter and tank), which partly explains why it’s so gripping, but this time the baddies DO fire back at you for a bit of extra nerve-jangling. John Prince went on to pen highly accomplished Speccy arcade conversions like 720 Degrees, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Rolling Thunder, but Storm-Fighters is the game we keep coming back to.
17. JETPAC (TOURNAMENT EDITION)
If you’re wondering, the Tournament Edition is the bugfixed one where you can’t score infinity billion points by standing on the top platform in Level 4 and popping out to do a quick degree in Applied Quantum Mechanics. Ultimate’s arcade pedigree stood out a mile at a time when many Speccy releases were still compiled BASIC with user-defined graphics, and while it’s perhaps a little easy nowadays, this was one of the games that really elevated the Spectrum to the big league.
16. TEMPEST (DEEP SPACE EDITION)
This colour-modded version of a ZX81 port (perhaps the old mono machine’s finest hour) is an incredibly frantic shooter that leaves Electric Dreams’ limp official release dying in a starditch. Play it at the hardest level if you’ve got any stones at all, but you can ramp the difficulty down low enough to let the kids have a go too.
15. TRANZ AM
Tranz-Am generally doesn’t enjoy the same level of acclaim as the rest of Ultimate’s early titles, perhaps because its graphics are rather sparse and don’t look as pretty in screenshots. But it’s an underrated title, an atmospheric affair that veers from the melancholy vibes of a lonely cross-desert road trip to the hectic pursuit of Rally-X and the elegant looping manoeuvres of Time Pilot.
This game caused a lot of trouble. If its quality hadn’t stood out like a sore thumb from its peers in the early Speccy market, Imagine might never have taken off like they did, and therefore never crashed like they did.
Arcadia was worth the attention, though. Clearly loosely inspired by the Sega arcade hit Astro Blaster, it hooked players with the desire to see what the next of its 32 varied attack waves would be, and taunted them with sneaky tricks like the sudden kamikaze dive at the end of each stage, which could be fatal with extreme prejudice if you’d foolishly just shot the last baddie and summoned a whole new squadron onto your head with one second left on the clock to survive.
13. SUB TRACK
This is an arcade conversion that adds to the coin-op (faster, colour graphics, extensive customisation options and extra gameplay features) while still remaining true to its soul.
12. DON QUIXOTE
Attentive readers have probably noticed by now that this chart has been heavy on action/arcade games, because the RAM available in the 16K machine doesn’t leave a lot of room for sophistication or large maps. But this is a proper arcade adventure from a Russian publisher that’s been knocking it out of the park since appearing in 2019.
Pheenix set an early high standard for unofficial coin-op conversions that was rarely matched right up until the Speccy’s commercial death.
10. THE MAD CRUSHER
(Spectrum Computing, 1986)
Best known for 3D spectaculars like Tau Ceti, Academy, Earthlight and Micronaut One, Pete Cooke earned his spurs churning out little programs for tape magazines like Spectrum Computing and 16/48. His one-life Boulder Dash tribute 20 Tons is worth a look, but the pick of his 2D oeuvre is this insanely addictive dash across a lethally-electrified version of the dancefloor from Saturday Night Fever.
It’s really easy to grasp – the floor tiles cycle through colours and red ones kill you – and you can collect the five gold bags required to finish a level in a matter of seconds. The only enemy moves randomly, and yet you’ll either blunder into it or find yourself standing like an idiot on a deadly square time and time and time and time again and all your lives will vanish in the blink of an eye.
We’ve separated the game out from the Spectrum Computing covertape TZX and you can download the snapshot here. Just ten levels stand between you and success, and we wish you all the very best of luck.
(Central Solutions, 1984)
An extremely zippy blaster that’s basically Jetpac crossed with Missile Command, and frankly we can’t see how a game could need either any more explanation or any more recommendation than that. It lacks the gleaming polish of the Ultimate title – look at that ugly status bar, sheesh – but for our money it’s a noticeably more challenging and better game. We’ve got absolutely no idea what the terrible name means (if anything), and next to nothing is known of author Zafarullah Karim – other than that he also wrote our No.38, Handy Andy – but if you get nothing else from this chart apart from discovering this absolute banger then you haven’t wasted your day.
8. PATRICK PADDLE
This is the second-least graphically impressive action game in Spectrum history (after Cruising On Broadway, obviously), and it’s a real pity it couldn’t have squeezed in the tiniest bit of cursory background scenery – a one-pixel mountain range or some attribute-block skyscrapers, say – to pretty it up a smidge, because it’s also one of the most superbly playable things the old machine has ever seen.
Clearly inspired by the old Nintendo Game & Watch title Fire, all you do is bounce objects across a mostly empty screen and occasionally jump over holes in the ground. But the control is so absolutely beautiful, so smooth and precise and so instantly satisfying before you’ve even scored a single point, that as soon as you start playing you want to keep doing it forever.
7. CAVERN FIGHTER
(Bug Byte, 1983)
The Spectrum is just about the only 8-bit platform of any significance still waiting for a decent conversion of Scramble. While the Konami coin-op scroller that gave birth to the Gradius series was famously only converted to the Vectrex during its heyday, it’s subsequently had some fantastic homebrew ports on the Atari VCS, Atari 800, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and Ti-99 as well as countless official retro releases on formats like the Game Boy Advance, Playstation and Xbox 360.
Bug-Byte’s highly stylised take is by a long distance the best attempt at it on the Speccy, with recognisable interpretations of all the arcade levels squeezed into a bright and cartoony rendition that whips along so fast you can ace the enemy base within two minutes of launch. But only if you’re really good.
(Honourable mention here goes to Scramble by Mikro-Gen, which is much less polished than Cavern Fighter and has one of the worst keyboard layouts of all time, but more directly resembles the arcade game and is playable and lively with remapped emulator controls.)
A savagely intense take on Centipede that’s hard to stop playing, unless you have a heart attack from the lost-life special effect, which can frighten the living daylights out of anyone who gets caught up in the action and forgets about it. Which, trust us, is pretty much everyone.
SEMI-FUN TRIVIA FACT! If you’d like to play a pretty good 16K Centipede but without soiling your underpants every 20 seconds – and we know for some of you that’d take all the fun out of it – Night Stalker from Thor is also available.
5. THE TRAIN GAME
One of the most original games in the Speccy’s entire catalogue – or indeed in any other machine’s – The Train Game was a high-octane, brain-bending action puzzle like nothing before it and very little since (except The Typing Of The Dead, obviously). And you got two versions of the game for your money, each with completely different track layouts, on the two sides of the tape. You don’t get value like that on the railways these days, but TTG’s arrival in the top 5 of our chart is bang on schedule.
4. JUMPING JACK
Albert Ball made three games for the Spectrum (only two of which were ever released), but they’re three of the quirkiest and most original the machine ever saw. There was Rapscallion, the Teletext-graphics arcade adventure with the strange map, there was the incomprehensibly weird Masterspy, and there was this.
Jumping Jack is one of the most instantly graspable and most brilliantly infuriating video games of all time, because it gets so many tiny and crucial design decisions right that could easily have totally wrecked everything had they gone the wrong way (the unpredictable length of Jack’s stunnings, for example). And the between-levels poem is disarmingly sweet even for hardcore rhymeophobes.
Now, in truth, by the time you get to 14 or 15 enemies the game chugs (a tiny bit) and the enemies flicker (a lot), but frankly, if you’ve made it to that point you’re cheating anyway and deserve everything you get.
(Sunshine Books, 1983)
Androids is basically Maziacs on fast-forward, with lasers, squished into 16K. If there’s a single word of that sentence you don’t like the sound of, you’ve probably come to the wrong website by mistake. So let’s just move on to the big reveal.
Wait, what? If Deathchase is the best Speccy game of all time – and it is – then it must logically also be the best 16K Speccy game of all time, surely? But hold on. This is, by definition, a chart that’s about transcending limitations, and fitting a game as simple as Deathchase into 9K probably wasn’t all THAT hard. It’s pretty much just trees, after all.
Now, we may be doing Mervyn Estcourt a grave disservice there and maybe he had to squeeze every last byte, but given that he’s become a total recluse in Speccy terms since 1983, we’re probably safe from retribution.
Anyway, there it is. Deathchase is still the best Spectrum game of all time, let there be no shadow of doubt about that. But for the very specific set of qualities embodied by this specialist chart, there’s something else that impresses more. After all, Lionel Messi is the world’s greatest footballer but he’s not its best centre-half. So what is…?
1. SIR LANCELOT
(Melbourne House, 1984)
The concept of speedrun games hadn’t really been invented when Sir Lancelot came out, but it could have been the template for the entire idea. This is the Speccy’s fastest platformer and one of its prettiest, flying along with barely a moment’s pause. If you see somewhere onscreen that you want to be, you can be there in about two seconds flat.
You can knock out a level in about 20 seconds and all 32 of them in barely 12 minutes, but only after a lot of practice, and even if you don’t the mere act of playing it – as with Patrick Paddle – is so hugely enjoyable that achieving your goals is just a bonus. Getting this much game into this little space is a heroic feat, but to also make it this good is nothing short of miraculous. It’s the best 16K Spectrum game ever!
So there we go. A hundred quality games from a machine that basically only existed for a year. That’s more releases than many of its peers managed in their entire lifespans. Hopefully, this list has uncovered a few treasures you’ve never heard of, and ideally you’ll be scandalised and outraged at the blatantly wrong placings of all your favourites. But as always, this list is scientifically definitive and you’ll be wrong and laughed at by small children in the streets. Tough break, but so it goes.