I have been watching The Spectrum Show YouTube channel for quite a few years now. Last year I went to Crash Live, a celebration of all thing Spectrum organised by the publishers of the relaunched Crash magazine. Paul and Geoff from the channel did a live episode and one of the things they did was discuss their top-10 16K games. I agreed with some of their selections but were unfamiliar with others so I decided to play them and see if I agreed.
10. Jumping Jack by Imagine.
I don’t remember playing this at the time. The graphics are quite crude but the game does have a certain addictiveness. It is very frustrating to play but you always feel like you’ll be able to do better next time. Which isn’t always true.
9. Android One, by Vortex Software.
I remember playing this one and I think I got quite far. I can’t remember whether I completed it or not, but since back then finishing a game was the exception rather than the rule, I probably didn’t.
8. TranzAm by Ultimate.
Another game I played a lot. I’m pretty sure I collected all 8 cups and completed it. When I loaded it up again, didn’t do as well but in my defense it has been quite a few years.
7. Thrusta by Software Projects.
This was another game which passed me by at the time. While the game claims to be 16K, I couldn’t get it to work in 16K mode in the Fuse emulator, only 48K.
I found the game quite tricky – it probably needs quite a bit of practice to fully appreciate it.
6. Harrier Attack by Durell.
I had forgotten that this was a 16K game. This is another game I played a lot at the time. When I tried it again, I couldn’t get very far.
5. 3D Tanx by dk’tronics.
This game hasn’t really stood the test of time. I remember playing it in the early 80s but it does feel a lot more dated than others on the list. This may be partly down to the slightly jerky character-square movements.
4. Pssst by Ultimate
All the Ultimate games, including this one, were very slick and professional. They do have 4 games in this top-10 (this isn’t really much of a spoiler, we all know what’s going to be number 1).
3. Cookie, by Ultimate.
In terms of gameplay, I think I prefer Pssst. I find Cookie to be more frustrating to play and I always give up after a few goes.
2. Deathchase, by Micromega.
No disagreement here. This is an impressive achievement for a 16K game. I actually managed to complete this one. The trees were so dense on the final stage, my heart was pounding, I felt like I was on automatic pilot, reacting without thinking rather than actually playing the game.
1. Jetpac, by Ultimate.
Absolutely no surprise here. I think there is an almost universal agreement that this is the best 16K game ever, and is also considered to be one of the best Spectrum games in general.
Ultimate really hit the ground running with this title, managing to produce one of the best games of the early 80s with their first release.
This is another game which I managed to complete at the time. Unlike all the other games here, I can still play it all the way through.
There were 3 other games which they mentioned:
- Styx (Bug Byte)
- Lancelot (Melbourne House)
- 3D Escape (New Generation Software)
I only remember 3D Escape, which I definitely played a few times. Styx was an early Matthew Smith game and has some of his recognisable graphical style in it. I had heard of it at the time but never played it until I managed to download a copy and play it on an emulator. Sir Lancelot was another game I was aware of but didn’t play at the time. I found it quite difficult and it took me a few goes to complete the first level.
What did they miss?
So are there any 16K games which I would have included instead? Probably not the Horace games. They really only became ‘popular’ because they were machine code arcade games in an era when many games were still written in BASIC. Horace goes Skiing has an over-difficult Frogger-style level followed by a mediocre skiing level. Horace and the Spiders is probably the best of the bunch and crams an impressive amount of game into 16K.
Hewson Consultants produced some impressive 16K games, such as 3D Seiddab Attack and 3D Space Wars. While they were technically impressive, they weren’t as much fun as some of the games in the top 10.
Most Spectrum games were developed for the 48K machine but there were still hundreds written for the 16K model. A lot of these games were early in the Spectrum’s life when programmers were still learning their craft. As a result, many of these games were quite poor but as we’ve seen above there were also some excellent games and some genuine classics.