26th November 2020: All The Colours Of The Spectrum
I haven't even so much as loaded a computer game these past few months, as I've been waiting and waiting for my fingers to feel a bit better, only to find that they still don't feel any better. So I hit upon the idea of again trying to emulate some games from my childhood that I never finished, as a lot of old games on early computers didn't even need a mouse, and I would not need to click any such buttons.
Rewinding the clock back about as far as I can personally take it, the first computer I ever used was an old ZX Spectrum 48K with rubber keys. It was upon this machine that I played such awesome games as Horace Goes Skiing, Jetpac and Mr. Wimpy. This was the only computer in my family through the 80s until the arrival of my Commodore Amiga 500, which I'm guessing was either in 89 or 90.
Of course, because I was so young, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I don't remember completing a single game on that computer. I don't even remember trying to complete any games on it. I thought it was about time I changed that.
Before going into full-on Spectrum completion mode, there was one game I needed to play first. This game is a football game called Match Day. This was easily the game I spent the most time on, and is also the one I have fondest memories of.
I remember being at school one day, and deciding that when I got home I was going to play a full 90 minute game of Match Day. However, I returned home only to discover that the Spectrum and all its games were gone. My mom told me at the time that my cousin had borrowed it, whereas in reality she'd actually sold it to help pay for the Amiga I would be getting that Christmas. I didn't even find out the truth about this until some time afterwards, and though I loved my old A500, I always felt a bit sad that I never got to play a full match on the Spectrum.
So I was quite glad when I managed to get this running after a bit of tinkering with RetroArch, and I got my lads jogging out onto the pitch for the first time in 30 years. However, after I got the little taste that I wanted, and discovered that the game wasn't really anything like I remembered, I lost that tiny bit of desire to play a full game that still existed deep down in my soul.
For my 3 games, I instead stuck to 10 minute matches. In my first game, I managed a 3-3 draw, even though I had no idea what I was doing. After reading some instructions, I thought that I would easily dominate the computer, but my efforts to play the game properly saw me get absolutely destroyed 0-4. For my third and final game I took a hybrid approach, combining my play styles from the first two games, and managed a 3-1 win.
Good enough for me.
The first Speccy game I was going to try and complete had to be the Trap Door, which is based on a kids TV show that I used to love when I was little. In this puzzle game, you play as Berk as he runs around the castle preparing food for his master, The Thing Upstairs.
I remember not having much luck with this as a kid, and its not hard to see why. Though the mission objectives aren't too hard to figure out after a bit of exploring and experimentation, the exact method of success for each dish is far more troublesome to find. There are a few objects that need to be pushed into just the right spot for them to work right, and monsters that must be lured into exactly the right spot, and so on. With the controls being so clunky and unresponsive (this is a Spectrum game after all), these things can be a pain to pull off.
Thankfully, it was only a short game, and the availability of save states made finishing this far easier than it would have been.
My main disappointment is that there's no Rogg, who was clearly the best character in the TV show.
I didn't play this game much back in the 80s, as it was mostly other family members that took on its challenges. But whoever played, I don't think any of us got very far. We were more interested in jumping on the enemies and receiving the "PARALYSED AN ANT !" message than we were in actually trying to rescue anybody.
Yes, this is the very old game Ant Attack.
Those poor people had been stuck in this very blocky city for more than 30 years, so after a bit of tinkering to map the keyboard controls to my controller with antimicro, I got stuck into doing my duty at long last.
Though using the controller and using save states made this a lot easier than it used to be, it was still infuriating. The game itself is very sluggish, so sometimes when I pressed a button nothing happened. And sometimes when I pressed the button to turn, my character turned twice, sending him running back into the jaws of the ants that were in pursuit. Poop. As you can imagine, it also made the more platform-y elements quite awkward.
The camera was also a pain, as it would regularly move so the character was no longer on screen. It was easy enough to reset, but it was still weird. Though I guess it is quite an achievement that such an old game even has a camera like this, that can be rotated the way it can.
I'm glad I've completed another unfinished game that I played years ago, but I'm even more glad I'll never have to play it again. Though in a way it was cool to go through quite an important game in the industry's history.
This game, called Nightshade, is one of the very few Speccy games that I have managed to retain some clear(ish) recollections of. You play as a dude who has to go running around a city to rid it of four demonic entities that stalk its streets and buildings. In order to kill them, you first have to find the enemy-specific weapons to take them out, which are also laying around the city in random locations. And in order to get to the weapons, you have to dodge a swathe of annoying creepies and critters who constantly spawn directly in your path.
Me, my bro and my next door neighbour used to try our hand at this game fairly regularly in the late 80s, but always found it very difficult, and only occasionally managed to kill one of the main enemies. After playing through it recently, I can fully understand why we found it hard. I had to heavily employ the save state feature of the emulator to get through this one, as it was almost impossible to avoid the monsters that appear directly in front of you and hit you before you have a chance to react. Even though you can get hit 15 times before it's game over, there's no way I would have managed to get through it with the sluggish controls of a spectrum game. To be fair, the controls were more responsive in this than the other Speccy games I've played recently, but that's not saying much.