Random Access Memory: The ZX Spectrum at 40 – and six of the best Speccy games

The ZX Spectrum turned 40. If you owned one back then, you’ll feel old. But rather than ponder the nature of your own mortality, let’s celebrate a true British classic – the finest invention to emerge from the brain of Sir Clive Sinclair.

Argh, the horror! I have flashbacks to rubber keys. Why are you doing this to me?

The ZX Spectrum’s dead flesh touches were an acquired taste, but even today there’s something deeply appealing about the machine’s diminutive form. It doesn’t look like a typewriter keyboard with a badge on it – it’s unique and different. And it was cheap, too: every decision Sinclair made ensured that the Speccy was far more affordable and accessible than its American rivals’ pickups. At £125 for the 16k model – £175 for the 48k unit – and being able to load programs from a standard tape recorder, this was a computer for the rest of us.

The rest of us who hated their eyes, with the searing colors of the machine…

Remember, that was 1982. It’s not like home mics back then had photorealistic graphics. But, yes, the Speccy had a color clash. Due to limitations imposed by memory conservation efforts, it could only display one foreground and background color per 8×8 pixel block. Also, the sound was a screaming beep. By comparison, the Commodore 64 was all flash with its sprites, multichannel, and hardware scrolling. Yet, since the Specccy lacked these things, its game makers just had to work a little harder.

Awesome. So the British machine made you work harder to end up with a worse result?

Not really. Programmers viewed limitations as challenges. Less grip meant the Speccy games had more character than the sprite-based C64 efforts. The Speccy forced people to be better coders, and many did great things in the industry. It’s a shame that Sir Clive Sinclair never accepted the games: he hated them and wanted the Speccy to be used for “more noble” pursuits. But his machine really fostered a generation of coders – only one that initially created games in bedrooms, pushing the ZX Spectrum far beyond what was thought possible.

Six of the best: ZX Spectrum games

death hunt packed in just 16k thrilling 3D shooter that reminded Return of the Jedi speeder bike sequence.

Jetpac was another 16k effort – a stunning single-screen blaster by Ultimate (later Rare) that looked like an arcade game.

Speaking of arches, Hunting HQ was a sublime showcase of how an advanced arcade cabinet could fit into the humble Speccy.

If you prefer more thoughtful dishes, midnight lords was more or less interactive the Lord of the Rings inside your microphone.

Crazy in Love built on classic platforms (manic miner) and isometric puzzles (Knowledge Knight) to create a much-loved epic.

To finish, School stunner epitomized the quirky Britishness of many Speccy games, having you racing through a virtual school.

The ZX Spectrum Next Plus brings back Britain’s best computer – again

Comments are closed.