Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov on Wikipedia

Spindizzy, Commodore 64

In my mind: one of the best 8-bit games ever made. Spindizzy is part Marble Madness tribute; part completely original game, with you controlling a spinning top-like device, called GERALD, exploring a large, isometric game world that is suspended in space.

The basic idea is to explore with GERALD and collect jewels, which are found hidden around the landscape and which extend the time limit you can survive for. You can bring up a map, which shows what percentage of the landscape you’ve discovered – the ultimate goal being: to explore as much of the world as possible.

GERALD can transform into three different configurations – a ball, an inverted square pyramid (the default), and also a gyroscope. Unfortunately these are just cosmetic changes and don’t affect the gameplay in any way (an oversight in my humble opinion – more should’ve been made of them).

Spindizzy was a critical hit at the time, and a commercial success in Europe. Activision released the game in the USA, but it didn’t makes any real waves. There was an unauthorised Apple II version released in the US (by Activision, no less), which rights-holder Shirley wasn’t aware of until the mid 1990s (and which must’ve mightily pissed him off).

The original Commodore 64 version of Spindizzy is probably the one to play, although it is a very difficult game to master. There have been a number of conversions made – and most have been good – but this original version is pretty much perfect. It’s an incredible feat of programming.

More: Spindizzy on Wikipedia

Firetrack, BBC Micro

Released by Electric Dreams Software in 1987, Firetrack is a fast vertical shooter, designed and programmed by Nick Pelling (aka Orlando), the guy who made Frak! (among others).

Firetrack pushes the hardware on the BBC to the limits, with fast scrolling, lots of sprites on screen at the same time, and responsive controls. The feel of the controls is somewhat unique too. You have to play it to understand.

This is probably the best shoot ’em up on the BBC. A Commodore 64 version was also created, by Pelling himself, and both versions were critical successes.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firetrack

Spindizzy, Atari 800

Paul Shirley‘s classic isometric puzzle/adventure game, Spindizzy, originated on the Commodore 64, but is also quite excellent on the Atari 800.

You play as a spinning top device, called GERALD (Geographical Environmental Reconnaissance And Land-mapping Device), who must explore the maze-like environment, collecting jewels.

Spindizzy is a hugely challenging game. Too hard for many people, but if you can master the controls you might be able to reach the parts other spinning tops cannot.

The Atari conversion was handled by Mark Roll and the game was released by Electric Dreams in 1986.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spindizzy_(video_game)

Super Hang-On, Atari ST

Sega‘s Super Hang-On was a full-sized bike arcade machine, that you sat on, and rocked side to side to steer the bike. It was first released into arcades in 1987 and this 16-bit conversion followed a year later in 1988.

Cynics doubted anyone could make it into a credible home version, but developer Software Studios proved everyone wrong by producing a superb conversion for the ST.

Playable either with a joystick or with a mouse, Super Hang-On is a non-stop blast through superfast road courses. It’s a time trial basically. You race to the next checkpoint to extend your time.

Colourful, fast, playable are words I would use to describe the Atari ST version of Super Hang-On. Super Hang-On is not about realism, it’s about speed… shaving seconds off lap times and keeping your race alive.

Super Hang-On was published by Electric Dreams.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Hang-On

Spindizzy Worlds, Atari ST

The Atari ST version of Spindizzy is arguably the best one around.

Spindizzy Worlds, which appeared on Atari ST, Amiga and Super Nintendo in 1990 – is a more compartmentalised reworking of the original Spindizzy, with branching levels and puzzles and gem-collecting in a challenging isometric world. Well, various worlds. All themed in a particular graphical style, and each with its own set of individual problems.

As in the first Spindizzy: in Spindizzy Worlds you control a spinning top-like robotic device called GERALD (meaning: Geographical Environmental Reconnaissance And Land-mapping Device) and must make your way carefully through the landscape, without dropping off the edge (which loses you time), without being killed by any meanies, and within the time limit. It’s easier said than done, but Spindizzy Worlds is an interesting challenge nonetheless.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spindizzy_Worlds

Deus Ex Machina, ZX Spectrum

This unique and interesting game was developed and first published by Automata UK on the ZX Spectrum in 1984.

Deus Ex Machina was the first video game to feature a fully synchronised soundtrack that featured celebrity narration and music. The cast includes Ian Dury, Jon Pertwee, Donna Bailey, Frankie Howerd, E.P. Thompson, and Mel Croucher – the latter being the author of the game. The soundtrack was supplied on cassette, which was played while the game ran.

The game charts the life of a “defect” which has formed in “the machine”, from conception, through growth, evolution and eventually death. The progression is loosely based on “The Seven Ages of Man” from the Shakespeare play, As You Like It, and includes many quotations and parodies of this.

Deus Ex Machina was also released in its original form on the Commodore 64 and MSX, and was re-made (by the original author) – with a different cast (including Christopher Lee) – in 2015.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_Ex_Machina_(video_game)