Valhalla, ZX Spectrum

Valhalla was a game that was heavily marketed as an “epic” adventure with limitless possibilities back in 1983 when it was first released. It was portrayed by its publisher, Legend, as something of a ‘killer app’ on the Spectrum, and they even tagged it with a “MoviSoft” logo to make it seem “cinematic” – MoviSoft was the name of the game’s engine.

In truth, what you got was a laughable (and very expensive, at £14.95) medieval ‘soap opera’ with stick men being mean to each other; mostly in and around castles.

Valhalla is played by typing text commands into the game and getting responses. You can summon things and order characters to do things (they won’t always comply). And you move around (by typing compass directions), take, drop and give things, and even start fights between characters.

Ultimately, though, what you’re trying to do is find and collect six magical objects in order to reach otherwise unreachable areas in the game. The down side is that by just carrying these items they sap your strength, so you have to be careful. Also: you cannot get most of them on your own – you need the help of other characters to retrieve them.

Ah, the early days of home video gaming… Archaic, frustrating gameplay, and simple concepts that are blown out of all proportion… Valhalla – like Carnell Software‘s Black Crystal – is a game that was mostly hype over content. There is a modicum of fun to be had playing Valhalla, but overall the experience is a turgid one.

One interesting thing to note about the publisher: the late, great John Peel was the chairman and founder of Legend, and Valhalla was its first game. Two more Spectrum games were released by LegendThe Great Space Race in 1984, and Komplex City in 1985.

More: Valhalla on Wikipedia

Hysteria, ZX Spectrum

Published by Software Projects in 1987, Hysteria – at first glance – seems to owe quite a bit to Cobra, the infamous scrolling shooter from Ocean. At least graphically (the main character is a spitting image of the sprite in that game).

Hysteria is a time-travelling, side-scrolling shooter where you take on mythological creatures – and shoot them to death – in order to move to the next time zone. Collecting worms and lemons gives you access to more powerful temporary weapons… Yes, I know that all sounds like baloney. A lot of game ‘storylines’ back then were… uh, surreal at best. Nonsense at worst.

Programmed by the inimitable Jonathan Smith (the same guy, coincidentally, who programmed Cobra), Hysteria was a moderate success in the later life of the ZX Spectrum.

More: Hysteria on World of Spectrum

Gods and Heroes, Commodore 64

Steve’s Bak‘s 1987 sequel to the hilarious Hercules, God and Heroes, is a just as difficult and frustrating as it predecessor. But just as much fun.

Graphically, Gods and Heroes is a tiny bit better than the awful-looking Hercules, but not by much. It still looks like a dog’s dinner. But the key thing with this – as was the key thing with Hercules – is that Gods and Heroes is playable and fun. The feel of jumping around is good, even if the endless traps and tricks are a nightmare.

Gods and Heroes is masochistic gaming. You play it to torture yourself. Hopefully, to eventually beat it. And there are 50 screens in total, so good luck with that.

More: Zzap!64 review

Sinbad and the Golden Ship, ZX Spectrum

This obscure text adventure, with graphics, was released on the ZX Spectrum by Mastertronic in 1986.

In it you played the iconic Sinbad the Sailor, and go on adventures seeking gold and avoiding instant death.

Interestingly, Sinbad and the Golden Ship was created by Roy Carnell and Stuart Galloway, who made the infamous Black Crystal for Carnell Software in 1983 and the equally infamous Wrath of Magra for Mastertronic in 1985. As far as I’m aware, Sinbad and the Golden Ship was their last ever game.

Hercules, Commodore 64

Steve Bak‘s insane-but-fun platform game, Hercules, was first released on the Commodore 64 by Interdisc in 1984.

By “insane” I mean: the game is deliberately deceptive to the point of driving the player to insanity!

The whole concept of leaping from platform to platform in Hercules is turned on its head by what I can only describe as “dirty tricks”. That is: traps set up by the designers, to make your life hell, as you play a level. Step onto the wrong platform: you’re toast. Jump onto the wrong rope: it’ll disappear. There are also plenty of occasions in the game where you have to make a ‘leap of faith’ jump into empty space, in the hope that a platform will appear. Sometimes it does, and the route to the exit opens. Oftentimes you’ll end up in the flames at the bottom of the screen though.

Hercules is known as a classic – even though it does have appallingly basic and garish graphics – because the gameplay is so difficult as to be satirical. Death is often swift, frequent and hilarious, but the game has been designed to be quickly replayable. And there’s a random element to level selection, so playing any one of the 50 levels over and over doesn’t get boring too quickly.

To complete Hercules would take a Herculean effort, in terms of memory, skill and reflexes. Are you up to the challenge? I know I’m not, but I do enjoy playing Hercules, just for fun.

A sequel, called Gods and Heroes, was released by the same author in 1987.


Landstalker, Megadrive/Genesis

Released in its native Japan in 1992, and everywhere else in 1993, Landstalker is a memorable real-time action adventure in a well-defined fantasy world. The Megadrive‘s answer to Zelda, in some respects.

You take control of an Elf-like kid called Nigel (yes: Nigel), and must search for clues that lead to the treasures of King Nole. And you will find them in various dungeons and landscapes in the overworld as you follow the fairly linear path.

Combat is real time, and mostly about facing the right direction and hitting fire repeatedly. Not easy with the controls being directional, but you get used to it eventually.

Like in most Zelda games, when you leave an area and re-enter it, all the enemies come back. Which can net you extra income, but also means that you generally have to be careful where you wander, because life points are in short supply.

As an action adventure I’d say that Landstalker is relatively light on complexity – compared to something like Zelda: A Link To The Past – but it does have its qualities.

Landstalker was developed by Climax Entertainment for Sega.