Kokotoni Wilf, ZX Spectrum

A leading contender for the game with the silliest name of all-time, Kokotoni Wilf is an early platform action game with you in the role of the titular Mr. Wilf.

The back story is about a magician, called Ulrich, who is trying to reassemble a broken Dragon Amulet in order to keep some dangerous dragons in check. But Ulrich realises that he is too old to go out adventuring himself to collect the pieces, so he sends his assistant out to get them instead, and that assistant is you – Mr. Kokotoni Wilf.

To help ‘Toni’ (as his friends sometimes call him), Ulrich creates a pair of wings on his back, and these help him fly around. Which in turn makes it easier for him to reach these broken pieces of amulet. “Easier” being a euphemism for “near, but not quite, impossible”.

What Ulrich doesn’t tell you is that your journey to collect these amulet pieces is going to take you on an adventure through time and space, which is why later stages of the game appear to be set in ‘present day’ London (a very shonky 8-bit version of London, it has to be said), and also far further into the future (into a future with dodgy 8-bit graphic representations of overhead monorails and space ports).

The original ZX Spectrum version of Kokotoni Wilf is not a bad game, although – looking at it now – it hasn’t aged particularly well. Compared to, say, the atrocious Commodore 64 and Amstrad versions of this game, it still plays reasonably well and can deliver some fun.

In all versions of Kokotoni Wilf it is a matter of getting used to the rather dodgy and archaic control system. Flying Wilf around is more luck than judgement at times, and even if you think you’ve got a handle on it, you can easily bite the dust very quickly, lose all your lives, and end up back at the beginning again.

More: Kokotoni Wilf on Wikipedia

Pyracurse, ZX Spectrum

An involving, multi-character isometric adventure set in an Egyptian tomb, Pyracurse was written by Mark Goodall and Keith Prosser and published by Hewson in 1986.

You take control of a party of four (a woman, two men, and a dog…), on a rescue mission to find a lost scientist. Each character has individual strengths and weaknesses. Frozbie the dog, for example, can dig up buried items. Very useful in certain situations.

Controlling the characters is done via the little red little menu at the bottom of the screen and either joystick or keys. You choose a character and put them into “mobile mode”, then you can take them for a manual walk. Items found when wandering around can be picked up by simply walking over them. An inventory is also accessible via the small, red menu.

A variety of monsters patrol the tomb. Some will chase any of the party members on sight, while others will only activate when approached. Each character has their own life bar and will snuff it if it reaches zero. Exploring can be quite tense for a tiny little 48K game… That’s what made Pyracurse a critical hit at the time, and still makes it worth a play now.

More: Pyracurse on Wikipedia

Movie, ZX Spectrum

A legendary ZX Spectrum game, designed and programmed by Duško Dimitrijevic and published by Imagine Software in 1986.

Movie is an isometric action/adventure in the style of Knight Lore, and it utilises a Marlow-esque ‘Film Noir’ type setting. It’s basically a detective story where you have to solve simple puzzles by using conversations and item manipulation.

What really made Movie stand out back in the day were the graphics, which are beautifully designed and stylised – a true work of 8-bit pixel artistry that still hold up today.

The rudimentary physics that underpin the game are impressive – for a 48K game. The gameplay is held back a little by the slowdown, and this is common with isometric games on the Spectrum, although the programmer seems to have compensated for this and it doesn’t mar the game too much.

Deciphering Movie‘s secrets is not easy, but it is worth a go, and using a walkthrough will help not waste time. As will learning how to use the game’s built-in text parser.

An arguably better Amstrad CPC version was also released the same year. No other conversions exist (outside of maybe homebrew), that I’m aware of.

More: Movie on Wikipedia

Alien Highway, ZX Spectrum

The direct sequel to Highway Encounter, Alien Highway is an isometric, third-person shoot ’em up with you taking control of a robot trying to push a bomb up a road, in order to destroy an invading alien base.

Of course it’s not quite as simple as pushing the bomb up the road – you must clear any obstacles and shoot any aliens as you go, because the obstacles will hamper your progress, and the aliens will rob you of your lives if they touch or shoot you. So Alien Highway is part shooter; part puzzle game – just like its predecessor. In fact: the gameplay in both is very similar, but that is not a bad thing because the feel of the game (and the rudimentary physics that drive it) are exceptional.

Unlike the previous game, Alien Highway was not programmed by Costa Panayi, but by the late Mark Haigh-Hutchinson, who it has to be said did a marvellous job. Haigh-Hutchinson later went on to work on such illustrious titles as: Sam & Max hit the Road, Metroid Prime, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

Alien Highway was first published in 1986 by Vortex Software.

More: Alien Highway on Wikipedia

Highway Encounter, ZX Spectrum

Highway Encounter is another classic ZX Spectrum game created by the talented and prolific Costa Panayi of Vortex Software. It was first published in 1985.

You control a robot called a ‘Vorton’ (which looks a bit like Dalek), and who must push a bomb through a thirty-screen length of road towards an alien base in order to destroy it. The Vorton can move in eight directions and can fire a ball of plasma from its head. The weapon can be used for shooting alien defenders who attack you, and also for moving barrels and other obstacles that block the way.

Some obstacles require that the robot leave the bomb behind to clear the way ahead, although this can lead to an early death if not careful.

Highway Encounter is simple to play and very challenging. Graphically it is appealing too and seems to have stood the test of time rather well. It’s still worth playing today, along with its 1986 sequel, Alien Highway.

More: Highway Encounter on Wikipedia

Tornado Low Level, ZX Spectrum

Tornado Low Level (aka TLL) was written by Costa Panayi and published for the Spectrum by Vortex Software in 1984.

It is a classic action flight game whereby you control a ‘swing-wing’ Tornado jet and must ‘hug’ the terrain in order to wipe out enemy targets. You don’t ‘shoot’ anything per se, you simply have to fly over them at the required height (ie. dangerously low to the ground), without crashing into anything. Much easier said than done, because most of your targets are located in tricky places to reach. You can judge the height of your craft by keeping an eye on both the altimeter, and also the shadow the plane casts (which was quite revolutionary in 1984).

Thankfully the landscape wraps around and doesn’t change, so at least you can learn the terrain to beat the game. Opening your Tornado’s wings up slows the craft down, while closing them speeds it up. Fuel can be replenished by landing on the available runway.

Tornado Low Level is a brilliant early Spectrum title that showed that shooting wasn’t necessarily required to make a great game. And TLL remains a great game to this day.

More: Tornado Low Level on Wikipedia

Mr. Wimpy, ZX Spectrum

Mr. Wimpy is an early ZX Spectrum game from Ocean Software, first published in 1984. It is based on (and licensed from) the Wimpy chain of restaurants – in particular their mascot: Mr. Wimpy. Wimpy restaurants were more widespread in the 1980s than they are today, but this was still a surprising release from Ocean.

What is not very surprising is that Mr. Wimpy is a clone of BurgerTime, although it does have an extra level that you have to play through before getting to the BurgerTime clone.

That first level is a simple ‘fetch’ game where Mr. Wimpy walks from the left side of the screen to the right, picks up an item of food, then returns back to the starting point – the caveat being: if Mr. Wimpy is touched by one of the moving hazards he loses the item and must try again.

Mr. Wimpy is neither a particularly great game, nor a particularly memorable release from Ocean, although it is an interesting curiosity from the mists of time. Is it still worth playing today? Of course it is! 🙂

More: Mr. Wimpy on Wikipedia

Horace and the Spiders, ZX Spectrum

The third and final Horace game on the ZX Spectrum, written by William Tang and published by Sinclair/Psion in 1983.

Horace and the Spiders is yet another ‘clone’ game, this time copying Space Panic and also elements of Pitfall.

The game is split into two distinct stages. The first one sees Horace walking along a side-scrolling cavern and jumping over spiders that come his way, then climbing moving spider silk strands to cross a ravine. The second stage is a single screen platforms and ladders game where Horace must stomp holes in the web platforms so that spiders fall into them, and when they do he must stomp them again to kill them.

Like Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing, Horace and the Spiders is a game that many see through rose-tinted spectacles – the memory of playing it as a kid is stronger than the game itself. In truth: it hasn’t aged well, and isn’t much fun to play nowadays.

But at least Horace himself has become iconic among Spectrum fans.

A further ‘official’ Horace game, called Horace in the Mystic Woods, was released for the Psion 3-Series palmtop range in 1995, but it wasn’t written by William Tang. Further to that, a ZX Spectrum conversion of Horace in the Mystic Woods was released by indie coder Bob Smith in 2010. Other fan-made Horace games exist too, including Horace Goes to The Tower, released in 2011. It seems that our love for Horace continues ever onwards, in spite of his rather chequered past…

More: Horace and the Spiders on Wikipedia

Horace Goes Skiing, ZX Spectrum

Hungry Horace author, William Tang, also produced this sequel – Horace Goes Skiing – the same year as its predecessor: 1982. It was again published by Sinclair/Psion.

This one is part Frogger clone and part skiing game, and is slightly more playable and enjoyable than its predecessor.

Horace starts off having to cross a busy road to get to the ski slope. The traffic is fast, relentless and deadly, and finding a gap to make it through is not easy. Get hit by a vehicle and Horace must pay $10 for an ambulance. And – since he starts with $30 – that gives him three lives to begin with.

Survive the road, and the scene changes to a horizontally-scrolling slalom course. Horace skis down the screen and his speed is dictated by how much you turn him left and right. If Horace is facing directly downwards he’ll accelerate to top speed. If you turn him left and right he’ll turn and slow down. The route to success is lined with coloured flags, and only by carefully controlling Horace‘s speed and direction will you make it between them. Bash into a tree or a hill and Horace‘s skis will cross and he might break them. If he does, it’s back to the road for another pair (or game over if he doesn’t have the cash).

While Horace Goes Skiing is definitely better than its predecessor, it’s still not what I would call a “classic” game – even for the Spectrum. Sure: it’s steeped in nostalgia, but that’s not good enough on its own. If you were going to play it today, you’d probably be tired of it in 15/30 minutes.

More: Horace Goes Skiing on Wikipedia

Hungry Horace, ZX Spectrum

This ZX Spectrum Pac-Man clone is a legendary early title from Beam Software/Melbourne House, and was published by Sinclair/Psion in 1982.

Hungry Horace is probably as well known as it is because of Horace – a cute blue blob with eyes, arms, and legs – and who is somewhat memorable. It certainly isn’t revered for its sparkling gameplay, which is limited at best (and banal at worst).

Four mazes, repeated over and over; supposedly representing a ‘park’ – Hungry Horace isn’t even a particularly good Pac-Man clone. The faces that chase you have weird AI; the mazes have dead ends; some mazes have corridors; ring the bell and the faces get scared for a limited time and you can ‘kill’ them by touching them…

Describing Hungry Horace any more will just cause me (and you, probably) to yawn, so I’ll just say that this is a game that is fondly-remembered because it was the ‘birth’ of Horace – a character Spectrum owners grew to love immensely. The game itself has unfortunately degraded over time…

More: Hungry Horace on Wikipedia