Newest Review: ... There are two options available. The first is to purchase specific packages. There are 25 of these available, each containing 4 games ... more
Celebrating 30 years of the ZX Spectrum
100 Greatest Hits HD
Member Name: Dentolux
100 Greatest Hits HD
Advantages: 101 classic games, good options to customise controls/display, save states.
Disadvantages: Virtual joystick is a bit sensitive, graphics/sonics are obviously dated.
It's been thirty years since the launch of the ZX Spectrum, one of the most popular 8 bit home computers of all time (along with the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC.) To mark this anniversary the folks at Elite Systems Group have released a collection of classic Sinclair games containing a whopping one hundred and one titles available for the iPad and other Apple mobile devices. It's a mouth watering nostalgic prospect for retro gaming fans who grew up during the eighties or younger gamers curious to sample the pioneering titles which helped start the million dollar video game industry we know today.
Now I may be known for being somewhat loony, but even I am not insane enough to provide in depth reviews for the extensive library on offer. Much to my keyboard's relief I will only touch upon some of the highlights of this collection, which are broken down into packs of four games (named after the software company that released the games or in some cases the programmer who coded them.) Feel free to check out my opinions on some of the games on offer or, if reading biblical length reviews isn't your thing, skip ahead to the summary section for my final assessment of the entire package. For the purposes of conserving space I won't list every game in this review, you can find the full list and purchase the collection itself by clicking on the following link :-
0. BRUCE LEE
Without doubt the highlight of the collection would have to be the title staring the legendary martial artist. This adventure sees Lee venture into an oriental themed fortress seeking the treasures contained within and the secret to immortality held by a powerful wizard (which ironically would have come in handy seeing how the actor's life was tragically cut short.) Given the star of the show you'd be for forgiven for thinking this is a fighting game, but it is in fact a platformer which demands that the player navigate past numerous traps including spike pits, electrified floors and pressure pads which release a deadly gas.
Relentlessly pursuing Lee are a kendo staff wielding ninja and chubby sumo wrestler named Yamo. Players are best off avoiding the gruesome twosome, but should they get too close it's possible to keep them at bay with a well timed punch (or fool them altogether by playing dead.) For the most part players have to help Lee collect lanterns strewn across the fortress which will reveal secret passages. The game is initially challenging, but with some practice can be completed which makes a welcome change from other titles of the era which were nigh on impossible to finish. In a collection of quality games Bruce Lee stands as a prime example of how a well designed title can stand the test of time. Despite it's primitive graphics and sparse use of sound the game remains tons of fun to play to this very day.
Driving game fans will be pleased to learn that this pack contains two racers (Buggy Boy and Turbo Esprit) but as someone who is known for driving a motor with its fair share of dents it was Chuckie Egg and Saboteur that caught my attention. Like Bruce Lee, Chuckie Egg is a platformer with an emphasis of fun over graphics. Even by Speccy standards the visuals are weak, but who cares when the gameplay is such a blast. The game has the player controlling a plump straw hat wearing farmhand who has to traverse single screen levels by nabbing all the eggs. Impeding your progress are vicious fowl who patrol the stages. I think they are meant to be chickens, but they look like ostriches. My only beef with the game is that climbing ladders can be a little finicky as you have to press diagonally up or down to climb/descend the rungs.
After chastising a couple of games for their below par sprites I am pleased to report that Saboteur looks impressive for an eighties home computer release. It's a title that should appeal to Splinter Cell fans as you control a stealthy ninja who sneaks into a military complex, during the middle of the night on an inflatable raft. Your mission is to nab a disc containing top secret information and make a hasty retreat before the explosives planted in the building detonate. To succeed the saboteur needs to avoid watchdogs and fight off guards using martial arts or ranged weapons which can be found throughout the area. Should you get hurt you can replenish your health by resting, but be aware when taking a breather that the clock is ticking. If you liked the original Saboteur you'll be glad to know that the sequel featuring a female protagonist, who battles androids, is included in the second pack along with a Pong clone named Batty and the excellent fantasy themed Beyond the Ice Palace.
2. SOFTWARE PROJECTS
The library of games featured in the second collection is definitely overshadowed by the legendary Manic Miner. The classic platformer stars miner Willy who is hoping to amass a fortune of precious minerals after uncovering a mining operation manned by automatons created by an ancient civilisation. To explore the various caverns players have to collect all the flashing keys dotted around the screen. Anyone spoiled by the current generation's crop of easy mode games is in for a shock when tackling Manic Miner. The challenge rating is through the roof as its one of those games were one hit spells instant death. The fiendish difficulty might sound frustrating, but it really isn't. You'll perish often and still back as Manic Miner has an addictive quality that tempts players into have just one more go.
Manic Miner's spiritual successor Jet Set Willy and Jet Set Willy 2 are amongst the titles featured in the second Software Projects pack. The gameplay is similar to the original with pixel perfect jumping and item collection being the order of the day. The scope of the adventure is however grander with single screen levels replaced by a huge world to explore. The game oozes a quirky sense of humour which balances out the hardcore difficulty. The story revolves around Willy having to appease his irate housekeeper by cleaning up his mansion, in order to get some shut eye, after a particularly wild party. Disappointingly the follow-up Jet Set Willy 2 isn't a full blown sequel, but rather an enhanced version of its predecessor containing a few extra rooms and smoother animation.
The Gremlin collection contains a four pack featuring an animated mole named Monty. Evidentially this character was popular back in the day, staring in numerous Miner Miner style platformers were you collect items and avoid all manner of wacky obstacles. Due to the games' fiendish difficulty and my lack of platforming prowess I am ashamed to say that I didn't make much progress in any of the featured titles. What a shame, especially as one of the games features my hometown of Gibraltar. It's neat seeing how they refined the gameplay experience throughout the years with each game sporting improvements in music and Monty's jumping animation. I would recommend that players keen to get their feet wet in the series start out with the fourth Christmas themed special which is actually a cover tape freebie featured in an old Spectrum magazine.
Palace's packs arguably offer the best selection of games in the entire collection as they boast the two Barbarian, Cauldron and Crazy Cars games. Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior caused a stir back in the day due to its saucy cover, complete with page three model, and violent combat which allowed players to decapitate opponents. The Spectrum's fighting game library is extensive, but I would say that Barbarian would rank amongst my favourite 1v1 fighters on the system. The excellent graphics, smooth combat and Conan-esque setting make it stand apart from other titles in a market oversaturated with martial art games. The sequel sounds even better on paper with multi-screen levels to explore and monstrous combatants jumping into the mix. I however always preferred the simplicity of the original, definitely a case of less is more.
The Crazy Cars games are under-rated racers in my opinion. Both games have budding drivers accelerating to check points before the time limit runs out. Completing a level would morph your sports car into a different high end motor and change the city landscape in the background to reflect your next destination. I was impressed by the sense of speed both titles achieved including the elevation your car would hit when going off a bump in the road. The sequel is the better game as it introduced obstacles to weave around, police cars to dodge and alternate routes on the road. Definitely more fun than the better known Outrun, although be warned that the engine noise which dominates the game's sonics will assault your ears.
Finally we come to the Cauldron games. As the title hints the first game has the player adopting the role of a big nosed witch. Your mission is to collect spell ingredients, by flying across the landscape on your trusty broom. Whilst traipsing through the skies keep a lookout for keys that unlock platform stages which house the ingredients you seek. Cauldron is a "spellbinding" game worthy of a retro-gamer's attention. Zapping aerial threats with your wand is a blast, although it is somewhat hampered by the stop/start interruption to the gameplay when you fly from screen to screen. The sequel is a very different game, but fun all the same. The quirky premise has you controlling a bouncing jack o'lantern who is out to vanquish the decrepit protagonist of the original. It's a tricky game which demands skill to avoid becoming pumpkin squash.
5. ALTERNATIVE SOFTWARE
Out of the games on offer on the Alternative Software packs the Skool Daze titles are probably going to be the ones that appeal to retro gamers the most. The high school adventures allow players to recreate the experience of being a naughty pupil. I however found myself playing the side scrolling shooter Eliminator the most. It's nothing out of this world as far as spaceship blasters go (no pun intended) but its simplistic design made it a good choice for a quick pick up and play gaming session. Shame that the whole thing is a mute experience which would have benefitted greatly from having sound effects (and more lives to reduce the pain of having to restart from the very beginning.)
The collection also contains Slug, a cutesy looking title were you play as a gastropod on a quest to rescue your girlfriend. It's a fast paced game were you have to leap over four constantly moving platform floors whilst spewing slimy spit at enemies. In order to advance you need to grab hearts and disarm bombs before their timer counts down to zero. Western fans will be pleased to know that the Alternative Software packs also include two cowboy themed games. There's the shooter Dead or Alive and an isometric adventure called Revolver set in the town of Smallville. Shame that the lead character isn't Clark Kent as his bullet proof skin would have come in handy when taking on the bandits out to fill you with hot lead.
This package offers a selection of games which test your mental prowess as well as your reflexes. Things kick off with Stranded 2.5 were players have to help Tyche the cube shaped hero reach the exit of each zone. Levels are made up of tiles which vanish as you walk over them. It's fiendishly addictive trying to suss out the optimal route to take to clear a stage within the time limit. I had good fun playing Stranded although I suppose the replay value is limited once you work out how to clear a stage. Another game I enjoyed in the first Cronosoft pack is Farmer Jack Treasure Trove which would best be described as Pac Man with tractors. The aim of the game is to pick up all the coins littered around the maze whilst avoiding burglars. There's no power pills to aid Jack on his currency collecting exploits, but he does get a limited number of crates he can drop to block the path of the thieves trying to pilfer your booty.
Pack number two contains Gamex and the hard to pronounce Slubberdegullion. Gamex is an odd game were you play a number of arcade inspired titles (including clones of Pac-Man and Pang.) Points you earn are spent on buying shares in other games. As you replay the games you need to earn points to pay out dividends whilst avoiding damage which increases your tax meter. Hmmm I wonder if investment bankers used this game as a model for their financial dealings (it would explain how they managed to cripple the economy.) Slubberdegullion is a more traditional game were you fly a spaceship blasting enemy UFOs and avoiding all manner of futuristic obstacles. The controls remind me a little of Thrust in that you can rotate your craft 360 degrees and apply acceleration to combat the effects of gravity.
Egghead 4 and Egghead 5 are also included in the second pack. I've never heard of this series before and upon loading the games up was shocked to discover what a blatant Dizzy rip-off they are. The main character is a carbon copy of Codemasters' popular oval shaped hero as is the gameplay which revolves around picking up items to solve puzzles. The platforming segments are however more reminiscent to the Manic Miner series in that there are lots of enemies to avoid and dropping from great heights result in instant death (which I suppose makes sense given how eggs are prone to shatter.) Unoriginal as it may be I have to give the developers props for their sense of humour. The graveyard screen on Egghead 4 made me chuckle as it had tombstones with the names CPC and C64 etched on them - the Spectrum's chief rivals in the home computers war.
The Hewson packs should prove to be a geek's wet dream catering with those for a taste in sci-fi and fantasy. For those seeking a wizard themed adventure there is Dragontorc and Avalon whilst a good chunk of the remaining Hewson library features spaceship shoot-em-ups. Zynaps and Uridium step up to the plate for those seeking a side scrolling blaster, the former being a horizontal shooter whilst the latter presents the action from a top down perspective. The pack also include the two excellent Cybernoid games which will test itchy trigger fingers as well as encourage exploration. In Cybernoid 1 and 2 players will need to think how best to utilise their arsenal of weapons (including bouncy bombs, shields and heat seeking missiles) to get past obstacles in order to bring back the cargo seized by space pirates.
Nebulus was however the title I enjoyed most from the eight Hewson offerings. It's a game I am familiar with having previously enjoyed a port of it on the original black and white Gameboy. Players guide a frog who is on a mission to reach the top of several towers that have recently emerged from under the sea. Watch your footing for destructible platforms and lifts. The structures are guarded by weird alien creatures some of which can be destroyed or stunned with your projectile attack. As with many old school games you are racing against the clock to succeed, but froggy can also croak if an enemy knocks him off the platform into the icy water below. A thoroughly enjoyable game sporting some impressive cartoony sprites and a rotating tower backdrop that gives the impression of a 3D world.
This is probably one of the collections which I ended up playing the least. It features Cyclone, a good looking isometric helicopter game, were you swoop over islands attempting to scoop up medical supplies in a cyclone stricken region. It's visuals and controls are remarkably similar to Tornado Low Level which replaces the chopper for a supersonic jet. Two Android games are included in the packs which have the player navigating a huge maze whilst fending off robots with an ineffective laser. Despite having a soft spot for robots I cannot say that I was fond of either Android One or Android Two.
For fans of bots I would recommend instead Alien Highway and Highway Encounter. The game features a Dalek looking protagonist known as a Vorton who is tasked with pushing an explosive device towards an enemy base. The route to the enemy headquarters is defended by hostile mechs and obstacles such as mines. You can "exterminate" enemies with a well timed laser blast, but most of the time to advance down the highway you'll need to manipulate the position of crates and canisters to quarantine off dangers such a mobile bombs. One other notable game worth mentioning from this collection is Revolution - one of those Marble Madness type games you rarely see these days. The objective is to activate two switches using the ball's ability to roll and bounce over pitfalls, barriers and treadmills that can push you off course.
8. NEW GENERATION SOFTWARE
One of the beauties about video games is that they allow you to partake in jobs you would never do in real life. You could be a soldier, aircraft pilot or in the New Generation pack... a trashman. Perhaps not the most glamorous of careers, but the idea led to two fun Speccy games. The original Trashman is a race against time were you have to collect bins, empty them out and then return them to the owner's porch. Seems easy enough if not for reckless drivers that will mow you down when crossing the road or erm deadly fauna that drains your bonus gauge (keep off the grass.) The sequel Travel with Trashman is a little more advanced in the graphical department and variation of gameplay. This time the world is your oyster and you need to make an income by using your waste disposal skills across the globe. Pick up frogs that infest a French cafe (hurrah for stereotypes) or collect flowers tossed into a Spanish bullring whilst avoiding the horned animal that dwells there... why do you have to clean up the arena when the hostile beast is there? What a load of bull!
The Wally Trilogy is included in this pack, made up of the Pyjamarama, Everyone's a Wally and Automania. Out of the three games Everyone's a Wally is my favourite. It plays like the Dizzy adventure games in that you collect objects and use them to complete puzzles. The twist in Wally is that there are five playable characters you can switch between, each with their own talents which need to be utilised in order to progress. The final game in the pack is Frost Byte. Not a bad game, providing you can get past the second screen (avoiding the toxic water drips requires precise timing which will put off some players.) It gets points from me as the alien creature you control (known as a Keezer) looks and moves like a slinky. Everyone loves a slinky, go slinky go!
10. JULIAN GOLLOP
Not all the packs included in this collection are from video game companies. This selection for example is made up of four releases from the legendary strategy game designer Julian Gollop, who is still working to this day. If you own a 3DS I can highly recommend checking out Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars which he was involved in. Moving back to the Spectrum, the pack contains two fantasy themed strategy games - Chaos and Lord of Chaos. The first game was released by Games Workshop which may be of interest to anyone acquainted with miniature tabletop games like Warhammer. Strategy in the games revolves around selecting spells to aid you against player and computer controlled rival wizards. There's also two fine squad based tactical games to play for those who prefer science fiction in the form of Rebelstar and Laser Squad (whose box art features a solider that looks remarkable like a Warhammer 40k Space Marine.)
11. STEVE CROW
Steve Crow was voted the 1986 programmer of the year by CRASH, a popular ZX Spectrum magazine, and the four games included in his dedicated pack showcase why. Starquake the first title in the collection is a great game blessed with cute cartoony graphics. Players control a spherically shaped robot which traverses a series of caverns blasting aliens and overcoming obstacles by erecting temporary platforms. Firelord and Wizard's Lair are next on the list catering for explorers who love maze games with enemies to fight, items to collect and puzzles to solve. The least advanced of the four games is Laser Snake which surprisingly works well as a quick distraction to play on the go for travelling iPad players. It's a typical snake game were you constantly move forward, dodge walls and gobble up grub which increases the length of the serpent's body. The game gets its name from the reptile's laser blasting ability which is used to destroy any cubes that get in your way.
12. DATA EAST
As we approach the tail end of the collection we find a solitary Data East pack with a triple threat of excellent games. The first title of note is Midnight Resistance, an arcade port which I would dub the Spectrum's answer to Contra/Metal Slug. The aim of the game is to control your chunky Rambo-eque hero and shoot anything that gets in your way. Like with most run and gun games the difficulty is sky high, but not unfair. One hit will cost you the loss of a life so be sure to even the odds by collecting keys that drop from downed foes. The drops unlock armoury containers, situated at the end of a level, which yield weapons considerably more powerful than the machine gun you start off with.
Dragon Ninja is next, known on other systems as Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja. This side scrolling beat-em-up as sees martial artist Blade lay waste to an army of ninjas as he goes about on a crusade to rescue the president (with the promise of a free burger if he manages to save the most powerful man on Earth.) This is a fun brawler which is only slightly hampered by sluggish animation (seriously I expect a game featuring nimble oriental assassins to move a bit quicker.) Despite the monochrome graphics the visuals are impressive, especially the backgrounds, and the nifty kung-fu ditty that plays during the menu screen makes up for being an otherwise mute adventure.
The last game of note is Sly Spy: Secret Agent. Players take the role of the tux wearing agent 000 (who has a licence to kill anyone who accuses him of ripping off James Bond.) This is another solid run and gun game interspaced with some neat mini-game style levels. The creative design includes a stage where you shoot enemies after skydiving off a plane, a driving section were 000 races on a motorbike shooting down bad guys on jet packs and a tough as nails underwater level which will test your scuba skills. Although the colour scheme could use work the graphics are on a whole impressive, especially the cut scenes that appear between the game's eight levels.
As a football fan the highlight of this pack has to be Emlyn Hughes International Soccer which tries to mesh football management with arcade style footy gameplay. Hughes Soccer allows players to become an international manager competing in a league against other nations. Prior to kick off, using a PC style interface with mouse pointer and drop down menus, you get to peruse your squad selection, player attributes, league tables, game options etc. It all sounds complex until kick off when you are presented with a fun if simplistic arcade style football sim. Control is assigned to the player nearest the ball and there is no need for fancy passing as solo Ronaldo like dribbles seem to be the most effective way to advance up the field and score.
The remainder of the pack's games aren't anything special. Exterminator to be honest I couldn't understand. It involves battling mutant insects that have infested a house using floating hands. Honestly, what were these retro programmers smoking when they came up with these ideas? As it was all too bizarre for me to get my head around I played Helter Skelter and Impact instead. Impact is a bat and ball breakout clone with power-ups and floating aliens to smash (in addition to the blocks Breakout is known for.) Helter Skelter also features a ball, which you have direct control over and use to crush cute critters which are marked for death with an arrow. Not bad once you get a handle on the controls.
I'm sorry to report that the collection ends with a bit of a whimper with the Durrell four pack of games. The only title from this pack that I mildly enjoyed was Thanatos, a side scrolling shooter were you control a dragon on a mission to save a sorceress. The game has some impressive graphics, most notably the huge sprite representing the dragon (although when trying to avoid getting hit perhaps playing as a tiny whelp would be more advantageous.) The title that had me pulling my hair out, from the four on offer, would have to be Scuba Dive. Snorkelling for pearls seems mundane enough, but the frustration really got to me in the murky submerged depths were every aquatic life form kills you in one hit. Heck even closed clam shells will spell your demise, not to mention that colliding with the sea bed stuns you. Some players may enjoy it, but I found this fish based game to be a load of carp (pun intended.)
I'm giving 100 Greatest Hits HD an enthusiastic five stars. It's a dream come true for old school gaming fans and even younger players will find enjoyment if they can overlook the naturally dated graphics. The collection retails for £8.99 which represents terrific value for money. My paltry mathematical skills make that out to be around 8 pence per game which is a steal for the hours of content on offer. Even if some of the titles may not have stood the test of time as well as others there's no disputing that the entire package is a bargain. You can purchase some of the titles individually (or smaller collections using another app available from the developer) but in all honesty if you enjoy just a handful of these games, financially speaking, you are better off buying this complete set.
I'm impressed with how the whole thing is presented. In addition to the games themselves you get a brief history of the Spectrum, lifted from Wikipedia, along with instruction manuals covering the story of the games, controls, box art and screenshots. Many of these older games are considerably tougher than modern day titles so the inclusion of save states is a welcome feature. You can save your progress anywhere to continue playing later which is brilliant. Much as I may have loved the original cassette version of these games it's a welcome relief that thanks to modern technology we don't have to mess about with lengthy load times or starting from the very beginning when you make a mistake and lose that last precious life.
One concern I had before playing was how touch screen controls would work for games originally designed to function with a joystick and keyboard. Those seeking the authentic joystick experience can always opt to buy an external controller for their iPad, but it's honestly not needed thanks to the excellent customisation options on offer. You can adjust the size of the play area, display the action landscape or portrait and set the controls to your liking. As with many iPad games there's a virtual joystick you can manipulate with your thumb, although I much preferred configuring the games to use the d-pad which is made up of keyboard keys. The keys you use for controlling the games can be positioned anywhere and their size is adjustable so even someone cursed with chubby fingers, like myself, will have no issues.
The collection works well for the iPad as the simplistic nature of the games on offer are ideal for casual gamers or someone looking to play something on the go. When you consider that the apps store is littered with shallow games, demanding a similar asking price, picking up this collection of fondly revered games from yesteryear seems like a no brainer to me.
Summary: Excellent collection of Speccy games for the iPad.