With the XBLA version of Sensible Soccer just around the corner, it's time to take a short break from compulsive finger-crossing and cease those dubious offerings to dearly-beloved dark deities.
The future will be a scary place. Well, no, that's not quite accurate - it'll be a scary place for a bit, then a rather quiet place. As we'll all be dead. Probably eradicated by one of several enticing options: total thermonuclear war (fried), wacky climactic changes (fried and drowned) or a fatal galactic event like asteroids smashing into Earth / the Sun exploding / aliens popping by on a madcap conquering spree (fried, drowned, exploded and then zapped into teeny-tiny gobs of flesh).
Science has given us much. The internal combustion engine, penicillin, Furbies - all represent terrific advancements for humanity. Yet science has a darker side. In sinister underground laboratories, filled with bubbling test tubes, weird electric nodes and other pieces of highly stereotypical equipment, gangs of rogue geneticists are churning out crime after crime against nature. No piece of DNA goes unwarped, no embryo is uncorrupted. The horrific result? Countless perverted offspring of a misguided attempt to play god. The shameful cost of progress.
If you've been unfortunate enough to see a Daily Express headline recently, you may have been exposed to something along the lines of: "FATAL CONSOLE MANHUNT OF SKIVING BLUE-TONGUED IMMIGRANT GAMERS KILLED OUR PRINCESS." Besides political wrongheadedness, conspiracy theories about decade-old car crashes and Sudoku, there's nothing Britain's sensationalist tabloids enjoy more than drawing dubious links between gaming hijinx and every single crime committed in the entire country.
Beloved Spec-chums, we are gathered here in the presence of Almighty Clive to pay homage to the 8-bit Wonder of the World. Lead us not into the foul temptations of Commodore, and keep us from the follies of Amstrad. Our tape heads are pure and our patience for prohibitive loading times remains strong. Thanks be to POKEs.
Perhaps more than any other, the 8-bit era was notorious for silly plots being tacked onto a clever game. It could be a huge disservice to suggest Bobby Bearing is a prime culprit, but the evidence is rather compelling. Bobby is ... some kind of robotic sphere thing. He lives in the isometric land of Technofear with his fellow robotic sphere things. Alas, an impish cousin has led his brothers astray, beyond the family home, and onto the dangerous plains. Our Bob must rescue them before it's too late.
Pesky Zark has only gone and done it again, he’s drained Wizworld of colour and left it as a monochrome husk. Now it's down to the titular hero and his faithful cat to restore it back to radiant glory. Thus begins one of the C64’s quirkiest arcade shooters.
From moment Impossible Mission begins you know it's something special. Possessing one of the most memorable introductions in videogaming history (Professor Atombender's ominous verbal greeting), it subsequently delivers a devilish duel experience of platform-leaping and puzzling. As noted by programmer Dennis Caswell, players would sometimes breeze through one of these facets only to struggle with the other.
Exploding Fist or IK? Not a mishap in the perfume branding factory, but a high-kicking battle for the C64 fighting crown. With both games released within the space of a few months, predictable arguments raged as to which was better. System 3's IK sequel silenced these disputes, squeezing a third fighter on-screen and including a bonus section based around the ancient art of wielding a dustbin lid. Debate over.
I'm not entirely sure what kind of feudal system encourages knights to mount gigantic birds and whizz around inside a volcano, but it's precisely the kind of bizarre tournament of which arcade dreams are made.
It can’t be denied; Atari’s designers came up with some incredibly inventive and interesting games before their decline. Battlezone is one of the finer examples - a two stick game (before Robotron was even a glint in Eugene Jarvis' eye), with the ever-popular objective of destroying as many enemies as possible.
Great unanswered mysteries of the Spectrum age: just what the hell was Horace supposed to be? His torso is utterly baffling. Are those supposed to be... eyes? Vacant holes? What? Perhaps the shameful truth is that a demented blob was simplest to animate.
Highway Encounter is quite special. Although constructed from familiar pieces, the result is a unique, um ... how to put this ... road clearance simulator. Which is not to say the player is cast as a diligent council worker. Far from it. In fact, this is perhaps the closest anyone will get to taking on the role of a Dalek. Or at least a laser-fitted dustbin.
No-one had posed the question "what happens if you mix Alice in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, a Sisters of Mercy b-side and some Spectrum code?" but in 1986, Odin Computer Graphics answered it anyway. As it turns out, you get a surrealistic platform game with an unusual approach to level design. And an unusual approach to pretty much everything else really.
In Mr. Do!, players control an evil circus clown who tunnels underground in search of innocent, soil-dwelling creatures to steal fruit from. If these hapless beings attempt to cross his path, he crushes them with apples or throws a power ball in their supple faces. Some might spin this tale in a more positive way, but that just makes them deviant clown sympathisers.
Amongst this Top 50 you'll probably stumble across a fair few instances of reviewers hailing spectacular graphics, the staggering use of 48K of memory, or acts of maverick genius. Well, add Tornado Low Level (T.L.L.) to the exulted selection of games which exhibit all three, because here comes some incredulous praise.
Whilst the legendary Elite is most closely associated with the venerable BBC Micro, it was also ported to the Spectrum, swiftly followed by a selection of Elite-esque titles. And, although flying the Cobra Mk. III taught us all how profitable arms sales could be, David Webb's own foray into wire-frame space combat switched killer business instinct for pure, intellectual rigour.
The second of the Magic Knight titles, Spellbound marked the point at which the series deviated from an action-platformer approach and adopted a more cerebral feel. Before Dizzy had even stretched his eggy legs, David Jones and Ron Hubbard's character was pioneering object-based puzzle shenanigans. They were also among the first developers to release a quality game straight to budget - meaning a price tag of £1.99-2.99, rather than £9.95.
Between 1983 and 1987, Durell Software produced a handful of games which could compete with the best their fellow 8-bit publishers had to offer. Largely remembered for the big-selling Falklands tie-in, Harrier Attack, Durell also tried their hand at more outlandish projects - such as the superbly named Fat Worm Blows A Sparky. In the middle of this mainstream weirdness was Saboteur's early stab at the stealth genre; though one which relied heavily on traditional arcade elements.
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? In 1984, almost everybody who owned a Speccy. Ultimate already had a reputation for quality game design, but their Sabreman series would arguably surpass these previous achievements - with Sabre Wulf alone selling a reported 350,000 copies on the eight-coloured wonder.
Most people with an interest in retro gaming will have heard of, if not played, Paradroid on the Commodore 64 (or its flashier brother Paradroid 90). The game's superb concept pitched a lone droid against a ship of mechanised foes, which could be dispatched in the usual fashion (laser blast to the face) or overwhelmed and gutted for parts via some cheeky hacking.
Dun Darach had one of the best anti-piracy protection methods of all time. Anyone who'd sneakily copied the game to a C60 tape but ignored the instructions (members of F.A.S.T. who happen to be reading; this is not a confession) would find themselves utterly baffled. To the untrained eye, it looks like some sort of Bronze Age High Street simulator.
This is where it all began. Before football management titles included realistic breakfast preferences for every player (Riquelme likes toast and an egg, or he won't train), there was Kevin Toms' lovingly crafted BASIC program. Three positions (defence, midfield, attack), two stats (skill, energy) and not a great deal else.
Every system has its recurring characters. In the Spectrum's case, one of the most memorable was a jittery, boxing-gloved egg with an uncanny ability to lose track of his girlfriend. Beloved by many, hated by a few, through the late 80s and early 90s this unassuming egg was ruling the roost in Spectrum-land.
Chequered Flag has a serious claim to being the first ever home computer driving game. Certainly in the sense of offering a 'behind the wheel' view of the track and attempting to accurately recreate the physics of wrestling an F1 car around a tight bend. Looking at the number of indebted titles knocking around, it's safe to say the genre took off.