My excitement for the upcoming Spectrum Next is rising. It’s making me think back to all the great ZX Spectrum games that I grew up with. Literally grew up with. Some of my earliest memeries, when I was six years old, are of playing on my trusty Speccy. There are dozens, nay hundreds, of games that I enjoyed during my Spectrum’s life but I thought I would list out the ten that make me most nostalgic. These aren’t necessarily the best Speccy games of all time or even my favourite Speccy games (although that list would be very, very similar) but these are the games that give me the warmest, fuzziest feelings when I think of my ZX Spectrum.

Thro’ the wall
This game came on the Horizons tape that was shipped with most Spectrums. It was a simple breakout clone. Very basic indeed but still very exciting when it was the first video game you had played at that time. Will always have a warm place in my heart.

Auf Wiedersehen Monty
I really liked the Monty series and this game stood out for me. I liked the graphics, the animation and the music. It didn’t squeeze into my top ten but it’s still one of the games that I think of when I think of my Spectrum.

Daley Thompson’s Decathlon
This game was infamous for breaking joysticks, through too much waggling. Basically a Track and Field clone but named after the very cool Daley Thompson. I have great memories of playing this very competitively with my two older brothers.

Hyper Sports
My memory of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon actually merges into my memories of Hyper Sports. I vividly remember the box for Daley Thompson and referring to that game by name. I don’t associate Hyper Sports as much with the Spectrum but I do vividly remember doing a weightlifting event and learning all the names like Fly Weight and learning what Bantam Weight was. But I think that was only in Hyper Sports so I guess that’s the game I’m getting mixed up with Daley Thompson.
Now for the actual Top Ten.

10. Cobra
This game, by the late great Jonathan ‘Joffa’ Smith is great. It’s a typical Spectrum style game with the bright colours against a black background, but the animation and gameplay could be called arcade quality and the sound effects are fantastic. I love the little ditty when you start the game that sounds like the Rocky theme, which must be a little nod to Sly. If you’re not in the zone when you play it, this game can be pretty damn hard too. 

9. Target: Renegade
The pseudo sequel to the arcade hit Renegade, this game was a big hit on the Spectrum. A marked improvement from its predecessor it offered great gameplay and great graphics for its day. I loved the graphics so much that I distinctly remember spending hours recreating the character sprites using the Spectrum’s own clunky graphics mode on the top row of the keyboard. My first foray into digital art. My very vivid memory is of my dad having a friend round at our house and me proudly showing them both my artwork.

8. Penetrator
I had never heard of, yet alone played, the famous arcade game Scramble when I was 7 years old. So when we got this Scramble-clone on the Spectrum I thought it was fantastic. It was one of the first games we got and it blew me away, including the ‘incredible’ fireworks on the title screen. It also always impressed me that it had the ability to design your own levels too apparently, although to this day I still have never actually tried that. Not many people mention this game when they reminisce about the Spectrum. Maybe it’s because the game title sounds a bit rude?! But I think it’s a classic anyway. Nostalgia wise this evokes memories of the exact handwritten text with the game’s name on the side of the cassette that this game was copied on (ssh, don’t tell anyone).

7. Jet Set Willy
This game, along with Manic Miner is almost synonymous with the Spectrum. For me Manic Miner was my favourite, as I will talk about later, but I have to include JSW on the list somewhere too, as I spent so many hours playing it too. It was pretty incredible in those days to have such an open world game, allowing you to go back into rooms you had already been in, and the humour throughout the game was great. A true classic.

6. Bruce Lee
When you talk about hours sunk into games in my life, this one is right up there. My brothers and I just loved it so much. The gameplay was great, and was even better when you could play two player and one of you was Yamo. This led to some fantastic fights on screen and off! I never managed to complete it, something that I need to rectify in my adult life. Nostalgia-wise when I think of this game I totally picture myself being at our friends house in York that we would travel down to in the Autumn school holidays, and playing this game non stop with the kids there one year.

5. Wheelie
This game doesn’t get as much love as it should. I don’t hear it mentioned all that much in the retro community, but I absolutely loved it. It felt really stylish to me, just in terms of the graphics, animation, cover art, story etc. The whole package felt cool and almost sophisticated. The different sounds of the motorbike revving was done really well. I didn’t even bat an eyelid at the levitating, giant hamsters. My main nostalgia memory is that we had a vinyl collection in the same room as our Spectrum and often the cover art of Meatloaf’s Hits out of Hell album were visible while I was playing this game, and that just fitted perfectly as there’s a cool motorbike on the cover. I still think of Wheelie anytime I see that album cover art and vice versa.

4. Knight Lore 
These top four are extremely close. Knight Lore holds a special place in my heart. It just seemed groundbreaking at the time and in every sense seemed a step above everything else. It had the classic Spectrum monochrome graphics against a black background but it was in an isometric style perspective, which hadn’t really been done before, or at least not to such a level. And the quirky animation of Sabreman changing into the werewolf is just iconic. I found the game pretty hard to play actually but the whole art and mystique around the game was something else. The box art alone, plus the size of the box, in comparison with other games, had me hooked.

3. Jetpac
Jetpac is such a good game. First of all it’s so simple. It’s basically just one screen that repeats itself, but with different aliens. What really makes this game is its smooth animation and its realistic inertia. The physics are sooooo good. It really is a joy to play. And it does so well with its bleeps and squelches with the Spectrum’s beeper audio chip. We always used to think that one of the noises sounded like farting. Kids, eh?

2. Elite
I still find it staggering that they fit Elite into 48k. Less than 48k actually in reality. Elite is my all time favourite game on any platform. I could wax lyrical about Elite all day but I’ll save that for another time. My interest got piqued for the game when my Art school teacher when I was about 9 years old used to tell us about this game he was playing where he had adventures in space and traded guns and narcotics to make money within the game to allow him to buy new weapons and make his ship more powerful, while all the time shooting down space pirates and trying to not get in trouble with the space police. It sounded a world away from jumping around platforms. When I got the game myself I was hooked. I have probably spent double the number of hours on Elite than I have on any other game. I also found a great article on the game in Your Sinclair which had tips from 4 top players on one page. I used to read and re-read that page multiple times each day. Here it is here. If this was a list of my favourite Spectrum games, or the games I invested the biggest number of hours into, then this would win hands down. But in terms of nostalgia games it just gets pipped to the post…

1. Manic Miner
And now we come to the big boy of the Spectrum. I bet that if you took a poll of Spectrum owners and asked them which game was most synonymous with the Speccy at least 50% of them would say Manic Miner. It really is iconic. That first level, with the red walls and the weird yellow horn nosed creature is burned on the brains of all Spectrum owners. When I think of platform games I don’t think of Mario games, I think of Manic Miner, with it’s pixel perfect jumps and staccato music. Some of the levels are bloody hard as well. And it’s a typical example of a bedroom coding story, with the enigmatic Matthew Smith working away on his bedroom, when he was only 16 I believe, and having to wait until his Mum had gone to bed before he could code, because whenever she put the kettle on it crashed his computer. A true classic and undoubtedly the one that I have most nostalgia for when I think of my Spectrum days. Even just that title music brings back all the memories!