The ZX Spectrum was my first taste of home gaming. Tape-loading and taking anywhere from 5-10 minutes just to load a game, you had to manage your game time well (we had no TV in our bedroom at the time, so were against the clock to bring it downstairs and hook it up to the big screen). The one positive with the tape-loading drive, was that a friend could come round with a game and once it had been fully loaded-up, they could take it away with them and you could still play it! (for most games, as long as you didn’t turn your Spectrum off).
Barbarian – ZX Spectrum
Barbarian gave me my first taste of brutal combat. You would take the role of the mighty Barbarian, said to arrive with the sole purpose of defeating the evil wizard Drax and rescuing princess Mariana. The heroic barbarian would now face 8 of Drax’s loyal barbarians, in a brutal fight to the death! Well-timed leg and body strikes would get you the win but time your joystick motion well enough and the courageous Barbarian would back-spin with his blade, completely removing the head of his opponent!
Timing that move perfectly was rewarding enough, but seeing a little goblin emerge from the side of the screen, pick-up the head and then kick it out of screen like a football (while dragging the body away), just made this brutal finisher all the more desirable.
D4G Fact – Michael Van Wijk (who would latter become Wolf in the UK sports TV Show Gladiators) posed as the Barbarian on the games front cover.
Treasure Island Dizzy – ZX Spectrum
My first real platformer/puzzler was experienced with the iconic Dizzy. The cute little egg with hands and feet, was stranded on a desert island and needed you to guide him back to his hometown (the Yolkfolk). An inventory management puzzler and possibly one of the hardest games of its kind, Dizzy was all about forward-thinking and a ton of patience!
What made Treasure Island Dizzy even tougher (even leading to complaints with game magazines who published walkthroughs) was that even if the main quest was completed, Dizzy still wouldn’t be allowed off the island unless 30 hidden gold coins were collected. These things weren’t called ‘hidden’ for nothing. If one of those buggers happened to be behind scenery, you had no on-screen indication that you’d picked it up!
D4G Fact: While other Dizzy games gave the player multiple lives (or a health bar), Treasure Island Dizzy only gave the player one life with no ability to save, easily making this the most unforgiving in the series.
The Commodore Amiga 500 was much smaller and better looking than the Atari ST. As much as I value the Atari ST more in my childhood gaming years, (as my cousins in fact owned the Amiga, while me and my brother owned an Atari ST), it was easy to see why the Amiga was more of a hit home console/computer. The slick design and more user-friendly operating system, just made the Amiga far more desirable with younger gamers.
Street Fighter 2 – Amiga
Everyone is familiar with Street Fighter (lets be honest, Capcom didn’t give most gaming generations a choice) and the original Street Fighter 2 was pretty much my first experience with 2 player competitive gaming. I can still hear the sound of those Amiga joysticks, frantically clicking away! There was only one rule – If you played as Dalsim, you were a dirty cheat.
Although Street Fighter 2 has almost been rehashed and promoted more than Christmas, strong, balanced and addictive competition kept gamers reaching for their wallets.
D4G Fact: Final Fight was meant to be the true sequel to the original Street Fighter release. After 2 years of development, Street Fighter 2 was released in arcades (and was a huge hit with home consoles). It would take Capcom over 6 years (and 6 updated releases of Street Fight 2) to finally release Street Fighter 3: The New Generation.
Sabre Team – Amiga
This squad-based strategy game was my first experience with the genre. Inspired by the Special Air Service’s 1981 Iranian Embassy siege in London, this was as ‘He who dares, wins’ as it could get for the home computer. Imagine XCOM but with terrorists instead of aliens. Now imagine not being able to move a cursor around the level (just within the limited control panel at the bottom of the screen). This easily enabled enemy ambushes at all times but also gave a more realistic sense of danger in uncharted territory.
Sabre Team was an absolute brute of a strategy game but its great pre/mid mission art touches and links to real-life SAS events, kept me coming back for more.
PANG – Atari ST
Pang was among my first 2 player adventures. You and your brother (the Pang bros) must use your arrow…mini…harpoony, thingy-blasters to burst incoming balloons that are terrorising the word! Pang was easily among the best 2 player games on most home computers at the time.
Pang offered some serious gameplay with a friend. Technique, power-ups and cool mid-mission art (very Drgaonball Z looking), made this a 2 player classic.
D4G Fact: Pang was known as Buster Bros in North America. However, 6 years prior to the games release (1983), Cannon Ball (Japan) and Bubble Buster (UK) were released, offering very similar gameplay. Whether this was a coincidence (or the 1983 release inspired Pang) remains unknown.
Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters – Atari ST
Easily my favourite 2 player game of the home computer generation and one amazing arcade port, EPRM was designed to play and feel like a sc-fi horror B-movie. The animations and humour scattered throughout, really set this game apart from other isometric shooters.
Of course as every gamer knows, good arcade ports usually mean steep learning curves and Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters was no exception. If the main levels weren’t challenging enough, those brutal Cyber Sled Canal Mazes would easily bring your progress to an abrupt halt. Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters was a true leap forward for home gaming, as this truly was one of the first near arcade-perfect ports. Highly recommended!
D4G Fact: Want to experience the original retro setup of Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters on a MAME arcade unit? Just make sure you don’t install the cheaper 8-way arcade sticks. The original Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters arcade release, used Hall Effect joysticks. This enabled the player to move and fire in 16 directions.
Check back for more updates to the list (as I remember them) and look out for my next post – A look at my most influential 8-bit home console games.
Hit those comments and let me know your most influential home computer games?