This is among the earliest games I ever played. It was part of the Amsoft 12 pack, under the name of Roland On The Ropes, that came free with every Amstrad CPC464. A computer I got only a year after the ZX Spectrum. While the Amstrad version does make very good use of that computers superior colour palette, the two versions are as nigh on identical as two versions of the same game can be.

Back in the the late 80’s for some unfathomable reason I never really ‘got’ the maze nature of this game. Replaying properly some 30-odd years later and the riff on earlier maze games from the 70’s makes perfect sense. This is a quintessential random computer maze experience. It’s all about the presentation.

Presentation wise it has a very Indiana Jones feel and very reminiscent of Core Design’s Rick Dangerous that’ll appear on the scene some 5 years later. I do wonder, given the nature of some of the nasties, the ropes, and main character design, if Atari 2600’s Pitfall provided some inspiration for this game.

Fred, in the Spectrum version, is a very big chunky well detailed sprite. Something that immediately sets it apart from the more common smaller sprites in most spectrum games of around the time. Again the large character detail reminding me of a game like Saboteur that’d come out around a year later.

As you move around the maze you need to avoid nasties which will drain your energy. Ghosts are most common which can be shot at to encourage them to change direction. Little caterpillars crawl along floors need careful timing to jump over. And in later levels bouncing Mummies are a real treat to watch move around the maze.

On the way there’s a few collectibles to be had to boost your score but ultimately it is all about finding the rope leading to the exit somewhere at the very top of the maze.

Alas there are a couple of issues that just keeps this game from being an ideal 5-star outing. And I do think they are all things that were fixable with a bit more playtesting when the game was being written. Timing avoiding some nasties can be a little tricky and being hit stops movement while the player is red for a few seconds. Ropes can be difficult to mount and dismount and needs some unnecessary pixel perfect positioning.

The worst problem is how badly the game flickers and how slow movement is. Is the game written in BASIC? Too many sprites on screen? The Z80 not liking 2-way scrolling? Whatever the reason the slow flickering movement is almost a deal breaker.


Atic Atac

Back in the late 1980’s I only had a ZX Spectrum for a year. Even then it was only the 16K model and I only remember two main games from the time. All my ZX Spectrum experience either comes from ports for the Amstrad CPC or games I’ve found in the years since using emulation.

Atic Atac is one of the later. As far as I know this was a Speccy exclusive and never found its way to the Amstrad micros. Shame as this is easily the Stamper brothers finest moment. In the early 80’s the Stampers, through their company Ultimate Play The Game, dominated the ZX Spectrum gaming market thanks to a production quality their competitors struggled to rival.

Atic Atac offers a psuedo-3D top-down view of the action. The heart of the game is a very standard for the time maze affair. Though it is a pretty big maze set in the environs of a fairly large mansion. The maze is traversed in a typical for the era flip screen approach walking through doors to flip the action to the next room.

The object of the game is to open the main door in the lobby where you actually begin the game. You do this my finding the three parts of the main door key that spell out ACG (Ashby Computer Graphics – another company name used by the Stampers). This is made harder by random monsters appearing to drain your energy which can be fended off by pressing the fire button.

As you travel around some doorways will be blocked and can only be passed if you are holding the appropriate colour key. Adding to your difficulties is the fact you can only carry three objects at a time. So there’s an element of going back and forth, finding what you’re looking for, dropping main key parts in the opening lobby, while fending on energy sucking nasties.

Your energy also depletes while you move, but thankfully there’s plenty of food to pick up as you travel around, and three lives if you need then (hint: you will).

The only real negative I found in playing this game was the controls. Remember this game was made for a computer with rubber keys, that most would not have added a joystick to, by a company that had just recently released the brilliant Jetpac with very userfriendly keyboard perfect controls. In this game they choose to line up the movement and fire in one line – Q,W,E,R,T. Not even the horrid Speccy standard of cursor control on the number keys. Trying to get used to moving up and down in that layout is a right mindbender. Literally a game breaker. If we review the game from here, as we probably should, it falls from grace down to a 2/5 experience.

However, I can’t do that. Plug in a Kempston compatible joystick (not really that uncommon for the time) and this game easily becomes one of, if not the, best gaming experience on the Spectrum. Later Ultimate games have better looking 3D (like Knightlore) but honestly randomness hinders those games where they enhance this one.


Cruising On Broadway

Back in 1986 my next-door neighbour introduced 9-year old me to the world of computers, offering up a 16K ZX Spectrum to monopolise the family television with. There was only a handful of games, being the 16K model most Speccy games were too big to play. Cruising was one of those games.

It was this game and Jetpac that the whole family would obsess over for the next couple of months. Especially Sundays while Dad was cooking dinner. We’d set high scores, he’d pop in while the yorkshires where rising and try to beat us, and on it would go. We’d get up the next morning with the Speccy still preciously turned on, a new high score set with parents having been up all night battling against 5 chasers.

The game itself is very simple and in presentation is nothing that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the previous Atari and Philips systems. In fact it’s really just a variation of the Pac-Man theme. You have a maze/grid of lines that you must pass over and change their colour from white to green. The maze is complete when all the lines have turned green.

Attempting to stop you are the chasers who move randomly around the mazes. They move much, much faster than you and when you collide it is game over. There are only four mazes with just one chaser on the first playthrough. However each time you successfully complete a set another chaser is added to make matters harder.