I don't know if it was caused by the admittedly-sizeable expense of new games for my Master System, but one Christmas morning I had a nice surprise. Well, I had a nice surprise most Christmas mornings but on this one in particular I was rather taken aback when I unwrapped a sizeable and fairly heavy gift to find a picture of a ZX Spectrum staring back at me. I'd briefly used other people's computers - my good friend Luke's Dragon 32, a school friend's CPC, but a majority of my experience with computers was at school where they had some BBC Micros. These were I'm sure great computers in their day but they weren't very up-to-date at that time and were hopelessly inadequate for school work. So, aside from a few games of Chuckie Egg and Bomb Jack on my friends computers, my opinion of them was fairly low overall. But then came the Spectrum!
I didn't know it at the time but it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary Spectrum either. As a result of Amstrad's buy-out of Sinclair, they wanted to freshen up the range, so they launched two new models - the Spectrum +2, which had a built-in tape deck, much like Amstrad's CPC 464, and the Spectrum +3, which had a built-in floppy (giggity) disc drive, like Amstrad's CPC 664 and 6128. These discs were a curious format. The biggest problem of being an owner of a Speccy, CPC, or C64 was waiting an eternity for games to load by cassette. I already knew this well before the Christmas gift, and the disc was an ideal solution to this problem. The unfortunate side-effect of this was the inevitable price increase which wasn't helped by the fact that Amstrad had opted for the 3" disc format rather than the already-popular 3.5" ones used by other computers. Needless to say, it was the stylish, jet-black +3 which I received that morning.
Well, I say 'I' but it was actually a joint gift to be shared with my pesky sister (just joking siss!) so it went in a neutral room, but it was, unsurprisingly, I who spent the most time on it. The additional cost of games on disc didn't really matter to me at that point - I was still at school so I didn't have to pay for them, and I could still connect an external tape deck as millions of Speccy fans had done for years anyway. My thoughtful parents had also bought a couple of compilations on this fancy new disc format for us to enjoy, and it came bundled with an Ocean Software compilation which was apparently exclusive to the Dixon's electrical store chain. My experiences with the trusty Speccy would certainly prove to be interesting over the years but, after my dad had spent what seemed like an age tuning it into our portable TV, it was these games that we tried first...
Gift From the Gods (1984)
Cosmic Wartoad (1985)
Daley Thompson's Supertest (1985)
So, as my introduction to home computer gaming, this compilation was something of a mixed bag. Nomad and Supertest were both great fun and remain so today but the others? Looking into it, it seems they all got at least reasonable reviews in magazines of the day. Was my inability to suss them out a result of my own stupidity? It's certainly possible but lets not forget - up until this point, the only games I'd really played were arcade or arcade-style games, both in their native habitat as well as on my splendid Master System. The fact that the compilation came with practically nothing in the way of instructions certainly didn't help matters!
Oh well, like I said, my parents had also bought a couple more compilations for my sister and I to play, including the immensely awesome Magnificent Seven and Giants, and the Speccy soon became a treasured and much used system. My sister gradually lost interest in it so I was able to move it up to my bedroom (sweet!) and my collection of games was increased frequently. The fantastic budget games sold by my local video rental store were a frequent source of my attention and my dad very helpfully bought all three of the main Speccy mags - Sinclair User, Your Sinclair, and Crash - and the cover-tapes they regularly featured were an invaluable resource. I even got a Multiface 3 the next Christmas which allowed me to see the end of games I had gotten stuck on!
As I mentioned in my 'Exploring the Commodore 64' feature, it's easy to see the appeal of the Speccy's competitors. I'm sure I would've had a similarly happy time with one of those if I'd been given one, and I'd have the same warm, nostalgic memories of that system now instead, but the Speccy it was, and it's a system I still have an enormous amount of affection for...
Special Note: Thanks to Stiggy for the Speccy pic which I borrowed from him without realising! Check out his great blog here :)