Friday, 14 October 2011

Top Five Spectrum Arcade Conversions

Most of us retro gamers look back most fondly on one particular 'generation', or era in the history of videogames and one of my favourites is the arcade scene of the mid-to-late 80's. Many of the games we played on our beloved-but-far-inferior home systems were born here and the unveiling of a new one was often met with both wonder at the (usually) lovely graphics and sounds, but also a little worry at how our meagre computers and consoles could possibly handle a conversion.

Since Dreamcast days, the increasing power of home systems has enabled them to produce games better than their increasingly rare arcade counterparts but in the days of the 8-bit micros it was a different story. One of the most challenging systems to covert these arcade monsters to must surely have been the humble ZX Spectrum. As much as many of us loved Sir Clive's finest, it was hardly blessed with the most extraordinary processing power. Accordingly, many conversions were decent games but had little in common with the original and some were just a mess from start to finish, but there were a few that were different. A few talented programmers were able to defy the odds and produce amazingly playable and accurate conversions. In the start of a new series here at Red Parsley, here are five of the best...

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I've traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven't played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

5. Arkanoid (1987)

Okay, this Breakout clone was hardly the most groundbreaking game to begin with, visually or conceptually, so the conversion probably wasn't too taxing from a technical point of view, but that's certainly never been a guarantee of a decent port for the poor old Speccy. Happily, the boys at Imagine did do a fantastic job with this Taito classic, in my opinion at least. There's some clear differences like the less varied and detailed backgrounds, and a few less obvious ones such as a slightly different number of bricks on each stage, but this game arguably took up more of my Speccy gaming time than any other game. It's colourful (a precious commodity at the time), packed with some great and fiendishly-designed stages, and is extremely addictive. Even better - I was actually pretty good at it!

4. Flying Shark (1987)

Some would say Flying Shark was one of the most influential vertically-scrolling shmups of its time. It was certainly a good one, and notoriously tough as well, but games of this type didn't always fare well on the Speccy. The job of converting this one fell to Firebird and they made what I think is the sensible decision of using monochrome graphics. Accordingly, it probably doesn't look like much is going on in the screenshot but take my word for it - the graphics are superbly detailed and help make the game an extremely playable and challenging one. There are five long levels to battle through too so pretty much the only thing missing is some nice sounds too! Aside from that though, this is good as any other version of the game, perhaps more so, and probably the best vertical-scroller on the Speccy.

3. Rainbow Islands (1989)

Yet another Taito game? Anyone would think they're my favourite arcade company or something! This particular one, however, is one that you would think the Speccy would really struggle with. It is a fast-paced scrolling platformer with much emphasis on colour, after all. Handling the conversion was Graftgold who had already done some sterling work on Sir Clive's machine and this effort would go on to be regarded as one of their best! Except for the rainbows themselves, which are monchromatic, this must rank as one of the most colourful and best-looking games on the Speccy and the frantic gameplay has been perfectly duplicated as well. There's even a decent rendition of the distinctive them tune playing throughout. It's hard to see how they could've done better. Top stuff!

2. Chase HQ (1989)

I still have vivid memories of the day I saw the first reviews of this game in C&VG as well as the Speccy-specific magazines I used to buy (okay, was given by my dad) and to say that they were all unanimously glowing is an understatement! Previous conversions of popular arcade racing games were something of a mixed bag on the Speccy (like OutRun, for example) but amazingly this effort from the talented fellows at Ocean contains all the thrills and spills of the immense coin-op original (which is by Taito, believe it or not). The graphics may have been monochrome but to see them moving soon dispelled any doubts - seldom before had Speccy fans witnessed exciting racing action with such smooth, fast scrolling on their favourite computer! The presentation was also fantastic and they even managed to squeeze in some of the speech! A supremely impressive conversion of an already splendid game.

1. R-Type (1988)

There were a few arcade games that were supposedly not realistically possible to convert to the Spectrum and R-Type was certainly considered one of them. It was after all a revelation in its original form with amazing metallic/organic graphics, large gruesome bosses, and lots of flashy weapon effects. How could the Spectrum cope with that? Well, who knows how they did it, but Software Studios somehow managed to squeeze not only a competent version of Irem's classic out of the Speccy but one that surely surpassed the expectation of even the most hopeful fan! It features gorgeous graphics, full of colour and detail, complete with nice weapon effects and explosions, there's a superb interpretation of the stages and bosses, and some great sound effects too. One of the most stylish games of any kind on the Spectrum.


  1. Well, this system's games certainly didn't lack color, did they? They really appeal to me, by the way. Think I'm going to have to hunt down a Speccy emulator and some ROMs thanks to this post...

    BTW, did you see my Spectrum-focused blog post from earlier today? I think you'd be pretty interested in its contents --

  2. Many games were pretty bright, Bryan, but a lot of them lacked more than two colours. The Speccy was famous for having monochrome graphics like the two yellow and black games above. There's some cracking games on it though. Try ZXSpin for emulation, that's the one I use.

    And no, I haven't seen your post yet - I'll check it out now! :)

  3. Great post, your blog has made me quite interested in the Spectrum, too bad it was never released in Japan. Interesting that both you and Bryan posted something about it on the same day too.

    I`m the same too - the arcade era from the 80s is my favorite in video game history (though I kind of prefer the early 80s over the late 80s). One of the main things that I like about the Famicom is that it has the ports of so many great arcade games from that era (except, unfortunately, for Frogger and Q Bert, two of my favorites).

    I do at least like that fact that, judging from the screen shots you put up, the Spectrum had a very unique way of displaying the games with some very vibrant colors!

  4. Thanks Sean! :) It's funny that you and Bryan both mention the colours of the Speccy. It was named because its predecessor, the ZX81, could only display black & white graphics so they wanted to emphasise its colour abilites. Even it's symbol was a rainbow like image. But after all that, it could still only display seven colours, including black & white (it actually taught me the name of two - magenta and cyan). With so few colours available games were either monochrome or featured the few, very bright colours the machine could display :P

    By the way, did you ever play Q*Bert 3 on the SNES? It's my favourite Q*Bert game :)

  5. I do need to learn more about the Speccy -- and I just realized that Flying Shark is likely just a different name from Sky Shark on the NES. Nice.

  6. some good choices - no bombjack or renegade love? wud also be tempted by midnight resistance

  7. Hi Eric! Yeah, you Americans do like to change the names of things, don't you? ;) I've not played the NES version, what's it like?

    Chees JD :) I do like Bomb Jack but I'm not keen on its graphics. Renegade would've made sixth or seventh place though :)

  8. Fantastic choices! These games are a testament to the genius of the programmers. Where else is it demonstrated that so much is achieved with so little? Bob Pape wrote the spectrum version of R-Type. He has written an incredible free book, taking you back in time on a journey through its creation. There's also a lot of content detailing life back then. Upon reflection, you realise an incredible amount of change, within the blink of an eye!

  9. Thanks for the tip Lukey, I'll definitely check that out. I'm sure Mr. Pape has some interesting tales to tell :)

  10. Gauntlet II and Rolling Thunder both had fantastic Spectrum conversions - to this day I still prefer them over the arcade originals!

    1. I had both of those on the Giants compilation (+3 disc version) :) They were indeed superb indeed, I nearly included one of the Gauntlet games in this list actually. Well, I think I did, it was a while ago now :P

    2. Yeah, we played them on the Giants compilation too! Our Spectrum was given away to a school fair a long time ago (as over-enthusiastic parents are wont to do in the name of "clearing up"), but I tracked down another copy of Giants on eBay a lot later, just as a "shelf" thing.

      It's a "special" compilation, certainly.

    3. Nice :) Giants along with my other two favourite compilations - Magnificent Seven and Taito Coin-Op Hits - was a life-saver when I was young. I looked into rebuilding my Speccy collection once but +3 discs cost a bomb now :(