Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Gaming Memories - Part 16

Looking back to my early days of gaming, I still find it very odd that I never had any friends who owned a Commodore 64. The mighty Spectrum may have been more popular here in the UK (just about) but there were still plenty of C64’s about, and I read about them all the time in Computer & Video Games magazine and the like, so it was quite strange. Perhaps making it even stranger is the fact that I did have several friends with the less-popular Amstrad CPC, and it was this system along with the Speccy that comprised most of my time with 8-bit home micros.

My good friend Luke had a much-treasured 464 at around the same time I had my Speccy +3 and I recall us using it often, but lodged in my memory most firmly of the the times I spent with the CPC was the example owned by one of my class-mates whose house was, conveniently enough, part-way between school and my house. It was often, therefore, that I would stop off at his house and engage in various game-related skylarkings before running home for dinner and homework. This was the same friend, incidentally, who introduced me, somewhat belatedly, to the Atari VCS. He didn't have too many games and the system was too old to by then to realistically find any new ones to buy, but we enjoyed it all the same. When we weren't hopping around on Frostbite, however, we were in a different room of his sizeable house.

For it was here that his Amstrad dwelt. It was also a 464, the lowest-spec but most popular of the CPC's (Colour Personal Computer) and was resplendent with its colour keys and snazzy built-in tape player. As a system it has always struck me as kind of half-way between the Speccy and C64 - it has the same Z80 processor as Sir Clive's iconic machine and it can quite easily produce the same sort of graphics as well.

On the other hand, it came with the same monstrous 64KB of RAM as Commodore's popular micro and offered a similar number of colours (which was notably more than the Speccy). This latter point wasn't too relevant as far as my friend and I were concerned though, as his parents had bought his system with a green-screen monitor! I'm sure this was a nightmare scenario for the minority of CPC owners who had ended up with the dreary monochromatic display which, I've always assumed, was intended more for the non-existent 'business users'; admittedly, the colour monitor bundle was quite a bit more expensive (£359 compared to £249) and the system could be connected to a TV anyway, but these were the days before families had a television in every room and we had to be content with the green.

As irritating as this quickly proved, we still had fun with his largely-original selection of games. I recall playing some featuring that Roland nincompoop but the one that dominated most of our time was Bomb Jack. This was the first time I'd ever played it, despite my Speccy hosting a great version, and although I would go on to spend a decent amount of time with the stonking arcade original, it's this CPC version that remains my favourite, even the largely-colourless version available to me.

Of course, this was all many years ago; I have long since sought out the same game and sampled its delights in full colour, and I'm still convinced it's the best version of a fantastic platformer, but more than that, it represents the very best of my time spent with the CPC and my fondest memories of it as well. Alan Sugar's attempt to muscle in on the 8-bit micro market wasn't necessarily a wise one considering how many others had tried the same and failed, but he pulled it off about as well as he could. His machine wasn't the most powerful of its day and it wasn't the best selling either, although it was sufficiently popular to become part of the 'big three', also including the Speccy and C64, but few could deny its charm and tenacity. However much owners of the other two might've mocked the 'lowly' Amstrad, its owners rarely felt hard done by.

I suppose if you take an un-nostalgic look back at those three systems, the CPC was properly positioned in third place. Few formats had big exclusives in those days but if you think of the Speccy, you think of Manic Miner or the Ultimate games; concordantly, if you think of the C64 you'd probably straight away go to the fine efforts of Andrew Braybrook. With the CPC, there wasn't really an equivalent.

None of that mattered if you grew up with one though, and I kind of did. Coverage of it has been severely lacking here at Red Parsley so far, partly as I didn't play a huge assortment of games on it (another oversight to rectify!), but I do still have great memories of Amstrad's fine micro, as many of its other satisfied owners do as well. I still think it's the best looking machine of them all too.

The question is, what did you all think of the trusty CPC?


  1. I wish people would stop trivialising about the CPC ;-) Household names for the CPC, Paul Shirley (Spindizzy), Martin Wheeler (Sorcery and Sorcery +) and Richard Aplin and Dave Perry.

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for dropping by :) The CPC was a great machine for sure. Would you say it was unfairly in third place behind the Speccy and C64?

  3. I don't know, maybe! But we have to remember that the CPC came out much later, and against all odds, still secured itself as a popular machine. It was what you mentioned below, that I referred to.

    You said "Few formats had big exclusives in those days but if you think of the Speccy, you think of Manic Miner or the Ultimate games; concordantly, if you think of the C64 you'd probably straight away go to the fine efforts of Andrew Braybrook. With the CPC, there wasn't really an equivalent.".

    Exclusives don't come much bigger than 'Spindizzy'. And the Sorcery series was massive back in the day. Both games were ported across to many platforms, but originally exclusive to the CPC, and the programmers of these games were household names. There's many more including the Get Dexter series, but I digress. Hell, Spindizzy even spawned a 16 bit SNES release, that's a legacy Paul Shirley must of secretly been excited about.

    So its not all bad news on this front, the CPC had more exclusives than people credit it for.

    1. Yeah I know, the CPC did really well, all things considered. I guess that's testament to its splendour :)

      I actually played Spindizzy on my Speccy, I didn't realise it had any special connection to the CPC. Great game though. I've got the Sorcery and Dexter games on my 'to review' list, hopefully I'll get to them sometime soon :)

  4. Yea, while the cpc had some lazy spectrum ports, the games that made good use of mode 0 were exceptional. The only games I remember being really disappointed about was 1942 and Grenadines Beret - that was after playing them on the C64 first.

    1. Auto correct going wrong in full force, the second disappointing game should have said Green Beret.

  5. Haha, jeez - your autocorrect is even more bizarre than mine. How does 'green' become 'grenadines'? :P

    I'm looking forward to checking out some more CPC games over the coming months (and years?), I can't believe it took me this long to start posting about it here. I think it was mainly down to the emulator being a pain in the arse (which made screenshots a problem), but that's all okay now :)

  6. I don't know much about the CPC, to be honest. I had a crash course in the ZX Spectrum while writing a series of articles for the late, but Amstrad's machine is largely a mystery to me. Didn't they turn it into a game system or something? It DOES look more capable than the Spectrum, but that's really a battle of midgets.

    I get the impression that Bomb Jack was a big hit in the UK. Maybe not so much here... I don't think I played the game until 1996, well after its arcade release. It came out shortly after the US video game crash of 1983, so it was easy for Americans to miss.

  7. Battle of Midgets? How dare you! The 8-bit micros were awesome! Yes, towards the end of the CPC's life, Amstrad released a new model called the CPC+ which was a bit more powerful and also released a consolised version called the GX4000. Few dedicated games were made though, and it didn't sell well, understandably, with the Amiga and MegaDrive destroying all comers by that stage.

    I had always assumed Bomb Jack was a well-known, universally-loved game, but I've realised in recent years that's not really the case. Oh well, it's always been one of my favourite games of its type and the CPC version is probably the best :)

    1. Sorry! America's personal computer of choice in the early 1980s was the Commodore 64, with the Atari XL/XE line a few steps behind in popularity. Actually, we had a LOT of computers in the early 1980s, but that market was a bloodbath, and many of those systems didn't survive for long. (Take the TI 99/4A... please. Nobody else wanted one.)

      As for Bomb Jack, there was a sequel on the NES, Mighty Bomb Jack, but it did a lot of weird things to the gameplay that diluted the experience. Less aimless wandering, more arcade action, please.

      Have you played Mighty Jill Off? It's a tough indie platformer which uses the jumping play mechanics of Bomb Jack to great effect.

    2. Just joking :) I know the Speccy and CPC weren't well known in the US at the time. They were still great machines though, with some fantastic games.

      I know Mighty Bomb Jack well, I've actually reviewed it here before. I liked it too. I still prefer the original but an expansion on the concept is welcome as far as I'm concerned. I still need to finish it actually, thanks for reminding me :)