Putting together a list of the best ZX Spectrum games is quite a task since there are said to be in excess of 12,000 games on the system.
This is my personal list of favourite games, devised purely from my own experiences from when I first owned a Spectrum +2 back in 1988, through to some more recent homebrew games I have experienced.
Check out the video of 22 of the Best ZX Spectrum Games.
We start with one of the most classic Spectrum games, Manic Miner. Set over 20 single-screen levels, Manic Miner to the perfect blend of fun and frustration often requiring pixel-perfect jumps from platform to platform to collect all of the objects to unlock the exit to the next level, all before Miner Willy’s oxygen runs out.
The game is also noted as being significant for its in-game music, something which just did not happen back when originally released. A really simple concept, but expertly executed by developer Matthew Smith and one which made the Spectrum stand out as a gaming machine and also one of the best-selling games.
Truly a game which should be in any Best ZX Spectrum games list as well as in contention for one of the best platformer games.
The sequel to ‘Renegade’, Target Renegade is a classic side scrolling beat ’em up, which sees you battling through enemies and boss fights to ultimately reach Mr Big.
The fighting mechanics are reasonable considering the limitations of having a single fire button. There are a number of moves available including the ability to grab enemies and knee them in the groin – Most satisfying!
This is one of those games which I could easily complete back when I originally owned it, but have real trouble now!
Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
Dan Dare is one of the first ever games I played ever. My friend owned a 48k Spectrum and we would regularly play this and Jet Set Willy. The game sees Dan Dare collecting parts for a bomb which are needed to destroy an asteroid The Mekon is using to destroy the earth.
I was not a fan, or even aware of the original comics or characters, but the game was fast moving, had lots of places to explore and you got to run around shooting enemies, more than enough for my 6-year-old brain at the time!
One of many arcade ports for the ZX Spectrum, Pang is certainly one of the best. It is a direct port of the arcade game and whilst the in-game graphics are monochrome, it looks fantastic.
The game sees you simply having to burst all of the bubbles on each level. Once you pop a bubble, it then divides into two smaller bubbles, making the game get quite frantic if you get a bit trigger happy. All of the power-ups such as the machine gun, force field and pause clock are included too.
Pang also includes a 2 player mode which brings a whole new angle of the co-op to the gameplay. An absolute must have!
Treasure Island Dizzy
Not everyone’s favourite Dizzy game, but for me, this was the first Dizzy game I played and it has stuck with me ever since. The aim of the game is to escape the island whilst collecting all of the golden coins along the way. The graphics are fun and the in-game music suits the game well.
This is known to be the hardest of the Dizzy games, primarily because of the one-hit death and its game over! Other Dizzy games have a number of lives or an energy bar. But that’s what made this game such a challenge and one I would keep coming back to again and again.
Considered an all-time classic you can’t have a Best Spectrum Games list without a Dizzy game!
One of many movie titles from Ocean, Robocop was a huge success on the system. Not a direct port of the arcade game, but more influenced by it, Robocop became one of the system’s biggest selling games.
This is reflected by the fact it remained in the top 5 selling Spectrum games for almost two years! The game has a number of side-scrolling shooting levels, separated by some fun mini games.
As with many Ocean games of the time, Robocop has excellent graphics, great music, digitised speech and top gameplay making this one of the most timeless as well as one of the best-selling Spectrum games.
Stunt Car Racer
This game is something that almost has no business appearing on the Spectrum in such a way that it did. Stunt Car Racer is a full 3D racer, which sees you racing around elevated tracks racing against your opponent for the win.
The game has a good selection of tracks as well as a league mode for you to really get your teeth into.
This version of the game compromises nothing in terms of its execution and enjoyment, even the 16-bit versions had not the best frame rate, the spectrum handles extremely well here with what is being thrown at it.
The New Zealand Story
Another classic arcade conversion. The New Zealand story is a cutesy platform game where you control Tiki the Kiwi around each level to rescue his friends who have been kidnapped by a large seal!
Whilst this version suffers from slightly janky scrolling, the game still manages to retain a lot of the feel of the arcade original and was highly regarded upon its original release back in 1989.
Eventually, Spectrum 128k games became the lead version of the game, which usually meant the inclusion of some excellent music, the New Zealand Story is certainly no exception here with some fantastic in-game music, making this a contender for one of the best Spectrum platformer games.
Considered a real classic on the ZX Spectrum, Glider Rider is a simple isometric view game where you ride a motorbike which has the capability to transform into a hang glider, hence the name – Glider Rider!
The simple aim of the game is to ride and glide around the island destroying reactors which power the enemy base by dropping grenades from above.
The game is also noted for its amazing soundtrack by well-known game music composer David Whittaker.
More classic arcade action for the Spectrum. Rainbow Islands is actually the sequel to Bubble Bobble, although is not immediately obvious (title screen aside). You still play as Bub and Bob, now known as Bubby and Bobby, but are now in human form.
Rather than single-screen levels like in Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands see you scroll upwards through levels, tackling enemies by throwing rainbows, and collecting power-ups and fruit for extra points.
The aim is to reach the top of the level and defeat each island’s boss. Rainbow Islands is one of the Spectrum 128k games that really benefitted from the additional memory and sound chip.
The game unlike many other arcade conversions has a lot of colours and the usual excellent 128k soundtrack. This was easily one of my favourites back in the day and one of the best ZX Spectrum platformer games.
A timeless Spectrum classic by Ultimate Play The Game, and incidentally, their first game. Jetpac is a very early 16K ZX Spectrum game released in 1983.
But its simple gameplay and challenging, but achievable difficulty curve make Jetpac an easy game to nominate as one of the greatest ZX Spectrum Games.
The game sees you having to collect the pieces of Jetman’s rocket, and fill it with fuel before progressing to the next planet. Once you visit the next planet, you land, fight off enemies whilst searching for more fuel and progress again to the next planet.
Very much a game where going for a high score is a big part of the fun.
I first played Micronaut One like many people did, following its inclusion on a Crash Magazine cover tape. This game is a 3D vector game which is executed perfectly on the Spectrum.
It’s a very smooth first-person view action that wowed many back in the day, where you play as a robot navigating the biocomputers tunnels ridding them of aliens. The game has a steep learning curve with a lot of in-depth detail on the game’s enemy parasites as well as planning your navigation around the biocomputer.
Certainly one for those who like being thrown in the deep end!
Another early ZX Spectrum game, but certainly one you would, or at least should find in any Best Spectrum Games list. Atic Atac is another Ultimate Play The Game classic, released in 1983.
The game is a top-down view arcade maze game set in a castle with the aim to collect three sections of a golden key so that you are able to escape.
Atic Atac, without doubt, has cemented itself into gaming history and established Ultimate Play The Game as a force to be reckoned with.
R-Type is a prime example of what was possible on the Spectrum if put in the right set of hands.
Not only is the art style kept true to the arcade as best possible, but all of the gameplay is also here, including all the weapon power-ups, enemies and massive end-of-level bosses. It is so big, that it had to be implemented as a multiload game, where you would have to load each level as you progress.
Nonetheless, R-Type is a must-play and another game that will almost certainly be on many Best Spectrum Game lists.
Chase H.Q. is another arcade port (you surely should have noticed a pattern developing by now!) published by Ocean Software. Now this game is one of my strongest memories on the Spectrum. Having played the arcade original, I craved a decent conversion of an arcade driving game.
Having been disappointed with Out Run, Chase H.Q. arrived and I was blown away. Not only did it have similar qualities to racing games,
Fruit Machine Simulator
Now, this is not necessarily a game that shows up in Best ZX Spectrum Game lists. But it is in mine, and I’ll tell you why. In the late 80s, my family and I would frequently stay in a caravan park which had its own arcade and another up the road.
Obviously, being a kid at the time, I spent most of my time in the arcade, scrounging change from my parents to play the likes of Bubble Bobble, Pac Land and Vigilante. Problem was, that they would only give me a small budget to play with. How did I get around this? Fruit Machines of course!
This game not only filled me with the same sense of anticipation and excitement that I might stretch out my last 10 pence and turn it into another pound, but it genuinely is fun to play. With all the classic features of a fruit machine, it is a great representation of the time.
A classic joystick-busting game! There were loads of joystick-waggling games back in the 80s, but Combat School brought with it a different angle to the usual sports games such as Track & Field.
Whilst the mechanics remain similar, there are 7 events, many providing a different challenge. From running the obstacle course to the shooting range, you ultimately find yourself fighting one on one with your instructor.
Combat School also includes a 2 player option if you have enough joysticks on hand to break!
The Great Escape
An earlier Ocean Software published title, The Great Escape is a game where you play as a prisoner of war being kept in a German Prisoner of War camp. The aim is to, as the name suggests, escape!
Presented in classic Spectrum isometric view, you will have to make sure you follow your daily routine closely whilst finding a way to escape, otherwise guards will get wise to your efforts and arrest you.
A really innovative game at a time when games still had predominantly basic mechanics.
I make no apologies for there being yet another Ocean Software title! Operation Wolf is a conversion of the on-rails arcade shooter. One unique feature of the game is that it supports the ZX Spectrum ‘Magnum’ Light Phaser peripheral, making it far more authentic to the arcade original.
If you don’t have a light gun, then you simply control the reticle with the joystick, firing with the fire button and throwing grenades with the space bar.
It is a really tough game but one that brought me huge enjoyment when I first played it.
The classic Konami button-bashing, joystick-waggling game that was brought to the Spectrum in 1985.
This is one game that contributed to many broken joysticks or damaged keyboards! The aim of each event is to achieve the minimum qualifying time or score, the game then loops with the difficulty increases each time.
The Spectrum conversion stays true to the original with the exception of the pole vault event which is missing, but the 6 events that are included are all really fun to play.
Mighty Final Fight
As mentioned earlier, I’ve included a couple of new spectrum games that I have experienced, and these are in the form of two modern homebrew games, the first being Mighty Final Fight, a conversion of the NES original.
In this spinoff from Final Fight, the game uses miniaturised versions of the main characters who fight their way across Metro City to rescue the daughter of Haggar, who has been kidnapped.
The graphics, sound and gameplay are all excellent. This truly would have been an all-time classic had it been released back in the day.
Castlevania: Spectral Interlude
The final game on my list is another new spectrum game, Castlevania: Spectral Interlude. Documented as originally intended as being a conversion of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, it evolved into its own new unique adventure.
The game, like with many more modern Spectrum titles looks, moves and sounds great. The usual Castlevania mechanics or walking across the levels taking out creatures and ultimately, summoning and defeating dracula.
It is a beast of a game and one which not only Spectrum enthusiasts, but lovers of the Castlevania series will enjoy.
So there you have it, my own personal favourites. If you are looking for a way to play ZX Spectrum games, be sure to check out our best Spectrum emulator guide.
A lifelong avid gamer and computing enthusiast, Matt has decades of experience in the field, so producing retro orientated content for How To Retro comes is second nature to him. Now over 40 years old, Matt now even considers himself retro, but fortunately, nobody has developed a Matt emulator (not yet at least!).