ZX Spectrum Games

Written by

Matt James

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Best GamesSinclair ZX Spectrum

Putting together a list of ZX Spectrum games recommendations is quite a task since there are said to be in excess of 12,000 games on the system, but here I whittle through some of the more well known titles, a couple of less well known as well as a couple of more recent ZX Spectrum homebrew games.

This list has been put together based purely from my own experiences from when I first owned a Spectrum +2 back in 1988.

22. Manic Miner

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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Manic Miner
Manic Miner

21. Target Renegade

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!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Target Renegade
Target Renegade

20. 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!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Dan Dare
Dan Dare

19. Pang

A 2 player classic arcade game ported for the ZX Spectrum, Pang is certainly lives up to the hype at the time. 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!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Pang

18. 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 any Spectrum Games list without a Dizzy game included!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Treasure Island Dizzy
Treasure Island Dizzy

17. Robocop

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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Robocop

16. 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 greatest frame rate, the spectrum handles extremely well here with what is being thrown at it.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Stunt Car Racer
Stunt Car Racer

15. 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - The New Zealand Story
The New Zealand Story

14. Glider Rider

Considered a real classic on the ZX Spectrum, Glider Rider is a simple isometric view game where you ride a motorbike that 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 that 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Glider Rider
Glider Rider

13. Rainbow Islands

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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Rainbow Islands
Rainbow Islands

12. Jetpac

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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Jetpac

11. Micronaut One

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 that 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 bio-computer.

Certainly one for those who like being thrown in the deep end!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Micronaut One
Micronaut One

10. Atic Atac

Another early ZX Spectrum game, but certainly one you would, or at least should find in any ZX Spectrum gamers favourites 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 a doubt, has cemented itself into gaming history and established Ultimate Play The Game as a force to be reckoned with.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Atic Atac
Atic Atac

9. R-Type

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 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 multi-load game, where you would have to load each level as you progress.

Nonetheless, R-Type is a must-play and another game that exceeded expectations on the ZX Spectrum.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - R-Type

8. Chase H.Q.

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,

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Chase HQ
Chase HQ

7. Fruit Machine Simulator

Now, this is not necessarily a game that shows up in many peoples favourite Spectrum games. I have great memories of this, and I’ll tell you why. In the late 80s, my family and I would frequently stay in a caravan park that 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Fruit Machine Simulator
Fruit Machine Simulator

6. Combat School

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!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Combat School
Combat School

5. 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - The Great Escape
The Great Escape

4. Operation Wolf

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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf

3. Hyper Sports

The classic Konami button-bashing, joystick-waggling game 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 increasing 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.

Hyper Sports is also excellent on the Commodore 64, so if you’ve broken enough Spectrum joysticks, move on to your friend’s C64!

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Hyper Sports
Hyper Sports

2. 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Mighty Final Fight
Mighty Final Fight

1. 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.

Best ZX Spectrum Games - Castlevania Spectral Interlude
Castlevania Spectral Interlude

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