On the Bookshelf...

ZX Nightmares

Graeme Mason

A book that celebrates the worst of the worst most hellish games ever released on the ZX Spectrum sounds like my idea of heaven and having just read the final page of the excellent ZX Nightmares by Graeme Mason, I felt compelled to write my own review, so here it is.

ZX Nightmares is a book about computer games. Specifically, games that appeared on the Sinclair Spectrum in the 80's and early 90's. There are loads of books out there that chronicle the brilliant games that were released for this early computer, yet I believe this is the first that chronicles those truly dire games that graced one of the best platforms in computing history.

The Sinclair Spectrum was the product of Clive Sinclair. It was released in 1982 for the incredibly low price of £129 for the 16k version, An extra £50 for the full blown 48K edition. It dominated the UK market for the next few years. Accessible for many families due to the price, it spawned a whole bedroom programmer revolution. Newer improved models came later with 128K of ram. It was astonishing how programmers managed to squeeze such performance out of so little memory. Many great games were released Manic Miner, Jetpac, Knight lore, Lords of Midnight to name just a few.

Yet for every great game there were hundreds of clunkers. Those games where you wondered if the programmer was taking the Michael. Graeme Mason is a legend to Speccy fans. He was one of the great reviewers in the amazing Crash magazine, the only one we went to for honest reviews.

The book is split into sections including Licenced games (usually all spawn of evil), games that were way too hard to play, and other sections including themes that wouldn't see the light of day today. There's some surprising ones in this book. For a book that purports to be the worst games, the inclusion of some recognised stella games. Graeme however argues for their inclusion and wins the argument more often than not. Sure, Lunar Jetman was a hard unforgiving game, but the graphic style was well done. Jet Set Willy, the follow up to the epic Manic Miner gets a mention. Famously released with more bugs than a London Underground train, it deserves a place on the list. Didn't stop me enjoying it, after typing in the bug fix.

Most games you'd spend less time playing than the loading times. Luckily or by judgement I bought relatively few of these masterpieces. Although there are some that Graeme missed as I had my own fair share of clunkers. It's a book full of nostalgia though. Those halcyon days when the speccy was the greatest invention known to man. Never would a computer or console have the same effect on me. Sure, the games got more polished but the actual game play? No, it was all there on that slab of plastic.

My original speccy gave way at the end of the 80's and I ended up with an Atari ST. A brilliant machine yet I couldn't help but look over my shoulder at the broken speccy and wish I'd replaced it like for like. Now I still play those games through emulation. This book brought back so many happy memories of Just Micro in Sheffield, of buying games and taking them home, only to find they weren't as good. I see Graeme is writing a follow up of the best computer games. Hope they include Lords of Midnight and The Double.

Highly recommended to all ex and present speccy owners.

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January 16, 2024

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