When I was at school all those years ago, the biggest debate that raged in my circle had nothing to do with football, but everything to do with the Spectrum or C64. Fast forward to today, can all the disputation in the past be settled with an iPad application?
Back then you had little or no power over the system you ended up with. Pressure on your parents worked to a point but it all went out the window when your baffled Mum and Dad were presented with a choice of systems by a smiling and seemingly very informed salesman, who didn’t care as long as it was the one currently paying the most commission. Pity the those who ended up with a Vic-20.
The debate still rages on even today. As I continue to debate this with old friends, there is never a clear winner. This is because we are looking at the debate all wrong, what we should be discussing is the reason we begged our peers to buy the hardware in the first place - and that was to play games. Games were the driving force behind the systems and if you were lucky enough to have more than one then you had made it. 'Elite' was just brilliant on the Spectrum, personally it was my favourite version but the C64 had 'Theatre Europe' and who could resist dropping nuclear bombs on London?
Today we have a plethora of platforms at our fingertips, even if we own only one console the chances are that we at least have a smartphone or tablet lurking about too. Due to the nature of these devices we are able to emulate many systems, and as of recent there has been a wealth of retro collections for old and new gamers to enjoy.
I have been experimenting with Elite System's Sinclair Spectrum 100 Greatest Hits on my iPad for about a week, and having played most of the games on the list in the 80s, I was interested to see how these classics translated onto a modern platform without the trusty rubber keys.
When you first start the program, there is a familiar sound of the tape loader. Thankfully you only hear the first part but it's enough to give the veterans a smile filled with nostalgia. The interface is simple and clear, with four possible selections from the main menu. 'Settings' and 'About' speak for themselves as does 'Play' which takes you to the games. The 'History' option gives a short but reasonably comprehensive description of the Spectrum in all its forms. While this information is lifted from Wikipedia, it is good enough for the casuals, but the veterans amongst us seeking a more reliable and deeper insight into Sinclair history might be better sourcing it elsewhere. It is, however, a nice touch.
The all important games
I am always wary of these so called 'Top 10' or 'Top 100 Greatest Hits' collections, as its all rather relative. My top ten Spectrum games are totally different from yours so I was happy to see there were no numbers, but just the games grouped by the software house behind them. Each pack contains four games, each represented by a cassette tape box sporting the original artwork. A tap is all it takes and you are given instructions and a little back story as to what the game is about. The grouping doesn't seem to have any theme but they are in a logical order, for example Manic Miner and the Jet Set Willy games are close together but I think a searchable list would have been a good idea to make finding what you want to play faster.
There is an interesting selection of games to choose from, but putting a 'Top 100' of the system's long shelf life selection isn't too hard giventhe choice on offer. There are no real surprises here, most are the arcade type or platformers, the cream of the crop of 1980's Spectrum gaming, so the authors of this collection have played it very safe. That’s not to say it is a weak collection, as there is more than enough here to satisfy most retro fans and newcomers alike.
Emulation and controls
Collections like these are only as good as the emulator that runs them. There is no excuse for modern hardware to be slow or jerky when it comes to running ancient 48k programs. Most bad emulation is down to bad or lazy programming. Where Elite System's Sinclair Spectrum 100 Greatest Hits is concerned I am happy to report that this is one of the better ones. The games run well, they glitch in all the right places and colour clash in true Spectrum form. The sound is spot on, bringing a nostalgic smile as I remembered the tune to 'Lotus Turbo' in all its weedy beeps.
All of the navigation and control buttons are designed to look the same as the rubber keys on the Spectrum keyboard making moving around the program easy but unfortunately the actual game controls let things down a bit. That, however, is not a fault of the game but of the hardware. Playing on a bit of unforgiving glass gives no tactile feedback whatsoever and in the heat of a tricky gaming moment you can find your fingers have forfeited another virtual life. There is hope though, the developers have tried to help by adding an option at the top of the screen called i-Daptive controls that allow you to move buttons around until you are comfortable. A nice and welcome addition but old timers like me will still yearn for something more tactile under the fingertip.
Sinclair ZX Spectrum 100 Greatest Hits Trailer
A good and solid effort well worth the asking price. There are a lot of good games here and you are bound to find something you like. Think of it as a pick up and drop title. While you might not be sat for hours playing, there are more than enough iconic games to get you through the day with easy loading and saving. With the cassette tape medium out the equation you can finally focus on those timeless classics instead of waiting, only to see the dreaded 'Tape Error' message yet again.
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