The ZX Spectrum was one of the most popular home computers of the 1980s, and it had a huge library of games. Some of these games were truly groundbreaking, pushing the limits of what was possible on the hardware and creating unforgettable experiences for players. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the 15 greatest ZX Spectrum games ever made, according to various sources and experts in the gaming community.
From classic arcade ports to original creations, the ZX Spectrum had something for everyone. Its unique color palette and distinctive sound hardware gave games on the platform a distinct look and feel that has continued to captivate retro gaming enthusiasts to this day. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Spectrum or just discovering its library for the first time, there’s no denying the impact that these 15 games had on the platform and the wider gaming industry.
Table of Contents
1. Manic Miner
Manic Miner is a classic platform video game that was released for the ZX Spectrum in 1983. It was created by Matthew Smith and published by Bug-Byte. The game features 20 levels that are full of obstacles and enemies that the player must avoid while collecting items such as keys and diamonds. The game’s graphics and sound were impressive for its time, and it quickly became one of the most popular games on the ZX Spectrum.
The gameplay of Manic Miner is challenging but rewarding. The player must navigate through each level, avoiding hazards such as spikes, moving platforms, and enemies. The game’s controls are simple, with the player only needing to move left, right, and jump. However, mastering the game requires precise timing and quick reflexes. The game’s difficulty increases as the player progresses through the levels, with each level introducing new challenges and obstacles.
Manic Miner is a game that has stood the test of time. Even today, it is considered one of the best games ever made for the ZX Spectrum. Its simple but addictive gameplay, combined with its colorful graphics and catchy music, make it a game that is still enjoyable to play today. If you are a fan of classic platform games, then Manic Miner is definitely a game that you should check out.
2. Jet Set Willy
Jet Set Willy is a platform game released in 1984 by Software Projects. It is the sequel to Manic Miner and features the protagonist Willy, who is tasked with cleaning up his mansion after a wild party. The game was a huge success and is widely regarded as one of the greatest ZX Spectrum games ever made.
The game consists of 60 rooms that Willy must clean up by collecting all the objects scattered around. Each room has its own unique challenges and obstacles, and the game’s difficulty ramps up as the player progresses. The game’s graphics and sound were groundbreaking for the time, and the game’s catchy music has become iconic among retro gamers.
Jet Set Willy’s success led to the creation of several sequels and spin-offs, including Jet Set Willy II: The Final Frontier and Jet Set Willy: Online. The game’s influence can still be seen in modern platformers, and it remains a beloved classic among retro gaming enthusiasts.
3. Chuckie Egg
Chuckie Egg is a classic platformer game released by A&F Software in 1983 initially for the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, and Dragon 32/64. It was later ported to other platforms, including the Commodore 64, Acorn Electron, MSX, Tatung Einstein, Amstrad CPC, and Atari 8-bit family. The game was later updated for the Amiga, Atari ST, and IBM PC compatibles.
The objective of the game is to collect all the eggs in a level while avoiding the enemies. Players control Henhouse Harry, a farmer who must collect eggs from the chicken coop. The game has a total of 40 levels, with each level increasing in difficulty.
Chuckie Egg is known for its addictive gameplay and simple yet challenging mechanics. The game has been praised for its level design and graphics, which were impressive for the time. The game’s popularity led to several sequels and remakes.
Overall, Chuckie Egg is a must-play game for fans of platformers and retro gaming. Its simple yet challenging gameplay and nostalgic graphics make it a classic that has stood the test of time.
4. Sabre Wulf
Sabre Wulf is an action-adventure game released by British video game developer Ultimate Play the Game for the ZX Spectrum home computer in 1984. The game is set in a jungle maze of 256 screens, and the player controls Sabreman, who is on a quest to collect four pieces of a magical amulet that will allow him to enter the Wulf’s lair and defeat the Sabre Wulf.
The game is known for its high level of difficulty, with many obstacles and enemies that must be overcome. The player must use their wits and reflexes to navigate the maze, collect items, and avoid danger. The game was praised for its graphics, sound, and gameplay, and is considered one of the best games ever made for the ZX Spectrum.
Sabre Wulf was one of the top games available for the Spectrum, and it helped establish Ultimate Play the Game as one of the most innovative and successful game developers of the 1980s. The game’s popularity led to several sequels and spin-offs, including Underwurlde and Knight Lore.
Overall, Sabre Wulf is a classic game that remains popular with retro gaming enthusiasts today. Its challenging gameplay, immersive world, and memorable characters make it a must-play for anyone interested in the history of video games.
5. Atic Atac
Atic Atac was a popular game released by Ultimate Play the Game in 1983. It was a top-down maze exploration-and-escape game that had players running around a castle, avoiding traps, and collecting items to progress through the game. The game was very well received and was praised for its challenging gameplay, impressive graphics, and atmospheric music.
Atic Atac is considered one of the best games on the ZX Spectrum, and for good reason. It was one of the first games to feature a fully explorable environment, and the game’s maze-like castle was filled with hidden secrets and surprises. The game also featured multiple playable characters, each with their own unique abilities and weaknesses.
The game’s graphics were also impressive for the time, with detailed sprites and backgrounds that were colorful and vibrant. The game’s music was also noteworthy, with a haunting and atmospheric soundtrack that added to the game’s overall sense of mystery and adventure.
Overall, Atic Atac is a classic game that still holds up well today. Its challenging gameplay, impressive graphics, and atmospheric music make it a must-play for any fan of retro gaming.
6. Head Over Heels
Head Over Heels is a classic isometric puzzle game that was released in 1987 by Ocean Software. It was developed by Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond, who had previously worked on the popular game, Batman: The Caped Crusader. The game features two characters, Head and Heels, who must work together to solve puzzles and explore a vast castle.
The game’s graphics were impressive for the time, featuring detailed isometric environments with a high level of depth and perspective. The game also had a unique feature where players could switch between controlling Head and Heels, each with their own abilities and limitations. This added an extra layer of strategy to the game and made it stand out from other puzzle games of the time.
Head Over Heels was also known for its challenging puzzles, which required players to think creatively and use both characters’ abilities to progress through the game. The game’s difficulty curve was well-balanced, starting off relatively easy and gradually becoming more challenging as players progressed through the castle.
Overall, Head Over Heels is a classic ZX Spectrum game that is still enjoyable to play today. Its unique isometric graphics, dual-character gameplay, and challenging puzzles make it a standout title in the ZX Spectrum library.
7. Knight Lore
Knight Lore is a classic ZX Spectrum game that was released in 1984 by Ultimate Play the Game. It is a platform game that was developed by Tim and Chris Stamper. The game features a 3D isometric view and revolves around a character named Sabreman. The game’s objective is to collect objects and solve puzzles while avoiding enemies.
The game’s graphics were revolutionary for its time and were unlike anything seen before. The game’s 3D isometric view was a technical achievement and was a significant leap forward in game graphics. The game’s sound effects and music were also impressive and added to the overall experience of the game.
Knight Lore is considered one of the best ZX Spectrum games ever made and is often cited as a classic example of a game that pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the hardware. The game’s innovative graphics and gameplay set a new standard for future games on the ZX Spectrum and inspired many game developers to push the limits of the hardware.
8. The Hobbit
The Hobbit is a classic adventure game that was released in 1982 and is widely regarded as one of the best ZX Spectrum games ever made. The game was based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book of the same name and was developed by Beam Software. It was one of the first games to feature a large, open world and allowed players to explore Middle-earth and interact with characters from the book.
The game’s graphics were impressive for the time and featured detailed illustrations of the characters and locations from the book. The game also featured a unique text parser system that allowed players to type in commands and interact with the game world in a more natural way. The game’s puzzles were challenging but fair, and the story was engaging and well-written.
The Hobbit was a groundbreaking game that helped to establish the adventure game genre and set the standard for future games in the genre. The game was also notable for its use of multiple endings, which were determined by the player’s actions throughout the game.
If you’re a fan of adventure games or J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, The Hobbit is a must-play game that still holds up well today. Its combination of engaging storytelling, challenging puzzles, and open-world exploration make it a timeless classic that is still worth playing today.
Elite is widely considered one of the greatest video games ever made, not just on the ZX Spectrum but across all platforms. Released in 1984, Elite was an open-ended 3D space trading and combat simulator that allowed players to explore a vast galaxy filled with planets, space stations, and other ships.
Elite’s gameplay was ahead of its time. Players could trade goods between different systems, mine asteroids for valuable resources, and engage in space combat with pirates or other hostile forces. The game also featured a dynamic economy that responded to the player’s actions, making it feel like a living, breathing world.
Elite’s success on the ZX Spectrum helped establish it as a major gaming platform and paved the way for future space trading and combat games like Wing Commander and Freelancer. It was also one of the first games to feature hidden “Easter eggs,” including a secret “Thargoid” alien race that could be encountered in deep space.
Dizzy is a classic platformer game that was developed by The Oliver Twins and published by Codemasters in 1987. The game follows the adventures of Dizzy, an anthropomorphic egg, as he navigates through various levels and solves puzzles.
The game was a huge success and spawned many sequels and spin-offs. It was praised for its colorful graphics, catchy music, and challenging gameplay. Dizzy quickly became one of the most iconic characters in the ZX Spectrum’s history.
The game features a variety of different levels, each with their own unique challenges and puzzles. Players must use their wits and reflexes to navigate through each level and collect items that will help them progress further. The game also features a password system that allows players to save their progress and continue playing at a later time.
Dizzy is a must-play game for any fan of the ZX Spectrum. Its charming characters, challenging gameplay, and memorable music make it a true classic of the platformer genre.
11. Skool Daze
Skool Daze is a classic game that was released by Microsphere in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 home computers. It was written by David Reidy and is widely considered one of the best games ever made for the ZX Spectrum.
The game is set in a school and you play the role of Eric, a mischievous student who must navigate his way through the school, avoiding the teachers and completing tasks such as stealing report cards and cheating on exams. The game is full of humor and charm, and the graphics and sound are top-notch for the time.
Skool Daze was a groundbreaking game for its time, and its influence can still be felt in modern games today. It was one of the first games to feature a fully-realized world with interactive characters and a complex set of rules and objectives. The game was also notable for its use of humor and satire, which was rare in games at the time.
12. Monty Mole
Monty Mole is a classic platform game that was released in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum and other home computers. The game was developed by Gremlin Graphics and is the first game in the Monty Mole series. The game follows the adventures of Monty, a mole who is trying to save his family from a coal mine that is about to be closed down.
The gameplay of Monty Mole involves navigating through various levels, collecting items, and avoiding obstacles. The levels are set in the coal mine and have a unique design that makes them challenging and fun to play. The game has a great soundtrack that adds to the overall experience of playing it.
Monty Mole was a huge success on the ZX Spectrum and is considered one of the best platform games ever made. The game was praised for its innovative gameplay, challenging levels, and excellent graphics. It was so successful that it spawned several sequels, including Wanted: Monty Mole, Monty is Innocent, and Monty on the Run.
If you are a fan of platform games, then Monty Mole is a must-play game. It is a classic that has stood the test of time and is still enjoyed by gamers today. The game is available on various emulators and can be played on modern computers and mobile devices.
R-Type was one of the bloodiest and most challenging side-scrolling shooters of its time. Developed by Irem, it was first released in 1987 and quickly became a hit. The game was originally designed for arcades, but it was ported to various home consoles, including the ZX Spectrum.
The game’s plot is set in the year 2164, where the player controls a small spacecraft called R-9. The mission is to save the Earth from an alien invasion led by the evil Bydo Empire. The gameplay is simple – the player has to shoot down waves of enemies while avoiding obstacles and incoming fire.
R-Type was praised for its innovative power-up system, which allowed players to customize their ships with various weapons and shields. The game also featured impressive graphics and sound effects that pushed the ZX Spectrum to its limits.
Despite its difficulty, R-Type was a huge success and spawned several sequels and spin-offs. The game’s legacy can still be felt today, with many modern side-scrolling shooters taking inspiration from its gameplay and design.
14. The Sentinel
The Sentinel is a puzzle video game created by Geoff Crammond and released in 1986. It was initially released for the BBC Micro and was later ported to several other platforms, including the ZX Spectrum. The game is known for its innovative gameplay and unique concept.
The objective of The Sentinel is to reach the top of a tower and absorb the energy of the Sentinel, a robotic being that watches over the landscape. The player takes control of a small robot and must navigate the terrain, collect resources, and create new robots to assist in the task. The Sentinel is constantly watching, and the player must avoid its gaze to progress.
The game’s unique concept and challenging gameplay have made it a cult classic among retro gamers. The Sentinel has been praised for its innovative gameplay, challenging difficulty, and immersive atmosphere. It is one of the most influential games of its time and has inspired many games in the puzzle genre that followed.
If you’re a fan of puzzle games, The Sentinel is definitely worth checking out. Its unique gameplay and challenging difficulty make it a standout title in the ZX Spectrum’s library of games.
15. The Lords of Midnight
The Lords of Midnight is a classic fantasy game that combines elements of wargames and graphic adventures. It was written by Mike Singleton and originally released in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum. The game was very well received from the beginning and was soon converted for other platforms such as the Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64.
The game’s story revolves around a war between the forces of good and evil, with the player taking on the role of the hero, Luxor the Moonprince. The player must navigate through a vast and dangerous world, recruiting allies and building an army to defeat the evil sorcerer Doomdark and his minions.
One of the most impressive features of The Lords of Midnight was its open-world gameplay. The game offered a choice of routes, which remains unmatched to this day. These weren’t routes like “go left or right” or “be super nice or super mean.” Instead, the player could choose to take different paths through the game’s world, encountering different characters and challenges along the way.
The Lords of Midnight was also notable for its excellent graphics, which were among the best of the era. The game’s graphics were a significant advancement in the art of computer games, and its influence can still be seen in modern games today.
The ZX Spectrum, 8-bit home computer from the 80s, had a remarkable lineup of games. Here are the 15 best!
The ZX Spectrum was so successful it got the console’s creator, Clive Sinclair, knighted, making it the only computer to level someone up in the real world. Nowadays, sixteen kilobytes isn’t even enough to advertise a modern game, but back then it held worlds that could take longer to play than to program.
With a recent retro resurgence of Spectrum hardware (the Bluetooth Recreated Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the ZX Spectrum Vega, for those who’d rather spend hundreds of dollars than download an emulator), we’re looking back at fifteen of the Spectrum’s best games. Just be warned that while the videos capture authentic gaming history, most sound like a Dalek screaming while being filled with helium.
1988 | Irem
R-Type was the blood of side-scrolling shooters, and the Spectrum conversion was the most incredible compression of anything in space outside of a black hole. Which will also suck you in and dilate your time. Hours pass in the real world while you swear you’ve only been enjoying the revolutionary weapon system for a few minutes.
The game’s graphics are still gorgeous. At the time they were a vision of computer artistry, and now they’re resonating with retro pixel remakes. It’s nice to know some people poured as much love into the tech the first time round.
1989 | Taito
Chase HQ is a rare Spectrum game that doesn’t make you wish you were deaf on the title screen. It’s also a rare game because “One of the best games ever” isn’t a common quality. The original arcade cabinet turbo-boosted the entire driving genre, giving people more to fight than a clock, and the Spectrum conversion fit more impossible awesome into primitive technology than black and white episodes of Doctor Who.
Lords of Midnight
1984 | Mike Singleton
Lords of Midnight was the Spectrum’s Lord of the Rings (even though it already had an excellent The Hobbit): a genre-defining advancement in the art. And Lords of Midnight had better graphics. The game also offered a choice of routes, which remains unmatched to this day. These weren’t routes like “go left or right” or “be super nice or ridiculously evil.” You could defeat Doomdark by advancing as a lone hero through a regular adventure or by recruiting fellow lords so that your wargaming armies stormed his castle. Meanwhile, in 2016, we think we’ve got freedom if our grizzled third-person angry-dude can skip cutscenes.
1987 | Oliver Twins
The Dizzy franchise was remarkably realistic. Because you were an egg who liked to jump around and touching almost anything would kill you. This in a world where you had to carry objects back-and-forth across a lethal landscape to solve puzzles, and in several games, you only had one space in your inventory. It was more painfully tedious, death-risking work for children than the Industrial Revolution. And at least that didn’t pretend to be fun. But Dizzy was fun. We’ll just warn you that it’s aged like a real egg: try it twenty years later and it’ll probably kill you.
1988 | Ocean Software
At the opposite extreme of vulnerability is Target: Renegade, which stars a martial arts master out to kill Mr. Big in revenge for killing his brother. Because when you’re beating up the entire world, you don’t need a story. In two player mode, you were both called Renegade. Because when something works, you don’t change it; and when that thing is kicking everyone you meet, no one needs to (or stays conscious long enough to) know anything else.
Head over Heels
1987 | Ocean Software
You wouldn’t expect Batman to be beaten by two dogs, but on the Spectrum all things were possible. Batman and Knight Lore were excellent isometric platformers—a game genre on par with the trilobite in terms of modern design—but Head over Heels leapt right over them with the then-revolutionary ability to switch between characters. Head could jump higher and shoot, Heels could run faster and carry objects, and alternating between them added unprecedented sophistication to puzzles. (Beyond the usual isometric platformer ‘puzzle’ of “where exactly is that floating block anyway.”)
1984 | David Reidy & Helen Reidy
Skool Daze sounds like a game developer’s attempt to make kids love school. But decades before Bully, this game gave players the glorious freedom to misbehave at school for points. Your “hero” could deface school crests, punch out other students, throw things at teachers, and get other students in trouble for it. Your long term goal was to extract your report card from the school safe, but it was possible to earn endless points just messing around. Which is exactly what you did.
The Great Escape
The Great Escape was set after most other World War II games—you were an allied soldier versus the Nazis, but you’d already lost. Exploring the prison camp as an unarmed POW involved a lot of learning and planning. You could even simulate the silent spying and brooding of the aspiring escapee: stop controlling your character for a while and he’ll automatically follow the camp schedule of roll call, exercise, and more, ready for you to spring into action when you see an opportunity. We’d like to see this ability in more games: let the character go through the boring bits and we’ll take over when we see something worth our time.
1983 | Tim and Chris StamperJoin our mailing list
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Atic Atac was a frantic top-down maze exploration-and-escape game. Where a gamer would expect a maze to mean peacefully plotting maps on graph paper, many rooms instantly spawned enemies to create a mini-Gauntlet. Even when you weren’t being attacked, your character was gradually but constantly starving to death. The spiritual sequel Sabre Wulf added a jungle setting and various minor improvements.
1982 | Addictive Games
Most video games have the computer crunch numbers so that the human can play a game. Football Manager realized that players would enjoy the opposite, no matter how ridiculous that sounds. The ludicrously successful game invented an entire genre of turning sports into spreadsheets, and one of the most satisfying sections was watching the match play out after your management. Electronic accounting sounds like a robot’s attempt to erase the concept of fun. But the result has taken up more human lifetime than every Terminator put together.
1989 | Maxis
Sim City! If we have to say any more than that, then thanks for making this the first thing you ever read about video games. (It’s a good place to start, chronologically speaking.) The Sim City series expanded far beyond anyone’s expectations, and it’s easy to see why. Even the simplistic Spectrum version could consume an entire night. And it never once refused to work because it didn’t have an internet connection. If only because no one did back then.
1987 | Taito
Bubble Bobble was one of the best arcade games of all time, and Rainbow Islands was even better. The simple arcade action evolved around the unique platforming-combat mechanic of rainbows, which could be jumped from and collapsed onto enemies. This was back when even tiny teams felt they should add more to a sequel than a new setting and an ominous-sounding subtitle. (Nowadays, we’d be getting “Bubble Bobble: Judgement” and adverts for DLC season passes).
1985 | Julian Gollop
Chaos featured up to eight wizards locked in a box and told to kill each other, and remains one of the best ideas for a game ever made. The primitive AI made some basic mistakes, but the more we play it the more we realize that was a way of defending humanity. Because when you lock artificially intelligent wizards into a computer and tell them to get good at killing each other, you’d better have a plan for when they escape.
1983 | Matthew Smith
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Manic Miner’s bright platforms were the most savagely lethal torture traps ever invented. The guy from Saw would play two levels of this and wonder who hurt the people responsible. And it’s still absolutely brilliant. Fiendishly floaty challenges, pixel perfect jumps, and a genuine sense of progress when you make it to a new level. Even when you die instantly. You’ll just start again for another go. Jet Set Willy expanded the idea to a mansion, but the simple single screen challenges of Miner made it a much more intense experience.
1984 | David Braben and Ian Bell
Elite is an impossibly awesome recipe for the perfect game. And it worked. An open-ended 3D galaxy filled with money to make and space pirates to destroy, and it turned out that sheer greed was a far better motivator than even the most evil alien armada. You could fight the evil Thargoids, work for the Galactic Navy, mine asteroids, or engage in piracy, but the most satisfying moment was finding a fast and profitable cargo route between neighboring planets and just racking up the cash. All on a computer you could cripple by asking it to load a jpg.