Sinclair Spectrum Nostalgia
A trip down memory lane with the Spectrum and its extensive library of games
I can’t remember when my brother and I received our first Spectrum, but I remember the bundle of wires, unmarked cassettes, and dirty rubber-keyed computer. Its keyboard had letters rubbed off and one joystick was broken. It was a 48k Spectrum, and it had seen better days.
The Sinclair Spectrum made its debut in 1982 and was one of the first home computers in the UK. This hardware would play a key role in the development of video games and personal computers. To load up games, you needed to insert cassettes.
I asked my parents where this 48k Spectrum came from and while they couldn’t quite remember, the story goes that they saw the new Spectrum 128k with its built-in tape deck advertised. They wanted to be sure we would play with it before buying it for Christmas, so this hand-me-down acted as a test.
I was eleven years old, my brother nine. He was far more interested in gaming than he was with our previous computer, the Commodore Vic 20. After a good cleaning, we set it up and began cataloguing the scores of unmarked tapes.
There was a method to this madness. We grabbed a sheet of paper for each cassette, loaded up each game, played it briefly to make sure it worked, and wrote it down in order, along with the locational numbers on the tape counter before moving to the next (that last bit was our dad’s idea). If there was a game that caught our interest, we’d highlight it on the sheet.
Rinse and repeat with the next game.
It soon became apparent why the letters on certain keys were rubbed off on the keyboard. With only one functional joystick, Player 2 would have to use the keyboard (Q is Up, A is Down, O is Left, P is Right, and Spacebar is to fire).
The 48k Spectrum had hundreds of games compared to the Vic 20. I could write another article on the game variety and quantity alone, but I would rather highlight some memorable and wowing games. Jet Set Willy, Spyhunter, Match Day 2, Rock N Wrestle, 720, Target Renegade (the first game I played to completion), Jack the Nipper, Dizzy — the list of incredible games goes on.
Looking back, this was a golden time in the respect that gaming was not an escape from reality (like it is now), but more of an extension of it.
If we couldn’t go out and play football, we’d play Match Day 2. After a long day of being out on our skateboards, we’d tumble on home and play 720. If we just watched Saturday afternoon wrestling or American WWF, we’d end the day playing Rock N Wrestle.
It was around this time were we given pocket money and we loved to visit the local newsagents. They had a selection of budget titles, usually around the 99p mark. We would spend hours looking at the back of all the games, deciding which one to spend our money on. I remember being envious of Commodore 64 owners because the screenshots from their games seemed more colourful than Spectrum’s one or two colours schemes.
These games introduced me to my first gaming community. Unbeknownst to me, a lot of my friends at school also had Spectrums. So began the process of game swapping, or more precisely, game copying.
Anytime anyone in our circle snagged a new game, we’d swap for the night and use my dad’s Amstrad stereo system to make a copy of the game. While my adult self now realizes this was piracy, this did not dawn upon my eleven-year-old self as an issue.
This led to more and more games entering my library. Skool Daze, Barbarian, Monty Mole, Head Over Heels, all earned a spot on my shelf. Movie tie-ins of popular films — RoboCop, Running Man, and TV shows like Mission Impossible came into my possession. If you enjoyed driving games, there was Chase HQ and APB. If sports games were what you enjoyed, there was Track and Field and Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (it’s probably this very game that broke the other joystick).
Even my dad, who occasionally played, had games of his own such as Tai Pan and Tau Ceti. The variety of games you could play was endless with the Spectrum.
One game that I really loved was Werewolves of London. In this game, you played as a man cursed to turn into a werewolf. Set in Victorian London, you changed into a wolf at night and were locked up if caught. The goal was to track down priests, eat them to retrieve their crucifix, and collect a certain amount to break the curse. The copy we had was, sadly, broken and would crash the moment we found the last priest. While I never had the chance to complete it, I’m still hunting it down and ready to find that priest once more.
Eventually, the hand-me-down 48k model was replaced with the newer 128k model with a tape deck attached. While in no way do I want to come across as ungrateful, I preferred the 48k model.
None of the games took advantage of the higher memory, took just as long to load (if they loaded at all; r tape loading error, anyone?), and the tape deck didn’t have a counter so we couldn’t find games on the huge 90-minute cassettes. We would have to use my dad’s stereo and he wasn’t too keen on us touching his pride and joy.
When I was around 13 or 14, we upgraded to a Sega Master System, but we kept the Spectrum and all of its games for years after. My parents still have it long after I left home and I cannot overstate its importance in my personal video game history and experience. While I have played many games on many different systems, Spectrum is the one that shines the brightest.