(Ocean - 1985)
It took several years for a worthwhile football game to appear on the Spectrum. Early efforts had involved such primitive interpretations as manoeuvering blocks around the screen, but this changed with Matchday. For the first time on the Spectrum large moving characters could dribble, pass, shoot, throw-in and take corners. It was the mother of all future footie games, but it was not all original work. Author Jon Ritman took the bears from his earlier game, Bear Bovver, and cut their snouts off to produce the player graphics. Realising that he needed help with his graphics, Ritman joined up with old friend Bernie Drummond and formed a team that went on to become programming legends with great titles like Head Over Heels, Batman and Matchday II.
(Imagine - 1985)
Having invented the athletics arcade game with Track and Field, Konami released the follow-up just at a time when Ocean Software were buying up their licenses and releasing conversions under their newly-acquired Imagine label. If there was one type of game that you could count on Ocean doing a good job of, it was sports simulations and Hypersports is no exception. It builds on the traditional running, jumping and throwing events by including activities such as shooting and swimming. The graphics are superb and it is probably the most accomplished multi-event sports game ever made for the Spectrum, even if all that keyboard bashing does wear you out.
DALEY THOMPSON'S DECATHLON
(Ocean - 1984)
Following in the wake of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics came a succession of track and field games, most of which were attempting to emulate the incredible success of Konami's Track and Field in the arcades. The Spectrum had already suffered a few poor examples before Ocean dished up Daley Thompson's Decathlon which managed to ride to the top of the Christmas charts on the back of the British athlete's gold medal success. As Daley, you must compete in ten events: the 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres, the 110 metre hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 metres. The ruin of many a rubber keyboard, this is a classic title that is still strongly associated with the Spectrum and its golden era. Try playing it on a PC keyboard and just watch those world records tumble!
DALEY THOMPSON'S SUPERTEST
(Ocean - 1985)
In the same way that Konami took a successful idea in Track and Field and gave it a shake-up to produce a high quality sequel in Hypersports, so Ocean decided to following the best-selling Decathlon with Supertest. This time round, the events include shooting, cycling, ski slalom and even a penalty shoot-out. There's a nice balance of different skills required, but make no mistake, your digits will still be numb by the end of it all. As you'd expect from an Ocean sports games, the graphics are good and it proves to be a competent successor to Decathlon even if it lacks the first game's cohesion and true sense of tie-in.
(Psion - 1984)
It's strange that so few tennis games were ever produced for the Spectrum. After all, each summer Wimbledon dominates the sports world and thousands of children pull that dusty racquet out of the cupboard and head for the park. Thousands more are either too lazy to leave the house or unwilling to suffer the punishing British climate changes and would rather put their feet up and play tennis on their computer. Surprising then that the only tennis game worth its salt on the Speccy is Matchpoint. Although it is clearly a descendant of Pong, it has attractive graphics and some great rallies can be had if you come to terms with the auto-changover. If even the prospect of exercising your fingers is a little daunting, then sit back and let the computer play out an exhibition match for your entertainment.
The concept of the sports game dates right back to the first commercially successful arcade machine, Pong. It was a simple bat and ball game (its now legendary instructions consisted of the words 'AVOID MISSING BALL FOR HIGH SCORE'), but it captured the imagination of the public and created the games industry that we now know and love. It was also the predecessor of Spectrum titles such as Psion's Match Point and Imagine's Ping Pong. Although it bears little resemblance to sports games as we now understand them, it was based on the bat and ball concept which are the tools of many a sport.
When Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, persuaded a local bar owner to install his prototype Pong machine, he was uncertain whether it would prove popular. Several days later, the irate bar owner asked him to get rid of the game because it was broken. When Bushnell examined the machine, he discovered the reason it wouldn't work - it was jammed full of coins. He concluded that perhaps this videogames lark might be worth the trouble after all.
Sports games began to evolve beyond Pong clones in the late-1970s. In 1978, Atari released American Football in the US arcades, which proved extremely popular with its domestic audience. There were ice hockey games too, but across the Atlantic, these sports that were rather too...err...foreign. It was not until 1983 that the next internationally successful title was released.
Konami's Track and Field was the original button-bashing athletics game. The format is now familiar - you compete in a number of events and make your athlete run faster by furiously hammering at a pair buttons. It was a massive hit and its popularity was boosted even further the next year by the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. There were plenty of imitators for the Spectrum, the best being Ocean's Daley Thompson's Decathlon. Not only did it cash in on the recent Olympics, but also on the success of Britain's gold medal-winning athlete of the title.
In 1985, Konami released Hypersports, the sequel to Track and Field and Imagine snapped up the rights to convert it to the Spectrum, doing a very good job in the process. Among the also rans were average titles such as Melbourne House's Sports Hero and Database's Micro Olympics, as well as tosh like CRL's Olympics and Mitec's Olympicon. None of them could compete with Ocean's slick and well-marketed products.
It's not all about athletics though. Sport is a broad church and just about every imaginable activity was eventually catered for on the Spectrum - even the national sport. In the early years, football games were mostly limited to those concerned with management, or they were poor arcade efforts like Artic's World Cup (first released in 1982 and then shamefully re-released four years later under the guise of a new game). Ocean's Match Day was the first playable, convincing football game to appear and it remained the benchmark for sometime - only bettered by its sequel in fact.
As programming techniques improved, games became increasingly playable and varied. There were simulations of cricket, tennis, squash, darts, golf, pool, snooker, American football, skiing, horse racing, show jumping and many more. By the mid-Eighties, however, the popularity of games that weren't tied in with big licensing deals or rushed out under a budget label, began to lose favour - more with the software houses than the public - and sports games suffered as a result. Not that they died off; instead they diversified or came in disguise. Titles such as Combat School or Hyperbowl are prime examples.
Nowadays the genre is still popular and will remain so, as long as it continues to offer the ultimate computing challenge: the head-to-head contest with another person.
Our American cousins have a strange idea of what constitutes sport and many of their games don't appear to be fit for conversion to the home computer, let alone viewing in real life. However, with the advent of Channel 4 in the early 80s, these alien pastimes received much greater TV coverage in Britain than ever before and a demand was created (however small) for associated games. Here's a small selection.
American Football (Argus Press - 1984)
Anyone who has watched American Football knows that it's actually quite a short, stop-start game padded out with long delays, dancing girls and marching bands. None of that old nonsense is here though and on the computer it becomes a tactical conflict worthy of the battlefield. The game is played as a series of set moves, with the player choosing his team's strategy before each phase. If you've never liked the look of American Football, don't let this put you off. This is an engrossing and exciting game which might even change your views of the real thing.
World Series Basketball (Imagine - 1985)
This could have been awful - an unfamiliar sport with lots of animated men running around is a recipe for a game dogged by slow, jerky graphics, a dreadful control system and confusing gameplay. Imagine were masters of the sports simualtion though and they pulled this one off successfully. The graphics are large and lively and the six minute games mean that it will appeal even to those players with the smallest of attention spans.
World Series Baseball (Imagine - 1985)
A game like this is always likely to prove a gamble for a software company. Baseball may well be the American national sport (and indeed baseball players are on average the best paid sportsmen in the world), but there is practically zero interest in it on this side of the Atlantic. As a non-fan, the rules have always been one of the mysteries of the universe to me, but as a cricketer, I have great tolerance and respect for unfathomable sports. If you can overcome the unfamilarity of baseball there is a wonderful game here. The graphics are great and as a two player game it provides a different challenge to the usual sports fare.
Some of you might be currently raising an eyebrow and asking why boxing
games aren't residing in the beat 'em up section. Well, although there
is an element of bone-crushing violence in both categories, they are very different styles of game and if you play any of the titles below, you'll see what I mean. In the mid-Eighties there was a positive plethora of boxing games in the arcades (probably still is as far as I know), so it was inevitable that these would find themselves being converted to home computers for the entertainment of punchdrunk Spectrum suckers like me and thee.
Frank Bruno's Boxing (Elite - 1985)
Released around the same time as Rocco, this feisty little
number came out on top. As Big Frank, you must battle your way past eight opponents of varying appearance and ability to win the title. The
graphics look strangely un-Spectrum-like to me, but they are good
nonetheless. There are a variety of different offensive moves and fighting tactics which make this an accomplished piece of pugilistic fun.
Rocco (Gremlin - 1985)
A similar, but inferior, game to Frank Bruno's Boxing. The
graphics are of a good, cartoon-like quality, but the fact that your moves are limited to a left or right attack and a block make the game no more than mildly diverting.
Barry McGuigan Championship Boxing (Activision - 1985)
This game takes you beyond the action in the ring and enables you to
train up a boxer who can reach the same heights as the squeaky
Ulsterman of the title. The fighters possess a number of attributes which will affect his success: stamina, endurance, strength and agility. These qualities can be improved by choosing different training methods. The game claimed to be unique because 'it focuses on the art of the sport. Style, training and strategy are emphasized over slugging ability'. It's hard to argue with that either.
Unfortunately, the cricket genre was largely ignored on the Spectrum and it wasn't until later in the decade that it was given anything more than lip service. This is particularly upsetting for enthusiasts who want something to play during the rain breaks of the Test Match. Here's what little was on offer for the Spectrum in the early years.
Test Match (CRL - 1983)
This title set the rather low standard for the Spectrum cricket scene. You choose your team, flip the coin, then bat or bowl. In the field you are limited to changing round the bowling in an attempt to make the breakthrough, while your batting involvement consists of choosing whether the batsmen run or not. The graphics are simple, but surprisingly effective and enthusiasts (or historians nowadays), might find the use of actual cricketers adds to the atmosphere. Sadly, due to the way that the game virtually plays by itself, its appeal is somewhat limited.
Ashes (Pulsonic - 1984)
In 1984, a company called Pulsonic released a catalogue of some of the most awful games ever made believing that there was easy money to be made in computers by peddling any old rubbish. They badly misjudged the nous of the average teenager and failed dismally. One of these titles was Ashes, which was possibly the best of the bunch. It follows a similar pattern to Test Match, but there is the added feature of being able to position your players on the pitch. Again, for fans of the sport only - and bored ones at that.
Howzat! (Wyvern - 1984)
Not much change here, I'm afraid. In Howzat you get to pick your team from a squad of players and position your fielders, but once the action begins, your involvement is once again very limited. Better than some efforts, but that's not saying much.
Graham Gooch's Test Cricket (Audiogenic - 1986)
Yes, a real life action cricket game where you play the shots and bowl the balls, a far cry from the other games lurking shamefully under this section. There are two modes of play: simulation (where you deal with the tactical side of the match) and arcade (which allows you to bowl those yorkers and thump those sixes yourself). There's nothing remarkable about it, but compared to what went before, it's bally marvellous.
Whether it be middle-class girls winning rosettes at the local fete or grimy old men pissing the housekeeping money up the wall down the bookies, horses have always been linked to sport and competition. Therefore, the Spectrum would have been shirking its sporting duties if it had not catered for all sectors of the horse-loving community.
The Sport of Kings (Mastertronic - 1986)
Fancy a flutter on the gee-gees do we, but don't have the cash or the bottle to do the real thing? Well don't worry, because in this enjoyable budget title from Mastertronic you can visit the meetings, study the card and then place your bets. Although the novelty of winning or losing non-existant cash can wear thin, it is well designed and a laugh for a while.
Grand National (Elite - 1985)
Released to coincide with the world's greatest steeplechase, Grand National puts you in the saddle as you race around the legendary Aintree circuit, coping with the likes of The Chair, Beecher's Brook and Canal Turn. The combination of top-down and side-on views works very well. You need to pace your race carefully, watching your energy levels, avoiding other horses and using the whip wisely. On top of all this horse-foolery, you can even place bets on the race yourself. By the way, in 1985 the real race was won by West Tip. So there.
Showjump (IMS - 1984)
If you're a member of the pony club then you'll love this. Actually, I should shut up because I rode horsies as a boy. You must guide your horse and rider about the course, tackling jumps and avoiding as many faults as possible. Like Grand National it makes effective use of a split screen to display the action. Those who aren't fans of showjumping might find it all a bit pointless, but enthusiasts should find it of interest.
Racing Predictions (Buffer Micro - 1984)
This is a gambling utility designed to help you pick winners down the
bookies. I remember seeing a few of these titles around during the
mid-eighties and I bought at least two of them, urged on by my dad.
Racing Predictions involves keying in information from the Sporting Life Weekender newspaper relating to form, plus jockey weight, going and the name of the course. After some highly complex (?) calculations, the logical order in which the horses should trot in is presented to you. From memory it didn't work too badly, so give it a go (if the Weekender still exists that is).
The golf game has come a long way since the days of the Spectrum. Image capture to simulate actual players' swings, real-life courses reproduced in the most precise detail, yet in the days of the Spectrum, it all began with a dubious top-down view of a course and a lot of BASIC programming. Here's those that made the cut.
Handicap Golf (CRL - 1984)
The was probably the first half-decent golf game to appear on the Spectrum. Compared to later efforts it looks very dated, but at the time it was released, the competition was unspeakable. Don't let the fact that it's written in BASIC upset you too much, it's an accomplished little game.
Leaderboard (US Gold - 1986)
Surely the king of the genre for many years. Leaderboard offered the kind of 3D perspective that we take for granted in today's golf games. There are three levels of skill to progress through: novice, amateur and professional. As you advance, factors such as wind come into play and the islands on which the greens lie become smaller and smaller. As with nearly all golf games, it is extremely difficult to actually win any tournaments and you're more likely to spend your time shanking the ball embarassingly into the drink than lifting trophies.
Nick Faldo's Open (Argus Press - 1984)
Until Leaderboard this was probably the best of the golf sims on the market. The top half of the screen shows a top-down view of the course and below are a variety of other subscreens, including an image of your golfer, distance from the hole and the club selected. The graphics are clear and you have good control of your strokes. It is only let down by the putting where the lack of a close-up view makes it a bit of a lottery.
A few pints, a bag of nuts and the odd game of pool or darts. Along with casual violence and the occasional quiz, they are the staple of many pub-goers' nights out. Luckily, you can avoid the perils of a flooded mens' toilet and overpriced beer by playing some of the pub's finer pastimes on the Spectrum.
180 (Mastertronic - 1986)
Forget the imitators because this is the Phil Taylor of darts games. You are presented with a clear depiction of a board with a disembodied hand clutching a dart hovering infront of it. Unfortunately the hand is shaking like it's George Best on the oche and being accurate with your throws takes practice. When your opponents throw you are treated to a wonderful third-person view of them 'chucking their spears' before a backdrop of pints being pulled and dogs urinating. Great fun.
Pool (CDS - 1984)
This was one of the first pool games on the Spectrum. The graphics are colourful and effective and the control system is simple. It uses the top-down view, that every pool and snooker game of the time used, and a cursor on the side of the table that controls cueing. Spawned numerous, inferior imitators.
Video Pool (OCP - 1984)
Most people probably haven't heard of this, but it's a fine pool simulator. As well as all the usual control of direction, shot strength and ball spin, there are features which enable you to play trick shots and variants on the usual rules, including a 'pot the balls in order' option.
Steve Davis Snooker (CDS - 1985)
Having already covered pool, CDS moved onto the game's big brother, snooker, and a very presentable title they made too. What makes it a far better game than most of its type is that you have such great control options: screw, top and side spin, plus a natty crosshair aiming system.
Bowls (Lotus Soft - 1984)
At the risk of sounding prematurely old, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for bowls (my head) and what better place to enjoy all the thrills and spills of this subtle and skillful sport than on your Spectrum. Unfortunately, much of the subtlety and rather a lot of the skill is lost in this simulation. You control the direction of your bowl and the strength is selected according the bowl's weight and that's about it. Its limitations reduce this to the fans-only category, but a lazy afternoon watching the real thing on the TV might just get you in the mood.
Jonah Barrington's Squash (New Generation - 1985)
This game was undoubtedly the first decent attempt to bring a racquet
sport to the Spectrum after Match Point. All the basic elements
of the game are here, plus some natty features which make it more
playable, such as automatic stroke selection and some muffled synthesised speech from the hairy maestro himself. If you like the idea of squash, but don't fancy mixing with loud business types down the local sports centre, then give this a whirl. In fact, even if you hate the game, try it, because it's a damn fine simulation.
Ping Pong (Imagine - 1985)
The original Konami arcade version of Ping Pong was a fiendishly addictive and playable game and Doug Burn's conversion captures all of the simplicity that made it such a joy to play. It also boasts some superb music and graphics which are as close to the original as the Spectrum could ever hope to offer.