ZX Spectrum 128 (Sinclair Research) Review | Computer Gamer - Everygamegoing

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ZX Spectrum 128
By Sinclair Research
European Machines

 
Published in Computer Gamer #13

Tony Hetherington reviews the latest games machine from Sinclair

ZX Spectrum 128

Despite Sir Clive's well-published financial problems and his disastrous flirtation with the C5, a new Sinclair computer is still big news.

Although Clive still has an incredible drawing power, Sinclair Research had a problem. How do you follow a best-selling machine like the Spectrum? Their answer is the ZX Spectrum 128.

The Machine

The 128 is in fact two computers in the one case. Sinclair has avoided losing the Spectrum's incredible software base by including a Spectrum+ in his new computer.

Consequently, the 128 has the usual Spectrum+ cassette, TV and edge connector but also includes an RGB monitor interface, RS232 socket and an interface for an optional keypad.

Inside the machine are the 128's two main changes, 128K of RAM and a General Instruments AY-3-8912 sound chip which can produce some impressive sound effects that will rival those of the C64.

The extra memory is organised as a RAM disk and allows you to load and save programs, screens and data, as you can already on tape or microdrive, but almost instantly. Naturally, this is lost if the 128 is switched off or swapped to any of its other modes.

When you turn on the 128, you are presented with a menu of options offering you such delights as 128 Basic, 48K Basic (also used to load 48K programs), a calculator mode, a tape level tester and a tape loader which has the same effect as typing LOAD"" in 128 Basic.

The manuals that are supplied with the 128 are disappointing as all you get is a 14 page booklet and a Spectrum+ programming guide. The booklet briefly describes the minor changes that 128 Basic offers (renumber function and Play command to produce music) and contains a setting up section that describes how you can attach your new 128 to a monitor and printer but you'll have to get the leads from Sinclair Research. In the case of the monitor lead, Sinclair provide you with the pin configuration and suggess that your local dealer can provide you with the other end of the monitor lead!

As far as a printer is concerned, you can use only the RS232 interface in 128 mode leaving the commercial centronics interfaces that use the edge connector out there in the '48K' cold.

Finally, there is still no on/off switch or a joystick port. According to Sinclair the joystick port was omitted as there were already several "standards" in use, such as Kempston and Sinclair, which all still work on the 128.

Finally finally, the 128 features a better graphics display that removes the irritating "dot crawl" and the fact that the sound now goes through the TV even improves the 48K's beeps.

The Games

The 128 can run its own software specially written to take advantage of the extra memory and sound chip as well as a whole range of existing 48K software.

To get you started, the 128's pack contains two Ocean games: the fantasy graphic adventure The Neverending Story, previously only available for the C64, and an expanded version of Daley Thompson's Supertest which features twelve events.

Now the full line up consists of 100m, 110m hurdles, rowing, diving, ski jump, pistol shoot, javelin, cycling, penalties, tug-of-war, triple jump and giant slalom.

The reaction of the other software houses is varied but is crucial to the success of the machine.

The treatment of 128 programs also differs considerably from companies who will entirely rewrite and expand programs to those who will only add the odd sound effect. Some only hope to show that their existing programs will run, unchanged, on the 128.

Knight Tyme, the sequel to the excellent Spellbound, was written as a 128K game with a cutdown version also being produced for the 48K Spectrums. More on Knight Tyme elsewhere in this issue.

Hewson Consultants have launched the Technician Ted Megamix which is an expanded version of their existing game. The Megamix version is about twice the size of the original for the same price. I have a feeling that 'megamix' is a term that we will see attached to most 128 games in the near future.

The excellent Sweevo's World has also been expanded to form the cleverly named Sweevo's Whirled whereas the 128 version of the Rocky Horror Show features only enhanced sound taken from the C64 version.

Better graphics are the main differences to Ocean's International Matchday, Domark's Gladiator which now features two sets of player graphics and ten more background screen and US Gold's Winter Games.

A full list of the 128 games announced at the 128 launch is included at the end of this article. However, only time will tell whether this support from the software houses will continue. A few will continue producing a series of 128 games but the majority will wait and see whether the machines sales justify the time to add in the extra features to the 48K game.

Conclusions

The ZX Spectrum 128 is an attempt by Sinclair to update the Spectrum range without losing the existing software base.

Although it does offer additional features such as better memory, sound and picture quality, it remains uncertain whether it will receive the support from the software houses it needs to survive.

On the good side, there won't be the delays that were a feature of the Spectrum and ZX81 before it as it's available in the shops now.

At £179.99, I feel it is overpriced and is in direct competition with the C64, Atari 130XE and even the Sinclair QL.

The 128 does offer existing 48K owners some added luxuries and indeed since I've had it on trial I've tended to use it instead of my 48K Spectrum.

Finally, a bit of crystal ball gazing. I think that the 128 will drop in price in the autumn (by as much as £50) until it finally replaces the 48K models in time for next Christmas.

Spectrum 128K Games

Adventures

Bored Of The Rings (Silversoft)
Psychedelic Warp (Silversoft)
Secret Of St. Brides (St. Brides)
Robin Of Sherwood (Silversoft)
Adrian Mole (Mosaic)
Neverending Story (Ocean)
Red Moon (Level 9)
Return To Eden (Level 9)
Lord Of The Rings (Melbourne House)

Arcade/Adventures

Spellbound (Mastertronic)
Knight Tyme (Mastertronic)
Nodes Of Yesod (Odin)
Fairlight (The Edge)
Fairlight II (The Edge)
A View To A Kill (Domark)
Marsport (Gargoyle Games)
Fornax (Gargoyle Games)
Robin Of The Wood (Odin)
Arc Of Yesod (Thor)
Three Weeks In Paradise (Mikro-Gen)
Astroclone (Hewson)
Enigma Force (Beyond)
Sweevo's Whirled (Gargoyle Games)
Frankie Goes To Hollywood (Ocean)

Arcade Games

Spitfire 40 (Mirrorsoft)
The Goonies (US Gold)
Elite (Firebird)
Rasputin (Firebird)
Dynamite Dan (Mirrorsoft)
Booty (Firebird)
Impossible Mission (US Gold)
Gyroscope (Melbourne House)
Tau Ceti (CRL)
BC's Quest For Tires (Software Projects)
I.C.U.P.S. (Thor)
Dr. Blitzen (Mirrorsoft)
Soul Of A Robot (Mastertronic)
Lode Runner (Software Projects)
Jet Set Willy II (Software Projects)
Nexus (Nexus)
Technician Ted (Hewson)
Riddler's Den (Electronic Dreams)
Rescue On Fractalus (Activision)
I, Of The Mask (Electric Dreams)
Transformers (Ocean)
Rambo (Ocean)

Strategy Games

Casino Royale (OCP)
Hacker (Activision)
Desert Rats (CCS)
Confrontation (Lothlorien)
Waterloo (Lothlorien)

Sports Games

Barry McGuigan's Boxing (Activision)
Winter Games (US Gold)
Gladiator (Domark)
Video Pool (OCP)
Rock 'N Wrestle (Melbourne House)
Yie Ar Kung Fu (Imagine)
Ball Blazer (Activision)
Winter Sports (Activision)
International Match Day (Ocean)
Graham Gooch's Test Cricket (Audiogenic)
Daley Thompson's Supertest (Ocean)

Tony Hetherington