Personal Computer News

Spectrum Special

Author: John Lettice
Publisher: Cases Computer Simulations
Machine: Spectrum 48K

Published in Personal Computer News #036

Spectrum Special

John Lettice takes his Spectrum from the Spanish Main to the familiar monster mazes

The Spectrum has now passed its first anniversary, and the current batch of games being released shows that age cannot wither it nor custom stale its infinite variety - in some cases at least.


First off the shipway is an everyday story of seafaring folk. In Plunder, your objective is to stop the Spanish Armada sailing by pillaging the convoys of gold Spain is shipping to finance it.

Home Runner

You sail your ship - a nice little user-defined graphic - around a very impressive high-resolution map of the Atlantic Ocean, seeking out galleons (can be nasty), troopships (you can deal with these, but boarding might not be such a smart idea), merchant vessels (sitting ducks) and finally the warships (run for your life).

While you're doing this, the sea takes its toll of crew and hull, and naturally the odd cannonball can make mischief. So you use some of your winnings - they're probably tainted with the curse of Montezuma anyway - to hire new crew, make repairs, and perhaps do a little trading and/or drug running.

Yes, that's right, you can buy one of Central America's less savoury products in Haiti and sell it at a profit at Marseilles. I didn't run into Gene Hackman, but he and other cops might still prefer it if you stuck to grain and diamonds.

Home Runner

One nice point about Plunder is that it's actually fairly realistic. Broadly speaking, you can take on the ships achieving buccaneer/national hero of the time would be able to, with approximately the logical consequences (although merchant seamen seem to be a lot less ready to run up the white flag that I'd expect). And I won't swear to it, but the warships really do seem to follow you around, hunt the Graf Spee style.

All in all, it's a particularly neat and inventive execution of what is becoming a fairly common idea.


Baron is another offering in the honourable tradition of Candyfloss. Here your goal is to manage a small fiefdom, fighting off the villains and beating up the villeins.

Home Runner

You can play it solo, but the game is really geared to several - up to four - players. All players start off with the same amount of land, peasants and cash, and your goal is to manage these resources. You can play the game the peaceful way, tending your crops and amassing land legitimately by purchase, or you can hire mercenaries and pillage your neighbours.

It's certainly refreshing to see a computer game that'll take more than one player, but there are problems with this one. The instructions are a little ropey - for example, you can increase your supply of peasants by feeding more than you've got, but you aren't told this. There was one annoying bug in the review copy. At one point the program asked if you wanted to hire mercenaries. You answer 'y' or 'n'... and then it asks you if you want to hire mercenaries, up to a dozen times.

It defies belief that a manufacturer could send out a game with a louse-up like this in it, but there it is. If it wasn't for this boredom-inducing bug, the game would be relatively entertaining for several players. The one-player version is a fairly pointless exercise.


I could forgive this one a lot. It's a new twist on maze games, where you're stuck in a Hampton Court style environment, being pursued by various prehistoric monsters. Your aim is to find an axe, then use it to break down a door and get out of the maze.

But the real killer is the way the dinosaur comes after you, using the Spectrum's excessively quiet speaker to produce a 'pad pad pad' noise as it runs. I never did get out of the maze, but I plead that I was too busy laughing at the dinosaur. If you can control yourself, it has potential to be a fast and entertaining maze game.

The Detective

More humour here. Load up The Detective and you're presented with a natty title page, across which you see a row of bullet holes creep. Start on the game and you see a small figure in the centre of the screen; cursor left or right and the figure saunters, slowly but purposefully, in the relevant direction.

If you press the fire button the figure stops, whips out two guns and blazes away at the sky, the reason for this being that there are things falling out of the sky at you.

Yes, you've guessed it, someone's thought of yet another twist on Space Invaders. According to the instructions, you've got to get through Dagger Alley (all 25 screens of it), then crack a safe. The mob's "out to get ya" (according to this 'broad' you met), and they're trying it in all sorts of weird ways.

The first screen seems to have them dropping giant-sized ring-pulls on you, while in the second they seem to be lampshades. In addition to this, rows of car tyres form up above your head and then fall on you, and if the dog comes by you lose all your points.

It's not particularly fast to start with, but it's tricky, and highly entertaining.

Home Runner

Put together an Olympic runner, a set of monsters and some scaffolding, and Home Runner is what you come up with. You hop, skip and jump your way up a number of levels, avoiding monsters and the holes that appear in the floor every now and then, until you get to home, at the top level.

I didn't find the monsters made my pulse race.

John Lettice

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  • Delta Wing Front Cover
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  • Football Pools Program Front Cover
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  • Valhalla Front Cover