My Top 10 Collectable, Desirable Acorn Electron Games | Everygamegoing

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My Top 10 Collectable, Desirable Acorn Electron Games

Introduction

The Internet is full of lists, isn't it? Lists like 100 Films To See Before You Die, The Top Twenty Tourist Destinations, The Best 20 Movies Starring Julia Roberts... Lists, lists, lists, all based on little more than someone's opinion. And a great number of times I've looked at such lists and hunted out something based on one of these lists and ended up feeling disappointed. However, there aren't many (if any!) lists of Acorn Electron games out there. About the best you'll find are a few forum discussions where retro gamers share a few of their personal favourites, and others disagree with them.

About seven years ago, I created a website called everygamegoing.com on which visitors can, similar to Facebook, 'like' or 'unlike' particular games for any format. It's also coupled with a formula that assesses the market value of any particular game. I also wrote a book three years ago detailing how to collect Acorn Electron games, and the prices that they were demanding at that time.

As I write this (in September 2022), there have been some pretty seismic price increases in what second-hand tapes for the Electron are fetching. Until fairly recently, you might still find games on eBay for 99p, or find a complete setup with hundreds of original games included for £100 or so. That's extremely unlikely now and, whether you believe that's as a result of vested interests (the manipulations of Heritage Auctions, for example), inflation, eBay switching away from auctions towards shopping or a combination of all three, the norm is now to see tapes listed at fairly extravagant prices. Many games are being listed north of £25 and even budget games are being listed at around the £10 mark. And people are buying them.

Quite why they are buying them, no-one really seems to be sure. If prices continue to increase the way they have in the last three years, the most likely reason seems to be for investment. Rather like the Panini stickers we collected as children, certain games have taken on an almost myth-like status because finding an original copy of it is now so difficult. There are Acorn Electron games that are genuinely rare - practically everything that was released on disc, for example, and text adventures created by coders in their own bedrooms and sold via mail order through the classified ads of magazines - and some collectors do go after these. However, these genuinely rare games aren't particularly desired.

In fact, we're in a somewhat bizarre situation at the moment. For at least three decades, the prices of Electron games have languished a long way behind those of almost every other format. Suddenly they've caught up, and the prices have leapt up about 500% overnight. Which, if you're just deciding whether or not to collect Acorn Electron games, leaves you with a bit of a problem. What are they actually worth? If Everygamegoing tells you the market value of a game is a fiver, why is it listed on eBay for £29.99? Who is right? And why are some games worth more than others?

Well, fear not, my friends. Having surveyed the Electron second-hand market for over thirty years, I am here to produce my list of what, in my opinion, are the Top Ten Most Collectable Games. I have put it together based on both the votes cast on Everygamegoing over the past seven years, and my own intuitive feelings of what makes each game so desirable. Bookmark this list and you'll be able to at least spot some games that it might at least be worth acquiring and those that likely will increase in value.

OK, before we dive in, note that this is not a list of rare games (I may do one of these in the future). It is a list of desirable games: desirable because, overall, if you have them in your collection it shouldn't be in any way controversial to say that they have a real value because they are historically important, and, more importantly, they're worth playing to this day. At the same time, I've also tried to limit it to those games that are becoming harder and harder to find, and I've restricted it to arcade games only and to those that were released in the Electron's heyday.

Sorry, all you new homebrew coders, I do appreciate the work that you put into all these amazing new Electron games but this list only covers 1983-1991.

This list will give you collectors a good guide as to what Electron games you could be looking for and, if you're just looking for Electron games to play via emulation, then you'll also find it very useful. As with all lists, it's bound to be a bit controversial considering what has, and has not made it. I might expand it in the future, and I might do more of them, but for now, and after that extremely lengthy introduction, let's get to the games...

10. Plan B

Plan B
Plan B

This is a first for the list: a budget game. Plan B is a monochrome shoot-'em-up graphic adventure, released on the Bug-Byte label in 1988 and a one of the Electron's most popular games. It was for sale not only on the High Street but also in supermarkets, cunningly positioned close to the checkouts so children would pester their parents to add it to the shopping trolley when they were making the Big Shop each Saturday. This is also a first for this list in that, for the reasons just described, it's not very rare.

The reason it makes this list is an obvious one - it's fantastically good. Even when it was first released, reviews of the time were amazed it had been released for a piffling £1.99 considering how addictive and fun-to-play it actually was. It remains so to this day, with you taking control of a robot that must destroy all of the computers inside the vast Togrian Computer Complex, and then make your way to the exit. It's one of the Electron's noisiest games by far, with explosions and musical riffs throughout the action, which is very, very fast. The quest is a touch too hard (I've never completed it without a cheat!) with certain sections only possible if you have a great deal of luck on your side, but it somehow remains a lot of fun to just keep trying.

Until very recently, Plan B was actually one of the Electron's best kept secrets, with the game not being available for any other machines at all. However, with so many people waxing lyrical about it in forum posts in recent years, conversions of it on other formats have now started to appear, also greeted with similar praise. An Atari XL conversion came out last year, and a Spectrum conversion is also in progress.

9. The Last Ninja 2

Last Ninja 2
Last Ninja 2

The Last Ninja rose to fame on the Commodore 64, where its colourful, isometric explorative beat-'em-up style was something C64 owners could genuinely boast about to their friends. To attempt an Electron version was somewhat ambitious, and quite a few liberties had to be taken, but the result was generally considered to be reasonable. Unlike the conversions for some other formats, the Electron version retained colour, and, by splitting into a multi-load format, it also managed to retain some of the distinctive style of the six levels. The original was one of Superior's most successful titles and the sequel offered most of the same, with the action moved from China to New York.

Unfortunately, by the time Last Ninja 2 came out for the Electron, there wasn't exactly an excited audience dying to get its hands on it. Probably what happened was that those fans of the original hadn't been particularly impressed by its Electron conversion and had upgraded to a different machine in the meantime, particularly as Ninja Remix on the Commodore 64 was garnering high praise indeed by the time Superior had Last Ninja 2 ready. As a result, this game is much harder to find than the original.

The Last Ninja still retains something of a cult following to this day and Last Ninja 2, whilst losing many elements from the Commodore original, is still a very good game. So good, in fact, that it was included on Superior's Play It Again Sam 15 compilation a few years later. So, why, you might wonder is the standalone release of Last Ninja 2 considered more desirable than the compilation Play It Again Sam 15? Well, my guess would be that there are collectors who, because of the cult following, actually want Last Ninja 2 on all formats, but only collect standalone formats so that they can proudly display each version side-by-side. Which means, if you want this one, you'll be in competition not only with other Electron games collectors, but with Last Ninja collectors too.

8. Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz

Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz
Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz

Now here's one I am really in two minds about including. Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz is, I believe, the very last commercially released game for the Electron. I believe it came out in November 1991 and sold in single digits. So it's rare. Very rare. Very rare indeed. So rare that you might spend 30+ years searching for a single copy of it and never track it down. (Or, alternatively, you might have read this article and find it in your dad's own games collection in the loft!)

It's actually quite a tedious game to play, being in the mould of Trivial Pursuit but taking a long time to display questions and multiple-choice answers in a customised font, and with a screen display that leaves much to be desired and a choice of questions that are now so outdated that you'd probably need your great grandad next to you to stand half a chance of wading through.

There are quite a few games that fall into the same sort of category as Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz: games where there are only a handful of copies known to exist, and where they're actually not very good anyway. Loopz is another one. Bun Fun is another one. So why have I put Emlyn high in the desirable list? Good question, and why I am really in two minds about including it.

The reason is that, as an Electron fanboy, I pride myself on being aware of all those Electron games that have not yet been found. I've scoured every magazine and fanzine ever published to create the definitive list of Acorn Electron games, and I've tried to document every one. And so how was it that Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz hadn't even appeared on my radar until 2021?

Quite simply, this game was never advertised. It was never reviewed. At least with games like Loopz and Bun Fun, there was some evidence they existed. There was something almost incredible about finding Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz for sale on eBay last year. I had almost convinced myself it must be a mistake, that it would be a Spectrum game in a box erroneously labelled with a 'BBC/Electron' sticker. But no, I can assure you it is real, and so, if you want to own a copy of possibly the rarest arcade game ever released for the Electron, then this is it. And if that doesn't make it desirable enough for it to chart highly, then I don't know what does.

7. Play It Again Sam 16

Pipe Mania
Pipe Mania

Play It Again Sam 16 is the sixteenth four game compilation from Superior/Acornsoft and quite probably missing from a great deal of Electron games collections because, by the time it was released, there were very few people buying Electron games. It features Hostages, Perplexity, Pipe Mania and Vertigo, all four of which are superb and, with the exception of Vertigo, had been previously released as full-price (£10) titles.

To be fair, all the higher numbers from the Play It Again Sam series are just as desirable. Once upon a time it was not particularly difficult to pick up those double-cassette compilations for just a few quid (or less!) but, over time, it seems to have dawned on most collectors that the later numbers exist in much lower quantities than the earlier ones, and the amount you'll be expected to pay to acquire them has shifted accordingly.

With more and more people seemingly settling on £29.99 as a Buy It Now price for anything Electron game-related on eBay (Yes, really!), there's also one major consolation if you find a Play It Again Sam compilation for sale - just like in the good old days, you get four games for the price of one! Yes, Hostages, Pipe Mania and Perplexity might well be listed for £29.99 each, whilst Play It Again Sam 16 would be listed for £29.99 in total. In a sort of roundabout way, that would make it a bargain, right?

6. Repton

Repton
Repton

If you owned an Electron in the 80's, you'll have heard of Repton. If you owned any other computer at any other time, you won't have. But you might have heard of Boulder Dash, which Repton is a variant of.

Repton spawned seven sequels, all of which are likely as desirable as each other to fans of the format, and I'm not sure if it's through rose-tinted glasses or not, but I am torn as to whether this very first Repton, or the Repton 3 variants that came later, are my personal favourites.

The first Repton is a very simple overhead maze game, with just twelve mazes to complete, and one of the first games which granted you a password on the completion of each screen so you didn't have to play through it again on subsequent goes. You must collect up all the diamonds from each maze and, in doing so, ensure that the rocks which the diamonds invariably support, don't come hurtling down onto your head. Instead use them to crush the monsters that inhabit the maze, and make good use of the map to work out the most optimal route to achieve it all.

Repton is perhaps the first desirable game on this list where it's important to add a proviso. Remember those passwords that I mentioned earlier? Well, the Repton inlay featured a nice table for you to fill them in, in biro, as you worked through, with the result that it's hard to find a version of the original tape that hasn't been defaced in that sort of way. If you're collecting for investment, make sure to check out the condition of the inlay before you part with your cash.

5. Jet Set Willy

Jet Set Willy
Jet Set Willy

Ah, good old Jet Set Willy. He took a very long time to come to the Electron and he wasn't very rapturously received at all. Why? Well, firstly precisely because he arrived so late. On the Spectrum, Jet Set Willy set 1984 ablaze. In 1986, by the time he arrived on the Electron, times had changed. Willy's adventures involve wandering around a house collecting up discarded items after a party, all under the eye of his watchful housekeeper Maria. Unfortunately, so much time had past that these adventures paled in comparison to the colourful graphic adventures like Citadel and Palace Of Magic that Superior was churning out.

And, worse still, Jet Set Willy was bloody expensive to buy. Tynesoft wanted £9.95 for Jet Set Willy in 1986, when the Spectrum version was only £6.95 initially (in 1984!) and was likely being traded for Garbage Pail Kids stickers in schoolyards by that point. How many copies of the Electron version of Jet Set Willy were sold is questionable - and, within a year, it was on a compilation tape for just £3.99.

However, it's precisely that combination which means I think Jet Set Willy ranks highly for desirability. The first release of the game, the standalone one for the BBC/Electron, likely exists in incredibly small numbers. And divorced from its history (coming out too late and being too expensive), Jet Set Willy is, naturally enough, a perfect conversion of the original that Willy fans would surely be ecstatic to add to their collections.

4. Ransack

Ransack
Ransack

You might be surprised to see Ransack appearing so highly in this list. It is, after all, a sideways scrolling shoot-'em-up much the same as many other sideways scrolling shoot-'em-ups for the Electron. It was lauded on its arrival but almost immediately forgotten about. Not many Electron owners remember it at all. So I'm sure you're all intrigued. Why do I think it's so desirable?

Well, put simply, Ransack is a great game. It's different to most other shoot-'em-ups in that your spacecraft is a bouncing pogo-stick thing which means it takes (intense) concentration to both shoot the scrolling nasties and keep periodically landing on terra firma at the bottom of the screen. It came in a big clamshell box, with its publishers Audiogenic, likely convinced that it was the best game they had released so far. On the Commodore 64, it did really well. On the Electron it was a flash in the pan as everyone asked for Exile for Christmas instead of "yet another shoot-'em-up game".

Ransack is also hard to find - possibly there are even less copies of it out there than Exile - making it one of those "very rare games that are actually also very good", which is about just as good a description of desirable as I think I can find.

3. Elite

Elite
Elite

Elite had to make this list. It's one of the Electron's most famous games, and its addictive nature was why many schoolboys in the Eighties failed their exams and had to retake a year (or so I tell myself). A cockpit-based space fighter, all done in monochrome, Elite is a quest to become elite, to become feared throughout the galaxy, to make your fortune through canny trading between planets or becoming king of the cosmos through plunder and destruction.

What's quite remarkable about Elite is that, of all the games on this list, it is one of the earliest. Electron Elite was converted from the BBC Micro version, and it was on the BBC Micro that the game actually began. Yes, Electron owners were playing Elite long before it was converted for the Spectrum, Amstrad, Nintendo and PC.

Publishers Acornsoft knew almost immediately that Elite was going to be a monster hit. In a world of overhead mazes like Pac-Man and Rally X, there was simply nothing else like it, and it was spruced up with a novella, an instruction manual, a poster and even a prize competition. The game remains as playable today as it has always been, and you can still get your hands on an original Electron version of Elite for a reasonable price because there are still many copies of it floating about (It was the 'must have' game of Christmas 1984).

If your desire to own Elite stretches past what you got off the shelf back in 1984 however, you might try also to acquire an Elite badge, which could be won only by those space pilots who successfully gained the title and then had their names drawn in a lucky dip by Acornsoft once per month. Only 24 badges were ever sent out. The last badge sold on eBay (in 2019) fetched £550.

2. Sim City

Sim City
Sim City

Sim City probably needs very little introduction to most of you. I was around when the game was initially released for the 16-bit machines (the Atari ST and Amiga), and it proved so popular that companies scrambled to convert it 'down' to the more popular home computers that most people owned. It made it to the more popular machines (Spectrum, Amstrad and C64) within a year, but the Electron version took much longer, primarily because Superior had, by that time, built its reputation on only releasing top quality products.

The Electron version of Sim City is, as you might expect from its presence so high on this list, another technical marvel. You don't just play this game. You strategize. You think carefully about what to build, and where to build it, and how much tax to charge your city's residents. You watch your city grow. You stress over the budgets for your emergency services. You try and stick with what works for as long as you can, or until you completely run out of money and have to quit.

Sim City was one of the Electron's very last professional games and exists in very limited numbers indeed. Indeed, I always got the impression Superior intended it to get the "Exile treatment" of a large box, and a comprehensive instruction manual, but probably settled on a regular box and fold out instructions because so few people were still buying Electron games by its release date. It's arguable that Sim City should, in fact, be at the number one place in this list because, at time of writing the Electron version of Sim City has slightly more favourable votes than Exile on everygamegoing.com. However, brilliant as Sim City is, I personally think the total immersion of Exile makes it the better game. Tough call though.

1. Exile

Exile
Exile

Exile is the most desirable Acorn Electron game of all time. Released in time for Christmas 1988, Exile universally recognised as a miracle of programming. It blew away everything that went before it and nothing has ever been written for the Electron since that came even close to taking its crown.

In Exile, you play Mike Finn. It's the distant future and Finn has been called to go immediately to the planet Phoebus to assist a group of scientists who have been transmitting distress signals back to Earth. Something is wrong on Phoebus. And so begins an immersive graphic adventure of such epic proportions that you can't help but be flabbergasted that it all fits into 32K.

Exile comes in a big box with a novella and an instruction manual and Finn is controlled by over twenty game controls. And yet the game is extremely easy to play, with gravity, thrust, inertia, wind, mass and an inability to be killed making practically every thrust into this strange world an exercise in 8-bit excitement.

By the time Exile came out, the Acorn Electron was already fading from popular consciousness and so it's also not particularly easy to find. Elegant, absorbing, taxing... the list of superlatives never ends for this game.

Dave E