Retro Classics: Roller Coaster

Elite.

In the mid 80’s, computer games were just starting to experiment with simulating real life locations, events and – in particular – modes of transport. With the diluge of 8-bit racing games, though, came something a little bit different in the shape of Roller Coaster, released by Elite for the ZX Spectrum in 1985 for the princely sum of seven pounds. What made Roller Coaster stand out at the time (and indeed, still endures itself to this day) was the ambitious attempt to not only simulate the eponymous fairground ride, but an entire amusement park, albeit a deadly, life threateningly dangerous one.

The player (as owner Colonel G Bogey) is charged with collecting the money dotted around the park, and although the gates are shut to customers the rides are still very much operational. Even from the off, with the player placed right next to the game’s first major ride, the chance of death is high and although you’re equipped with a decent amount of lives (ten), they’ll soon go quick if you don’t know what you’re doing. Cue lots of attempted false starts and a sense of confusion as you run, jump and fall your away around the first few screens, accompanied by a life lost sound that you’ll never forget.

The joy here is that the rides are all representative of real world attractions. Seemingly based on Blackpool Pleasure Beach (at the time, at least) the variety of rides you’ll need to traverse includes the Log Flume (complete with giant holding up the tracks), a Ghost Train, Flying Carpet and various carousels. All of which are fast and normally filled with spikes, electricity and vertical drops, some of which are instantaneously deadly and others simply reduce your health (illustrated by way of a gravestone that draws as you suffer) but all are masterable given enough time.

Essentially a flick-screen affair, each new area is drawn with the sort of pixelated perfection that the Spectrum was so good at in the right hands, and there are 60 interconnected screens in total (see the map in the gallery below). The rides and environments are colourful, the water nicely animated and the tropical palm trees and caged animals suggest a far away island location that really set the game apart for a British developer and ignited the imagination of me and my mates; it was a marked and deliberate change from the likes of the homely Jet Set Willy and otherworldly Dynamite Dan.

It’s baffling to think that there hasn’t been a similar game since – amusement parks offer huge amounts of potential for platforming action and although I’m always of the opinion that some things shouldn’t be diluted and reworked, I’d love to see a modern take on the game. I did try to recreate some of the original on Little Big Planet (along with Manic Miner) but my Pop-it skills weren’t anywhere near up to the job – visions of Sackboy jumping through the River Caves would be a delight.

A personal, lifelong obsession with two dimensional platformers means that I regularly go back to Roller Coaster, it’s graphic design alluring and precise, the difficulty curve high but not insurmountable. It’s a tough game, but one that rewards with an open, non-linear set of goals and the promise of bigger, more exciting rides just around the corner. I’ve never actually completed the game, not 100%, but that hasn’t stopped me revisiting the abandoned amusement park whenever I get the chance. Roller Coaster then, the first of our Retro Classics and deservedly up there with the best.

Roller Coaster can be downloaded from World Of Spectrum and features on the iPhone Spectrum Emulator app from Elite.

23 Comments

  1. Ooooh is this gonna be a regular feature??? cause i’m fucking loving it, ta nofi, takes me rayte back.

    • Grrr.

      • Why the Grr tuff? the ‘im fucking loving it’ was completely unintentional, as i despise McDonalds… either that or you’re just being a grumpy bear ;-)

      • TC doesn’t dig retro.

      • next retro review ‘dig dug’ ;)

      • Im firmly in Tuffcub’s corner with this one
        “Retro” was rarely as good as you remember it was :-$

      • “Grr” is all you’re getting.

    • I wish that was mcdonalds new slogan, it would be hilarious! Im F**king Lovin’ It! haha

      • He doesn’t dig retro??? christ alive man! it’s your roots man, YOUR FUCKING ROOTS! :P

        Shame, as most of my fondest memories are from the vic20 and the speccy… chicken,rice and peace.

  2. Always amazed by how much they could cram onto the Spectrum.

  3. ahhh happy days

  4. Dooo it! Love anything that is from the good old days of gaming! How about doing Forbidden Forest on the C64? Or anything Antony Crowther related. Pleasssseeee.

  5. You need to make an article on Mega Race! Pretty pinky please?

  6. i could listen to that video all day !

  7. Don’t mess about with the ‘Tone’ knob else the game won’t load!

    Awww, those were the days. Tape decks to load games. Mates coming round with a C90 chock-full of games. Manic Miner, Atic Atac, Chuckie Egg (I was only talking with my Mum about this game on Saturday, trying to explain how Speccy emulators work on the PC… my breathe was wasted) and Commando.
    I used to spend hours typing in programmes from mags and books, then save them to tape to then start tinkering with the code later. That’s got to be the catalyst for my career path and I haven’t a clue what I’d be doing if my Dad hadn’t bought me a Speccy. Bless you Sir Clive!

    • Same, basically. I was programming on the Speccy at like 4 or 5…

  8. I remember playing this and the cover artwork which just reminds me that with the games like this one I used to see the cover art, get excited and run home to play the game only to discover I couldn’t even get passed the 2nd screen/level.
    God they were hard!!!

    • Saying that, I just watched the video and recognised most of the levels. Maybe I was better than I remember!

  9. i rember one chritmas day, got my spectrum 48k
    inserted my 1st racing game, chequerd flag
    had me immersed for months

  10. I miss the term Colour Clash in gaming reviews . Head over Heels by Ocean anyone remember that one ? That was such a good game and The Great Escape or Driller by Freescape in that huge box featuring some of the first true 3-d ever .

    • Or Exelon, Cybernoid, Rex, Uridiun, Jack The Gnipper, Trapdoor, Stormlord, Zynaps, Skool Daze, Renegade, Cauldron, Yi Ar Kung Fu or Daley Thompson. In fact anything apart from that mess above :)

      You can play them all here via your browser.. http://www.zxspectrum.net/

      Dont bother with Jet Set Willy though it was shit :D

      • Thanks for the amazing link Tuff thats going straight in my bookmarks ,I wonder would that work on my HTC Desire ? Id love some of the sound effects from those games as my mobile ringtone message tome etc .

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