The humble ZX Spectrum, released in 1982, managed to court both developers and users alike and still carries a huge fanbase of loyal fans and homebrew coders, still pushing the machine to limits beyond its inventor’s wildest dreams. Likewise, emulation support for the computer still thrives, and although you’d expect a smartphone without physical keys to struggle to properly recreate the ZX Spectrum experience, Elite’s ZX Spectrum Collection actually manages to succeed on a number of levels.
But let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The user interface: it’s nasty. Whilst the boys at Elite (the publishers behind the first two bundles of games, twelve in total, that come included in the app’s 59p price) might be masters of emulation, the visuals are all over the place. The idea is nice: present the cassettes on a wooden surface, glimpses of the Speccy itself here and there, but the fonts are a mess, the button sizes are inconsistent and, as the number of games starts to grow, it’s hard to find the ones you’re looking for.
Here’s how it works. Although there’s twelve games in the app to start with, there’s already four additional packs available with six games in each, and each pack costs an additional 59p. The packs are themed, so you know you’re getting (say) Gremlin games in one pack and (again, for example) Software Projects in another, and you can see the game manuals and covers before you buy; in-game purchases are frighteningly easy on the iPhone, so before you know it you’ll be £2.36 down (in addition to the 59p entry fee) but you’ll have access to everything the game has to offer.
The value, then, will be in the individual’s appreciation of the games available. For some, there’s no way the developers could have covered every base, but as the collection continues to grow it’s clear that there’s considerable ambition here, so there’s hope if your favourite isn’t yet included. For those nosey enough to see what’s included, my personal favourites in the starter bundles include Chuckie Egg, Turbo Esprit, Harrier Attack, Roller Coaster, Kokotoni Wilf. After that, there’s Auf Wiedersehen Monty, Manic Miner, TLL, Android One, Highway Encounter and Jack the Nipper.
Where the emulator excels is in the sheer amount of customisation available per game. You can switch between buttons or joystick, and you can move and stretch the buttons to any location or size. The game neatly only gives you the buttons you need (and labels them as ‘fire’, ‘jump’ etc) which makes moving them around a breeze. You can play in vertical or horizontal format – vertical is preferable but the Collection will overlay the buttons transparently in horizontal, albeit it with poorly scaled graphics behind. The game also saves your position to a single file when you quit, but there’s no choosing save states, sadly.
- Comprehensive, growing catalogue of classics
- Priced well
- Individual, customisable controls per game
- The UI needs work
- Some packs contain the odd ‘filler’
- No save states
Whether or not you’ll buy the Elite ZX Spectrum Collection depends on whether you grew up in the 80’s. If you owned a Speccy and don’t mind squinting at colour clash and your headphones being peppered by the Bleeper, this is for you – emulation is perfect, the games are intuitively mapped for quick and easy play and there’s already a great pile of games to work through. The value’s good, too, especially as you get a cassette cover and a little bit of text about each game thrown in. However, if you aren’t into retro gaming and like more than eight colours at once, this won’t change your mind.
Buy now for 59p.