Much like Paul Davies, the author of Florin’s ZX Spectrum Haul of Games, I grew up in the 80s. Also like Paul Davies, I have limited recollection of ‘important’ experiences from when I was a wee nipper, but I can recall my first encounters with video and computer games with a precision that can instantly take me back to the decade of Dallas, Diana and Duran Duran (as well as other stuff that doesn’t begin with D).
Florin’s ZX Spectrum Haul of Games doesn’t pretend to be a definitive list of games you ‘must’ play; rather, it’s the author’s eclectic selection of games – some good, some great, all worth checking out – that had an impact on him.
The book begins with a Foreword from David Jones, author of Spectrum title Spellbound, the game which Paul’s online persona – the ‘Florin’ of the book’s title – sprang from. There’s a nice, personal feel to the Foreword and I’m glad to say that carries on throughout the rest of the book, from Paul’s Introduction – in which he ties the Speccy to a very definitive time and place in his early life, with a lovely bit of reminiscing – to the rest of the book’s reviews.
That personal feel is wonderful. There’s a friendly, light-hearted and humourous style running through the book, with a clear passion for – and knowledge of – the games featured. Screenshots do feature, along with box art and even the odd map – but there are a few reviews without any visual accompaniment (which isn’t the end of the world, given the author’s accessible and vivid writing style).There’s also tips included for some of the games, which is a really neat touch – and the facts that conclude each review are marvellous little pieces of trivia.
The book is split into sections covering Spellbound (yes, it gets a whole section to itself, hardly surprising given Paul’s affection for the game), the mid-80s, the Renegade trilogy, the late 80s and early 90s and finally, another game given a whole section to conclude: Starquake.
Confession time: I didn’t own a Speccy, growing up, though I was always – always – popping over the road to my mate Imran’s house so I could play on his (not that Imran’s Spectrum was the only one I was able to make use of – just the one I managed to play the most regularly). Sometimes, I’d find a game that I really wanted to play at the newsagents and – being priced at just the right level for my pocket money to cover it – I’d buy it even though I didn’t own a Spectrum myself, just so I could play it on Imran’s machine. Even though I didn’t own a Speccy, I have some absolutely brilliant memories of it – and it’s this type of recollection that’s recounted so wonderfully alongside the more general overview of each game in the book.
I really enjoyed the scene-setting in each review; the mini-pop culture intros that anchor each game to a very specific and – for me, at least – vivid point in time. It’s difficult for me to say exactly how evocative these will be if you weren’t there to experience these events – or the films and TV shows that were all the rage at the time – but for me these were powerfully potent blasts of nostalgia, as well as an excellent way of placing each title in a historical context.
I also loved seeing some little known titles covered amongst the usual suspects; quite often, gamers of a certain age reminisce about the big games that everyone’s heard of – here, there’s a decent mixture of the famous and the more obscure titles, which I thought was a nice touch.
Speaking of nice touches, my favourite review in the book is that of Commando, due to the wealth of Commando (the movie, completely unrelated to the Speccy game) lines and references dotted throughout (with a killer final line – well played, Mr Davies!). This is pretty indicative of the wit and humour throughout the book too – it really is a very entertaining read; also, it turns out that you don’t even need to have owned a Speccy yourself to enjoy it.
Gamers of any age are likely to glean enjoyment from the look into the past, along with coverage of games they may well be unfamiliar with; I’ve certainly added a good few Speccy games to my ever-growing list of titles that I need to check out. A great read that’s infectiously enthusiastic and always entertaining – highly recommended.
Note: I was provided with a copy of Florin’s ZX Spectrum Haul of Games for review purposes.
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