Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,
ZX Spectrum Gaming
Most of us old school gamers will have fond memories of many games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (and other retro computers such as the ZX80, ZX81, Oric 1, Oric Atmos, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, Commodore 128, Vic 20, Acorn Atom, Acorn Electon, BBC Micro and Amstrad CPC 464).
From Manic Miner to Way of the Exploding Fist to Hypersports, these Spectrum games hold a place in our hearts and remind us of a golden age in home computing.
These classic games and the Spectrum computer are rightly heralded all across the globe... but in some cases, the characters within these games became synonymous with the Sinclair machine.
Characters such as Miner Willy and Monty Mole are almost household names (up there with the likes of Pac Man and Mario for us Spectrum gamers)- but only hardcore Speccy gamers will remember Dynamite Dan, Technician Ted and Cuchulainn.
Here we will look at key Spectrum game characters that still live on almost thirty years later.
We hope you enjoy it...
ZX Spectrum Game Characters
Cult ZX Spectrum hero, Brian Bloodaxe
The Humorous Brian Bloodaxe
Brian Bloodaxe only had one adventure on the ZX Spectrum, and is a lesser known character.
He appeared in the wacky platform game, Brian Bloodaxe by The Edge software in 1983 which met with a lot of praise.
Viking marauder Brian Bloodaxe had been frozen in slumber before awaking in 1983 (the year that the game was released).
He continued in his original quest to conquer Britain by stealing the Crown Jewels and thus taking the throne.
Brian Bloodaxe featured 100 screens of strange humour and surreal jokes. It was a playable platform game which also allowed our 'hero' to collect objects and kill enemies by headbutting them with the horns on his viking helmet.
Unfortunately Brian only ever had one adventure, but his cult status is assured due to this novel platform adventure.
ZX Spectrum celtic hero Cuchulainn
Cuchulainn appeared in two excellent released by Gargoyle Games which were Tir Na Nog in 1984 and the prequel Dun Darach in 1985.
Both Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach were groundbreaking adventure games, and the central character Cuchulainnwas a large and well animated fellow. Gamers enjoyed the lavish locations, characters that populated the surroundings and lateral thinking that was required to complete the game.
Both games (and the hero) were so popular that Psygnosis Software planned to release re-makes of both titles for the PC in the early 1990s - utilising the advanced technology that a PC offered. Unfortunately, bar a few promotional screenshots neither re-imaginings came to fruition.
Cuchulainnremains a favourite as he mostly used brains over brawn to complete tasks and progress through his adventures. Another release from Gargoyle games Marsport (which was also very popular) featured a similar graphical and playing style. This game was un-related to the adventures of Cuchulainnbut many refer to this one as the conclusion of a trilogy.
Dizzy - an unlikely egg shaped hero
An Eggselent Hero
Dizzy appeared in a number of games on the ZX Spectrum and became synonymous with the software house Codemasters.
Dizzy was an egg-shaped creature (with boxing gloves on his hands!) and first appeared in 1987 in the budget game of the same name. At only £1.99 Dizzy was great value and he became a cult character. This prompted Codemasters to release further games in the arcade adventure genre featuring our egg-head hero.
Dizzy was placed into varying scenarios with puzzles to solve, nasties to avoid and obstacles to overcome. All of the adventures featuring Dizzy had plenty of character and were nice and colourful - really creating a nice atmosphere within each game.
The full list of adventures are:
- Treasure Island Dizzy
- Fantasy World Dizzy
- Magicland Dizzy
- Spellbound Dizzy
- Dizzy, Prince of the Yolk Folk
- Crystal Kingdom Dizzy
The Oliver Twins were responsible for the many adventures of Dizzy, and also had plenty of other games released through Codemasters. Dizzy is still a popular character and featured in other spin-off games which were not developed by The Oliver Twins.
Whilst Dizzy was the main character (being the prince of the 'yolk folk'!) other characters would join in with his adventures from time to time. Characters such as Daisy (his girlfriend) and his 'cool' friend Denzil appeared in various (though not all) games.
Dizzy was an eggsellent character who is well remembered by ZX Spectrum gamers - and some of his adventures were tough to crack. Do you see what I did there? ;-)
Dynamite Dan In Action
Dynamite Dan starred in two platform game adventures on the ZX Spectrum. The platform game genre was extremely popular at the time and both of Dans' adventures were big hits.
As the name suggests, Dynamite Dan was a dab hand with explosives. He first appeared in Mirrorsofts game Dynamite Dan in 1985, battling against the evil Dr Blitzen.
Gamers loved this difficult yet addictive adventure so much that a sequel was released in 1986. Once again Dan had to foil another attempt at world domination by the same arch-nemesis.
In both games, explosives were used to further your progress through the levels and to overcome the final obstacle (such as blowing open a safe).
Both games also featured a giant airship that Dan arrived in at the beginning of the game, and used to make his escape once the game had been completed.
Dynamite Dan never appeared again after 1986 - but platform game fans remember both titles with fondness.
ZX Spectrum Character Horace
Horace Goes Skiing
Horace is a fondly remembered character from the ZX Spectrum era. He appeared in three of his own adventures from 1982 through to 1983 - and later made an appearance on the Psion 3 palmtop during the mid 1990s.
Horace's adventures are as follows:
- Hungry Horace - appeared in 1982 and was basically a clone of the world famous pacman. Released by Sinclair themselves on the Spectrum, Horace also made it over to the rival computer the Commodore 64. Interestingly the C64 version also included a level editor allowing gamers to create their own levels - which could be played on any other machine along with Hungry Horace. Quite a feature for the time
- Horace goes Skiing - appeared later in 1982. This game is very well rememebered - and was really two games in one. Horace first had to cross the road to obtain the ski's - avoiding the heavy traffic whilst trying to make it to the ski equipment shop. This section was a clone of the uber popular Frogger. Once kitted out the game switched to a downhill ski-slalom section where you had to guide Horace to the end of the course. Once again the game was available for the C64 as well as the Speccy.
- Horace and the Spiders - appeared in 1983. The focus changed to a platform style game with Horace jumping over spiders whilst climbing a hill. Horace also had to 'swing' across a bridge using spiders threads before finally battling the spiders by destroying parts of their web. Once again the game took inspiration from existing arcade games, in this case Pitfall and Space Panic. For some reason the third and final game only appeared on the ZX Spectrum
Horace then appeared in the mid 1990s in the 'Mystic Woods' on the Psion 3.
Horace never appeared in his 'own' titles again, but did make a cameo appearance in a ZX Spectrum game of Inspector Gadget.
In 2003 the playstation 2 game Dogs Life had a section featuring a shop called Horace's Ski Shop - a definite tribute to the classic character.
We wouldn't be against Horace appearing again in some form at some point in the future...
Hunchback on the ZX Spectrum
Can Hunchback Reach Esmerelda?
Hunchback (based on Quasimodo) was an unlikely hero in two platform games and even one text adventure from Ocean Software. First appearing in 1984 in the game Hunchback, our hero had to jump over obstacles, avoid flying arrows and fireballs and swing across pits to reach a bell which had to be rung. Eventually you had to rescue the maiden Esmerelda to complete the game.
Hunchback II was released a year or so later and was an improvement over the original game. Despite having only seven screens to play through, Hunchback II was a tough game to beat. With the emphasis on timing, a carefully planned route had to be used on each screen to reach the bell. Once again rescuing Esmerelda on the final screen was the key to completing the game.
Hunchback - The Adventure was released in 1986. It was a playable text adventure featuring well drawn locations and plenty of humour. Not one for the seasoned adventure gamer (it was probably a little to easy) it was still met with a lot of praise and was a big hit.
Quasi never appeared in another game on the Speccy again after 1986, but he does go down as a well remembered character.
The bells! The bells....
The cartoon version of Jetman
Jetman must be one of the most well remembered ZX Spectrum game characters ever. Jetman first appeared in the classic Jetpac by Ultimate (play the game) in 1983.
Jetpac was a very playable and popular game and was even compatible with the short lived 16K ZX Spectrum.
Jetpac was such a classic game and was so popular the central character of Jetman became popular by default.
Ultimate decided to create a follow up game featuring the same character and Lunar Jetman was released at the end of 1983.
Lunar Jetman was a far more complex game than the relatively simple rocket building arcade game Jetpac and could only be played on a 48K Spectrum.
Now you could take Jetman on an adventure across a barren alien landscape, flying across the surface with his Jetpac and even taking excursions with his lunar-buggy.
Lunar Jetman is also one of the first games to support the Currah Microspeech unit, so not only was Jetman in a new adventure, the game also featured speech! All of this amounted to the game being and impressive piece and a huge hit - making Jetman even more popular than ever before.
Tim and Chris Stamper had created two classic games and one popular character - and Jetman was not quite finished yet.
Jetman was so popular that a spoof cartoon featuring the character appeared in the popular Spectrum magazine, Crash.
Jetman had an adventure in each monthly issue, and the cartoon was based on humour and silly adventures. Jetman remained part of the magazine for a good couple of years before the strip was eventually dropped.
Ultimate had further plans for Jetman, and wanted a far grander adventure for him utilizing the extra memory and better sound capabilities of the ZX Spectrum 128...
Solar Jetman was developed for the ZX Spectrum 128 and completed, but the reception the game received when it was released for the NES was so negative, that the Spectrum version was never put out. Jetman fans were disappointed - but Ultimate were reknowned for being perfectionists and refused to release what they deemed an inferior product.
Sadly this was the last ever project with the character and Jetman never saw the light of day on the ZX Spectrum again.
No further Jetman games were created, and it's a shame he went out on a bit of a low. Despite this, Jetman remains one of the most fondly remembered of all characters that appeared on the ZX Spectrum.
Magic Knight In Action
ZX Spectrum character Magic Knight
Magic Knight was a character that appeared in no less than four games on the ZX Spectrum. His first appearance was in a game called Finders Keepers, which was a budget release from Mastertronic. Despite it's humble roots, Finders Keepers was a popular game, and the games hero Magic Knight became well liked.
Magic Knight went on to appear in three other releases which were
- Knight Tyme
These three games were enjoyable graphical adventures, using the famouse 'Windomation' menu system to interact with items and characters, rather than the traditional text input.
All three games were popular, and people enjoyed the humour within. The Magic Knight character had a great story arc over the series, resuing his friends, travelling into the future and so on.
Magic Knight is a cult game character that plenty of ZX Spectrum gamers will remember.
Miner Willy Begins His Quest...
ZX Spectrum character Miner Willy
Surely this is one of the most well known game characters for the ZX Spectrum, Miner Willy.
Miner Willy first appeared on the ZX Spectrum in the classic platform game Manic Miner. Manic Miner was developed by Matthew Smith who took inspiration from another game called Miner 2049er.
In Manic Miner, our hero Miner Willy was out prospecting down Surbiton way, and stumbled upon an ancient and long forgotten mine shaft.
Miner Willy soon found evidence of a lost civilisation far superior to our own. This civilisation had used automatons to dig deep into the Earth's core to supply the essential raw materials for their advanced industry. Even after all of this elapsed time, the automatons had continued to work, and a vast fortune in rare minerals and stones await our intrepid hero.
This first game setup a story for Miner Willy, allowing sequels to be released on the premise that Willy had indeed found fortune in the abandoned mine.
Jet Set Willy was the first game to follow Manic Miner. It was a flick screen platform adventure game set in Miner Willy's mansion. Yep - he had gotten rich from his exploits down the mine and now had a large mansion. Both Jet Set Willy and the character became extremely popular, and gamers everywhere wanted more.
Jet Set Willy 2 was released, telling yet a further story of what happened to our beloved character. This installment was a little disappointing as it re-used some of the screens from Jet Set Willy - it was released quickly due to demand from gamers.
There have been many unofficial games developed in the world of Miner Willy, fan made remakes and homages - such is the power of the Miner Willy character.
All in all, Miner Willy is a character that many of us remember - and you never know, he still might make an appearance in another installment of his adventures. Fingers crossed!
Monty Mole In Action on the ZX Spectrum
Monty Mole had been a popular character on the Commodore 64 and made the transition to the ZX Spectrum in 1984. Gremlin Graphics released the first game in the series which was Wanted: Monty Mole.
Monty Mole was an immediate star - the game had even been talked about on television due to the game taking place in coal mines (the miners strike in the UK was big news at the time).
Monty Mole was a briliant platform game and was put alongside the likes of Manic Miner. The popularity of the character was such that four more games would be released featuring our coal mining mole hero.
His adventures linked together story wise and he featured in:
- Wanted: Monty Mole
- Monty is innocent - where our hero must escape from prison with the help from his friend Sam Stoat
- Monty on the run - where Monty must make it to a ship and sail over to France and away from the British law
- Auf Wiedersehen Monty - where our mole must gather enough cash to buy a Greek island
- Impossamole - now our 'Super' Monty must steal treasure for a non-too friendly alien. Slighty bizarre!
He also made an appearance in Moley Christmas - a cover tape for Your Sinclair magazine in 1987.
The Monty games are true classics in 8-bit gaming and Monty Mole is classic character. We wouldn't be surprised if he made another appearance somewhere.
The Saboteur In Action on the ZX Spectrum
ZX Spectrum Game Character Saboteur
Ahhh the Saboteur.
Durell's excellent arcade adventure had you as one of the coolest characters of the 8-bit era; the dressed in black stealthy and deadly Saboteur.
Not only could you kill guards and attack dogs with one blow you were also a master of stealth and infilitration being able to sneak around your surroundings silently, stealing computer software and flying a helicopter to safety!
The Saboteur was a great character in a very good and original game that combined beat em up action with exploration and strategy nicely. The enemy warehouse that you had to infiltrate had the right 'gloomy' feel to it and the underground subway was rather awesome at the time!
It is a shame that he only got one adventure, but at least his sister got in on the act in Saboteur II.
Oh - and I am convinced that the Saboteur is actually Sam Fishers father!
Sabre Man In Action on the ZX Spectrum
ZX Spectrum character Sabreman
Sabreman is one of the most famous characters from one of the most famous software houses, Ultimate play the game. Sabreman was recognisable with his khaki outfit and pith helmet, likening him to an Indian Jones style adventurer. He has appeared in quite a few games on the ZX Spectrum such as:
- Sabre Wulf where Sabreman had to escape a large jungle maze by collecting four pieces of an amulet, while avoiding the deadly 'wulf'. Finding all four pieces granted access to:
- Underwurlde where Sabreman had to find three weapons to defeat three guardians of a series of underground caves. There were three ways to exit the game, each one leading to one of the following sequels (clever stuff from Ultimate)
- Knight Lore where Sabreman arrived at Lore Castle to try to find a cure to his lycanthropy affliction.
- Pentagram where Sabreman begins a quest to locate a pentagram, using his new found abilities in wizardry
- Mire Mare would have been the final game but was never released
Sabreman was popular becaue he was the main character in four top quality games. This popularity was also helped by his great story arc over the games, with the character starting as a regular swashbuckling adventurer (Sabre Wulf) before being afflicted with werewolf tendencies (Knight Lore) and blessed with magic (Pentagram). Sabreman was a great character in a great series of games.
Sabreman is still popular to this day and has made cameo appearances in other games and recently appeared on the Game Boy. There are rumours of yet more adventures for our intrepid hero.
Film Noir Detective Sam Cruise
Our Man Sam on the ZX Spectrum
Sam Cruise is perhaps one of the ZX Spectrum's lesser known characters. He only appeared one time in Microsphere's excellent noiresque detective game, Contact Sam Cruise.
Sam Cruise appeared late in 1986 and his adventure was a tough nut to crack. Taking the best from Bogart, the game oozed film noir atmosphere and intrigue. With little in the way of clues to go on you had to solve the case of the Bali Budgie (not quite the Maltese Falcon eh?) after taking a call from a sultry dame named Lana.
As a private detective you had to earn money, avoid heavies and visit various locations to complete the case. Nothing had ever been created on the ZX Spectrum in this mould before - and Sam Cruise fans clamoured for further cases to solve. Sadly, Sam never made another appearance, and his creator Dave Reidy never developed another title for the Spectrum.
Contact Sam Cruise was an excellent game featuring an excellent character - one that definitely goes down as a cult classic.
Ted In Action on the ZX Spectrum
Technician Ted (Ted Blewitt) was an overworked fellow who worked in 'The Chip Factory'. He first appeared in the excellent game of the same name by Hewson Consultants early in 1985.
Technician Ted took the platform arcade adventure genre to new levels - the game was tough but highly playable and featured superb animation and music. Ted was a popular little (literaly - he was only two character blocks high!) game character and the game was a smash hit.
He then appeared in the revamped 'Technician Ted - the megamix' which was released for the Spectrum 128. This version featured re-vamped locations, extra rooms to explore and enhanced music and sound effects. The megamix was another fine outing for Ted.
Ted appeared for the final time in 'Costa Capers' where he was now abroad enjoying a well deserved break from the grind. Unfortunately the final game did not do the character justice and no attempt to enhance the graphics or sound effects was made. After two excellent adventures Ted Blewitt went out on a slight low...
Thanatos The Destroyer
Thanatos in action on the ZX Spectrum
Thanatos (The Destroyer) only appeared in one adventure - but must stand out as one of the most unusual characters ever to grace a computer game. Durell software released the game of the same name for the ZX Spectrum late in 1986 and it was a massive hit.
Thanatos was a dragon (or wyvern if you want to get technical) who was basically a good guy (even with the title The Destroyer!). You controlled this large and nicely drawn sprite across a medieval parallax scrolling landscape, battling with mystical creatures and evil knights.
Thanatos was a beautiful game and was something different from the norm when it came out. An enhanced version featuring better music and sound effects was developed a year or so later for the ZX Spectrum 128. It's a shame that Thanatos has never appeared since, perhaps Mike Richardson can give us another adventure featuring Thanatos in the future.... We hope so.
Wally Week on the ZX Spectrum
Wally Week Needs To Wake Up
ZX Spectrum character Wally Week
Wally Week was an everyday man who first appeared in the game Automania by Mikrogen. In this game Wally Week worked on a production line for cars - and worked hard to earn a decent living. Like a lot of us, Wally Week was an everyman - and was the star of an excellent platform game.
Wally Week next appeared in Pyjamarama, and in this unusual game it was up to us to wake our hero from a rather bizarre nightmare. Poor old Wally was fast asleep and required the player to control him (inside his dream) and collect items, solve puzzles and somehow wind his alarm clock in time for him to wake up. Pyjamarama was another enjoyable platform game that elevated Wally Week to cult status. You didn't want him to sleep in and miss a day at work did you?
Everyone's a Wally introduced us to the rest of the Week family, including his wife Wilma and his young son, Herbert. In yet another excellent puzzle and platform game, Wally and the gang were brought to life with good humour and plenty of characterisation. This game was so popular it spawned a spin-off game, Herbert's Dummy Run.
Wally Week was popular due his working class image and the fact that the games he starred in were very, very good, and also a little bit 'off the wall'. Wally Week games occupied a unique niche in the platform game genre.
Uselful ZX Spectrum links
- Acorn Atom
The Atom was the ancestor to the BBC series of computers manufactured by Acorn
- Acorn Electron
The Acorn Electron was an 8-bit Micro
- Aliens: Infestation
Knock it off Hudson!
- Amiga CD 32
The first true 32-bit console?
- Amiga Games
The best in 16-bits
- Amstrad CPC 464
During the 1980s entrepeneur Alan Sugar made a foray into the home computer market...
Asteroids (along with the seminal Space Invaders) must be one of the most famous arcade games of all time
- Astro Blaster
Astro Blaster was a table top arcade game
- Astro Wars
Astro Wars was an electronic arcade game of the 'table top' variety
- Atari ST
The Atari ST was a 16-bit home computer
- AY Music
- BBC Micro
The BBC micro. This chunky heavyweight computer carved out a unique niche for itself during the 1980s
- Best PC Games
PC Gaming - some of the best
- Commodore 16
The Commodore 16 was an 8-bit micro
- Commodore 64
Ahh the deadly rival!
- Commodore 128
The last of Commodore's 8-bit machines
- Commodore Amiga
We love the Commodore Amiga!!
Chronos: A tapestry of time was filled with cheats and easter eggs
- Crash Magazine
Crash magazine was one of the most popular monthly magazines available covering the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and it's games
- Dark Star
Design Design software put lots of humour into this game
Frogger is an arcade game which was released waaaay back in 1981
- Funny Games
Games that made you chuckle
- Games Online
Games Online - one of the phenomenons of the modern internet
- Ground Zero
Grim and classic text adventuring
- Miniclip Games
Just what are Miniclip games? Browser based arcade treats - that's what!
- Missile Command Games
Missle Command - a world famous arcade game
- Ocean Software
Ocean Software created some great games...
- Old School Game Blog
A great blog on old school games
- Oric 1
The Oric 1 was a British computer that gained reasonable popularity in Europe
- Oric Atmos
The Oric Atmos was a British computer that superseded the Oric 1
- Pacman Game
Who can forget the year of 1980 when Pac-man first appeared in the amusement arcades?
- Retro Computers
A nice collection of 8-bit and 16-bit machines from the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, ZX81, Atari 600XL and so on.
- Scramble games
Arcade classic Scramble
- Space Invaders
Space Invaders, an all time classic
- Spectrum emulator
Want to play those classic Spectrum games? Please read on....
- Spectrum Programmers
- Star Wars Computer Games
You're powers are not weak...
- The Dizzy Fansite
Yolkfolk.com - The Dizzy Fansite
- Tomy Sky Attack
Tomy Sky Attack - retro 3D gaming
Classic home vector gaming
- VIC 20
The Commodore VIC-20 was an 8-bit home computer which even Bill Shatner loved...
- World of Spectrum
World of Spectrum, the official world archive for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the largest on-line gaming center on the Internet
The Sinclair ZX80
The ZX81 was the forerunner to the ZX Spectrum
- ZX Spectrum
We love the ZX Spectrum!!
- ZX Spectrum Games
A link to reviews, images and videos of many ZX Spectrum games and nostalgic articles. You may also find some of the games that these characters appeared in. By enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. ZX Spectrum games - you know you want to.
- ZX Spectrum Music
We are talking about the original ZX Spectrum here
- ZX Spectrum Programmers
The 48K Spectrum was pushed way beyond it's limitations There were many fine developers who worked on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum during the 1980s and into the early 1990s. They managed to push the machine...
- ZZap64 Magazine
ZZap 64 magazine was one of the most popular monthly magazines
- 8-bit to 16-bit
Two classic machines from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras
Moving on through the years...
In fact there are quite a few amiga games that feature both characters such as Jet Set Willy II, Dizzy Magicworld, Dizzy Fantasyland and Dizzy Panic.
I wonder what the future holds for these characters.
Anyone got any more ZX Spectrum game characters?
Dean on February 19, 2012:
Where is Skool Daze the best game ever?
sarah singleton on September 05, 2011:
God seeing all these games brings back alot of memorys,But what happened to the game called C5 Clive when your in a c5 and you have to jump over things and collect stuff that was ace.
xist on November 07, 2010:
Loving your work! :D
The music from the 128k version of Knight Tyme was a thing of beauty.
Martin Allan (author) from Sunny Scotland on October 17, 2010:
Not a bad shout Eklipse! Perhaps those saboteuring types will be added on to the list...
Eklipse on October 17, 2010:
Damn you for not putting Saboteur and his sister Nina from Saboteur II to the list!