With over 5 million units sold (not including its myriad of clones), the ZX Spectrum was a phenomenon in its time and is largely credited with kickstarting the information technology industry in the United Kingdom. Maintaining a large following even today, the ZX Spectrum was beloved for its ease of use and programming, making it an attractive machine for everything from productivity software to games applications.
While officially discontinued in 1992, the ZX Spectrum still sees releases even to this day with some 40 new titles planned for 2018 alone. While it eventually lost out to the more powerful offerings from Japan, the ZX Spectrum is part of the early wave of video game/computer hybrids that filled the marketplace in the early days of the industry. As such, it doesn’t exactly come in one configuration but rather a whole range of configurations, each with their own graphical, sound, and processing capabilities.
Even though the ZX Spectrum handled a huge range of software, it is most notable for due to its selection of video games including titles like R-Type, Jet Set Willy, and Dizzy. While only R-Type might jump out to gamers today, a lot of these titles were foundational to their respective genres and represented some of the earliest applications of concepts found commonly in games like Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. While making games for the ZX Spectrum was often a lot easier than it was for its rival systems, compatibility could often be an issue due to the number of iterations on the main hardware out in the market.
A cursory glance at the 10 top titles for the ZX Spectrum reveals a largely self-contained legacy. According to the gaming magazine GamesMaster the ten top titles for the ZX Spectrum were Head Over Heels, Jet Set Willy, Skool Daze, Renegade, R-Type, Knight Lore, Dizzy, The Hobbit, The Way of the Exploding Fist, and Match Day II. (our personal favourites are HERE). Of those, R-Type has made appearances on multiple systems and even gets attention from fans to this day. Known for its bare knuckle, shoot ‘em up action, R-Type is less stressful than modern shoot ‘em ups but was a revelation back during its initial release.
To focus solely on the ZX Spectrum’s library of games is to largely miss the point of the system. Back in the early days of consumer computing, there weren’t many systems to choose from and what was on the market tended to be extraordinarily expensive. The ZX Spectrum and the rival Commodore 64 aimed to provide an affordable alternative to these expensive desktops and, often, a robust gaming scene for the systems grew out of their ubiquity. Neither was intended to be a dedicated gaming system like the later Nintendo NES and Sega Master System but both were instead meant to bring computers into the living room. Of course, offering a robust library of games only helped sell the systems and is largely their legacy today. After all, no one really remembers a computer for its productivity software.