Ranking The Best ZX Spectrum Games Ever Made

Put on some Duran Duran and step into your moon boots; it’s time to take a look at the best ZX Spectrum games of all time.

Many of you might know the ZX Spectrum as that console that plays all of your favourite retro titles with poor graphics…

Ok, that was a little harsh. The Spectrum was one of the first home consoles in the United Kingdom, after all, and it has done a lot for the gaming world.

The Spectrum had lots of original titles and proved a training ground for developers who would go on to make some of my favourite ever games, many of which feature in our list of the best N64 games.

With a cool stripe and sleek look, this console is also one of the few gadgets that defines the 80s. But what are the best games to play on this retro renegade?

We’ve listed twenty of our favourite titles below as well as links for you to add them into your collection.

Happy scrolling, and enjoy the ride!

1. Knight Lore (1984)

Knight Lore (1984)
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

Knight Lore is the best ZX Spectrum game of all time.

This is one of my favourite retro RARE games and one that I played as a kid whenever I went around to my Uncle’s house.

While this wasn’t the first game to use isometric 3D graphics, it’s considered by many in the know (I reckon I come under that heading now too) to be one of the games that popularised the style.

Who knows, without titles like Knight Lore, we might still be playing side-scrollers all the time in 2021!

Players take a dude named Sabreman around a series of levels, solving puzzles and knocking back monsters with his gnarly claws.

Knight Lore gameplay
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

Yes, as you might have guessed, Sabreman is a werewolf. Fans of the Sabre Wulf series probably already know the story; Sabre Wulf bites man, man becomes Sabreman, and man can’t help but turn into a wolf when the sun goes down.

Players have a measly 40 days to find all the necessary ingredients for a cure to Sabreman’s affliction. If you cure Sabreman, you win. If you don’t, then you lose. It’s that simple.

The items that make up the cure are scattered throughout the game’s 128 levels. Some areas can only be access by the werewolf who can jump higher, while some puzzles can only be completed by Sabreman in human form.

And, in true fantasy nerd style, the only instructions on what to do in this game come in the form of a poem in the game box. How retro is that!

2. Elite (1984)

Elite (1984)
image credit: acornsoft Ltd./moby games

I toyed with putting Elite in the top spot just to comply with the opinion of the masses. But after much deliberation, I’m sticking it in second.

From the wire-frame 3D graphics to the cool cockpit view and crosshairs, Elite is one of the earliest and best space shooting games that would go on to inspire the likes of Rogue Squadron and Lylat Wars.

Players control Commander Jameson as he flies through the universe, trading galactic currency to buy the biggest ship in the galaxy.

Elite gameplay
image credit: acornsoft Ltd./moby games

There’s no Millennium Falcon cheat here, however. You’ve got to prove your metal against criminals and the police. In many ways, it’s like a space-age Too Fast Too Furious!

You can do as little or as much as you want outside of the main core of the game. Go all Miner 2049er on asteroids or kick back with a space smoothie and just watch the world fly by.

This is another Spectrum title that did great business and is considered successful on pretty much every console imaginable. Push past the old-school graphics and immerse yourself in this interstellar title!

3. Skool Daze (1984)

Skool Daze (1984)
image credit: microsphere computer services/moby games

Skool Daze might have the same modern appeal as Bully, one of the best PS2 games of all time, but it is credited with being one of the first and most pioneering titles in the sandbox genre.

No, I’m not talking about sandcastles or long jump; I’m talking about games like Minecraft, GTA, and Second Life, titles where the user can make decisions that affect the rest of the game or just wander around aimlessly not doing very much at all!

My school days certainly weren’t anything like Eric’s Skool Daze. Eric is the main character in this game, a schoolboy that has to take his report card right out from underneath the Headteacher’s nose.

Skool Daze gameplay
image credit: microsphere computer services/moby games

Mr Wacker, Mr Withit, Mr Rocker, and Mr Creak roam the halls searching for wrongdoers. If you’re caught out of class, you have to write lines.

Amass 10,000 lines (that’s a heck of a lot!) then the game ends. Lines can also be picked up if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time or a teacher wrongly mistakes you as being troublesome when you’re actually just injured.

Ok, so nowadays this game looks super simple for a home console title, but the ideas that went into making it and the difficulty level are still super impressive today. It’s one of those games that you’ll find yourself going back to again and again even though Spider-Man 2 is waiting patiently in your PS5.

The old games still have what it takes to draw the fans in!

4. The Hobbit (1982)

The Hobbit (1982)
image credit: beam software/moby games

I’m a massive Lord of the Rings fan. Heck, I love anything that Tolkien has created, from Roverandum to the Silmarillion. The Hobbit was always going to feature in this list for this very reason, and it’s a cracking game with serious retro vibes.

We used to play lots of illustrated text adventure games at Junior School, but never anything as exciting as this.

Based on the epic book (and the film if you’re not cultured), this game follows Bilbo and the Dwarves on their journey to the Lonely Mountain.

If you were lucky enough to purchase this back in 1982, then you might even have a copy of the book that you got free with the game still kicking around somewhere!

The Hobbit gameplay
image credit: beam software/moby games

It might be obvious from the other games in this list, but the colour palate wasn’t that rich back in 1982. That’s why Bilbo has a black and white floor like a Vans slip-on shoe and a bright red chest in his hallway.

Still, I’ve got so much love for the retro feel of this game, especially the text instructions that read a little like a meditation tape leading you to your ‘happy place’.

Coincidentally, Middle Earth is my happy place, so I get the best of both worlds out of this game.

Despite its simple looks, this game was very advanced for its time. Users could input proper sentences with follow up actions rather than just ‘get cape… wear cape… fly’. Adjectives came into play too, allowing players to ‘softly creep’ or ‘brutally attack’ goblin soldiers.

5. Atic Atac (1983)

Atic Atac (1983)
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

Atic Atac looks a little like a nightmare I have on a recurring basis. Coincidentally, it was also the idea that sparked the TV show Knightmare, so maybe I’m intrinsically linked to them somehow…

This is another early RARE title made by brothers Chris and Tim Stamper. The gameplay consists mainly of unlocking doors and searching for a golden key, all while avoiding mushrooms, devils, and other nasty enemies.

Atic Atac gameplay
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

Items are spread throughout all of the different rooms in this game, but the catch is that you can only carry three at a time.

Grabbing keys willy-nilly isn’t going to help you, and you may have to rethink your strategy to keep your pockets empty for pieces of the golden key when you come across them.

Gamers can play as a wizard, a peasant, or a knight. I know what you’re thinking; why play as a peasant when you could be a wizard? Well, each character has a different route to take, so there’s effectively three ways to play!

6. Chase H.Q (1988)

Chase H.Q (1988)
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

Chase H.Q is undoubtedly one of the best ZX Spectrum games on the console, but I just can’t get over how much better this title looks on the Master System. (Check out our list of the best Master System games to compare).

I used to love playing on this game at my Uncle’s house and still have fond memories of it. It’s practically the very first Need for Speed title and full of epic car chases, but that singular yellow screen with zero graphical content…

It’s only now that I compare the two that I realise how poor it looks!

This is a bit of a blow for me, so I’m going to just move on to what this game is all about while I cry about my gaming past being a lie.

Chase H.Q gameplay
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

Gamers take the fearless Tony Gibson around a series of tracks as he chases down bad guys. Tony works for the Chase Special Investigation Department, or CSID for the cool kids.

Cruising in his Porsche 98 (hard to tell in a black and white car tootling along the yellow brick road, I know), Tony must catch up to speeding vehicles and ram them into submission, stopping criminals from getting away with their shady business.

Those criminals aren’t hanging around, however. You’ve got to catch up with them while dodging oncoming traffic and picking the right roads to cut them off, otherwise it’s game over!

7. Jetpac (1983)

Jetpac (1983)
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

Jetpac is actually one of the best looking games on the console. It’s a true arcade cabinet-style title and dropped onto the Spectrum in ’83.

Ever heard of the developer company ‘Ultimate Play The Game’? No? Well, what if I told you that they later changed their name to RARE, and that Jetpac was their very first game?

That got your attention, didn’t it!

Jetpac gameplay
image credit: ashby computers and graphics ltd./moby games

I’ve been playing Donkey Kong 64 again and recently got to the part where the Jetman mini game becomes available. That little astronaut up there is Jetman, and he’s got to collect the broken pieces of his rocket to explore different parts of the universe.

Like any good space game from the 80s, there are lots of alien enemies to battle along the way.

Build, refuel, fight, refuel, repeat. It’s an easy concept to grasp, and the game’s levels are simple enough to blast through at your own pace.

And, it’s a genuine RARE original, which means it would be rude not to include it in this list of the best ZX Spectrum games ever made!

8. Target: Renegade (1988)

Target: Renegade (1988)
image credit: ocean software/moby games

Target: Renegade is one for the Streets of Rage fans out there, a side-scrolling beat-down title for up to two players.

As the front cover might suggest, players control one (or two) street fighters on a rampage. In many ways it’s like Double Dragon too, but I’m aware that I’m just continuously naming games that it’s like and not explaining anything about the plot now…

The aim of the game is to lay some sweet revenge on Mr Big, the crime lord that killed your brother.

Revenge games are always a winner in my book; sometimes you just need to unwind while avenging somebody else’s loved ones. We’ve all been there…

Target: Renegade gameplay
image credit: ocean software/moby games

The ZX Spectrum is one of the only ports to have a multiplayer mode. I guess its a one-up against the poor graphics, and these types of games are always fun when battling through with a friend.

Brutal thugs try to stop our nameless protagonist at every turn, and its up to you to pull off gnarly combos to beat them back.

Target Renegade is a classic title and, while it looks super simple, it’s a great game to kick back with a mate and show the crime world who’s boss. It won’t win awards for style, but it’s a fun title to get stuck into.

9. The Way Of The Exploding Fist (1985)

The Way Of The Exploding Fist (1985)
image credit: beam software/moby games

One thing that you’ll immediately notice about The Way of the Exploding Fist is that compared to other ports of this game on various consoles, the ZX Spectrum, uses characters with see through skin. Instead of having coloured in limbs, they remain translucent, taking on the colour of the background.

Ok, so we know it’s not the most technically advanced console when it comes down to colour palette, but the gameplay is still great.

Gamers must compete in a series of karate matches against various fighters. Set in a world that looks like it has the Tower of Water where you can get Urshifu in Pokémon Sword, a wise karate master oversees each match, presumably to make sure there’s no foul play.

The Way Of The Exploding Fist gameplay
image credit: beam software/moby games

Like Punch Out!, one of the best Wii games, opponent fighters get harder as you progress through the game. The format is different to many modern fighting games like Street Fighter too.

Instead of bashing someone to oblivion and depleting their energy bar, players must secure solid hits against their opponent to obtain yin-yang symbols. Land a solid punch or connect a kick against your opponent for a full icon, or bag a half icon for a sloppy attack.

Get two symbols to win. Apart from the symbol thing, this is a method of scoring actually used in Karate. Pull off epic kicks and attacks, and try your hand in a one-hit-punch bull attack mode…

… I don’t think PETA would be too happy about that bonus stage!

10. The Lords Of Midnight (1984)

The Lords Of Midnight (1984)
image credit: beyond/amsoft/moby games

The Lords of Midnight could have one of the coolest game cases of all time.

This fantasy RPG game has a strong strategic vibe that fans of Fire Emblem and Risk will feel right at home with. It’s a ZX Spectrum original title and was one of the most popular games of the 80s, taking its place as one of the pioneering titles in the golden age of gaming.

In true RPG style, gamers control four characters from the beginning and can up their party numbers as the levels progress. Who wouldn’t want a team filled with people like Farflame the Dragon Lord and Utarg of Utarg.

Anyone named after their place of birth must be a great warrior, right?

The Lords Of Midnight gameplay
image credit: beyond/amsoft/moby games

In a cool twist, there’s actually three ways to play The Lords of Midnight. It’s an adventure game, a war game, and an epic quest.

The adventure mode is my favourite as it’s the most nerdy. Take the protagonist Morkin through the main story towards a showdown to destroy Doomdark and his Ice Crown of power. It’s so good that it cold be a Tolkien tale!

The war mode sees players strategically recruiting nobles and their armies before declaring war on Doomdark. And the Epic mode is basically the first mode followed by the second in succession.

For fans of RPGs and quest games, this needs to be in your collection!

11. Operation Wolf (1987)

Operation Wolf (1987)
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

What do Operation Wolf and Bubble Bobble have in common? They’re made by the same people, despite being complete polar opposites of each other! Still, I suppose that shows that Ocean aren’t just a one-trick-pony!

Operation Wolf sees Special Forces Op Roy Adams kicking ass and taking names. He’s a gnarly commando who has to fight his way though enemy territory to rescue hostages.

I’m not going to lie; this port looks a lot worse than the Commodore 64 version. Featuring levels that are all in one colour, it’s not exactly easy to get into the action and enjoy the background scenery. It’s actually quite hard on the eyes at times.

Still, as one of the first shooting games to have a storyline, all the thrilling arcade action appears in heaps.

Operation Wolf gameplay
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

Operation Wolf has six levels, each with side quests and sub missions to complete. It might not be the most technically advanced title, but it does give gamers a lot to sink their teeth into.

Blast back enemies on each stage in order to advance. There’s a certain number of bad guys players need to defeat, so don’t start getting all soft and leaving people to run for freedom.

And let’s give a hand to Roy Adams. With constant gun fire, grenades and rocket launchers, helicopter gunners, and maniacs wielding knives attacking him, he’s certainly got his work cut out for him!

12. Rebelstar (1986)

Rebelstar (1986)
image credit: firebird software/moby games

Julian Gollop’s Rebelstar is a reimagined version of the 1984 game, Rebelstar Raiders. Gollop reworked the original Raiders in machine code, allowing for larger battlefields in this sci-fi turn based action game.

Players control the Raiders in their quest to destroy ISAAC, a computer responsible for deciphering the Raiders encrypted messages and codes. All of the action takes place within a fortified moonbase, giving proceedings that distinct sci-fi appeal.

Rebelstar sees players competing to win by annihilating ISAAC or by wiping out all of the opposing forces within a set time limit.

Rebelstar gameplay
image credit: firebird software/moby games

Rebelstar features an impressive eight difficulty levels within its solo campaign, making it surprisingly accessible.

There’s also a depth to the gameplay little seen on the ZX Spectrum, with needing to pay attention to their forces’ stamina and morale during each battle.

A two-player mode is also included in what must be one of the best budget titles ever created. What do we mean by budget title? Well, Rebelstar released in the UK for a miniscule £1.99. With inflation, that’s just £5.89 in today’s money!

13. Bomb Jack (1984)

Bomb Jack (1984)
image credit: tehkan Ltd./moby games

Heroic Bomb Jack might not be as famous as our favourite kangaroo-riding, explosive-kicking star, but Bomberman would certainly be proud of his exploits.

Bomb Jack stars in a simple side scrolling adventure that feels like a very early Alex Kidd/Asterix title crossed with Pac-Man. Collect bombs while trying to avoid enemies; sounds simple, right?

Bomb Jack gameplay
image credit: tehkan Ltd./moby games

It would be a heck of a lot simpler if the enemies were easier to defeat. Whoever thought that Egyptian mummies that turn into UFOs once they hit the bottom of the screen would be a good idea? Those guys are tough to beat!

Bombs aren’t the only things on offer to collect in this game. Bomb Jack must grab different letters through each stage, a little like the golden KONG letters in Donkey Kong games. These letters unlock abilities that help Bomb Jack for a short time, so it’s definitely worth finding them all!

Collecting all bombs on a stage opens up new areas too. It’s good-old-fashioned fun with an easy to navigate game screen!

14. The Great Escape (1986)

The Great Escape (1986)
image credit: ocean software/moby games

Ocean Software appear once again in our list, and this time it’s for a game based on a film. While Steve McQueen’s likeness doesn’t feature in the game, or even the box art, the plot of The Great Escape on the Spectrum is familiar.

Players step into the boots of an allied Prisoner Of War in northern Germany in the year 1942. While World War II rages on, your job is to try and escape from your incarceration inside a remote POW camp.

Stealth and cunning are needed to succeed in The Great Escape. Each prisoner must be accounted for during strict daily routines and players will be arrested if they are discovered breaking the rules.

The Great Escape gameplay
image credit: ocean software/moby games

The encampment in The Great Escape is brilliantly realised within the limited confines of the ZX Spectrum. Players can explore the isometric camp and develop strategies on how to break out.

There’s no jumping motorbikes over barbed wire fences here but a series of underground tunnels and drains allow players to escape their imprisonment in a variety of different ways.

15. Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (1984)

Daley Thompson's Decathlon (1984)
image credit: ocean software/moby games

You know how Mario and Sonic have made the Olympic Games fun for kids and family to enjoy more than once every 4 years? Well, Daley Thompson was the one that brought epic Olympic Olympic action to home consoles back in the day.

Released in 1984, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon came in the wake of Daley’s successful Decathlon medal streak. He was like the Tony Hawks of his day; the ultimate ‘challenge everything’ superstar.

Daley Thompson's Decathlon gameplay
image credit: ocean software/moby games

The game itself resembles Track and Field, a title that most of our readers will have played at some stage in their lives.

Gameplay consists of two days crammed full of events set over two days. Day One sees players taking on the 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400 metres events and Day Two mixes things up with the 110 hurdles, pole vault, discus, javelin, and 1500 metres competitions.

Players lose lives if they don’t do well in an event. I’m sure glad this wasn’t the case with real sports, otherwise I would have died years ago!

Thankfully, the controls are simple to grasp, though you’ll need to have nimble fingers if you want to nail those high scores!

Thanks to Speedlock, this is one of the fastest loading games on the ZX Spectrum! Not as fast as Daley though; that guy is quick!

16. Ant Attack (1983)

Ant Attack (1983)
Image credit: quicksilva ltd./moby games

Widely considered to be the first truly isometric video game for PC, Ant Attack tasks players with a find and rescue mission within the confines of Antescher.

That might not sound too bad on the face of it, but Antescher was clearly named after its inhabitants, specifically, those of the giant ant variety!

These B-movie pests tower over the player characters, making them look like, well, like ants by comparison.

Ant Attack gameplay
Image credit: quicksilva ltd./moby games

Those mammoth ants pursue players throughout the game and will bite and kill them if they get too close. Fortunately, the ants can be subdued the traditional way, with hand grenades.

Once gamers have found the hostage and secured their safety, the game loops and repositions a new hostage in a different part of the map.

Ant Attack may also be the progenitor of the entire survival horror genre, thanks to its monstrous enemies and scarce ammo. Resident Evil and Silent Hill owe a debt to Ant Attack.

17. Jet Set Willy (1984)

Jet Set Willy (1984)
image credit: software projects ltd./moby games

I’m going to be honest here; even though I know what Jet Set Willy is from having played it, it still took me ages to figure out what the heck is going on with that front cover.

I thought it was a friendly whale at first, especially with what looks like a swordfish poking his nose out of the door! Then, like one of those eye puzzles, a man holding a wine bottle with his head down a toilet came back into view.

Still, despite the weird cover, this game spent three months at the top of the UK gaming charts and was the most popular title of 1984!

Jet Set Willy gameplay
image credit: software projects ltd./moby games

Serving as a sequel to Manic Miner, the game follows Miner Willy in a new adventure. Willy has had a humongous party and feels a little worse for wear. He wants to go to bed but can’t until his house has been tidied.

The thing is, this house isn’t a normal house. Willy bought it with the money he found during Manic Miner and hasn’t had time to explore all of the rooms yet. Many of them are filled with monsters and enemies, all of which Willy needs to defeat.

Clean every room including Willy’s yacht and beach; sounds like one hell of a party!

Work through 60 screens in any order you wish. Just get that house tidied so poor old Willy can go to sleep!

18. Rainbow Islands: The Story Of Bubble Bobble 2 (1987)

Rainbow Islands: The Story Of Bubble Bobble 2 (1987)
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

Some of you might recognise the guy on the front cover of Rainbow Islands: The Story Of Bubble Bobble 2 from Parasol stars, one of the best PC Engine games. Well, Rainbow Islands is where that part of the Bubble Bobble story starts, and it features everyone’s favourite shape-busting dragons in their human forms.

Yeah I know; it’s hard to get your head around, but stick with us.

Bub and Bob, the main characters of Bubble Bobble, are actually humans that have been transformed into dragons by an evil sorcerer. Players play as Bubby and then Bobby alternately in this game.

Rainbow Islands: The Story Of Bubble Bobble 2 gameplay
image credit: taito corporation/moby games

In terms of gameplay, it’s a little like a version of Mario Bros where instead of just defeating enemies on a screen, players also have to jump up levels to avoid the rising sea level. Fail to move quickly enough and you die!

Compared to the arcade version, Rainbow Islands on the ZX Spectrum is very spartan. The characters don’t have any colour to them and the levels are mainly block colour backgrounds.

If it wasn’t for the engaging gameplay, then this title might not have had made this list at all. Still, Bub and Bob are big players in the Retro Gaming world, and it’s not their fault the Spectrum sucks all the life out of their looks!

19. Head Over Heels (1987)

Head Over Heels (1987)
image credit: ocean software/moby games

Head Over Heels is one of those beautifully surreal games that become instantly timeless classics thanks to how weird they are.

In the case of isometric action-adventure game Head Over Heels, the plot is utterly bonkers and sees two intergalactic spies (Head and Heels) from the Planet Freedom working together to liberate a series of planets that have been incarcerated.

So far, so very surreal. Things get weirder still when humans with elephant heads turn up, staircases are made from live dogs and the future King of England, Charles III, wanders the halls as a half human, half Dalek monstrosity.

Head Over Heels gameplay
image credit: ocean software/moby games

Potentially treasonous design choices aside, Head Over Heels gameplay is a lot of fun. Players control both spies at once and must use get them to work together to complete each stage.

If the presentation of Head Over Heels seems familiar it may remind you of developers Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond’s previous project. Another isometric adventure game where players don the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight himself, Batman.

20. Starquake (1985)

Starquake (1985)
image credit: bubble bus software/moby games

Despite having one of the best video game titles of all time, Starquake sits at the bottom of our list.

Even with its low ranking, Starquake is a heck of a game and one that I fell personally seen by. Players control BLOB (told you I could relate), the Bio-Logically Operated Being.

BLOB’s mission is to investigate the sudden appearance of a new planet within the solar system. This rogue planet has emerged from a black hole and threatens to implode, causing widespread devastation across the galaxy.

Starquake gameplay
image credit: bubble bus software/moby games

As far as stakes go, Starquake’s a pretty high. Thankfully BLOB has a number of abilities to help them navigate their way to the planet’s core and stabilise it before things go south.

Battling alien creatures and terrain is exciting enough and then you realise that every enemy and item in Starquake is randomly generated, making each new attempt a fresh and unique experience.

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