On the cyber world of Thraxx, an evil baddie called Havok somehow returned after 10,000 years and started wreaking himselv. Or something. Plus he’s got his “nightmare creations” to help him, while everyone on the good side has died… I mean, everyone but you, the last survivor of the ancient Bladeknights. Normally, the Bladeknights would have probably kicked Thraxx’s bottom, but he somehow managed to destroy the Fireblade, the source of the Bladeknights’ power. So it’s up to you to find the 16 fragments of the Fireblade in the Undercity and then get medieval on Havok. And by the way, if the bad guy’s name is Havok, yours can’t be any other than Hiro.

Switchblade is a wonderful game. Do yourself a favor and play it. But, for the sake of your sanity, only on the CPC. Because there’s no other decent 8-bit version.

This introduction from the manual of Switchblade (a 1989 game developed by Core Design and released by Gremlin Graphics) competes with the epic emptiness of stories for Manfred Trenz’s games. But we’re not here to write literary reviews. We’re here to see the undeniable truth: that the CPC has always been the best 8-bitter of them all. Switchblade is just one random example out of the countless proofs.

I’ll put aside the title screen, which looks quite similar on all the three machines. Yes, three, because as usual, the game made it to the Spectrum, the C=64, and the CPC. It doesn’t exist for the 8-bit Atari, but it might actually be good for the platform, as it saves it from humiliation by the Amstrad version.


The intro tells the story you already know from the manual. It also tells us that the authors of the C=64 and the ZX version were, uhhh, not very smart.

Let’s say you’ve got a source picture from a machine with a better resolution or more colors. The picture is very small, and it’s the only piece of graphics on the screen. In the corner of a bloody eye, it features three colors, which might be a problem. The rest of the screen is just a very short text. What do you do?

On the ZX, do you try to shift the picture in the bitmap so that you don’t get a color clash? Or, perhaps, do you redraw the picture so that it’s slightly bigger and you always have only 2 colors in one character square? No, you don’t! You just convert it and get the clash!

And on the C=64? Do you overlay the critical area with a sprite (you could have up to ten different colors in the critical attribute square this way, if I’m not mistaken)? No, you don’t. You just obviously leave your brain switched off, too, and convert the picture from the Spectrum, including the bloody (pun intended) color clash!

Intro - ZX and C=64

The colors are different, the hardware is different, the unnecessary color clash is the same (left: ZX, right: C=64).

And now look at the CPC version.

Intro on the CPC

See? It is doable (CPC)!


Well, now you do. Now you’ll understand.

On the Spectrum, the game was bound to look ugly from the start. They just had to choose between ugly looks because of the attribute clashes or because of being monochromatic. And, congratulations, having gone monochrome, they managed to take the wrong decision again! As the background is more or less dithered (lots of dense dots), you can hardly see any objects or monsters if they’re not moving.

The first screen on the ZX and the 64

Left: blobs of dots on blabs of dots (ZX). Right: Ugly multicolor (C=64).

Knowing the game, I thought at least monsters would look decent on the C=64 with its fabled hardware sprites. But … this? Either they just, again, converted the ZX version (might as well be it, as the game get suspiciously slow as soon as you get more enemies on the screen, so it might be animated bitmap instead of the sprites, which would cost the C=64 next to no processor time), or I’d rename the sprites to ha-ha-ha-hardware sprites. Yes, the monsters are that laughable!

And now look at the CPC version.

The first screen on the CPC

So much of a difference (CPC)!!!


As you’re exploring first the surface of the planet and then the Undercity, you’re looking for the 16 pieces of the Fireblade. There are many bonus items that increase your score or attack abilities, but if you’re skillful, you can do without them. But without the Fireblade, you can’t do, because only when you collect all the bits, you can wreak havoc on Havok. And to get to those bits, you’ll first have to discover that not all the walls are alike in the game. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Well, you might call the wall part a puzzle, but do you think the C=64 and ZX help you find the parts of the sword? Of course not! In some cases, especially on the Spectrum, you can’t even distinguish them from the backdrops.

Where is the sword on the ZX and the 64?

Where on Tarxx would you look for the first part of the sword (left: ZX, right: C=64)?

And now look at the CPC version.

See the sword now on the CPC?

Just a bit of an extra color, and you know where it is (CPC)!


The area where I couldn’t see why the ZX and the C=64 couldn’t be on par with the CPC version was the sound department. I’ve never minded about the AY, and some say the C=64’s SID isn’t that bad either. Well, the C=64 sound was a shock… and not a positive one. The Commodore versions of the tunes sound like they’re coming from a beeper. Even though I thought that was what the Speccy originally had. The Spectrum sounds better, but still like in the early ’80s when the musicians where just happy that the machine made any sound. The CPC tune then renders the same melody in a much fuller and more atmospheric sound.


Surprisingly, the game behaves almost identical on all the three platforms. The layout of the rooms is the same, the speed movement is the same, the jump lenght is the same, you get more or less the same bonuses in the same places. However, this is one of the cases when the graphics and the music make or break your experience. If the music is crap, there’s no real immersion, and if you can’t make out what’s what on the screen, it significantly hampers your experience.

Some not-so-nice monsters on the ZX and C=64

Can you find the monsters? And if so, can you enjoy them (Left: ZX, right: C=64)?

A screen with monsters on the CPC

Now that‘s what I call monsters (CPC)!


Switchblade is a wonderful game. It’s full of secrets. It’s full of surprises. It’s huge. Do yourself a favor and play it. But, for the sake of your sanity, only on the CPC. Because there’s no other decent 8-bit version.


I can’t say I don’t like games that have been made in editors. There appeared several game editors during last years on the Spectrum. The most well known is probably AGD, the Arcade Game Designer by Jonathan Cauldwell. I’ve seen many games that have been produced in this software and some of them aren’t really bad, some are even cool. One game that came into my spotlight last days is Impossabubble by Dave Clarke of Monument Microgames. The game’s his debut and it really, really impressed me that much, that I’m writing this short review.

Five lives are desperately little for this game! Btw. see the potion? Go pick it!

The game is about a bubble. If you’re familiar with those multiscreen maze games like Jet Set Willy, Monty series or so, this could be the exact description of the game and I don’t need to talk any further. Simply, a Jet Set Willy with a bubble as a main character instead of Willy. Hmm, okay, but that’s not a big deal. Well, maybe not. You control the bubble jumping on platforms and avoiding baddies, thinking of which way would be the best to pass the screen and collect flashing objects – potion bottles actually. What a classic! There are wind fans that get you higher if you can’t reach a platform by your normal jump, there are nasty bugs that kill you, there are unpleasant arrows and ugly spiders you really have to avoid. And you have just five lives for all that adventure, which is really not much. The game play needs a bit of training. After that, you’ll be able to go trough screens game quite easily. The controls are simple. Just keys for left, right and jump. Sinclair joystick (keys 6, 7 and 0) or Kemston joystick can be used instead, as well as the key H to pause the game, which could be handy in dangerous situations. It’s a 48K game with additional AY music, so your old rubber mate with an AY interface is the right setup. If you don’t have AY, you’ll just hear beeper sounds, but you won’t miss anything else from the game.

I’d say that graphics aren’t the state of the art, but all that is ballanced by well gameplay and excellent music.

I must admit that the graphics aren’t my cup of tea. They’re, say, oldschool. If the game came in 1984, it would be okayish. I can clearly imagine how Dave aka Bedroom Coder makes the game in 1984, sends it to a famous software house (would guess that someone like Artic Computing or Mastertronic might declare insterest) and then gets his money and lives happily on a tropical island for the rest of his life 🙂 So, yes. The graphical side of the game is very retro, but not bad at all! Kinda cute, I’d say. Now, let’s move on to the music. Whoaa! This is quite cool piece of AY sound! I love David Saphier’s track. It fits perfectly to the game and makes the gameplay super addictive. It’s kinda retro as well, It doesn’t sport much under-the-hood advantages of the AY chip, but the melody and arrangement are so good. Last but not least, there are in-game beeper sounds as well that make the audio experience complete.

I must say the money spent on this game wasn’t really a thrown out deal as I like the gameplay, the music and the retro feeling of all this project. The author says that he should produce copies on a real tape soon, so this would be something for retro collectors and true Spectrum gaming enthusiasts. Impossabubble can be downloaded as a digital copy for a tiny amount of money at itch.io.


Uhm… Have I heard this name somewhere already? I think… actually i might! Ninja Gaiden, that’s the name of a Japanese blockbuster with errm.. a ninja. The Japanese word Gaiden (外伝) means Side Story by the way. This game was originally released in 1988 by Tecmo and has been ported to a wide range of computer platforms and consoles. However, the ZX Spectrum wasn’t in the list. But that changed this month! A bunch of indie developers – Jerri, DaRkHoRaCe and diver4d – took the Game Boy version – which is the 1991 Ninja Gaiden Shadow actually – and adapted it to the Spectrum. Wikipedia says about the game’s plot following stuff: Set three years before the events of the first Ninja Gaiden (NES), the player controls Ryu Hayabusa, who must save New York City from the forces of Emperor Garuda, a servant of Jaquio. Garuda’s minions include the cyborg “Spider”, kickboxer Gregory and his manager Jack, former military commander Colonel Allen, and the Japanese nobleman Whokisai (風鬼斎 Fūkisai). Hmm, sounds good. But what about the game? Well, the converted result is kinda cool. Let’s look at it.

Nice loading screen swearing a good gaming experience.

The graphics by diver4d are cute. Because of the fact, that the programmer took the same resolution from the Game Boy version, the whole game runs in a window in the middle of the Speccy’s screen and the rest are illustrations with these nice and cute graphics. The graphics in the game window, which is the only moving area on the screen, are a bit basic and monochrome, though. It is strongly visible that it’s converted and modified, but this fact doesn’t make the game any worse. There’s in-game music, also. It’s very retro, as it seems it’s just a conversion as well. The Spectrum can do better things, but this one was ment to be authentic. So no hardware envelopes and advanced drums. Just the plain melody with a couple of white noise rhythms.

The second round’s getting harder with the annoying birds.

The gameplay is surprisingly well. I used the standard QAOP-Space key combination with no problems. The ninja has to go to the right direction, kill all the enemies and reach the end of the level. Besides of that, there are special loot boxes with extras like energy pills, lives and weapons. Because the ninja is armed just with a sword at the start. Anyway, he can walk, can use the weapon against enemies but can also climb on walls and hold the poles when it’s necessary. Levels are often divided into more parts with different graphics. At the end of each one there’s a final boss. This is pretty standard in this type of games I guess, but there’s one more cool stuff: The game uses a level multiload, just like in the good old times. Remember? That could be frustrating for someone wanting to play the game from the tape, but hey, it’s kinda cool to see a new game using this old fashioned system. So whenever you play the game on, you can always turn the fastloading off in your emulator and enjoy loading each level separately, waiting, and rewinding the tape and loading the first level again when you make it to die.

Top left: Level 1, top right: Level 1 as well; Bottom left: Title screen, bottom right: Level loading from tape

The Ninja Gaiden – Shadow Warriors is a very nice piece of stuff. But the main thing is, that it is playable. No need to worry about slow loading of levels, as we have things like divIDE/divMMC or emulators in the 21th century. Go get it from the Internet and try it, it’s free and good New Stuff!