There are games that have cute graphics. There are games that have great playability. There are games that have a long playtime. And then there are games that have all of that. Mega games. And mega games deserve mega reviews. In terms of pictures (exactly 100 screenshots!), not text–so relax and read on. In case you’re really extremely text-shy, just scroll down to the mega gallery at the end of the article.


Hot Rod was originally a 1988 SEGA top-down racing arcade game. A very different racing game.

Hot Rod is one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market.


It starts with that it’s one of just very few overhead games where you don’t race on circuits. Instead, you’re driving across an unspecified country. Every three stages take place in roughly the same kind of landscape. The landscapes range from mountains to deserts to sea shores and from wilderness to cities. You’ll drive not only on good old tarmac, but also on dirt, sand, snow, and ice. So what you’re getting are 30 levels of scrolling awesomeness in ten different environments.

Hot Rod title screens

Title screens from the Spectrum (left) and Commodore 64 (right) version. The CPC one has no title picture.

Another huge difference is that unlike in other car games, Hot Rod isn’t about lightning-quick reactions. The pace of the game is quite relaxed, so it’s all about precision driving, not jerking the wheel in this or that direction as fast as possible. That is supported by a game mechanics that’s only possible in a game world: there are no collisions with other players. Your car can be in the very same place as your opponent’s, so everyone can take the racing line they deem the optimal one. This eliminates the most frequent problem of multiplayer car games, where you often get rid of the other humans as soon as possible through crashing into them and/or driving them off the track and then just cruise to victory. It practically asks for cooperative playing instead: sharing the available bonuses and trying to get both humans through all the levels.

Anytime you have a scrolling multiplayer racer, you have to solve the same problem: what to do with a player who’s lagging behind so much that they’d fall off the screen? Hot Rod bases its logic on one all-important variable: gas. You get extra gas depending on your place in each stage, and you can collect some on the road in the form of extras. You burn it with each second the road, and it’s a currency in which you pay for your blunders. If one of the three cars (up to two human players, the rest is played by the machine), for example, falls into the ocean or gets buried by an avalanche or a landslide, they’re resurrected at the cost of 20 gas units. Same goes for the time when they fall behind–the game puts them back among the competitors, but they lose 20 gas. If their gas tank gets empty–game over.

Perhaps the only traditional element of Hot Rod are the upgrades, which you exchange for the second most important indicator in the game: money. You receive money for your performane in the races, and in the CPC and ZX version also for collecting bonuses. Between the races, you can visit a parts shop and buy one of the 20 possible thingies that change the behavior of your car. These are engines, wings, bumpers, and tires for different surfaces. Yet even here, Hot Rod inserts its own little twist. Every shop has only select upgrades and you can always buy only one; therefore, you have to plan your upgrade strategy very carefully.

CPC Parts Shop

In Parts Shops, you can buy upgrades for your car. This one is from the CPC version.

In most stages, the roads and/or streets are closed for the race, but occasionally, Hot Rod gets a Gumballish touch, and you have to navigate among other cars, dozers, and rollers, and avoid being caught by the police or hit by a train. And sometimes you can take a shortcut that, in turn, is more difficult navigate – so if you’re good, you gain, if you make a mistake, you lose time (and possibly gas).


All of the above says how much creativity and effort went into the game, but what I’ve always loved about Hot Rod the most is how it all clicks together. You get a polished, immensely entertaining, variable, highly replayable eye candy monster of a game. Hot Rod is simply one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market (and my No. 1 personally). And its versions are a perfect example of that each 8-bit platform has its strengths.

Hot Rod found its way to the C=64, CPC, and ZX.

Podium ceremony

Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: C=64. Bottom right: CPC. This layout will be the same for all the pictures in the mega gallery below.

The best-presented version is the C=64 one. It has a neat intro, great music by Jeroen Tel, and makes the most of the Commodore’s hardware sprites and hardware scrolling. Everything is smooth and sleek. However, typically for C=64 versions of arcade games, there’s one big dent in all that beauty: the game lacks nine out of the original 30 levels (19-24, 28-30). Sadly, they are some of the best levels. As they are all from the final parts of the game, it looks as if there was a hard deadline and the publisher said, “We’ll just put out whatever we’ll have by then.” Back on the positive side, the C=64 is the only 8-bit version that has an end sequence – on the CPC and the ZX, the game just wraps (which I have always hated–I play games to win them, not to play them until I lose).

The C=64 version is also the best balanced of them all. It’s got to do with the brave, but ultimately bad, decision of the CPC and ZX converters to be fair to the human players and implement actual AI. On the C=64, you have your typical computer droids. They follow a predetermined path no matter what. It’s a little dull, very predictable–but it works. On the Z80-based machines, the computer tries to find the best way through the level on the fly, reacting to what’s currently happening on the screen. The problem is that the AI is too weak. Once you throw it off balance, it usually fails to get back on track and your victory in that level is guaranteed. Yet, when the AI works well, the racing is more fun than on the C=64, as the computer also upgrades its cars, and if you let it grow, it becomes a tough opponent. When a computer car gets a game over, a new car is pitted against you, starting from scratch without any upgrades.

The Z80 versions have somewhat broken economy

Another bit of balancing that the C=64 version got right is the economy. On the Speccy, and esp. on the CPC, near the end, you have a lot of money and not much to buy for it (with most upgrades priced between $600 and $5000, the $48000 from the picture above is ridiculously much). While on the C=64, an engine will last you only 6 races, so you have to make sure to win enough money to keep replacing it–and remember the right levels in which the Parts Shops have the engines you want.

The CPC version of the game has all of the glorious 30 levels but pays the price for the hardware it runs on. Compared to the C=64 and ZX version, it feels kind of sluggish. There’s a delay between the time you change the steering and the time the car actually reacts. Which means that especially on snow and ice, where your car is already difficult to control by default, you have to do a lot of very anticipative driving. Apart from the jerky scrolling, there’s also a smaller game window, into which the creators tried to put all the necessary graphics, resulting in not much detail. On the other hand, compared to Speccy, the graphics are much more colorful. And the slower pace of the game can be an advantage for weaker gamers.

The ZX version has the least colors, but that’s the nature of the platform. The only serious problem with the graphics is that while on the C=64 and the CPC, there’s a red, green, and blue car, on the Spectrum, all the cars are black. And as they can all be in one place at one time, sometimes it happens that you’re happy with how brilliantly you’ve steered through a curve, to notice only five seconds later that your car actually is the one that ended in the barrier and that you’re mistaking it for one of your computer opponents. On the other hand, the hires graphics allow for a solid level of detail, and the game is as fast as it needs to be and very playable.


Having had a Commodore 64 for almost 30 years now, I’ve completed Hot Rod on the C=64 countless times already, but I loved playing through it on the CPC as well as on the Spectrum. And I heartily recommend you to do the same, because each of the versions has nice bits that the others lack. You can see it in the mega gallery that follows. And then? Stop reading, start playing!


In this gallery, you’ll find a screenshot from every level on each platform. What we’re not showing you is the end sequence. After all, this is a teaser. Enjoy it, drool, and then play through the game on your own. Have fun!

Level 01

Level 02

Level 03

Level 04

Level 05

Level 06

Level 07

Level 08

Level 09

Level 10

Level 11

Level 12

Level 13

Level 14

Level 15

Level 16

Level 17

Level 18

Level 19

Level 20

Level 21

Level 22

Level 23

Level 24

Level 25

Level 26

Level 27

Level 28

Level 29

Level 30

Parts Shops


Did you think that you can drive a Porsche without driving licence? In Ocean’s 1989 game Chase H.Q. which is a Taito’s 1988 coin-op conversion you can because they said you’re the right hand of the law from Miami Vice or so. You’re chasing thieves escaping in fast, luxury fancy cars, and you have to stop them. Everything would go smooth and clear, but on certain platforms it’s just… Let’s have a closer look at it.

The game came out on major 8-bit platforms. The Commodore 64 (boo!), the Amstrad CPC, and the Spectrum and even some more like Nintendo Gameboy, NES/Famicom or MSX. We’ll focus on the popular 8-bit home computers versions, though. I’m not sure if the CPC and Spectrum versions are equal in many ways, but I’m pretty sure the C64 port is bad.

Simply forget about the C64 version. Really.



The C64 loading screen looks like it had been drawn by one eyed retarded child. Nice colours, hmm, but… Look at the heroes’ faces. They look weird. Now the CPC screen. Hmm, nice – but wait, I’ve seen this before! On the Spectrum. It seems it’s a conversion because even the attribute clash remained in there. The picture itself is a nice pic of the two main heroes in high resolution and decent attribute (even on the CPC!) undercoloring. So the result – C64 sucks with its lame proportions, the CPC has the same Spectrum hires screen but there are more colours on the Speccy. So I’d choose the Spectrum one because it looks the most realistic and has acceptable colours.

Look at the C64 picture above. Doesn’t it look weird? Below are the Spectrum and CPC loading screens that look much better.


Sounds on the C64 aren’t bad. You easily recognize what’s the matter. It’s SID, although it sounds a bit basic. I’d expect something better in this game, though. Nothing much to say about it. The Amstrad has nice sounds, even a digitized speech, but there’s no title music. The sounds are almost same like on the Spectrum, but the Speccy even has music, which is special as the drums are interpreted by beeper and the melody is played by the AY sound chip. Beeper sounds are also in the game so you experience two different sound sources, which makes the game special. In addition, on the CPC, there’s no siren sound when chasing the bad guy, which the Speccy and C64 have. The MSX port seems to be ported from the 48K Spectrum even with beeper sounds! All of this points to the Speccy version as the winner.


Oh dear, the graphics on the C64 isn’t really nice. The cars are brown-grey boxes, the road has no lanes. Spectrum version is very detailed as expected, although it’s monochrome with some bits of attribute colouring. But the CPC rules with colours. The lowres mode doesn’t seem too blocky due to so many colourful details, so can I declare my favourite is the CPC in this case? Too bad the Speccy can’t have it in more colours. Last but not least, I have to mention the MSX version of the game, which looks almost identical to the Spectrum one.

Spectrum (top left), C64 (top right) and the CPC (bottom) gameplay screenshots.


The gameplay on the C64 is just horrible. Everything is so slow, slow as hell, even a worm would crawl faster than your 64-ized blocky Porsche. All I felt while playing was just boredom. Everything takes so much time and when you catch up with the villain at last and have to wreck his car, oh my, that’s just straining your patience. Endlessly. Simply forget about the C64 version. Really. Let’s move to the Spectrum. Well, it’s a completely different cup of tea. Nice and detailed graphics and great gameplay make the game a gem in a Spectrum gamer’s collection. It’s fast and well designed. You feel all the details, you catch the target car and the destruction derby starts. I like it! On the CPC, well, well… Colourful graphics and solid gameplay, just a little less smoother than on the Spectrum. The game’s taking the best from the Speccy and adds nice colours. Who cares it’s in the lowres mode. Even nicely made blocky graphics can look cute … erm. perhaps. The Spectrum’s overall gameplay is a little bit better, so the Spectrum wins again.


I’m very sorry, Amstrad guys, the Speccy won this race, but it was close. The Amstrad game isn’t bad, it has fancy colours, but the smoothness and absence of Spectrum details are frustrating for me. The Spectrum gameplay is just great. The MSX can be happy with its Spectrum 48K-like conversion and shut up, and even I don’t mention the stupid NES version, which looks silly, but the big beige breadbox can just envy the CPC and Speccy and only regret the programmers of Chase H.Q. probably didn’t know what could be done with this beast. Shame on you, C64!


I like big, epic games. Turricans, Nobby the Aardvark, Dragon Wars – that kind of stuff. But every now and then I just don’t feel like immersing in a game for hours or even days. And then it’s time for some of the great game miniatures that replace size and complexity with perfectly polished mechanisms and sheer playability. Like Traffic.

Immense fun! And immensely addictive.



Traffic is a logical game from 1984, a time long before the genre’s reputation got ruined by the tsunami of 2nd and 3rd rate half-baked quick-cash junk in the mid 1990s. It was originally released by Argus Press Software (APS)/Quicksilva for the C=64 and ported to CPC a year later by Amsoft/Andromeda Software.

Let the CPC version tell us what the game’s about:

Traffic - Game Description

Well, thank you very much for such a reward!

The graphics are simplistic but cute. All the vehicles are just rectangles of various sizes, but you’ll have no trouble seeing motorbikes, regular cars, vans, and trucks in them. Their blinking indicators, made of a minimum amount of pixels, are lovely.

The sound could probably be called simplistic too (but not cute). On the title screen, there’s the typical Big Ben jingle, followed by a forgettable tune with instruments typical of the early ’80s (“we’re happy that it makes a sound!”). There are also a few in-game sound effects, the most important one being the alarm that sounds anytime a queue length is nearing a terminal value.

Where the game excels is the behavior of the cars. They don’t just decelerate and accelerate. They properly slow down when they need to turn. Trucks are slower. But the winner is the situation when the red light comes on and the drivers know they won’t be able to stop in time: in that case they simply step on the gas to go through the crossroad faster. It’s so lifelike that I have to smile whenever I see it.


Playing the game is easy. On the screen, you have a top-down view of the area, with only two actions available: you move between the junctions with your joystick and switch the lights from red to green and vice versa with the fire button. Cars come from outside the screen, go through the area (adhering to the lights), and then leave. You get a point for each car that leaves your area. You complete the first level if you dispatch 200 cars, the second level is over after 300 cars, the third level takes 400 cars, and so on.

Level 2. C=64 on the left, CPC on the right. Note that even though the roads are put pixel-exact in the CPC version, the graphics aren’t converted but re-drawn (see placing of the buildings, the perspective, and the number of their floors) from scratch.

As long as incoming cars fit onto the screen, everything’s fine. When a queue starts to form outside the screen, you’re in trouble. If the number of cars in any one street waiting to enter the screen reaches 5 in the first two levels and 9 in the higher levels, you’re game over. In the higher levels, there’s also a limit for the total of all the queues.


Sounds as sexy as a decaying zombie teeming with maggots? Sure, but it’s immense fun! And immensely addictive. Seeing the cars traverse the screen fluently gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and then there are countless little dramas when you are this close to a queue reaching critical length and get the traffic going again in the last moment possible. Plus the game has the “just one more try” magic. You’re sure next time you’ll do better because you think you know what just went wrong. And then again. And again. And again.

In the beginning you go all operative. Get used to that it’s the UK, i.e., cars on the left. Just turn the green light on wherever cars are waiting. Then you realize there’s a tactical layer to it: you don’t want cars to go through one crossroad only to stop at the next traffic light because if the cars have to accelerate and brake, they spend more time on the screen. So you need to create a flow. And after you fail a level several times, the strategic element comes in. You see that no matter which queue finally gameovered you one particular time, there always seem to be one or two streets that are absolutely jammed at that moment and are probably the bottleneck. Therefore you try to create a flow with special attention paid to those critical places. Well, yeah, you still haven’t negotiated the level – but your high score just went 15 points up. You’re on a good track. Next time (or the one after that) you’ll sure make it!

C=64 VS. CPC

The two versions are almost identical.

The C=64 version boasts an achievement for the time: when you complete a level, a sampled voice says, “Next map.” But the CPC has a unique element as well: it offers a special color scheme for playing on a monochromatic monitor (having white color for red and blue for green if you choose it on a normal device feels kinda surreal).

Traffic - screenshot from the monochrome version

Would you stop or go if you saw a white traffic light? And what about a blue one?

The rest is just details. On the Commodore, the active junction is indicated by a crosshair, on the CPC, its outlines change color. The high score table (which is not saved) has 3-char names on the 64 and 4-char names on the CPC.

So the only important difference is that the CPC version seems to be one tiny little bit easier than the C=64 version. Which might be an important factor because the game’s not only great; it’s also fairly difficult.

But whichever platform you prefer, give traffic a try. It’s totally worth it.

Stop reading, start playing!