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.


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