ZX Fight Club – The Speccy takes it outside.
With its limited palette and memory the Speccy somehow managed to capture everyone’s imagination, leaving the other computers to kids called Seth who had bad hair and wore beige. Even now magazines like Retro Gamer and Games TM always start their retro coverage with the all-important ‘Speccy Issue’.
However, this image of the Speccy as the plucky underdog produced by that odd bloke who makes car/bike hybrids that don’t sell combined with the cheery colour scheme masks the real truth. The Speccy had some of the hardest characters ever on its roster. Barbarians, brawlers, trained killers and military psychos were all accounted for and whilst people have argued for decades about the best beat-em-up and so on, no-one has ever looked at the important issue.
Who is the Speccy’s hardest ever game character?
Well stop the press, I’m strapping on the body armour and finding out the truth. If I’m not back in five minutes… call the cops.
Fighting out of America (presumably) and armed with a pen-knife and whatever he can salvage from the battlefield. He’s resourceful, he’s highly trained and he thinks absolutely nothing of stabbing a dog in its eyes and then shooting a rocket launcher at its mates.
Bert takes on the entire Russian army across four levels of side-scrolling, commie-maiming madness. He gets to the last level and generally runs out of steam but hey, he leaves one hell of a body count in his wake
Based on the popular, and hilariously named, arcade game ‘Rush N Attack’ (arf!), Green Bert (sorry, but I can never call it as Beret without feeling like I’m betraying everything Your Sinclair ever stood for) was a very well received conversion that many feel surpasses the original for playability.
Of course this is all down to the auto-repeating stab motion and well you can never get enough of that, but also the crispy graphics and the rarity value of ‘feeling’ like the arcade game makes this a genuine retro classic.
Hardest moment: Bert stabs the faces off of a truck load of Russian soldiers.
Toughness rating: 9
Game rating: 9
Fighting out of Japan, we’ve got Kurio from the Renegade trilogy. Originally a traditional martial artist in the arcade game ‘Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun’ (which translates as ‘Superb! Your Gonads, My Knee!’), Kurio ventured West for the arcade hit Renegade.
All he wants is to meet his girlfriend, but it’s the eighties and he’s a martial artist in an arcade game. That means some gang boss has kidnapped his missus and has arranged for a small army of henchmen to wait in various urban locations and throw Kurio a nice little boot party.
Right… I know I’ve already done this with Bert but from now on I’m calling Kurio by his proper name: Rene. Who do I think I am? Jesus? Well, it’s my article so live with it.
Whilst not quite vindictive enough to carve up an entire pack of dogs, Rene thinks nothing of punching a woman in her face, kneeing her privates and then beating her whilst she’s down but he’s also a romantic guy who’ll risk life and limb for the woman he loves.
Of course Renegade 1 remains his finest hour, with its tight levels and controls and for Mike Lamb giving 128k owners some cheesy music, a whole extra level to play in and even an extra move (a throw for quickly putting Rene’s adversaries out of the picture and onto some train tracks). Sure, it’s a bit easy but it looks and feels great and kneeing Mr Big in his nuts never sounded so… squelchy!
Hardest moment: Rene saves the day by taking out four guys armed with knives and a gun-toting boss in under two minutes. Of course if you didn’t fancy dodging bullets you could just press the ‘pause’ button and they’d freeze in the air and way before The Matrix ever had the same idea.
Toughness rating: 8
Game rating: 10
Yep, back in the muscle-obsessed Eighties the marketing men for Palace Software decided that Wolf, the Gladiator, was the perfect man for the job. I’m sorry Barbs but you’re losing points for that right away. Nature’s rule Barbie-san, not mine.
These days gamers expect to be able to shoot some one in the head and watch the blood fly as the ‘rag-doll physics’ cause said head to bounce around like a football but in the innocent eighties such things were unheard of. So it was something of a surprise when Barbarian included a decapitation finishing move in the game.
Yep, with the right amount of distance, timing and luck you could spin Barbie (sorry but it’s stuck now) around and slice off your opponent’s head with your broadsword and then watch a little dwarf guy kick the head off the side of the screen.
Of course as a gameplay gimmick this initially satisfying act meant that all subsequent matches ignored the six or so moves on offer and resorted to roll… roll… roll… kick… roll… flying neck chop… roll… roll… roll… kick… web of death (oops wrong button)… roll… flying neck chop.
Still, the game was pretty well received and even emerged during the 16 bit generation.
Hardest moment: Rolling across a gravelly floor with no top on and then cutting off a man’s head? This should have been an event in Gladiators.
Game rating: 7
Toughness rating: 8
Where the other characters here have relied on guts, strength and a killer instinct Fist Guy is all about the skills. Ones that pay bills. Well, I’m not sure you can actually pay your TV license with a roundhouse kick but anyway Fistie brings discipline and technique along with a nice line in grey pyjamas.
The ‘Fist’ trilogy started with ‘Way Of The Exploding Fist’ which was the first really good martial arts game. It had plenty of moves, great collision detection and a reasonably good two player mode. Of course, like any good beat em up, you could beat any opponent with one move and that move was the lunge punch. Drop to one knee, lunge forward and put your fist in your opponent’s clockweights.
The main challenger to Fist’s ‘king of the sims’ title was International Karate which was initially a poor rival but eventually took the crown with its three-man fights in IK+.
Fist Guy was last seen in Vegas (in Fist+) trying the same thing, presumably for crack and the price of a cup of tea.
Hardest moment: Somersaulting over his opponent’s head and back-kicking him in the spine. In pyjamas.
Toughness rating: 7
Game rating: 9
Well, you can cut the atmosphere here with a knife. The crowd is on edge, we’ve not seen drama like this since Karate Kid! First up is Corporal Bert versus The Barbarian. Lets go ringside for the all the drama!
Who can call it? The best military training the United States Army has to offer, versus the bad hair and body odour of a man who lives in a cave and supports Leeds United. The fight of the century? Not quite…
Barbarian starts quickly with a flying neck chop and follows it up with a flying neck chop followed by a spinning roundhouse kick to the… oh okay, its another flying neck chop. Alas, all decapitation moves in the world cant help you against an angry man with a knife and a flamethrower. Super-sharp good looks and arcade charm win this one for Bert. Hoo-rah, sempa fi!
Brawn meets technique in our next match up. Its just like the last ten minutes of Karate Kid. Sweep the leg, Fisty. Rene isn’t liking that one bit and counters the ‘one move beats all’ gameplay of Fist with a ‘one fist beats all noses’ combo about the head and neck followed by a knee to the nuts and a kick to the gob!
The ref has to step in! Rene’s brought along Big Bertha and her ‘fly girlies’ and they’re stabbing Fisty like some kind of well-trained piÃ±ata full of HARIBO! Even Fisty’s super-sharp collision detection can’t help him here!
Rene’s mix of brutality and invention win this round.
Forget Hatton Vs Mayweather… this is the real deal.
The two big men on campus are ready for a good, old-fashioned fight to the death. Imagine the end of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Rocky I-V and then take away the subtlety!
Both games are sterling conversions of mediocre arcade games but both found their true spiritual home on Clive Sinclair’s little bundle of rubber and silicon. They’ve both killed and maimed to get what they want and they’ll shove your dog’s head down the toilet just to make a point.
Despite his playful, psychotic tendencies, Bert just misses out to Renegade. He may have the more significant challenge and all those lovely weapons but Renegade remains the best pick and play brawler money can buy so two fingers up at the arcade version and the, frankly horrifying, 16-bit ones as well. Rene we salute you. I just hope I don’t run into you at Tooting Broadway Station, Rene… er… I mean Sir Rene.
Mr Rene, I’d like to present your prize for winning this little face off (and thanks for actually kicking Bert’s face completely off by the way). Your prize is the honour of having my Nintendog being named after you. Rene the Yorkshire Terrier… who’s a fluffy fella? Who’s a fluffy fella? Aww… shubby dog! All’s well that ends well, eh readers?