Have you ever felt like a mushroom? No, I don't mean grey with a rounded top and a tasty, fleshy underside, I mean kept in the dark. Believe it or not, there are thousands of Spectrum games out there that most of you will never see! NICK ROBERTS puts on his investigative cap and pokes his nose where it's not wanted!

Defender of the Crown

Euro software!

It's all a big con, isn't it? People talk of the demise of the Spectrum software industry and the lack of inventive, original software. But they're all wrong.

It's only in the UK where Spectrum software's dying off, with bad quality games and software companies losing interest in producing anything at all. It's about time all you devoted Spectrum users knew the truth about the European software scene.

In the mid-Eighties, the Spectrum's popularity soared, all over the world. Amstrad took the lovable 48K and 128K Sinclair Spectrums, created a rad new box to put them in and gave the whole Speccy industry a spring clean.

At the same time, other countries were creating their own Spectrum clones that would lower the cost of computing and increase popularity. Computers like the Russian Hobbit, American TS-2068 and SAM Coupé were invented and marketed throughout the world.

England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Brazil, India, China, America and Taiwan have all been touched by the Spectrum magic. The growth markets are now in Eastern Europe and the Third World. Millions of Spectrum-compatible computers have been in circulation for years so it's no surprise there are some amazing feats of programming that usually go unseen.

WEIRD WATER?!

I don't know why but European software seems far better programmed than the stuff we see in the UK. Programmers cram much more colour and sound into their games and come up with more interesting ideas. Perhaps it's the water where they come from!

The only problem with the brilliant games I saw was that all the instructions were in another language!

I've included the cream of the crop in this feature, a brief description of what each game's about, its best and worst features, and of course, lots of screenshots for you to drool over! Keep your fingers crossed - one day these games might be released in the UK!

DEFENDER OF THE CROWN
The Cat

This game originally appeared on the 16-bit machines and was raved about in all the mags of the time. Of course, a Spectrum version was planned - but that didn't stop the Cat creating his own!

So here it is, Defender of the Crown on the Spectrum - a game that's never been officially released by any software company!

You play Wilfred Ivanhoe and must defend the crown of Richard III against the invading forces. You start with a small number of sodiers, some land and a castle and must raid neighbouring territories, challenge your enemies to duels and go jousting to improve your status.

Defender of the Crown

Each section has its own unique graphics. The main map's packed with graphics and has some great effects when you select territory. Raiding takes the player to an excellently detailed castle scene where a swordfight takes place. Jousting's shown side-on, the lance aimed using an animated knight sprite at the bottom of the screen.

Playing Defender of the Crown makes a refreshing change from the endless shoot- and beat-'em-ups that spew out of software companies. You actually have to sit down and think about what your next move will be. Choose poorly and the enemy will be on the door with a club in one hand and a big sword in the other! I love it.


SIDERAL WAR
Delta Soft/Juan Carlos

Shoot-'em-up fans would love Sideral War. Set on a far-off planet inhabited by some very strange creatures, the basic idea's to blast everything in sight! What a refreshing change.

What makes it so special is its looks. Colourful backdrops and sprites all click snugly into place without even a dash of colour clash.

Sideral War

Each level's a horizontally-scrolling blast with a mega-mean end-of-level baddy waiting for the unsuspecting space adventurer at the end.

Every so often there's a large rock to jump over and mutant holes dotted about that gobble you up, given half a chance. Aliens include potato heads, big bees with purple bums, blokes in spaceships and run-of-the-mill aliens.

Sideral War

Reaching the halfway point of the levels signals a spaceship to pick the player up, then it's off into deep space for a classic style shoot-'em-up, aliens and space debris flying at the ship from the right and limited lasers to dispose of it all! All this on a parallax starry backdrop.

Survive this and it's back down to the planet's surface to continue the adventure. This time there are big pools of space liquid to jump - one foot wrong and you're dead!

I usually don't like mindless shoot-'em-ups but when they're as brilliantly presented and good to look at as Sideral War, you just have to become addicted! Great stuff!


POWER MAGIC
Zigurat Software/Gamesoft

Power Magic

The trick all these Euro programmers have caught onto is creating graphics with lots of colours and a blank black outline to cover up any clash that might otherwise occur. When you're playing you don't notice the black lines around the sprites - you're too busy playing the game!

Power Magic's a classic example of this technique. There's so much going on in the background and the sprites but it all looks neat on screen. We've raved about games like Final Fight for having enormous sprites moving at the same time but they were monochrome. Here we have the same sized sprites in full colour!

Power Magic

I must admit the speed could have been better. The more things that attack you, the slower things get, but it gives you incentive to kill the attacking nasties.

Although it's a beat-'em-up it's set in some mythical location, with a warrior playing the lead (sounds like a West End musical!). You can use your fists, or, if you're feeling really mean, get out the firebolts and blow the suckers away!

Power Magic's great for a while but unless you're a hard core beat-'em-up fan you'd soon get bored of the amazing view.


SENDA SALVAJE
Zigurat Software/Gamesoft

Senda Salvaje

Oh, it's so tiresome, isn't it? All this non-stop colour on a Spectrum. We're just not used to it, are we?

Senda Salvaje's another excellently programmed game, probably the best out of the bunch I've chosen for this feature. The player takes the role of Mr Beard (for want of a better name) and the mission seems to be to roam around a strange land, killing the creatures that attack you and dodging in and out of the landscape to avoid being caught.

Swamps, rickety bridges, caves and islands are all here to be explored but getting to them in the first place is the tricky part. You're bombarded with nasties right from the word go. Snakes hiss and spit at you, sapping your energy. Mysterious creatures claw out from their cave homes, grabbing at your toes, and the swamps are filled with piranhas and slime beasts.

Getting though the first level was impossible until I discovered you can move up and down the landscape as well as left to right!

The team behind Senda Salvaje have used a different colour method than the previous games. All the backgrounds are beautifully drawn and coloured with monochrome sprites moving around over the top. You can see through the sprites but this doesn't make the game any less addictive.

Senda Salvaje is simply a great game. I'll certainly be playing this late into the night!


JUNGLE WARRIOR
Zigurat Software/True Soft

Jungle Warrior

Another highly addictive game from Zigurat Software. This time the mission's to rescue the girly tied to a stake on one side of the landscape. Starting off from base camp there are many locations to avoid before she can be set free.

The graphics are slightly smaller than those of Senda Salvaje but the playability's still there. Unlike many of the games, Jungle Warrior's flip-screen. Doors can be used to explore the levels further and find the objects you need to collect to save your loved one.

What I liked about it is that you can run, jump and crawl along the land but if you fall into the water you don't die as you would in most games: you sink under the surface and it turns into a Scuba Dive variant, with new swimming animation.

Music's also a big part of a European game. If you listen to it on a half-decent 128K computer (which the CRASH +3 isn't!) it can sound amazing - almost 16-bit!

Jungle Warrior would keep any arcade adventure freak happy for ages. Lots to explore and lots to see - it has everything you could want in a game.


RESCATE ATLANTIDA
Heavy Metal Soft/Creepsoft for Dynamic

Rescate Atlantida

Wooo! This is one strange, creepy game, set under the sea in dank, dark caves and crevices. It's a sort of Scuba Dive with submarines and bigger sprites. Sharks, seahorses, octopi and weird, inexplicable creatures are out to sap the young diver's energy.

There are two modes of travel. The first is by mini-submarine, which can move freely in all directions but can't go down some of the smaller holes in the bottom of the sea.

This is where things get dangerous. The player has to get out of the sub and roam around with no protection! There's a jet pack to get him out of tight scrapes but it could be too late when those fish turn nasty!

There's one BIG landscape to explore, which scrolls in eight directions to keep the main sprite in the centre of the screen.

The joy of playing Scuba Dive was swimming under the sea with all the sea creatures doing their own thing around you. This game has the same charms and as most of the creatures follow set paths it's quite easy to manoeuvre around them.

Rescate Atlantida's going to keep me playing for a long time - it's just got so much depth (groan!).

So there you have it! I bet you're so jealous of Speccy owners in other countries you've turned bright green! Just looking at the screenshots shows how much better the games look compared to what we get in this country.

But why should we get second best? It's probably down to sheer laziness on the part of programmers. If they spent more time on their programs they could produce games equal to if not better than the ones I've looked at here.

So what can we do to improve our software collections? I've printed the names of the software companies and programmers responsible for the same I've looked at. Unfortunately, there were no addresses in any of the scrolling messages included in them - I know because I sat through endless waffle in strange languages!

If you can find out the addresses or phone numbers for any of the software companies involved, let me know. Perhaps we can get some of these amazing games for a future Powertape!