It might seem a little bit contrived to claim that a title for the ancient (well, early ’80s) platform the ZX
Spectrum is one of the games of the decade; a bit of nostalgia on my part, too much rose-tinted memories of being
ten years old and sitting around playing Head over Heels all day.
But it’s not. Jonathan Cauldwell’s 2007 indie release, Egghead Round the Med really is one of the best games I’ve
played this decade. It’s true that it’s in a genre I love – flick-screen arcade-adventure (action-adventure in
Americanese) but it’s the best example of a game in this style since Sir Clive’s machine’s heyday and easily one of
the best in the genre on that platform in the last thirty years, let alone ten.
So what makes this game so great? Simple: it takes elements of some of the best in the genre (Jet-Set Willy; Auf Wiedersehen, Monty) and adds to them in a way that works. Not only does this game use the expanded memory of the
128K machines (and I mean use, it’s a huge huge game) but it uses it well, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the player whilst giving a great sense of freedom.
The plot involves our hero Egghead (one of those sprites who somehow manages to exude charisma despite only having a few frames of animation) having to save his friends who have managed to get themselves lost in various Meditteranean countries during a trip on Egghead’s yacht. There are two ways the game can be played: puzzle mode, which is an arcade-adventure involving having to find and collect/use objects and a more traditional collect-em-up mode which involves exploring the game and collecting all the objects to win.
The puzzle game is undoubtably the best – Egghead’s first task is to sail his yacht to one of the countries his
friends have become lost in which involves grabbing a lifesaver (to get into the sea) and then taking the anchor and
dropping it elsewhere so that the ship can move. After that, he has to get to the bridge and steer the ship to
France, Malta, Egypt or one of the other countries so he can embark.
The puzzle element means the game opens-up gradually with the player initially confined to the yacht and having to
actively reach the wider game. Once this is done, the player can try and attempt the different countries and their
puzzles in any order. This fairly non-linear way of playing the game helps with replay value, as does the size (140
screens!) and the sheer playability. ’round the Med moves smoothly and quickly and the different screens (each with
their own name, very important in this kind of game since it adds bags of extra atmosphere) are cunningly designed.
It has flaws – there are no in-game sound effects, some of the puzzles can seem a little badly-implemented (for
example, the anchor mentioned above needs to be collected and then dropped for the ship to move; if you carry the
anchor when you try and steer it it won’t work) but these are minor issues in a superior platform game. I think I’ve
played this more than any other Spectrum game in the last two years and I keep coming back for more. Despite the age
of the hardware, despite the faults, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it’s in a genre no longer very fashionable this game deserves its little pedestal on this particular list.
Egghead Round the Med is freeware (another reason it’s on this list) and can be downloaded via Cauldwell’s own site.