One of the very best 8-bit computer games of all time, Spindizzy combined gameplay elements from Marble Madness, with the kind of puzzles that originated with isometric adventures (Knight Lore, Head over Heels, Nosferatu), and are still used in many recent first-person shooters. (push lever here, go back to lift, ride lift, shoot something, open door...)

Coded by Paul Shirley, and released by Electric Dreams in 1986, the game received reviews to die for, with top marks across the board, excluding sound effects - there must have been about six sound effects in the whole game; bounce, hit something, go over a switch, fall off the edge and die, collect crystal, be hit by an enemy. The folk at Zzap64 were in particularly excessive spirits when they reviewed the game, giving it the following scores:

Crash! Magazine awarded Spindizzy a relatively sober 93%, including 92% for "Use of Computer", and 91% for "Getting Started", whatever that meant. On the Amstrad, Amstrad Action only thought the sound merited 27%, but gave Spindizzy an overall 96%, while hats off to the Amtix! reviewers who gave it an "Amtix! Accolade" and a suitably ludicrous 98%.

Here's what all the fuss was about.

As a Cartographer, conscripted by the government, it was your task, using your mapping craft, GERALD (Gyroscopic, Environmental Reconnaissance And Land-Mapping Device), to map an unknown world called Hangworld. The size of hangworld depended on your real world micro, but in all incarnations you were looking at around 400 screens to explore and chart. Luckily, GERALD was fitted with sophisticated enough technology to render the outside world in glorious split-screen isometric 3D. If the angle meant that you couldn't see quite what was going on, GERALD would let you move the view through 90 degrees. GERALD helpfully included itself in your view of the world, just to make it that little bit easier, and you could even change its appearance, toggling between a gyroscope, a marble, and a pyramid spinning smoothly on its point.

GERALD was controlled using a simple up, down, left, right combination, with the space bar acting as an emergency brake, bringing GERALD to an immediate halt. In case the brake makes it sound easy, let me reassure you that Spindizzy was anything but. In order to survive you had to avoid running out of time, and the remaining time acted as a sort of energy bar. IF you used the brake, you lost time, if you fell off any of the world's walkways and paths and into oblivion, you lost time, if you were hit by any of the alien machines sharing your world, you lost time. And, of course, you lost time as it passed. The only way to increase your time was to chart new screens, and collect crystals. And to finish the game, you only had to collect all the crystals and map all the screens before your time ran out.

It was huge, it was fiendishly hard in places as you negotiated tight jumps after steep inclines, it was beautiful, it had a typically unreal 8-bit backstory, the puzzles were intriguing, and it played like a dream and wouldn't let you leave it alone. A veritable classic.

A spindizzy is a device described by James Blish in his Cities in Flight series of science fiction books.

The spindizzy was invented after huge research carried out on Jupiter, which involved building a truly massive bridge made out of ice. The resulting insights into the link between electron spin and gravity allowed this device to be constructed, and on the first flight from Earth to near Jupiter, the device ran on a couple of AA cells(!)

The name was coined because of the effect that an electron experiences whilst within the field.

The spindizzy field gives an antigravity effect with weak FTL effects that can be used on large objects, such as huge ships, whole cities, or even, with some difficulty, whole planets, and permits travel through space thousands or millions of lightyears. The field keeps in the atmosphere as well as letting light in and protecting from radiation.

However the minor disadvantage it has is that it still takes hundreds of years to get places, but that's ok because anti-agathics have been invented that means you don't have to get old. Handy that.

Title: Spindizzy
Developer: Electric Dreams Software
Publisher: Electric Dreams Software
Year: 1986
Platforms: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Players: One player only

Despite the fact that it got rave reviews when it was first released, I'm convinced that Spindizzy has now become an underrated computer game, as much a hidden gem as the diamonds you collect in the game itself.

I admit that it shares two main traits with Marble Madness, namely its isometric viewpoint and the way the gameplay seems to be based on the premise that the main character is hard to control. However, Spindizzy offers something you won't find in an arcade game.

Time is money in an arcade, and as such Marble Madness is about getting to the exit as quickly as possible. It was only with games designed for home computers that programmers started to create miniature worlds to explore. Spindizzy is one of those types of games. It is not fast, nor is it furious. Instead, it's about carefully maneuvering the player's ship in the name of exploration.

One of the notable things about Spindizzy is that it has no enemies, only a time limit and a fiendishly designed landscape. The game is amazingly simple: just move around using the joystick, press fire to go faster, and press space to stop; the object of the game is to collect as many jewels as you can before the time runs out.

One of my personal ideas about what makes a game good is that it should be as simple as possible, yet contain a good learning curve. In this regard, Spindizzy excels: it is as intuitive to play as Tetris, but that doesn't stop it from getting very difficult as you try to work out how to collect the harder to reach jewels.

To this day, it amazes me how much the programmer of Spindizzy, Paul Shirley, managed to cram into a few dozen kilobytes of data. While the screens apparently vary slightly from one machine to another, there are literally hundreds of screens to be discovered, each with its own fiendish placement of hard-to-reach diamonds.

Several decades on, I can think of only one main improvement that could be made to Spindizzy, should anyone port it across to a modern platform: loading the whole uncompressed map into memory at once is now feasible, and combined with scrolling would make the game slightly more enjoyable. (It looks like the unofficial sequel Spindizzy Worlds has done this, but it also appears to have added a lot that detracts from the original game's simple elegance.)

Aside from a very minor pause with each change of screen, though, I can't fault this game. It's frustrating at times, but in that "just one more go, I swear!" kind of way that's a good quality in a game.

All in all, this game is as addictive as it is impressive. If you still own an eight-bit computer, track down a copy. It's easily worth the going rate for the tape.

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