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Four Unloved ZX Spectrum Sports Games

The ZX was a haven for sports games in the eighties, with everything from football and motor racing to bowls and kung fu getting the video game treatment. A few of them, such as Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (and all its button-mashing goodness) never left the public consciousness but the majority never came close to immortality. Here are a few sports games that perhaps faded away before their time:

Match Point (1984)

It may sound like a cynical point but tennis is not a game that sells consoles, as evidenced by the fact that the PS4, released in 2013, didn’t have a tennis game until summer 2016. It wasn’t always that way though; early developers had something of a love affair with the simplicity of the sport. Let’s not forget that the first ever arcade sports game, Pong, was a tennis sim.

The first truly great tennis game arrived in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum. Costing the princely sum of £7.95, Match Point was either a single or a two-player game that garnered a lot of praise in its day (Crash Magazine awarded it 89% overall in September ’84 but criticised its high price). It had a surprisingly well-implemented scoring system and the overall gameplay, if not the graphics, weathered the competition for much of the next decade.

World Series Baseball (1985)

American sports didn’t have much of a presence on the Spectrum, perhaps because Sinclair, the UK-based makers of the ZX, only ever gained any sort of traction in their homeland. However, as coding for the platform was an inexpensive process, experimentation by developers meant that there weren’t many sports that didn’t get a Spectrum game of some description by the end of the eighties. Again, there was a lawn bowls title on the ZX.

World Series Baseball was a faithful representation of the United States’ national sport, featuring gorgeous visuals, a skill-based batting and fielding system, and options for couch co-op. Like the real game, it also had a steep learning curve that required careful practise to master. Reviewers even recommended leaving fielding to the computer for the first few games.

Grand National (1985)

While Grand National on the ZX Spectrum borrowed from real aspects of horseracing such as betting (including taxes), form, and the hallowed course of Aintree, it was very much an arcade game at its core. Careful management of your horse’s stamina, chiefly by button mashing with varying intensity, was central to success on the course.

The gambling side of the game is very different from the kind you might encounter on modern websites like Betway, for example, but it added a focus to the career mode, with winnings added to your lifetime total and losses subtracted. It was painfully slow even for the eighties though, and races took a genuine toll on your button finger.

Tracksuit Manager (1988)

By the time Tracksuit Manager came along in 1988, the rival ZX series, Football Manager (not to be confused with the modern PC franchise), was already on its first sequel. Tracksuit Manager tasked the player with choosing 22 players and qualifying for Euro 1988, after failing “miserably” to reach the previous World Cup.

What set it apart from the competition was the addition of in-match text commentary, which, almost thirty years later, remains central to the football management genre. Tracksuit Manager also included options for tactics, marking styles, and formations, including whether or not to play with a defensive sweeper.

The ZX Spectrum is one of the most influential gaming systems in history, and the fact that a recent Indiegogo campaign to create a handheld version was funded with £100,000 almost overnight is testament to its enduring appeal.

Feature image credit – “ZX Spectrum” (CC BY 2.0) by Marcin Wichary

Carl Williams

It is time gaming journalism takes its rightful place as proper sources and not fanboys giving free advertising. If you wish to support writers like Carl please use the links below.

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