Review: ZX Nightmares
A book that celebrates the worst of the worst most hellish games ever released on the ZX Spectrum sounds like my idea of heaven and having just read the final page of the excellent ZX Nightmares by Graeme Mason, I felt compelled to write my own review, so here it is.
ZX Nightmares first caught my eye in issue 249 of Retro Gamer Magazine where Graeme wrote an article explaining the idea for the book and how he started writing it during the COVID lockdown. As someone who grew up with the ZX Spectrum, it’s fair to say after reading his article I was immediately interested in picking up the book.
I’ve written before about my love for the ZX Spectrum, ironically enough when I reviewed another book: The Story of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in Pixels Volume 1. Both books are published by Fusion Retro Bookswhich have released some excellent books including The History of Ocean Software, The Story of U.S. Gold, and three volumes of The Story of the ZX Spectrum in Pixels. I own all of these and would heartily recommend picking them up.
Anyway, back to ZX Nightmares, I decided to head over to Fusion Retro Books and pay £20.00 (+ £3.30 postage) with the hope that it would live up to my expectations. (Spoiler alert – it did!) The book arrived promptly and was tracked through Royal Mail.
ZX Nightmares is hardback, and the high quality was apparent within a few minutes of leafing through the 272 glossy pages. As a nice touch, there are 4 bookmarks attached to the book which are red, yellow, green, and blue. Any fan of the Speccy will know that these colours will always be inextricably linked to this wonderful little machine.
There are four sections in the book titled:
- Loathsome Licences – from heroes to zeroes.
- Patience of a Saint – Hard as nails, and about as much fun to play.
- They did WHAT?! – Stirring up a storm – Speccy style.
- Simply Awful – Terrible ideas, terrible games, or both.
Each section is dedicated to the games which were released on the ZX Spectrum that to this day, remain infamous amongst fans.
There are 127 games featured and each is beautifully presented on two pages. The left page shows the cover art, loading screen, and a couple of screenshots of the game. The right page features author Graeme Mason describing some of the history behind the game and a mini-review.
My first thought to opening the book was to see how many games I played back in the day that are featured. If you’re interested here are the games that left their mark on me when I was a child which appear in the book: Action Biker, Kung-Fu Master, Lunar Jetman, Jet Set Willy, Airwolf, Ghosts ‘N‘ Goblins, Action Force, Army Moves, Harrier Attack, Commando, and L.A. SWAT. There are of course many more games that I’d heard of but never played, so I found it very interesting to learn more about these titles.
One of the many things I loved about ZX Nightmares was reading about how someone else experienced the same feelings of frustration I had when I was a child. Despite these frustrations, the ZX Spectrum (and many of the games featured in the book) remains a special part of my life, so reading more about some of the games that graced the computer was a no-brainer. I’d even go so far as to say that it feels like this book was written just for me.
That being said, even if you didn’t own a ZX Spectrum and haven’t played any of the games described in ZX Nightmares, the book is a rich slice of history that is beautifully presented, engrossing, funny, easy to read, and a must for anyone interested in video games. It would be easy to fall into the trap of being snarky or cynical about bad or difficult games. Instead, author Graeme Mason has done a fantastic job of celebrating the games that caused a great deal of frustration for many, and there is still a sense of warmth and nostalgia even when he describes the most terrible games that graced the ZX Spectrum.
My final comment, and possibly the biggest recommendation I can make is once I started reading ZX Nightmares, I couldn’t put it down and read it cover to cover in 2 days.
ZX Nightmares is available to buy now from Fusion Retro Books. Their full catalogue of books can be found here.
Review by Chris.