Retro Review: Beach Head
Platform: ZX Spectrum
Publisher: U.S. Gold
Developer: Access Software
Beach Head was one of the first ever computer games I played! Let’s just think about that for a moment. I’m 40 years old in July and I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. It amazes me how much of an impact that this game had on me from such a young age and how I can still look back at it with fond memories. There were two other games that my dad came home with on that fateful day all those years ago and they were Hungry Horace and Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle.
Hungry Horace will always remain special because those games were always a bit mental! I mean who calls their lead character Horace!? What the hell is Horace anyway? Take a look at the front cover of Hungry Horace and let me know what you think. Horace had other adventures on the Spectrum with Horace Goes Skiing and Horace and the Spiders.
It’s strange that I don’t have as many fond memories for Return of the Jedi because I absolutely adored Star Wars when I was growing up.
I think it’s fair to say that Beach Head was definitely the best of the bunch. As the name of the game suggests, this is a war game set in the Pacific conflict of World War 2. Looking at it now, it is basically a set of mini games but back then the variety of gameplay and sheer sense of scale was mind blowing.
First off you see a map overview which allows you to tackle the game in one of two ways. There is a short and long route and depending on which way you go will depend on how many dangers you face.
Let’s go through the different types of styles that the game has to offer.
The Hidden Passage
If you take the long route you are faced with guiding your ships through a treacherous canyon filled with mines. Not only do you have to avoid the mines you also have to watch out for torpedoes which are being fired at you from all directions. The controls are very simple as you aim the direction of your ship and control its speed. This is quite easy and your reward means that you don’t have to face as many enemies in the next section.
General Quarters – Fighters at 12 O’clock
In this game you see an aircraft carrier in the distance which is launching endless planes that are intent of destroying your fleet. To stop this from happening you have to shoot the planes with your gun turret. The closer the planes get the more chance they have of dropping their bombs so it’s essential that you find the right elevation to shoot them down quickly. If the planes get through the bombs do 2 points of damage. If they reach 20 damage then you lose a ship. You can’t just hold down the fire button either as the rate of fire slows down unless you allow your cannons time to reload. This is one of the easier games and I managed to get through relatively unscathed. The bonus of coming through the hidden passage is that you face less planes than if you decided to tackle them head on.
This view is very similar to close quarters but it’s more about skill than an arcade shooter. There are five targets in the horizon and you have to find the right elevation to destroy them. Each time you fire your cannon the game lets you know how many metres short or too far your shells are from the target. In the meantime the enemies are firing at you which leads to a very tense game of kill or be killed as you find the right elevation by slowly adjusting your cannon. This was always the toughest part of the game and it remains so to this day, but it is also thrilling as you manage to blow up the enemies before they can destroy your fleet.
Once you’ve successfully managed to get your fleet to dry land it’s time for the final assault. This game has you steering your tanks whilst avoiding gun emplacements, mines and other obstacles. The controls are similar to steering your ships except this time you can’t stop moving and you can fire back at the enemies. This gets progressively harder as each time you manage to steer a tank to safety, the gun emplacement positions change which keeps you on your toes.
The Final Battle
As each tank reaches the final goal you are faced with a base which has a massive cannon. You must shoot small weaknesses in the base with your tanks. It looks very similar to the turret game when you defended your ships from enemy planes. The trick with this game is finding the right elevation to destroy each area of the base. However, the enemy isn’t just going to lie down as you blow him up and their cannon slowly turns to face you. With each turn the sound effect ramps up until finally it fires a massive cannon ball at you ending the assault. You are returned to the Beach Head as you steer another tank to try again. There is no way that you could destroy the base in one go but with each tank attack you manage to weaken its defences until you destroy it.
Beach Head is still a wonderful game in my opinion. There is so much variety in terms of gameplay and it blows my mind that the makers of the game achieved so much with so little technology that was available in 1984.
Graphics – The graphics are crude by today’s standards but everything looks like it should. 7
Sound – There are very few sound effects in the game but I still love the way it sounds. 5
Playability – The sheer level of variety in the game is astonishing considering that the game is 32 years old. 8
Re-Playability – Playing Beach Head was a real treat and although it is very basic it still plays very well. 8
Overall – To me, Beach Head is a classic game that will always serve as a wonderful reminder of being a child and one of my first ever home computer memories. 8