The ZX Spectrum can't do graphics, you say? Ok, let's see if this says otherwise...
I don't know a whole lot about the ZX Spectrum, but I know there are a handful of titles that get thrown about when an example of a great ZX Spectrum game is needed, especially when it comes to graphics. I usually forget which titles, but we've already seen Knight Lore on this list, and we're about to see Fairlight.
Created in response to Knight Lore, the game sees you navigate a castle looking for the Book of Light. Seen from a familiar isometric view, Fairlight makes sure to improve on what Knight Lore showed was possible.
It doesn't take long to wow you with the graphics. You could even argue that some games these days don't do things as well. Colours are lost - the ZX Spectrum couldn't do everything - but the amount of detail that could be squashed into view is incredible.
You play as Isvar - who in my opinion looks like South Park's Randy Marsh - on a quest to find the Book of Light and then book it out of the predicament he's found himself in. Guards and monsters roam the hallways and rooms, and if they weren't enough of a problem, tornadoes and bubbles are thrown into the mix as well, all in an effort to thwart your progress.
You can try to fight, and though your attacks are basic they can swiftly result in a threat disappearing - but not for long. If you kill a guard he'll leave behind his helmet. So long as this helmet is intact, the guard can respawn from it, meaning you need to decide whether to bring the helmet with you into another room, perhaps taking it to something that can hopefully destroy it for you, or you can just never come back to the room again.
That's tricky though, as you need to find all manner of items that interact with the castle to help you escape from it, such as keys. Not only will you have to explore everywhere to find these items, but you'll have to juggle your limited inventory space and have the enemies help you out. You can climb onto tables and have guards push you and the table across the room - ideally towards a shelf that contains an item you seek, otherwise you're a bit stuck.
Of course being 'a bit stuck' was part and parcel of being a gamer in the 1980s. Here in the 2010s I'm 'a bit stuck' too. Exploring is easy enough, despite the god awful controls (WASD was simply not a thing in those days), but knowing what to do and in what order was another problem entirely.
Somehow I survived a few combat encounters, and managed to walk in the right direction to avoid some bubbles, but my escape was not to be. I went out fighting at least.
Even watching a walkthrough was difficult to follow along with, mostly because of the way you enter into different rooms. Move into the part of the screen that triggers a room transition and it'll go blank and load the next room, with a noticeable lag between rooms.
Within the first few seconds I was wondering how the hell the player teleported through the wall of the first hallway I found myself in. Turns out he didn't - that hallway was just the top half of a courtyard. It wasn't stone beneath my feet, but earth. I'll continue to harp on about nice graphics, but they can throw you, especially if you enter a room and seemingly immediately exit it again, despite moving only a few steps.
In the rooms where you need to spend a lot more time, I was then stuck trying to follow just what was going on. Why are you walking a table across a room? What did you just pick up? How do you know these things? How much trial and error took place to get you here?
I don't know what's going on, but Fairlight impresses. You don't even need to compare it to Knight Lore to know that it impresses. The music is repetitive, but jolly enough to give off a feeling of adventure rather than peril, despite you being in a fair bit of peril.
Without wanting to spoil the ending, it got a chuckle out of me, knowing how close I'd come but, ultimately, how far I'd have to go. By that I mean I found the exit, just not the key to the door, nor the book I was after. Ah well. Completion requires looking everywhere, even for things that can't immediately be seen. Good luck...
It's well worth trying out, if not for the game then for the graphics, or for the controls, or even for the music. But if you can't, there's YouTube. Bloody good resource, YouTube...
Ideas for Fairlight to be the first small step of a much bigger adventure were scuppered as the release of the sequel was marred in controversy and court cases regarding the designer not being paid for his work.
Fairlight, developed by Edge Games, first released in 1985.
Version played: ZX Spectrum, 1985 (via emulation)
Version watched: ZX Spectrum, 1985 (RZX Archive)