Horace and the Spiders: ZX Spectrum

Horace and the Spiders: ZX Spectrum
Horace and the Spiders: ZX Spectrum

Insert Disk collects Horace and the Spiders for the ZX Spectrum.

Today’s retro game review is Horace and the Spiders for the ZX Spectrum. This retro gaming classic from William Tang and PSION software was the third outing of the Horace character and the Horace series. Horace became known as an all-star hero and somewhat of a mascot for the ZX Spectrum line of microcomputers despite Horace also appearing on other platforms such as the Commodore 64 and Dragon 32. Horace is one of very few early game characters to successfully star in a trilogy of games. To this day the Horace series is still loved by fans. In this episode Horace takes on the spiders in the gripping conclusion of the Horace trilogy.

Greetings collectors and welcome to part 3 of the Horace Mini Series. We’re looking at the Horace series for the ZX Spectrum. In parts 1 and 2 we examined Horace’s first outing in “Hungry Horace” and the action packed sequel “Horace Goes Skiing”. 1983 saw Horace’s third outing in Horace and the Spiders. Having already conquered the park and the ski slopes it was time for Horace to enter the caves and take on the spiders in a final showdown.

What started as an unassuming project for William Tang had now become a true bonafide well selling series for the ZX Spectrum. What’s more, Horace himself was now instantly recognisable a video game mascot for the Spectrum line of microcomputers. A video game trilogy can be difficult to pull off and still reasonably rare. Back in 1983 it was practically unheard of but that’s exactly what William Tang achieved here. Horace and the Spiders can be thought of as three distinct challenges. Firstly you will make your way through the cave entrance making sure to jump the spiders and up the cliff. A level known as “Climbing the hills”. It sounds easy but until you nail that timing you will need to get some practice rounds in. Secondly you’ll move on to the swinging web stage. Officially known as “Crossing the Spider Bridge”. The aim here is to cross the gap by jumping on to the trailing spider webs and then swing your way across with some well-timed jumps. Think Pitfall but with spiders.

The last stage sees you finally go head to head with the spiders. A level officially known as “Killing the Spiders”. The aim here is to destroy parts of the spider’s web. This should at some point trigger the spiders to fix the broken sections. Whilst they are doing so it’s your chance to stomp on them and defeat them once and for all. For retro arcade aficionados out there you’ll notice the mechanic was inspired from Universal’s classic Space Panic game. In terms of physical presentation I have something a bit special to show you. You might remember that “Hungry Horace” and “Horace goes Skiing” were distributed on cassette, as was the style at the time. What I have here though is “Horace and the Spiders” in cartridge format for the ZX Spectrum. You see once games got up to a certain level of commercial value the expensive option of cartridge distribution was on the cards and Horace had more than earned his place there. With faster loading times and the potential for larger adventures cartridges were the Spectrums higher end way to get you the games you loved. Of course the mass release of the game was still on cassette tape and most likely the version you will have played. Although you won’t see this cartridge edition topping out at ridiculous amounts of cash these are highly sought after by Horace fans. Overall Horace and the Spiders is perhaps the most ambitious game of the series. With sections of scrolling, interaction with other sprites and platforming this was perhaps the pinnacle of William Tangs work on the series.

So, what happened to Tang and Horace for that matter? Let’s start with William Tang. Where is he now and why did he stop? This is an often asked question in retro gaming. There are sources cited that state that he had planned a 4th entry in the series “Horace to the Rescue”. However, before he could complete it suffered a collapsed lung. Whilst this is one of those generally accepted “Facts”, shared around the internet as being true I looked in to this. To be 100% transparent I actually tried to track William down as part of research for the mini series. Other than a scant Wikipedia entry citing another citing in Crash magazine there really is little in the way of secondary sources to corroborate that this is true. At least to a level of detail that puts it beyond doubt.

We do know that he continued to work for Melbourne House and Beam Software until at least 1986 as a coder on the Asterix and the Magic Cauldron game. This is generally agreed. However, it does seem to contradict why “Horace to the Rescue” was not completed during the two and a half year gap between. Especially as the two previous Horace games had been coded in a time significantly under a year. Sadly we never saw a William Tang Horace game but that’s ok. He came, he created and he left with a near perfect trilogy loved by millions. As a testament to the enjoyment Horace brought to a generation there were other Horace games that whilst not Tang originals are considered somewhat cannon with the fans. The PSION 3 -Series “Horace in the Mystic Woods” coded by Michael Ware did see an official release on the rather uncollectable gaming format. In 2010 “Horace in the Mystic Woods” was converted to Spectrum code by Bob Smith. Despite “Horace to the Rescue” never receiving an official release Steve Broad did release his take on the concept in 2013, taking his inspiration from Oceans Hunchback. If you trawl the Internet long enough you’ll realise that there is a whole world of Horace fan games out there and really isn’t that the best legacy to leave?

Looking back on the official Horace trilogy it’s clear that Horace was a one off. He looks ugly, has virtually no frames of animation and he didn’t even have a weapon throughout the series to fight off the guards, the vehicles or the spiders. But Horace was the people’s champion. People fell in love with this weird little underdog sprite and willed him to victory time and time again. It’s been over 3 decades since we first met him and there are many that would dearly love to meet this old friend again.

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