Hungry Horace: ZX Spectrum

Hungry Horace: ZX Spectrum
Hungry Horace: ZX Spectrum

Insert Disk collects Hungry Horace for the ZX Spectrum.

Today’s retro game review is Hungry Horace for the ZX Spectrum. This retro gaming classic from William Tang and PSION software was the first 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.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I thought it was about time that I covered a true home-grown hero of retro video gaming. This week we take a look back at part 1 the Horace series in this three part mini series. Back in 1982 the home computer market was somewhat experimental. Pac-Man and Space Invaders had paved the way in the arcade for blockbuster games. Games that were instant successes. Players could identify with the format and even feel some connection to Pac Man as a character. It was inevitable that Pac Man would inspire others to create similar style maze games. Enter Horace. The lovable character that started out as a Pac Man clone but became so much more by the end of the series.

Horace made his debut on the ZX Spectrum in 1982 in his first outing known as “Hungry Horace”. Created by William Tang. The almighty popularity battle between the Manic Miner and Horace series made the ZX Spectrum one of the hotly contested gaming platforms of the microcomputer generation. So what is Horace? To this day I still don’t really know, he’s not quite a man, not quite a monster, he’s simply Horace. Don’t be fooled though, Horace is a retro gaming mega star. Spawned from the now legendary first entry in the series “Hungry Horace”. As you might be able to tell from the in box summary the game is very much a light hearted affair for the home gamer.

Hungry Horace is a delightful cartoon figure with mischievous, moving eyes and a rolling gait. He loves to play cat and mouse with the guards in the park. With your help, he’ll steal their lunch, eat the flowers and create panic in the park by ringing the alarm, One of the most amusing colourful and exciting computer games yet devised. Whilst the Spectrum clearly has its technical limitations Hungry Horace puts up a really pleasing attempt to capture the fun of the maze genre. All of the basics are here from collecting flowers to ringing the bells. These act in a very similar way to the power pill in Pac Man. Making the guards vulnerable to attack. There are relatively few screens in the game, the game will simply cycle round once you have navigated your way through them on a loop.

There is quite a bit of skill involved in the timings but there are also certain exploits. If you play the game long enough as I have you’ll notice that depending on a few conditions such as Horace’s direction and the direction of the guards you can control or at least predict their next direction change. This is almost essential for some levels to be completed. Here we have the original ZX Spectrum release which will run on as little as 16k of memory. You can also find the game on the Commodore 64 and the Dragon 32. Purists will tell you though that the Spectrum version is the one true spiritual home of Horace. I must say that I do prefer the Commodore 64 version of Hungry Horace as the sound and graphics are slightly improved over the Spectrum version. Whichever version you play though you’ll definitely be taken back to an era of early 80’s gaming goodness.

The cassette is well presented and the packaging an iconic image for those collecting earlier home software. For this cassette version look to pay around the £1 mark here in the UK. Horace may be iconic but he’s also a very common collectible. For the ROM cartridge version expect to pay anywhere up to the £50 mark. ROM cartridges loaded much faster but were also priced to match, as such the cassette format was the mainstay for the duration of the Spectrums life cycle. Regardless on your view of clone games Horace had set the bar. Hungry Horace was distinct enough from Pac Man for gamers to buy in to the character yet clearly associate the game play with the more well-known original. In terms of playability Hungry Horace is still good to go today. As I fired Horace up I was really pleased to see that a game with just 4 directions had enough depth to still warrant a play through. This might have been the end for Horace. A one-off self-contained piece of fun. The gaming world wasn’t through with Horace yet though. He had had a taste of the limelight and he wanted more than the gardens. Horace wanted to go on holiday. Horace wanted to go skiing.

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