TV Game

Last Train To Tranz-Central (Part 1 and 2)

TV Game

As an American, I admittedly have a huge blind spot for the European microcomputer era, especially since they weren’t released over here. Probably doesn’t help that I bounced off every attempt at playing the Amiga. Trying out every alleged “classic” as recommended by some shmuck on YouTube who would later turn out to be a racist or a child predator or something, not having a good time with them. All these candy-coated eyesores that played like shit, had levels that were way too fucking long, didn’t even bother balancing the difficulty so that you didn’t die five seconds into level one, and were all usually based on a parade of licenses that even the most hardcore of 90s kids wouldn’t remember. Ocean Software loved to snatch up every license they could, and despite all that, they still never gave us that Radio Flyer game. I wanted to see how the brain geniuses at Ocean could take a movie about child abuse, and turn it into a vertical STG (yes, I know that Radio Flyer was going to be an SNES game, I do not care, fuck Ocean). I do not like the Amiga. I maintain my stance that there has never been a good game on the Amiga. The Amiga hurt my stance on the microcomputer scene because, if this was the best they had, then their best fucking sucked.

Then I started looking at the ZX Spectrum. The Spectrum is this incredibly small, underpowered machine. It had an extremely restrictive palette of eight colors, wasn’t exactly a RAM powerhouse, and had way too many fucking games made by Rare on it. But what I like about the Spectrum is the games that understood the hardware. Games that actually used the limited amount of colors and made something visually striking with it, instead of the disaster of black on bright yellow that a lot of Spectrum games did use. Games that worked within the small RAM size to make something fun that actually ran well. Games that could be innovative because there couldn’t be as much of a focus on graphics and sound. In a lot of ways, the Spectrum feels like an analogue to the MSX. A lot of games on it that are pretty rough, but also really fucking good once you get over the initial hump. I like the fucking Spectrum, it has healed a lot of the wounds inflicted on me by the Amiga.

But I’m not here to talk about the past. Not here to tell you about Robocop or Rod-Land or Deus Ex Machina or Frankie Goes To Hollywood. You see, the Spectrum has a thriving homebrew scene, with people still making games to this day. So today’s post will be about a Spectrum homebrew game that I have been enjoying. Also, I feel slightly (only slightly) bad about my last post just tearing into Indie Games, and I would like to highlight a positive side of Independent Games.


Last Train To Tranz-Central (parts 1 and 2)

On a conceptual level alone, these games kick ass: a space cowboy on a series of space trains, fighting aliens and navigating obstacles so he can defeat a group of artificial intelligence, the greatest monster of them all. I love space cowboys, and I hate AI. Mechanically speaking, these are both a couple of single-screen platformers where you have to collect all the Yen to unlock the door to the next train, which you do until you face the boss of the area. You move left and right, climb ladders up and down, and you get to shoot things. Shooting is not always a permanent solution, though, as not everything can be killed. Some levels have teleportation devices that immediately replace slain enemies, for example. You can shoot down enemy missiles, but the turret that fires them is indestructible, so your bullets are only a way to create space between yourself and an explosive end. The floating crystals and certain aliens are invincible, so you have to get really good at timing your approach for coins or the rare extra life you can find. The one thing you absolutely need to kill are the evil AIs (redundant I know) at the end of each train. The bosses themselves aren’t a challenge so much as their surroundings are. Trying to shoot down a big cybernetic head gets hard when some immortal crystal bounces around, or you have a flood of endlessly spawning enemies with unpredictable patterns possibly approaching you. It is possible to finish an area without killing the boss, but doing so gives you a Bad End.

There are also some vague puzzle elements to the game; there are at least a couple of stages that need to completed in a certain way, otherwise you can’t finish them without losing a life and starting over. The games are not overly complicated, and even someone like me who doesn’t have a NASA degree was able to finish them back to back with little trouble. It is only a mild thinker.


You can probably already tell from the screenshots, but Last Train To Tranz-Central looks really good. This is what I meant by games that were made around the limitations of the Spectrum; this is not some eye-searing mess with a soundtrack that sounds like something I spilled on the stove. It uses the limited colors and resolution available to make something visually striking; it caught my attention the second I saw it on Itchio. There is an actual sense of style at play here; the cowboy sprite is cute, the train cars are all unique, and you can tell what each object is supposed to be and not have to put your imagination into overdrive. All of which is done with that single-color style prevalent in early 80s arcade games (especially the stuff Taito was putting out post-Space Invaders), which would get bonus points if I graded games on a scale. It sounds so basic to praise a game for making a cowboy look like a cowboy, but I’ve seen a number of Spectrum games fail to make things look like things. I still have a little bit of that bias against British computers to work through, and seeing a title where it’s obvious that an artist got to be an artist is really helping.

Last Train To Tranz-Central 1&2 are short, fairly basic games, but they look cool as fuck, and are loaded with charm. They’re helping me open my eyes, and make an argument that the ZX Spectrum may have a little spot on stage with other 8-bit machines like the Famicom, the MSX, or the Master System. Also, you know, space cowboys rule.


  1. Cania says:

    as a fellow speccy enjoyer (mostly just the sprites), damn this game looks great. i’ve made a good number of 1 color speccy-style sprites and *that shit is hard as hell* so i super respect when people can do it right.