We’re finishing our sojourn into the Spectrum era with one of the most influential games of the late 80’s. You might not be familiar with the name Renegade but it was pretty much the director forbearer of scrolling beat ’em ups like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage. As far as I can remember, and my memory admittedly isn’t the best on the planet, this was the first game I played that had an energy bar rather than simply letting you die the first time you were hit.
As you can see from the Spectrum vs arcade picture above, it might not have been as colourful as the arcade machine but the Spectrum conversion looked pretty good. Of course the graphics weren’t the only compromise that the Spectrum had to suffer, the arcade machine had three different buttons for various forms of attack. The moves had to be adapted into ones that an 8 way joystick and one solitary fire button could handle. I didn’t play the arcade game at the time but I think it worked pretty well on the little Sinclair machine.
The Spectrum version came out in 1987 and was one of the first games that my brother (two years younger than me, so he was ten) bought. You see I’d literally just moved on to the Commodore 64 but didn’t have that many games, so still played on the Speccy a lot. My brother, feeling as though it was almost his now, had started buying games himself. I think the first game he bought himself was the budget re-release of Bomb Jack but Renegade was the one that I had to pay (on occasion literally) to play.
So Renegade was odd is so far as my brother was definitely the expert on it and I most definitely wasn’t. And guess what? I’m still not!
Sam: Please tell me we can use the joystick. My brain stills hurts from that shooty game [Penetrator] last week.
Last week I made Sam use the keyboard to play Penetrator. I think he has a better appreciation of joysticks now, despite laughing a lot at my Competition Pro initially. That’ll teach him. At least it was on a 48K+ rather than the “dead flesh” 16K we had.
Me: It’s joystick all the way, just press 4 when it’s loaded and it’ll start with the joystick option selected. And we’ve not had a firework display in sight either!
Sam: it’s very yellow. And blue. How come the man changes colour when you move?
Me: The characters are see through- the colours from the background show through them. We’ve obviously not played enough Spectrum games for you to pick up on this- I’ll have to set homework…
Me: Now, what you want to do is move to the bottom left of the screen and force it to scroll, and when you get right in to the bottom corner, none of the baddies will be able to get behind you.
Sam, for what must be a first in his brief life to date, actually does what he’s told. Unfortunately he walks in to the wall and falls over.
Sam: What? He fell over!
Me: You walked into the wall.
Sam: He’s all musclely, but he falls over when he goes near a wall? Rubbish!
Me: Try kicking and punching people, that’ll make you feel better.
A bit of trial and error occurs as the instructions are still mainly written for keyboard users for some reason or other. Sam manages to grab someone by the shoulders and knee them repeatedly in the crotch. This, predictably, goes down very well.
Sam: Yes! Right in the peanuts! Awesome! [As the baddie is lying prone on the floor, Sam accidentally straddles him and punches him repeatedly in the face]. Yes! Hit them when they’re asleep! Awesome!
Sam doesn’t appear to have the best notions of fair fighting but at this point I’m fairly sure he could hold his own in any 8 year old rumble. It’s vaguely reassuring, whilst not being up to the levels of violence you’d see in Call of Duty. The Boss enters when you’ve got the goons down to the last three. Sam doesn’t fare so well against him.
Sam: No! He just grabbed me and killed me right away. And now I have to fight all the baddies again? That’s RUBBISH.
Me: At least it takes more than one hit to cost you a life, think on that.
Sam: And I’m dead again. Why does it make a funny beepy noise when I do the backwards kick thingy?
Me: Have you ever tried a backwards kick? How do you know you don’t make a funny beepy noise when you do it?
Sam plays on for about quarter of an hour, constantly getting to the boss without much life left and constantly dying. He’s focussed though, I’ll give him that. Finally he gets there with a full life bar and does some serious damage to the Boss.
Sam: Oh yeah, oh yeah, I know how to beat him.
The timer runs out and Sam loses a life.
Me: Ah. You only get two minutes fifteen seconds to complete the level. Sorry, forgot to mention that.
There then follows fives minutes of utter reckless speed play where the first baddie kills Sam more often than not. I prise the joystick from his Kung-Fu grip.
Me: Allow me. Ah.
Finding the right pace to ensure you have a lot of energy to fight the Boss but also enough time left to beat him is a tricky endeavour. We resort to watching a YouTube walkthrough before interest is entirely lost.
Me: Wow. I didn’t realise you could effectively hold them but not knee them in the nuts until you want to, letting you let do to do a behind kick to the knackers of the baddie behind you. Genius!
It takes a few goes to perfect the technique but I soon polish off the level with some aplomb.
Sam: Me, me, me! I want to play level 2!
Sam gets repeatedly run over by motorbikes.
Me: Let me do it, I seem to remember you have to flying kick the buggers.
Level 2 actually proves a lot easier than Level 1 and we’re soon on to Level 3 which has questionable prostitutes and their enormous madame to fight. Fortunately the pixels are too blocky for Sam to realise what exactly is going on…
Sam: Indiana Jone’s girlfriends are trying to whip me!
Me: Er, yes, that’s about the long and the short of it.
Sam: I’m bored now. You take over, this is too hard.
Me: I never made it past this level you know. All those hours of practice, and I never got further than this. I think I have to accept that I was actually a bit rubbish back in the day. It’s taken us about an hour to get as far as I did when I was 12. That’s sort of humiliating.
Sam responds with a too old for his years sympathetic look.
Sam: I must get my awesomeness from Mummy.
In a world before continues, where a death puts you right back at the start of a level, games were a lot more unforgiving than they are now. I don’t remember ever making it past level 3 in the actual game back in the day, so it’s a surprise to find out it was the penultimate level. I suppose given that there were only four levels, it had to be hard, otherwise that £7.95 wouldn’t have gone very far. It also loops round to the beginning again once you’ve “completed” it, showing that games back then, especially arcade conversions, were more about the high score than anything.
So we’ve completed our Spectrum odyssey, and are ready to move on to the brown box of awesome that was the Commodore 64. What’s our first game going to be? You’ll have to wait and see!