Title: Spindizzy
Developer: Electric Dreams Software
Publisher: Electric Dreams Software
Year: 1986
Platforms: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Players: One player only

Despite the fact that it got rave reviews when it was first released, I'm convinced that Spindizzy has now become an underrated computer game, as much a hidden gem as the diamonds you collect in the game itself.

I admit that it shares two main traits with Marble Madness, namely its isometric viewpoint and the way the gameplay seems to be based on the premise that the main character is hard to control. However, Spindizzy offers something you won't find in an arcade game.

Time is money in an arcade, and as such Marble Madness is about getting to the exit as quickly as possible. It was only with games designed for home computers that programmers started to create miniature worlds to explore. Spindizzy is one of those types of games. It is not fast, nor is it furious. Instead, it's about carefully maneuvering the player's ship in the name of exploration.

One of the notable things about Spindizzy is that it has no enemies, only a time limit and a fiendishly designed landscape. The game is amazingly simple: just move around using the joystick, press fire to go faster, and press space to stop; the object of the game is to collect as many jewels as you can before the time runs out.

One of my personal ideas about what makes a game good is that it should be as simple as possible, yet contain a good learning curve. In this regard, Spindizzy excels: it is as intuitive to play as Tetris, but that doesn't stop it from getting very difficult as you try to work out how to collect the harder to reach jewels.

To this day, it amazes me how much the programmer of Spindizzy, Paul Shirley, managed to cram into a few dozen kilobytes of data. While the screens apparently vary slightly from one machine to another, there are literally hundreds of screens to be discovered, each with its own fiendish placement of hard-to-reach diamonds.

Several decades on, I can think of only one main improvement that could be made to Spindizzy, should anyone port it across to a modern platform: loading the whole uncompressed map into memory at once is now feasible, and combined with scrolling would make the game slightly more enjoyable. (It looks like the unofficial sequel Spindizzy Worlds has done this, but it also appears to have added a lot that detracts from the original game's simple elegance.)

Aside from a very minor pause with each change of screen, though, I can't fault this game. It's frustrating at times, but in that "just one more go, I swear!" kind of way that's a good quality in a game.

All in all, this game is as addictive as it is impressive. If you still own an eight-bit computer, track down a copy. It's easily worth the going rate for the tape.