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Remembering Spectrum Holobyte.


I'm a bit of a fan of what most people call "retro" games. I don't entirely like the term "retro" because, when referring to video games, it encompasses a staggering amount of games and consoles. As a rule of thumb, it's best to consider anything made before the launch of the Playstation 2 "retro."

That rule may not apply in the coming years, however, with the launch of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4.

There are a ton of companies that haven't had a presence on modern game consoles for one reason or another. Most of these companies have had financial issues, or a change in corporate direction. So many more are cast into the void as a result of corporate mergers. 

As unfortunate as it is to say, Spectrum Holobyte was one of those companies.

Spectrum Holobyte was founded circa 1982-83 in Alameda, California. Most of their games were games that they developed for home computers of the era, but later in their life they switched much of their focus to the Super Nintendo and the Game Boy. In fact, my personal favorite game from SH, WordTris, is a puzzle game that most people played on either the SNES or Game Boy (if anyone else has played it at all...)

They had a knack for doing licensed properties, as could be seen with their numerous Star Trek: The Next Generation games. They also managed to release games based on incredibly weird properties, such as Flight of The Intruder. I actually own a boxed copy of the Amiga version of FotI. Amiga games always had a bad habit of including ridiculously-long instruction manuals and copy protection code sheets, but Flight of The Intruder has the rest beat. It includes a copy of the novel the game was based on. No doubt that you'd need it to beat the copy protection in-game (My Amiga is currently in storage, so I can't quite find out right now).

Spectrum Holobyte had a ton of games under its belt before folding into the Hasbro Interactive umbrella in 1998. Here's a few of my favorites:

To many, Falcon is THE flight simulator game. Sure, it's basic and simply getting the game started and being engaged is very much a task in patience on the part of the player (It's a "realistic" flight sim, and load times on the Amiga version are painful). This game is one of those games that has been ported to everything it can possibly be ported to. The standout ports are probably the Sega Master System version (Known as F-16 Fighting Falcon, a game that came out on one of the "Sega Cards." That's another show...) and Falcon for the NEC TurboGrafx-16. With the poor sales of the TG-16 in general, it's not too hard to guess how the sales of the TG-16 version of Falcon were. This game may have not aged too gracefully, but it rightfully deserves a place in history for being a very well-known and influential flight sim game.

Iron Helix. Fun stuff. I picked this game up at a thrift store for $1 a few months back. Was it worth it? Most definitely.

Iron Helix is a FMV-based survival horror game set on a spaceship where a security robot has mistakenly killed all of the people on the ship and may or may not be trying to start a war. You control a robot from a remote position, and you muse navigate the ship, gather DNA samples of the dead crew members to unlock sections of the ship, and eventually prevent an all-out war with an alien race that you're already on rough terms to begin with. It's very System Shock in the way it presents things, but the immersion is on a whole different level since you're not controlling the robot, but a person controlling the robot remotely. That is meta as hell. This game is worth some sort of look, if you ever find a copy at a Salvation Army like I did.

Here we go. Wordtris. My personal favorite of Spectrum Holobyte's releases.

Like anything with the -tris suffix, you can bet that this game is a falling block puzzler. This was kind of a huge thing back in the early 1990s, when Nintendo got exclusive rights to the home console versions of Tetris and the puzzle genre gained immense footing in the marketplace. What a lot of people don't know is that Spectrum Holobyte's version of Tetris was the first version of the game that was released in the United States, years ahead of Nintendo's release of the "original" Tetris.

Spectrum Holobyte was clearly no stranger to Tetris-likes (they even published a bunch of Alexey Pajitnov's other games, like Wildsnake, Hatris and Welltris, but, once again, that's another story for another time). Wordtris deviates from the Tetris formula in that it is a falling block puzzler, but the blocks are all squares with individual letters printed on them.

Basically, Wordtris is Scrabble and Tetris put together. And it's fantastic. You get more points for the more words you can spell with what you are given, and spelling a particular word (shown at the bottom of the screen) will net you bonus points and a clear playfield, free of unwanted letters cluttering things up.

Wordtris is absolutely addicting, like any good game with -tris in the name. Go and play it. It's not too expensive to pick up for the Game Boy, and the SNES version won't entirely break your bank, either.

Maybe I'll revisit more Spectrum Holobyte games in the future. I just wanted to touch upon a couple of my favorites. It also helped that the three I chose were on-hand at the time of writing.
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About Titannelone of us since 6:02 PM on 08.12.2013

Hey. I'm Titannel. I am a production specialist for a news station. I also enjoy the video games. I particularly focus on retro video games, though I collect for pretty much everything, against my better judgment..Anyone who can decode my banner wins fifty bonus points. For what? Eh.

Oh, what's that? You want a shorter description? Here's one:

"Production Specialist. Amateur filmmaker. Creative Writer. Real human being. And a real hero."