Sunday, 7 October 2012

Colony (ZX Spectrum)

Colony title screen ZX Spectrum
Don't blame me for this one, it wasn't my idea. Looking at the title screen I suppose this is going to be about a brave ant trying to get food for his colony, while being hounded by a tiny robot wizard bug who likes harassing people with second-hand lightning from his deadly electric cigarettes.

This came out on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX, and Atari 8-bit computers, but I'm only playing it on the Speccy. My curiosity does have limits.

Oh right, I'm actually playing as the antisocial bug droid. I've started off in some kind of base and I've no idea what I'm meant to be doing here. I'll go wandering and see if there's any ants to harass with my tongue cannon.


Mushrooms. Nothing here but rows of mushrooms. This base is like a Lego brick ghost town.

Maybe that HUD up there can give me some clues to what my objective is. I've got money, a radar with nothing showing up on it, the E.T.A. is never, the beacon is off, and there's a picture of someone stopping a chainsaw with their bare hand on the right.

There's a button which switches between these two modes. Laser gun is pretty obvious, but I've no idea what the chainsaw hand does. Melee perhaps? Pity the game didn't let me assign each one to a separate key, save me from having to switch between them.

Guess I'll keep wandering around then.

A few screens down the game suddenly went Zelda on me, and I finally ran into some ants. A single shot blows them to pieces, but it gets me nothing and costs laser ammo. I thought I might at least get a few extra credits for the effort.


There's nowhere to go out here! I've travelled to the four corners of the level, and there's a wall of rocks around the edges sealing me inside. Plus the radar's still being less than useful, giving me absolutely nothing to head for.

Oh wait, hang on. This isn't a radar, it's a mini-map! The stage is an 8x8 grid of screens, and I'm in the bottom left one right now. Okay, now I know what I'm dealing with here I'm going to map this place out.

Colony ZX Spectrum map
Click for full size
Turns out that the base is the level, with rooms I can enter, mushroom farms, solar panels, and a lot of ant-nibbled fences around the outside. Funny how the left and right walls are built out of solid ant-proof blocks, but they decided to go with crap wooden fences for the top and bottom walls. Because that's how you get ants.

I figured out what the chainsaw hand mode thing does! If I'm standing in just the right place, it lets me pick up the wreckage of a smashed fence (and perhaps other things), and store it in my four block inventory up there at the top of the screen! I admit I'm struggling to think of why I'd want to carry that around, but I'm sure it's just a failure of imagination on my part.

Whatever, I'm going to go check inside this building. If I don't find a shop selling laser ammo soon, I'm going to be in serious trouble.

It is a shop! Plus the mystery of the beacon is halfway to being solved. Whatever it is, I'm the one who can flick it on or off, and it's activation status is important enough to get a space on my HUD. I'll leave it off for now though I think. The last thing I want to do is attract more of whatever's out there.

No laser ammo, but I can order fences. Three varieties of fences in fact, I'm spoiled for choice. I think I'll take a selection of each, I am rich after all.


Those bastard ants have been eating my solar panels! Why would they even do that? Put solar panels on the floor where the ants can eat them I mean, stupid colonists.

There's a grey line in front of them though, which indicates that I can block the way in with a well placed section of steel fencing. That should keep the ants out for... oh, at least 20 seconds. And it has to be well placed, because the bloody game is incredibly picky about where I have to be standing to place objects.

Fortunately I've found a building that converts the fence debris I've been collecting into a shiny new block of fencing. In fact I've found three buildings, and each one repairs a different kind of wrecked fence. Because having to try each door in turn to see if it's the right place to get the crap out of my inventory sure adds a lot of depth to gameplay.

While I was busy racing around trying to fix the perimeter fence, those bastard ants ate all the mushrooms! Five sections of mushrooms, and this is basically all that's left.

I guess I'll harvest what's here, try to find a building to dump them in, then hopefully figure out how to plant a new crop. And if I'm very lucky I'll find a place along the way that restores my health and laser energy, because I'm a few pixels away from game over here.


Hey, I found a place to get my health back, and took some mushroom seeds out of storage, and... huh?


Oh crap, that must have been the fences I ordered! They just dumped my cargo of fences, all 1000 credits worth! Those bastards.

I earn credits by selling crates of mushrooms, but ants eat the mushrooms unless I block their way with fences, and I don't have any fences because the ants eat them too. Wait a second, mushrooms... giant ants... we're shipping these crates off to the Mario Bros games aren't we?



I haven't been playing long, but it feels like it's been hours. I just can't take a break for a second, or the ants will get in. Well, the ants get in whatever I do, they only need ONE hole, but every ant busy chewing on a fence is one less ant in my mushroom patch.

Oh come on, I'm too tired for this now. If I go off to get a laser power refill these seeds will be ant food by the time I get back. It's like I'm trying to plug leaks on a sinking ship when the hull's cracking open and it's already flooded up to my knees, except with giant pink insects instead of water.

Why am I even planting seeds anyway? Mushrooms grow from spores.

Hang on, why are these mushrooms still here? They're outside the base wall, but they've been untouched for over twenty minutes. The ants must not be able to get past those green blocks, meaning that I've got an ant-proof emergency cash source!

I bought some new supplies with my mushroom cash: two bags of seeds, and a robot battery. And this time I turned the damn beacon on so the delivery guy didn't chuck them out the window on the way.

This red robot's been sitting here for half an hour, so I figured he's either an extra life for me, or he just needs a kick in the ass to get moving. The robot battery did the job well enough, and he immediately ran off going on his own adventures someplace else. I hope he finds happiness wherever he ends up.


This is what I should have done from the start. Instead of trying to protect the entire base, I'm just guarding this one patch of mushrooms, and some solar panels. Much less fencing to keep maintained. Now I can get a steady income, and I was just able to buy 80 more seeds.

And still the level refuses to end. Maybe there's no goals, no actual way to succeed here. Perhaps this is all the game is; I just keep harvesting mushrooms and fixing fences four at a time, forever.

Well fuck that, I'm throwing my robot under an ant.

Oh now I get the screenful of text. They could have used this chunk of memory to store some basic instructions or introduction telling me how to play the game, but nope I get the Dead Parrot sketch from a Monty Python ep instead. I didn't want to be a mushroom farming robot anyway... I wanted to be a lumberjack! Leaping from tree to tree! As they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia! With my best girl by my side...

Alright, Colony is basically a farming game then it seems, designed to let the player experience unending stress and frustration until they either keel over, or sacrifice their robot to save what's left of their mind. My favourite bit was when it let me redefine my controls on the main menu, but it was sadly all downhill from there. Well to be fair it's far from the worst game I've played on the site, it's functional, but I couldn't wait to stop playing it.

If you agree, disagree, wish that I'd stop playing crappy looking ZX Spectrum games, have a game request, or just want to announce to the world that you've read this post, feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Hehehehe - Told you it was soul destroying!

  2. Another Game request!
    "Legend of Grimrock". It's a new game based on D&D old games from 80's and 90's like Dungeon Master or other games.
    Also play "Beyond Good and Evil". If you get it from it works perfectly on new computers.

    1. They're great suggestions, but I don't own them and they're relatively pricey. I'm working with limited resources here I'm afraid.

    2. Well you can ask for donations on a paypal account so you can buy other games and make your reviews. And both are cheap at the moment in, specially the first one.

    3. Fair enough. There is a paypal donate button up on the top right, so if anyone reading this REALLY wants to see me attempt Beyond Good and Evil or Legend of Grimrock, now's your chance to make that happen.

      I can't guarantee you won't totally regret it later though.

    4. I certainly would if I didn't live in Argentina. Paypal is useless for dollars payments here at the moment.

  3. zx spectrum sure had crayola graphics

    1. That's the best way of putting it. Plus the poor machine can't even colour within the lines, it's all over the place.


    Its one of my all-time favorite games, and it would just crush me to see you tear it down on here!

    Just kidding, though it's one of the best games ever for anyone who has a taste for it, It actually has a couple of beastly flaws to it that I'd like to see someone call it out on. At the time it was too low-key and under hyped to even get a review on most people's time because there was a litany of mega-hype machines that came out at the time, and in modern days its such a cult classic that anyone who remembers it enough to review it either feels that it would be sacrilege to point out its flaws, or is so terrified of the (very likely) possibility that the sequel in development will end up being canceled to say anything negative about it (the sequel looks completely different than the original and was announced with a 30 second promo video years ago and then never mentioned or promoted again, making it very likely to become the next big disappointment, especially given the vapor-ware tendencies of it's developer).

    Do you have an Xbox 360 hardgrit? Because I bought an extra copy for my recently ex-girlfriend of the recently released 3-game set by ubisoft that includes the xbox 360 re-box along with outland and from dust, so if you are hard up on cash I'd be willing to send that to you if you want to review it.

    1. I appreciate the offer, but the last thing I want is for people to go out of their way to mail me things. Especially expensive XBox 360 games you'd likely want back. I'm sure I'll find a cheap copy sooner or later anyway. Beyond Good and Evil WILL appear on this site eventually, it's just a matter of time.

      Then I'll get to work finding those flaws.

  5. Actually I have another copy, and it's a three-way compilation of XBLA games that retails for 20 bucks. I wouldn't have offered if I thought there was much chance I'd end up wanting it back, but I applaud your sense of entrepreneurialism in wanting to finance your own endeavors, regardless.

    If you find money restraining your ability to continue reviewing, though, I have alot of old games Ill never play again that I could do to get rid of anyway. Your blog is starting to get alot of views it seems, it might be worthwhile to allow open donations and post a po box for people to send you their game. There are probably alot of people out there with old games who'd consider it a fine payment to see you review their old carts.

    1. As much as I like the idea of swimming through a pile of retro games packaged up with bubble wrap, I imagine that even if everyone reading the site took the chance to dump all their unwanted crap on me, I'd end even worse off due to the PO box bill.

      Don't worry I can keep the reviews coming, it's just that more money gives me better options and helps me get hold of requested games.

  6. Oh right, I forgot about the surcharges for overflowed PO boxes. Hmm.

    Well I like the concept of your reviews and the rules that you follow, if you are busy some week, let me know if you'd accept a guest review, reading your reviews has brought back a lot of memories, and it makes me think of the sometimes ridiculous amount we used to let games get away with. Its an intriguing concept, taking modern standards and applying a more critical mind to classic titles.

    Back to the topic, I downloaded a rom of this game and recorded it onto a cassette (yo ho ho and a bottle of piracy!), and while I agree with the points you raised, I have to admit, I actually rather like it. Its a royal pain the ass, but having read your review, I know not to overextend myself, and since it seems that there isn't really a level 2 or anywhere to go with the game (at least that I have any hope of getting to anyway), I'm actually having some fun playing with the primitive simulation aspects of the game. I like trying to build fences around the ants, and once I built up enough money I made some loopy shapes with them that look pretty funny with all the ants chewing on them.

    I REALLY hate how far apart everything is. Why the hell did they have to make everything so far apart? AND WHY WOULD YOU EVER WANT THE BEACON TO BE OFF?? WHY!?

  7. Hello the a way to block ants they can't eat thou the spare robot body they can't eat from 1 screen to the other they don't appear inside the base
    Mushrooms. Nothing here but rows of mushrooms. This base is like a Lego brick ghost town. add 1 fench left hand side on the line and a few boxes o dear they can't come up get the idea here ok maybe not the pic with the dumping supplies thats easy two boxes to the left and no ants from left hand side block the screens to either side top and bottom and right left etc u have that whole area under control
    Ok how to start 1 run like hell collect seeds the ants are busy and not in your base
    2 collect 3 solar panels, from the top left field block using the 1 fench u just nicked from outside and 1 solar panel now go down go left fill top to sqares of that there carry on left do same then do bottom carry on till base is totally surrounded ps keep with the base top 1 screen down the fence screen bottom 1 screen above fences

  8. That picture...the big one...
    ...that kind of thing is reason #2 that keeps me visiting daily.

    Damn fine work.


Semi-Random Game Box