From 1984 onwards, Sheffield software house Gremlin released quality game after game throughout the Eighties and beyond. Picking just eight titles to represent this famous publisher is some task – so we’ve enlisted Mark Hardisty, author of A Gremlin In The Works, to help us whittle it down to this fabulous octet of games.
To find out more about Gremlin, check out the wonderful A Gremlin In The Works, available now from Bitmap Books.
Monty On The Run (1985)
Formats: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and more
Having inadvertently involved himself in the raucous Miner’s Strike, poor Monty is, as the title confirms, on the run from the authorities. His one hope is to gather up his freedom kit, head for the English Channel and the relative safety of continental Europe. With plenty of surreal humour and intense platforming action, Monty On The Run is a shining light of the early Spectrum scene in particular, and a game that helped thrust Gremlin into the big time.
Mark says: “After Chris Kerry’s non-Monty Monty sequel Monty Is Innocent, the Mole’s monocle was handed back to Peter Harrap, who honed his platforming pedigree with the best game of the series. Tough as nails, and cruel as hell with the unforgiving introduction of the freedom kit, Monty on the Run is best remembered for its terrific level design and Rob Hubbard’s masterpiece of a music score.”
Formats: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and more
“It’s b-b-b-bound to be a hit” chimed the Gremlin advert for this bouncing ball game back in 1985 – and it was! Highly original and technically superb, Bounder puts the player into a tennis ball, bouncing across the roofs of various cityscapes. The work of a trio of young freelance developers, Bounder was a critical and commercial smash, cementing Gremlin’s position, especially on the Commodore 64.
Mark says: “Chris Shrigley, Rob Toone and Andrew Green bounced this game of parallax perfection through Gremlin’s letterbox in 1985 after working on it all summer. It was the C64 original that really shone, with Shrigley and Co making impressive use of the Commodore’s hardware scrolling capabilities.”
Jack The Nipper (1986)
Formats: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and more
Few games encapsulate the pure Britishness of Gremlin’s games than this tale of a delinquent tot’s escapades throughout his home town. From his house to the molar factory, local park and launderette, the player guides Jack on his rampage, pea-shooting pedestrians, glueing teeth and frightening a poor cat. Full of Beano-style characters and cartoon antics, Jack The Nipper is an experience like no other.
Mark says: “Greg Holmes was working nights as an electrician in Barrow-in-Furness when he dreamt up Jack The Nipper. Drawn from his love of British comics Whizzer and Chips and Sweeny Toddler, Greg’s errant infant captured the essence of a perfect Gremlin game: a central character full of personality, unique gameplay and a break from the film and arcade licences that other companies were so heavily reliant on. Any game that features a naughtyometer as a score and nappy rash was destined to become an instant classic.”
Super Cars (1990)
Formats: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and more
Top-down racing came to Gremlin as it ushered in the Nineties with this superb driving game. Inspired by the arcade hit Super Sprint, Super Cars also represents the start of the publisher’s excellent relationship with developer Magnetic Fields. Full of different cars, tracks and options, Super Cars and its sequel are among the top tier of 16-bit motoring games.
Mark says: “Magnetic Fields (and Mr Chip) built a solid reputation of quality games throughout the 80s, and they established a good relationship with Gremlin thanks to Trailblazer and Super Scramble Simulator. Their Super Cars series is often overlooked when looking at their best games because of the success of Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, but these rip-snorting Super Sprint clones were polished, super-fun games showcasing graphic artist Andrew Morris’s love of all things motoring.”
Premier Manager (1992)
Formats: Amiga, Atari ST, PC and more
Gremlin entered the football management genre in 1992 with the first of this successful series. Up to four players take control of a club each, balancing financial stability with on-field formations and tactics. The beauty of Gremlin’s Premier Manager is its amiability and accessible icon-driven display – subsequent releases further bolstered the series and it even made it onto consoles with 1995’s SEGA Mega Drive game.
Mark says: “After Gremlin’s development director James North-Hearn labelled playing Premier Manager akin to ‘watching a spreadsheet’, producer Tony Casson saved the football management game from relegation. Written by John Atkinson, who had built a career from writing footy games for D&H, Premier Manager offers a simpler, more accessible pick-up-and-play and just-one-more-season hook that helped it stand out from its overly complicated competition.”
Formats: Amiga, Atari ST, Mega Drive and (many) more
An attempt to create a genuine mascot for the 16-bit computers, Zool is the fast-paced story of the eponymous speedy Ninja of the Nth dimension. Full of charm, colourful graphics and manic action, the success of Zool further strengthened Gremlin’s position as a premier UK developer-publisher. Zool’s popularity ensured it spun out onto many platforms and inspired a sequel.
Mark says: “The Nintendo and SEGA consoles both had their mascots, and wily Ian Stewart, along with the creative genius of Ade Carless and the solid programming of George Allen, plugged the gap on the 16-bit home computers with Zool. With its hyper-fast gameplay, boundless energy, inventive level design and a thumping soundtrack, Zool captured the hearts and minds (and broke a thousand teeth with its chupa-chup licensing) of Amiga fans up and down the land.”
Actua Soccer (1995)
Formats: PC, PlayStation, Saturn
Learning quickly from its Premier Manager games, Gremlin released this action football game to much acclaim in 1995. Featuring motion-captured players, multiple audio innovations (including expert commentary from Barry Davies) and some sleek and smooth gameplay, Actua Soccer kicked off a whole range of Actua-styled games.
Mark says: “For a brief moment in time, Actua Soccer was king of the football games, beating EA’s FIFA with its revolutionary use of motion capture, true 3D rendering and a brilliant, expansive commentary from Barry Davies. The best of the series was probably Actua Soccer: Club Edition with its Premier League licensing or Actua Soccer: Euro 96, coinciding perfectly with England’s hosting of the competition of the same name. Eventually, the series couldn’t compete with EA’s financial clout, but for a few seasons, Actua Soccer was top of the league.”
Formats: PlayStation, PC, Saturn
Gremlin’s gritty sci-fi shooter Loaded reflects the change in videogame demographics instigated by the Sony PlayStation. Powerfully violent and featuring a range of flamboyantly discordant characters, Loaded is an instantly playable and frequently hilarious run ‘n’ gun game, and its success inspired a sequel, Re-Loaded, the following year.
Mark says: “The PlayStation heralded a new era in gaming, and developers started writing for a more mature audience. Gremlin’s Loaded tapped into that zeitgeist and took the best of the arcade hits Gauntlet and Smash T.V. while ramping the violence up to 11.”
These are the games that defined Sheffield’s Gremlin. To read more about Monty Mole, Loaded and everything in between, buy A Gremlin In The Works by Mark Hardisty, available now from Bitmap Books.
Our thanks to Mark for his time – stay tuned for another post soon!