5MA – Knuckle Busters (1987, Spectrum)

OK, housekeeping first. 5MA a.k.a. 5 Minutes Alone (named after the Pantera song, natch) is my answer to trying or playing games and never writing about them, either because they only provided 5 minutes entertainment or because I thought they deserved a fuller, infinitely-deferred write-up. Short responses to early gameplay, i.e. explicitly not a “real” review. Format liable to fluctuate wildly, e.g. I’ve got vague notions of doing a 5 min Twitch video where it makes sense.

To business!

Knuckle Busters (World of Spectrum link) is a 1987 game published by Melbourne House. I’d never heard of it before, but found a copy in my Box Of Delights (which contains a smattering of secondhand Speccy games I’ve never properly POKE-d through).


The loading screen makes an attempt at reproducing your American Football helmed hero from the cover art, but graphical limitations him look more like Krang from the Hero/Ninja Turtles cartoon.


The main menu system is neat (check the video below). I particularly recognised it from Fist II, but it’s popped up in other games too. There’s a scrolling plot intro summarising the inlay blurb too.


Presentation is actually pretty good overall, barring the use of the default Spectrum font (which bothers me much less here than in other games).

Gameplay involves running left or right on a screen divided into 3 levels. It’s incredibly simple and evocative of a much earlier era. Blank faced robots looking like escapees from The Girl Who Waited run to-and-fro, stopping only to fight you. Indeed the game begins with a robot literally standing in front of you and punching. Not good, design-wise! You can reciprocate with unrewarding “hold FIRE” punches or kicks and depending on the colour of the robot (not skill!) you’ll eventually defeat it having lost some energy in the process. Darker robots are tougher in the sense of more energy/longer to defeat. I do like that the weakest white robots can literally be run through though. Windscreen foes!


You can fast-jump up and down between platforms although not from bottom to top. I suspect this is how the game is meant to be played although the name and mechanics obscure that. There’s a really nice feel to skipping up and down platforms, when it works. The game also has background doors which can be passed through with the SPACE bar, but lead only to identical sections of the game… I’m stumped as to why.

Running out of energy loses a life, accompanied by a nasty faux-reset button/NEW effect which makes a sort of meta-sense, but just raises my hackles. Bad programmer, bad!


Graphics are pretty, but very minimal. Your character Deke looks a lot like Gunrunner, the crates are identical to those from Deviants and the oil drums have that cool, metallic heavy-shadowed look seen in e.g. Shaw Brothers games (Iron Soldier, Skatin’ USA, etc). Kick and punch animations are perfunctory, but the running of the skinny, pony-tailed lady robots looks good (I used to look like a skinny, pony-tailed lady robot/vegetarian, so I should know).


The sidebar with your energy and lives only pops up when you’re in contact with an enemy, which is odd. I couldn’t help noticing how much the angle and colour scheme for your reserve lives resembles a wizard from Lords Of Chaos.


Overall the game isn’t as derivative as my game-dropping makes it sound, and where it is fundamentally so, I think it’s made a good, interesting choice. Essentially you’ve got a quicker, graphically-larger Pitfall!-lite combined with that cool, fast platform-swapping mechanic which I recognise but can’t place. If your enemies were shooting instead of fighting and you had no direct offensive option I think it would be a better game, if a bit ’00s Flash.

Verdict: H STOP in INPUT, 300:1

[ POKE 35991,0: Infinite Lives. Either MERGE or use a Multiface – hat tip to The Tipshop ]


One Comment Add yours

  1. Da22 says:

    Looks very pretty sprite wise, they’re huge! Hit detection looks way out of walk, would infuriate me 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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