Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Have you ever wanted to live within a virtual school where you can cause mayhem with a catapult and your flying fists? This 1984 ZX Spectrum game allows you to do just that, and it’s one of the many reasons why we love the brilliant Skool Daze!
When Microsphere released Skool Daze in 1984, they could have had little idea on the impact the game would still have 35 years later. As an early example of a sandbox game, a genre many of us know and love today, it’s iconic enough. Factor in some ingenious gameplay and AI, stir in some Bash Street Kids, and you’ve got a game that fully deserves its legendary status among 8-bit fans.
Skool Daze is the tale of Eric, a mischievous yet charismatic schoolboy whose antics have put him in a bit of a pickle. For Eric’s school report, securely locked away inside the staff room safe, contains a less-than-glowing account of his efforts in the current school term, and if it makes it home to his parents he’s going to be in trouble. Big trouble.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to his predicament. Dotted around the various walls of the school hang a series of shields. Should Eric activate these using his catapult or fists, the masters will be temporarily stunned enough to reveal one segment of the safe’s combination. Collect them all up, open the safe, steal the report and Eric is safe. Well, until next term…
Together with its clean and precise graphics (courtesy of Microsphere’s Keith Warrington), Skool Daze is a masterpiece of videogame design. Created by the husband and wife team of Dave and Helen Reidy, the game drew upon both their experiences as teachers as they created a snapshot of life in an Eighties school for boys. Besides Eric himself, there’s the school bully (delightfully and sarcastically named ‘Angelface’), a rugged-looking fellow who likes nothing better than swinging his fists at any pupil foolish to cross his path; Boy Wander, the tearaway, a blonde haired scamp not dissimilar to Eric, with a heart of gold and a cheeky glint in the eye; Einstein, the school swot, answering all the questions and grassing up his fellow students at every opportunity; and of course there are the teachers, four men compelled to try and educate this unruly lot. Mr. Rockitt, the science teacher, wears a white lab coat and peers through thick glasses, while Mr. Creak dodders around the school and appears as much a part of the history that he’s teaching to his youthful charges. Rounding the quorum off is the hip geography teacher Mr. Withit and the ominous Mr. Wacker, the cane-wielding patriarch of this particular educational institution. Skulking around the halls and corridors of the school like a tiger stalking its prey, Mr. Wacker is ready to dispense lines to any who misbehave, and Eric is no exception.
Like its closest peer, isometric prison drama The Great Escape, the real pleasure in Skool Daze is the human formicary in which Eric lives, so much so that it’s possible to derive many hours of pleasure simply by attending lessons and causing trouble whenever the mood takes you. Several random events liven things up further. A case of the mumps, an errant incriminating pea-shooter and the swot getting wind of Eric’s plan all conspire to get the young man a pile of lines, expelled or sent home ill. The school is another character itself. There’s the long bench and table for dinnertime, feared exercise equipment such as the ropes and climbing frame, three different classrooms, a library and staff room. Should Eric be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s assigned more lines. Reach the figure of ten thousand and it’s game over.
But perhaps the greatest element of Skool Daze is the option at the start of each game to change the names of its characters. Now Mr. Wacker can become the feared head teacher of your own school along with your personal friends and foes, adding an extra frisson to the gameplay and making getting your fellow pupils into trouble even more satisfying. In a level of interactivity rarely seen in the mid-Eighties, Eric could also write on the blackboards, although nobody ever used this as a platform for naughty words. Of course not…
The ZX Spectrum was home to many innovative video games in the Eighties and Skool Daze stands tall with the very best of these. Together with its sequel, Back To Skool, it precisely showcases the fantastic British talent that shone through the decade and is still a joy to play today. So dig out that catapult and revisit once more the happiest days of your life!
Skool Daze is available to play on Antstream Arcade, along with hundreds more classic ZX Spectrum games. Subscribe today!