Arcade games

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Cavern Fighter

Cavern Fighter title screen
Cavern Fighter - an early Scramble-style shmup

  • Release year: 1983
  • Publisher: Bug-Byte
  • Author: John K Jameson
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing


I've found it tricky picking games for these pages. I thought I'd try to avoid constantly picking my all-time favourites.

Cavern Fighter is an early entry in the Speccy game catalogue, released back in 1983. We're presented with a fast & simple shoot 'em up that 16K owners can enjoy (despite it saying 48k on the cassette). I remember looking at the inlay of my tape and wondering about the evil denizen behind the ominous eyes-in-the-smoke:

Cavern Fighter front inlay cover
SPOILER ALERT - ol' smokey eyes doesn't feature in the game

On the other side of the inlay, there's a smidgen of humour in the game instructions:

"Can you guide the fighter "Gamma 14" through the caverns of Zragg? Can you hit the fuel dumps? Can you destroy the Dictator's base to save Watford? Now is your chance to discover your abilities.

I thought I'd make a token effort to Google the author (John K Jameson). I was surprised to find absolutely no record about anything else that he may have programmed at the time. Surprised, because I would've expected any highly competent machine code programmer in 1983 to be headhunted by a few emerging software houses. But who knows. If anyone does know the background story on this one, let me know. I'd be intrigued.

Before actually getting into the game, a few notes about the menu:

Cavern Fighter menu screen
Fed up of playing? Cavern Fighter has a NEW option to save you 'pulling the plug' on your Speccy

Two things here:

  • Anyone who had a rubber-keyed Speccy in the early day would've been used to pulling the power plug out of the back when you wanted to play another game. John has kindly saved us this option with a NEW command, to return to BASIC.
  • An option to reset the high score? I'm not sure I've seen that in a Speccy game before. And I wonder why you'd want to do it??
  • Wait a while on the menu, and the game launches possibly one of the worst-played 'attract modes' I've seen - the ship moves without AI, and the demo lasts a matter of seconds...

OK, so let's get onto

The game

Cavern Fighter sector 1
Sector 1 and the player is thrown in at the deep end, straight into the narrow tunnels of Cavern Fighter

At the start of the game the player is into the thick of the action, the screen scrolling quickly and smoothly as your ship hurtles through the caverns. We've got 6 levels (sectors), your goal being to bomb a fairly unassuming looking base in sector 6. Your fuel is fast-draining, but destroying fuel dumps (or the 'red things'), which are pretty plentiful, quickly replenishes it, for some reason. Floating space invader-type ships and meteors add a bit of variety on a couple of the sectors.

Explosions are minimal and collision detection can be slightly suspect at times, though this works for your ship's artillery too, so it's easy to spam the fire button(s) to clear your way.

Cavern Fighter sector 3
Ground-based structures and missiles look very 'trad arcade', though the rockets aren't particularly threatening or dangerous

Sound is limited to beepy firing sounds, and a short white noise for destroyed objects, and there's a fluctuating siren effect for life loss. I discovered that assigning the same key for laser & bomb allowed me to spam fire and destroy pretty much everything in my way.

The main difficulty spike for most players occurs in Sector 4, where the rocky cavern floor gives way to retina-burning multicolour skyscrapers, whose tight spaces can cause a bit of frustration.

Cavern Fighter sector 4
Get your sunglasses ready for sector 4 - this static image doesn't do justice to the squinting you'll need to do when it's in motion

The caverns narrow greatly during the final two levels, and things start getting claustrophobic (and twitchy). Losing a life will send you back to the start of the current sector, but sectors are very short, so I didn't find this too frustrating.

Cavern Fighter sector 6
Spot the final base? It's cunningly disguised as a BRIGHT 1 variation of one of the 'mystery' structures. Won't do much good as everything gets destroyed...

Interestingly, unlike the very similar Penetrator (I'm amazed I've got this far before making the comparison), you can fly over the final base without destroying it. It just wraps the level round and sends you round for another chance. Once you destroy the base there's a fairly nondescript screen/border effect, and you're chucked back to the start of the game to do it all over again.


While not having particular depth, Cavern Fighter is surprisingly addictive. I recall finding it a bit frustrating when I originally played it all those years ago, as it's easy to hit a wall with a misplaced control 'twitch'. But revisiting it today, I ended up playing it for a while.

The game is ultimately meant to be a high score challenge. After a bit of practice it's really not too difficult to get to the base in sector 6; in fact, getting there takes little more than a couple of minutes - must be one of the shortest game times of any Spectrum game! Check out the YouTube .rzx recording if you don't believe me.

Hi-score element aside, I'll concede that some gamers may get a bit bored or frustrated with the game after a bit. I found it was great for a few goes, and there's a little bit of variety in the placement of the 'floating' aliens and the meteors.

So overall, a decent offering, particularly for its time in the Spectrum's early life. A playable shoot 'em up with a classic feel that most Speccy owners would surely have been happy to own.