Much has been written over the years on the infamous decline of Imagine Software - early fame followed by fast cars and equally fast lifestyles. This in turn led to the infamous never-released mega games, and let's be frank, they never had much chance of surfacing either.

With my first Spectrum I got a whole bunch of Imagine games. These weren't from the new Ocean label of the same name, which was already churning out sports simulations and arcade conversions; no, these were all original Imagine classics and I sampled them all that Christmas holiday as I had nothing else to play - well other than Psion Chess, Computer Scrabble, Survival and Make-a-bloody-chip.

Imagine were early pioneers: in the days of primitive covers and adverts, their promotional strategy and colourful, professional cassette inlays set them apart from their peers. The quality of the games themselves was more variable, but still good enough to propel them into the big leagues.

So in the order of the alphabet, here they are with my memories and thoughts from replaying them now:-

Ah, Diddums!
The Game: You play teddy bear who must escape from the toy box by collecting various coloured blocks that are strewn about. Out to stop you are several rival toys that sap your energy when they touch teddy.
What I thought then: I didn't like it. The graphics flickered badly and the game generally felt crude and unfinished. It was difficult to control and a generally unsatisfying experience.
What I think now: Unsurprisingly it hasn't got any better and I still don't like it. On the basis of this game, it's hard to see how, beyond the nice cover art and original concept, Imagine got their early reputation.

The Game: playing the Alchemist of the title, the player must solve several puzzles and escape the castle. You can perform the 'famous' Alchemistic trick of turning into an eagle.
What I thought then: I liked it - but it was too short. I remember spending some time working out what to do and how to manage the awkward flight of the eagle, but once I did, the game's small map (it only has a dozen or so screens) meant I completed it very quickly. Still, for the time it had excellent graphics and came in a gold cassette box! Wow!
What I think now: clunky and unplayable, time has not been kind to Alchemist, one of Imagine's early flagship titles.

The Game: there is no plot - it's just shoot, shoot, shoot.
What I thought then: Arcadia was Imagine's first release and I loved it. I can't remember how far I got into the game, but I enjoyed unbridled glee at seeing each new wave of attacking aliens (they varied from level to level). Only some more of the trademark flickery graphics let it down.
What I think now: It's still ok - basic, but playable, if only for a short blast.

BC Bill
The Game: Bash women over the head and drag them back to your cave. Much like Romford town centre on a Saturday night. The problem is, B.C. Bill has to feed them too...
What I thought then: Whilst BC Bill offered superficial entertainment with its method of seduction, there wasn't a lot more to it.
What I think now: It's still fun bashing heads, but only for a very VERY short time.

Cosmic Cruiser
The Game: When the evil Rallom Empire takes over a far-flung space station, it's upto you, the cosmic cruiser, to reclaim it in the name of Earth.
What I thought then: I quite liked this game back in 1985 despite it not having the best of reputations. I think I was just eager for any space-based shooting adventures, and despite the obscure, frustrating nature of the gameplay, I spent quite a lot of one school holiday playing it.
What I think now: I wished I hadn't played it again because now it's just an unplayable mess.

Jumping Jack
The Game: Written by Albert and Stuart Ball, Jumping Jack's task was to reveal the lines of a poem by - yes! - jumping up the screen to the top. Several floors lay in his way with rapidly moving holes appearing for him to jump through.
What I thought then: I played a lot of Jumping Jack as its simple concept appealed to me - and the game has that elusive one-more-go factor. It could be a tad frustrating; it was possible to fall all the way down from the top floor - but it was great fun.
What I think now: Being avery simple game means Jumping Jack is pretty much the same now as it was then. The benefit of a sped up emulator helps as well.

Molar Maul
The Game: In another original Imagine concept, the player controls a toothbrush and is tasked with keeping a whole mouth full of teeth free from plaque and decay. Bacteria frequently attack the teeth, accelerated by the appearance of a boiled sweet on the tongue.
What I thought then: I know this game has some fans, but personally I couldn't stand it. Whilst original, the idea sounded boring to me, and I admit I never really gave the game a chance.
What I think now: Molar Maul is boring and monotonous. A bit like brushing your teeth in real life, then.

The Game: Help the stereotypically Hispanic gardener fend off insects and other pests in order to keep his flowers and vegetables growing nicely.
What I thought then: this gardening simulator, for some strange reason, didn't interest me particularly back then...
What I think now: ...and it still doesn't now. Maybe in thirty years time...

The Game: Stonkers was a strategy game, but a graphically advanced and instantly playable one, an oddity at a time well before Command and Conquer. There are 2 ways to win: destroy all the enemy units or occupy the two enemy bases.
What I thought then: I had some tremendous battles against the computer and my father - it was an underrated strategy game albeit a simplistic one.
What I think now: Keeping all your units supplied and happy seems to occupy most of my time which is not much fun. I struggle to see what I liked about the game to be honest, but as an influence on many a modern strategy title, Stonkers' place in gaming history cannot be overestimated.

The Game: John Gibson's Zzoom had the player in control of a "ground skimmer" and charged with protecting a mass of endangered refugees. There were three distinct levels: air, tanks and sea.
What I thought then: I played Zzoom for ages back in the day and had great fun blasting tanks, planes, submarines and (very occasionally) refugees.
What I think now: Another one of those games where rose-tinted glasses provide an unrealistic expectation: Zzoom is now ever so boring given the amount of searching for enemy craft required and their seems little point to the game - especially as saving the refugees is not actually required to progress.

So ten games...what's the conclusion?

Good then, I'd still play them today: 2 (Jumping Jack, Arcadia)
Not as good as I remember: 5 (Alchemist, BC Bill, Cosmic Cruiser, Stonkers, Zzoom)
Didn't like it then/don't like it now: 3 (Ah Diddums, Molar Maul, Pedro)

Ironically, the two simplest games are the two I enjoyed playing the most again today. There's a message there, surely?