If you were a kid back in the 80s you have most likely played one of Gremlin Interactive games. Formed on April 2nd, 1984 the british software house would be 35 today but unfortunately it dissolved in 2003. I’d like to celebrate it anyway because a lot of the most loved games released in the 80s for the micros (from Amstrad CPC to ZX Spectrum) were either developed or released by them.
The company, originally named Just Micro, was founded by Ian Stewart and Kevin Norburn and since the beginning of its story, based its success of the popular home computers of the mid-80s. The first success arrived in 1985 when they released Monty on the Run, a classic platformers à la Manic Miner, a genere on fashion in those years, and the ports of Gauntlet for Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, MSX and ZX Spectrum.
Gremlin developed also a good number of exclusive games for the humble C16 and for the Plus 4, such as Sword of Destiny and Petals of Doom (1985), Jetbrix and Rescue from Zylon (1986).
1987 was one of the most prolific years for the company with a lot of games released and the port of Gauntlet II for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum and Gary Lineker Superstar Soccer as a flagship.
After a few years with dozens of games released, with H.A.T.E., Federation of Free Trade and 1989 Switchblade as my personal favourites, the leap forward for Gremlin was the release of the first of the “Lotus” games, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge in 1990. The series proved to be extremely popular, was ported on the most important computers of the era.
The series received two sequels, Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 which also landed on the Mega Drive/Genesis (as Lotus Turbo Challenge) and Lotus III: The Ultimate Challenge, also available for DOS computers. In 1994 a compendium of all the Lotus games was released as a trilogy on the Amiga CD32.
In the early 90s Gremlin focused its production on racing/driving games: together with the already cited Lotus, in 1990 they also released Super Cars (which spawned a sequel in 1991) and Toyota Celica GT. The golden era of Gremlin continued with the release of two acclaimed games: Hero Quest in 1991 and the magnificent Utopia: The Creation of a Nation that I played compulsively during my youth in the 90s.
After a brief return to the racing games with Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing and Top Gear and the release of the weird Harlequin and Plan 9 From Outer Space the same year 1992, Gremlin made its name with the Premier Manager series, started in 1992 and that, sequel after sequel, lasted until 1999.
By 1994 Gremlin Software became Gremlin Interactive and started to focus its production on 16-bit games. The relation between Gremlin and soccer didn’t end with PM, but continued with one of the best simulation games pre-FIFA, Actua Soccer, first released in 1995. This game was only a part of the huge “Actua” family of games, that included various sport titles: Actua Soccer (1995), Actua Golf (1996), Actua Ice Hockey (1998), Actua Tennis (1998) and Actua Pool (1999), each one with its family of sequels. These are probably the games Gremlin is best known for, since they represented a huge number of great simulations.
But Gremlin hadn’t forgotten its racing “roots” and in 1994 they released a trio of driving games: Full Throttle: All American Racing, Raacing Days and Newmah/Haas IndyCar featuring Nigel Mansell; their relationship with the motorsport went further with the release of Fatal Racing a.k.a. Whiplash in 1995 and N2O Nitrus Oxide in 1998.
Inbetween there was time for the violent Loaded (1995), Fragine Allegiance (1996) and Realms of the Haunting (1997).
By 1997 the company underwent some big changes: first they acquired Imagitec Design (the company behind Tempest 2000) and DMA Design (creators of Grand Theft Auto) and in 1999 they got bought by Infogrames for 24 millions £ and renamed Infogrames Sheffield House. Backed by nfogrames the former Gremlin made its swan song with the release of Hogs of War before the studio was closed in 2003.