Exploring the Commodore 64: Part 2

Having now had my first taste of the much-loved Commodore 64 , I figured it was time to revisit it and try a few more games. Like the first post, the games featured here were all available elsewhere but were probably most famous as C64 games, especially a certain few, but unlike last time I’m somewhat more familiar with these games, having played them or similar games elsewhere, which should actually prove better for familiarising me with the C64’s abilities. One thing to note is that, as you may have noticed, all the games selected are arcade-style games. I thought this would be okay since I’m just seeing what the C64 is like as a system and I don’t really have time to learn the intricacies of some of the great strategy and adventure games the system offers such as The Sentinel, Forbidden Forest, Citadel, etc, but I certainly intend to play them eventually, at which time I’m sure you’ll hear about it here! For now though, here’s my first impressions of these games:

International Karate (1986)

International-Karate-commodore-64
I’ve long been a fan of the supreme IK+ on the Amiga but I must admit I’ve never played this prequel before. As far as 8-bit micro’s are concerned I was always an ‘Exploding Fist’ fan but if the time I’ve now spent on this is anything to go by, I’ve been missing out! IK+ is great fun but is pretty fast-paced, even manic at times, with its three simultaneous combatants. IK is a little more sedate. Since it’s just one-on-one contests, you’re afforded more time to try to out-fox your opponent and score a knockdown. I greatly enjoyed this one with its finely-honed gameplay, good selection of moves, and nice, varied backgrounds, and it will definitely see more play!

Wizball (1987)

Wizball-commodore-64
It was at R3Play when I was reminded of this game, while watching the great Jon Hare doing his presentation. He asked who had played Wizball (his first big hit) so I enthusiastically raised my hand! Then he asked who had played the ‘proper’ version on the C64. I had to sheepishly lower my hand, but I vowed that I would play it, and soon! I used to own the Speccy version and I didn’t really have a blinking clue what I was doing, but I also later bought it for the Amiga and enjoyed it much more there, actually making a little progress (just a little though!). Having now played this original version, I’m… a little disappointed to be honest! I’ve been hearing C64 fans raving about this game for so many years, I was expecting to be bowled over. I was expecting all my indifference towards the game to disappear as it became instantly clear why the game was so revered. But that never happened. The graphics are quite nice and I found it very addictive, but I also found it tough and frustrating too, and the sound is awful. I did quite enjoy playing it, and it’s a game that it’s satisfying to do well at so I’ll keep trying, but not this version I’m afraid. I’ll go back to the Amiga version I think, sorry C64 fans!

Turrican (1989)

Turrican-commodore-64
This is another one I’ve played elsewhere (kind of), specifically Mega Turrican for the MegaDrive, but it is again a game best known on, and originally developed for the C64, and I must say… it’s impressive stuff! Turrican was perhaps initially noticed for its admittedly superb aesthetics but, as I soon discovered, even this first version of the first game is far from a one-trick-pony – the superb graphics and music merely complement the top-notch game design rather than cover its flaws. Although seemingly influenced by Metroid on the NES, Turrican is much more focused on action, specifically shooting, but of course even I knew that much already! There’s a lot of blasting to do here though, with several weapon power-ups available to increase the range and power of hand-held gun (or ‘arm-cannon’), and with a large number of varied enemies to mow down as you clamber around the large, multi-tiered stages, there’s certainly a lot to hold your attention. I’ve played a good few ‘run n gunners’ over the years, and I greatly enjoyed the MD version of Turrican, so I’m pleased to find that this original version is just as much fun to play. Now to have a look at the sequel!

Dropzone (1984)

Dropzone-commodore-64
Considering I’m supposedly an Archer MacLean fan, it’s rather embarrassing to confess here that I have never previously played this game! I am a big fan of Datastorm on the Amiga though, and finally playing Dropzone reveals the Amiga game to be far more like Archer’s classic than Defender, of which it is supposedly a clone. So, not only was it quickly familiar to me but I also soon saw why it’s so loved (unlike my time with Wizball!). It took me a few moments to work out where I was supposed to be dropping off the pods but I was soon blasting away fairly convincingly. Having said that, Datastorm is no walk in the park and this game is even harder! The pods are seemingly abducted by the Landers (sorry, they’re called ‘Planters’ here) every few seconds so the priority is to rescue them very quickly it seems. After that it’s a manic shooting gallery as you attempt to take out all the evil alien ships. This really is a superb shmup, probably the best I’ve played on any 8-bit micro, and has some great little touches, especially those fantastic firework-like explosions. A superb title I would’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time on if I had a C64.

Pitstop (1983)

Pitstop-commodore-64
Now I don’t like to be unkind to a system which I’m pretty much just using as a guest at this point, but whoever suggested I give this one a try must’ve surely been taking the piss! I’m firmly of the opinion that into-the-screen racing games are a genre that the earlier systems couldn’t really do justice to, and this is a very early example, but c’mon! This Epyx release reminded me one of those handheld LCD games where you move the car at the bottom of the display left or right across three lanes to avoid the infinite slower cars that also occupy them. Those devices are okay for what they are but I would expect a lot more from a C64 (or indeed a Speccy) F1-style game! The graphics and sound here are dire and the gameplay gets annoyingly repetitive after just a few minutes of play. Maybe the sequel is better but I can only assume I’ve been the victim of a joke with this game!

The Verdict:
Well, it took me more than 20 years but I’ve now finally played some games on this iconic system, and it’s a little tough to summarise my experience. To use a football analogy, it’s like supporting Liverpool for all these years, then trying to see what it would’ve been like to be a Manchester United fan the whole time (the CPC would be like Scunthorpe or something of course – hee hee!). Sure I could enjoy watching the United team play but would my heart really be in it?

I certainly can’t deny that the C64 is a competent machine though, with some outstanding games, and is almost certainly more technically gifted than the Speccy – despite having far blockier graphics, the extra colours do make a difference and the famed SID sound chip makes a huge difference – the Speccy’s audio ‘abilities’ are hard to defend, even as a Speccy fan! I’m a big fan of videogame music so I imagine listening to old SID music must be an enormously nostalgic experience for gamers who grew up with a C64 and that’s something I certainly missed out on.

The experience of being a C64 owner must’ve been pretty similar to that of being a Speccy owner – the machines are fundamentally very similar of course – but I reckon I would’ve had a great time as the former. Perhaps they are suited to different types of games befitting their particular specialities but I’ve greatly enjoyed discovering these great C64 games regardless. That said, I’ll always have more affection for the Speccy, that will never change (it is best, after all!), but I am no longer a stranger to the ways of the C64!

Top Five Spectrum Compilations

Spectrum Compilations

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s and had a classic 8-bit micro would have worshipped the game compilations that appeared regularly throughout the latter half of that decade, and with good reason – a single new game would cost us upwards of £8, so who could say no to a collection of five, sometimes even more, games for a pound or two more? Whoever thought them up was a hero to all of us Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64 owners! I was a proud Spectrum owner and of all the years I enjoyed gaming on it, a large percentage of this time was spent with compilations and the treasures contained therein. Here are my favourites:

Spectrum Compilations - The In Crowd 2

5. The In Crowd (1989)

I remember for many years my favourite Spectrum mags were going on and on about this one but it was one of the few ‘big name’ compilations I didn’t own. It wasn’t until the 8-bit era was coming to an end that I finally managed to get hold of a copy. Was it worth the wait? Well, it has some decent games that’s for sure: Karnov, Gryzor, Barbarian, Crazy Cars, Predator, Combat School, Platoon, and Target Renegade. While it’s true there’s not many classics on here, this compilation still proved amazing value for money by sheer weight of numbers!

Spectrum Compilations - Arcade Muscle

4. Arcade Muscle (1989)

This is another one I got quite late on, but given my love of arcade games and conversions of them, it was inevitable it would make an appearance here! There’s a bit of everything too. Platform fans get the rock-hard Bionic Commando to vex them, car (and shooting) fans get the never-ending Road Blasters, shmup fans get one offering of each type with the fantastic Side Arms and 1943, and lastly fighting fans are also catered for by the original (and oft-forgotten) Street Fighter! Quite amusing to see after playing the later games in the series, but it’s a decent enough Speccy brawler all the same. A nice variety of highly playable games from US Gold.

Spectrum Compilations - Giants

3. Giants (1988)

Say what you want about the OutRun conversions, but I still enjoyed the Speccy effort included here, monochrome graphics and all! The only game here I didn’t play much was 720 and that’s just because I didn’t really ‘get’ it. California Games is here and as much fun as ever (I particularly enjoyed the BMX event on this version) and Gauntlet 2 and Rolling Thunder are both fantastic games, and great conversions too. The latter is rather hard but very playable, and Gauntlet 2 is… more of the same old Gauntlet action really, but who’s complaining?

Spectrum Compilations - Magnificent 7

2. Magnificent Seven (1988)
A bit of a stupid name considering it had eight games on it (although one them was ‘free’ to enable Ocean to still use the catchy moniker). I had this one for near enough the entire time I had a Speccy. I remember my sister and I having great fun trying to work out what to do in Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s minigames thanks to this one, and it also led to my lasting affection for Arkanoid and Head Over Heels. The other games weren’t bad either – The Great Escape, Yie ArKung Fu, Wizball, Cobra (by the late, great Jonathan ‘Joffa’ Smith – RIP), and the slightly wiffy Short Circuit. Cracking compilation and nice variety too!

Spectrum Compilations - Taito Coin-On Hits 2

1. Taito Coin-Op Hits (1989)

Yeah, good old Taito! A compilation featuring eight games is good enough, but eight Taito games? They have long been one of my favourite games developers and this is one big reason why (or eight). I was already a big Arkanoid fan by the time I got this, so to find Arkanoid 2 included alongside the first game here was great news, and there’s some equally great news if you’re a vertical scrolling shmup fan with the amusingly-named Slapfight as well as the blinding Flying Shark included, both receiving great conversions, particularly the latter. Fans of close-quarters combat are accounted for with Rastan, Renegade, and Legend of Kage providing many hours of violence. Lastly, we have the immortal Bubble Bobble. The only thing that could’ve made this collection even better is the inclusion of The New Zealand Story! Taito Coin-Op Hits is, in my opinion, the Spectrum compilation with the consistently highest quality of games on it. I’d certainly be impressed if there’s any better!

Glen McNamee: Obscure Internet

Obscure Internet logo
Obscure Internet logo

Name: C64Glen or Glen McNamee if I’m being formal.

Title: I do clever things for a monstrously large IT service company, as well as run Obscure Internet

Company: Obscure Internet

Favorite classic game: Wizball (Commodore 64)

Quote: It’s my favourite for a millions reasons. By the geniuses at Sensible software it’s a game I still play it regularly today, because the game play is fantastic, there is still is absolute no other game like it. It’s weirdest games ever, a stroke of mad genius, featuring screaming cats, hostile geometric shapes, and drops of paint firing bullets at you, flith raids, and a brilliant and original soundtrack.