To make up for the lack of recent postings, this blog entry is a bit longer than normal. It was inspired by an article in Retro Gamer magazine which celebrated the 35th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum by picking the best game released for the machine in each of those 35 years.
Shamelessly stealing the idea, I decide to pick out the best Commodore 64 games for the period 1982-1992, the 10 years that I owned the machine. The post is split into two parts – one covering 1982-1986, the second 1987-1992.
The games selected are the “best” from my point of view. They aren’t not necessarily the “best” in terms of either critical acclaim or commercial success. Some will be titles you might expect to find in such a list; others are a little more left-field. Feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments below, but remember: these are my personal choices, so naturally reflect my own biases!
For each year, there will be a winner, a runner up and up to two “honorable mentions” games which I really, really liked but which didn’t quite make the final two.
So without more ado, let’s hop into our time travel machine and go all the way back to 1982
1982 was something of a lean year for gaming releases, since it was pretty early in the machine’s career, but there were still a few of note.
Jupiter Lander – a decent (if ultimately limited and repetitive) version of the arcade game, released by Commodore
Runner up: Choplifter
A rather advanced title for its time which saw you piloting a helicopter to rescue people and taken them to safety, whilst avoiding enemy fire. The rescue element added a whole new level to what would otherwise have a been a run of the mill shooter.
Winner: Radar Rat Race
The first proper C64 game I owned. A close family friend bought me the cartridge version the same Christmas I got my machine, so it’s a game that brings back very happy memories. You took control of a rat trying to escape from other rats and cats whilst eating as much cheese as possible. It was a pretty decent game too, despite the annoying repetition of “Three Blind Mice”.
If 1982 was a bit of lean year, 1983 was brought a bumper crop of games. It was the year that led me to allow “honorable mentions” since there were so many great games from this year that limiting myself to 2 seemed impossible.
Attack of the Mutant Camels: The very first game I bought myself, the first game to reviewed on this blog and the game that started a life-long love affair with the games of Jeff Minter. A quirky title for sure, but a great shoot ‘em up.
Siren City: At a time most games were still arcade clones, Siren City offered something a little different. You took on the role of a police officer patrolling the streets of the titular city and chasing down criminals. Not even the rather cumbersome controls could ruin this fun and innovative title.
Runner up: Forbidden Forest
Another highly innovative game. The chunky graphics, bombastic sound and music, gory deaths and incredible atmosphere made for a game that remained totally addictive no matter how many times you beat it. An inferior sequel followed.
Winner: Blue Max
This isometric flying/shooting game was essentially a Zaxxon clone, but for my money improved on the original. The perspective and controls took a little time to get used to, but the rewards for persevering were great. A challenging and fun game this was one of the few titles I’ve ever been any good at.
High Noon: A simple, but effective single screen Western-based shooter from Ocean. Full of quirky humour (the dancing girls, the undertaker taking away the dead bodies) and a brilliant rendition of the High Noon theme tune. Another game I was actually pretty good at, it did become repetitive after a while, but rarely stopped being fun.
Chuckie Egg: This might be heresy, but as a platform game, I’d put Chuckie Egg ahead of Manic Miner because it was more playable and less frustrating. A game I continued to play for as long as I had my C64.
Runner Up: Ghostbusters
It might have been little more than a pretty simple set of mini games based around the film, but Ghostbusters captured the spirit of its celluliod namesake. From the opening shout of “Ghostbusters, Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!” and the bouncy ball singalong theme tune to the final showdown with the Marshmallow Man, this was an all-too-rare example of a licence done well.
Winner: Bruce Lee
What can I say? Bruce Lee was an addictive and brilliantly playable platform/fighting game that just oozed quality. Full of variety and with a two player mode to boot, this is the game that stands out for me in another year that had some real quality titles.
1985 was a bumper year for sports titles, with all of my picks for this year coming from that category.
Way of the Exploding Fist: When this karate game burst arrived on the scene, it was a revelation. The presentation was head and shoulders above many other games, and it was a great fighting game to boot. Only the arrival of International Karate+ two years later could take its crown as the machine’s best martial arts game.
Frank Bruno’s Boxing: A thinly-veiled rip-off of Punch-Out!! that was impressive, fun and frustrating all at once. The larger than life characters looked great on the 64 and it provided a tough challenge. OK, it became quite repetitive and sometimes felt unfair, but I can remember grimly playing it for hours on end, determined to take Frank to the very top (as in real life, I don’t think he ever made it, sadly)
Runner-up: Graham Gooch’s Test Cricket
I’ve never really been a fan of cricket in either real life or on a computer, but something about this game just captivated me. Although control was limited to either the bowler or batter, it was a pretty decent interpretation of the sport. Like the real thing, the more you practiced, the better you got; but the emphasis on arcade style fun over serious simulation made it fun for casual players.
Winner: Barry McGuigan’s World Championship Boxing
Barry’s already been given the full review treatment on RetroReactiv8, and this remains my favourite boxing game to this day. Successfully combining basic simulation and arcade elements it saw the player take control of training and the actual fight as you made your bid for the top.
Killed Until Dead: The first of two slightly left-field choices, this was a pseudo graphic adventure set in the world of amateur sleuthing. Featuring a number of different tales, you had to identify the murderer by piecing together the clues picked up from talking to different characters. Featuring parodies of real life crime writers, this was an amusing, entertaining and quirky game, let down only by being a bit too easy.
Dandy: all-too-often dismissed as a Gauntlet clone (it actually pre-dates it), Dandy plays much better than the official conversion – it’s faster, less buggy and generally more fun. I’m not sure it ever got an official stand-alone release (I only ever saw it on compilations) which is a real shame as it’s a very overlooked title.
Runner up: Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
Dan Dare was one of the games that changed my perception of what computer games could be. It wasn’t terribly innovative in terms of basic game play (standard find/collect/use objects game mechanics), but it’s presentation was outstanding. Mimicking the panel style presentation of a real comic book it was one of the few early games that really felt like “a playable cartoon.”
Leaderboard successfully turned people (like myself) who hate golf in real life into avid computer golfers. The controls were so right that they are still pretty much still used today, whilst the game itself was challenging but fun. World Class Leaderboard might have been a more accomplished game overall, but it was the original game that was the real revelation.
Note: all the games release dates are taken from the Gamebase64 website, so don’t shout at me if you dispute them!