“Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday to me…”
Exactly 100 posts (and almost two years ago), RetroReactiv8 entered into the world, kicking, screaming and shouting to anyone who cared to listen about how games were better in the old days.
To celebrate this milestone, I decided to post my Top 10 Commodore 64 games. I have fond memories of the C64. It was my first proper computer and the one that started my lifelong love of gaming. Other computers have come and gone over the years, but the humble beige breadbin will always have a special place in my heart. So what better way to celebrate it – and 100 blog posts – than a retrospective on some of my favourite games for the system?
To be honest, this list is far from definitive. I confess to being a little fickle when it comes to “favourites” lists. If I wrote this article again in 6 months, the list would probably look quite different. It’s also a very personal list: there are probably some games you’d expect to see that aren’t there; whilst others, that maybe don’t instantly scream “classic” to most people, have earned their place. What can I say? I’ve just got eclectic tastes!
To avoid making this post too long, it’s split into two parts. Part one contains games 1-5 and I’ll post Part 2 (you guessed it: games 6-10) later in the week. The titles are listed purely in alphabetical order, rather than ranked in order of preference. The C64 had so many fantastic games that whittling it down to a list of 10 was hard enough – trying to rank the finalists would just have been impossible!
1. Airborne Ranger
Most of the Microprose games passed me by. I don’t have the patience for simulations or strategy games and I don’t want to have to read a 200 page manual just to learn how to take off. Airborne Ranger was one of their rare nods to more action-orientated affairs.
As a US Ranger dropped behind enemy lines, you had a series of missions to fulfil. Unlike Commando, though, charging in all guns blazing was going to get you nowhere except dead. Instead, you had to sneak around, using cover to creep up on enemies before taking them out (or avoiding them all together if you could). To add to the pressure, you had to complete your mission and reach the top of the screen within a time limit – otherwise you would miss your transport out of there.
Airborne Ranger combined several different elements successfully. There was enough action to keep people like myself happy and enough strategic thinking required to satisfy more strategic gamers, all combined with a generous dollop of peril and varied mission objectives. It’s one of the earliest examples of the stealth genre (certainly it was the first game of its type I played) and I loved it.
2. Bubble Bobble
Perhaps a more expected title is Software Creation’s sublime conversion of Taito’s arcade game. Help Bub and Bob – two children trapped in dinosaur form (obviously) – escape from 100 static screens filled with monsters. Bub and Bob can blow bubbles (also obviously) and must use these to trap monsters before popping the bubbles to kill them.
The C64 game was pretty much an arcade perfect conversion, preserving the same addictive action, great tune and cutesy graphics. Playing in single player mode was fun enough, but play with a friend and it became even better. Friendships could be tested to the limit as you worked together to try and kill the monsters, then raced to see who could get to all those lovely bonus items first.
A superb conversion of a fantastic game. I’d argue that even ports onto modern, more powerful hardware haven’t matched the C64 version.
3. Football Manager
As noted above, I’m not really one for slower paced games, but something about Football Manager – the first football management game – was just so compulsive.
Charged with taking a team from the bottom of the 4th Division to the top of the (then) First Division, you were responsible for selecting your team, buying and selling players, dealing with injuries and making crucial tactical substitutions during matches.
Like all good games, Football Manager was incredibly simple to get into but had a massive amount of depth and was incredibly immersive. A friend and I played it for hours at a time, often bickering over what our line-up should be or when we should make a substitution. It could also be a surprisingly tense affair as you clung on to a slender lead in the dying minutes of a match, hoping to get that result you needed.
It’s testament to how fun and accessible Football Manager was that I’ve never enjoyed any other football management game because nothing else ever successfully combine the same accessibility, depth and addictiveness of this original title.
Kevin Toms has already revisited the Football Manager game with his Kevin Toms’ Football on iOS devices and is currently rewriting his original game for new platforms. I never thought I’d say this about a football management game, but this makes me very excited.
4. Forbidden Forest
What’s not to like against a game that has you as a lone archer killing fearsome monsters with just a bow and arrow?
Forbidden Forest is one of the most atmospheric games I have ever played, the chunky graphics, brilliant music and imaginative monsters all blending to create a game that arguably offered the first cinematic game experience.
Who cares if it was a bit easy to complete? It was so much fun that you’d keep coming back to it even when you could beat it with your eyes shut.
A later, more ambitious sequel couldn’t even come close to the near perfection of Forbidden Forest.
This is a bit of a leftfield choice and not a game that would appear on many people’s Top 10s! As the name suggests, it’s a Galaxian style game featuring alien invaders that have disguised themselves as birds. Thrown together by the sickeningly talent Sensible Software when they had a few spare minutes, it was released as a budget title by Firebird, but is actually one of my favourite versions of Galaxians.
Your mission is to clear waves of mutant birds over the course of 100 screens in order to save the world from a feathery fate. Featuring pretty basic basic (but wonderfully quirky) graphics and standard sound effects, Galax-i-Birds is never going to win any awards for presentation or originality. However, it was a real blast (in every sense of the word) and massive fun to play so for that reason earns place in my top 10 (I did warn you I had eclectic taste!)
What do you think so far? Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Want to scream “But what about Game X?” at your laptop screen? Post your comments below (and don’t forget to come back later in the week for Part 2).