To celebrate 100 posts (well, 101 now!), here are numbers 6-10 of my Top 10 Commodore 64 games (you can read Part One here).
Another shoot ‘em up, one of the first games I bought and (along with Attack of the Mutant Camels), one of the games that started my love affair with Jeff Minter titles.
Inspired by Centipede, Gridrunner added enough new elements (such as the additional side lasers) to make it feel like a very different game. Like so many of Minter’s games, the action was finely balanced to combine frantic action with a tough, but fair challenge. The gameplay proved deeply addictive it’s the very definition of a “just one more go” game. This might be more of a “serious” game, with less of the quirky Minter humour on show, but it’s still a great shooter.
Minter updated the game with a superb version for iOS devices which showed the game had lost none of its addictive qualities. If anything, it’s got even better with age.
7. Kikstart 2
It’s hard to believe that Kikstart 2 was released as a budget game, as it put many far more expensive games to shame.
Blatantly taking its inspiration, music and name from the popular BBC show Kickstart, you had to successfully drive a motorbike across an obstacle course.
The game was a real test of skill and judgement and you had to quickly decide the best way to get across the different obstacles. Take them too fast and you would fall off; go too slow and you’d also come a-cropper, losing valuable seconds. Speed was of the essence as you were racing against both the clock and a second biker (computer or human controlled) so you had to judge the balance between speed and caution perfectly if you wanted to win.
Courses were varied and there were plenty of them giving the game a lot of long-term playability. The two-player split-screen mode was especially fun, adding to the sense of competition. As if this wasn’t enough, Kikstart 2 came with a level creator, allowing you to set your own challenges.
Kikstart 2 was, quite simply one of the best value games on the C64, offering maximum fun at a budget price.
8. The Last Ninja
A lot of people prefer the sequel, but it’s the original Last Ninja that always sticks in my mind, simply because it was so far ahead of anything else at the time.
Graphically and aurally, the game was stunning with detailed backdrops, fluid animation and memorable tunes. It was no slouch in the gameplay department either, seamlessly blending combat, action and puzzles in a satisfying way to create an engrossing challenge.
Although the isometric perspective caused occasional frustration due to the need for pixel perfect positioning, this was limited and the rest of the game more than made up for it.
The Last Ninja was one of the definitive titles in the latter part of the C64’s life and showed what the machine was really capable of in the hands of a talented programmer.
Another of Microprose’s more accessible titles, Pirates! was one of the earliest examples of an open world game (before the term existed).
Cast as a journeyman pirate, you had to take to the seas in your ship and make your fortune by attacking other ships, seizing their cargo and crew, trading commodities in towns and generally trying to improve your fame and fortune. A range of side missions – finding a bride, tracking down your long-lost family or piecing together treasure maps –added to the variety.
Pirates! was an excellent blend of strategy and action. Every decision you took had a consequence (attacking too many ships from one particular nation would make that nation your enemy; on the other hand, that nation’s other enemies would look favourably on your actions). There was a strong risk-reward balance (attacking bigger, stronger would bring greater rewards, but failure could mean the loss of your carefully amassed fortune.)
Pirates! was an immersive and engrossing game where it was all too easy to lose track of time. It was one of the few times I disagreed with Zzap!64 (who only gave it 68%), as it deserved a far better mark.
When I bought this, I had no idea that Salamander was based on a popular arcade machine. I just knew that Zzap!64 had given it an excellent review and I had the chance to buy the disk version for a cheap price.
A cracking horizontally-scrolling shoot em up in its own right and a very solid arcade conversion, it was immense fun to play. Yes, it was a tough challenge (most games were in those days), but practice really did make perfect, as each game saw you progress a little further as you learned the attack patterns of the alien hordes and moved into position to destroy/avoid them.
The superb graphics and sound only encouraged you to continue. They still look impressive today, but for the time it offered unbelievable variety between each of the levels and some really imaginative design (the fire level and the massive tusks always stick in my mind). This also helped reinforce the idea that you were making progress.
One of the C64’s best looking, and best, shoot em ups.
So there you have it: my (current) Top 10 C64 games. Inevitably, there may be a few raised eyebrows, but the truth is that the C64 had so many fantastic games that trying to name a top 10 is incredibly difficult. There’s no place for superb titles like Bruce Lee or Leaderboard – both of which I played extensively. Turbo Outrun (making up for the travesty that was Outrun) almost made it, but just ran out of gas as it approached the finish line. Similarly, some titles which are generally considered to be classics (Wizball, Elite) are missing because – whilst they were undoubtedly impressive games – I personally never got into them.
What this list represents is either the games which I played most at the time or the ones that I look back on most fondly when I consider my now long-distant childhood.
Hope you enjoyed reading and feel free to leave your comments below on what you think of my choices (just keep it polite!)