Hey, look, it’s Monday, and even though I said I’d stop Retro Game of the Week entries, here I am with a post! No, RGOTW isn’t back, but I did say I’d post semi-regularly regarding some of the things I’ve been playing, and I did say I was going to play some Commodore 64… and so I have been.
When I was young, my parents scraped together enough money to get me the Commodore VIC-20, and eventually, the Datasette (basically a storage device that used regular audio cassette tapes to store data — yes, it was as slow as you might think it would be). As my poor VIC-20 got atrociously out of date after some years, my parents, in their infinite lower-middle class generosity to their computer-crazed son, plopped down a brand new Commodore 64 in front of me. Still had the Datasette, though, so loading something like Telengard would take an insane 30 minutes! (The game was something like 35KB, smaller than most small images that it takes a fraction of a second to load from the internet these days. Take that, priviledged kids.) Eventually, they once again felt the sorrow of a poor nerd and ponied up the money for the 1541 disk drive, featuring 5 1/4″ floppy disks that held a whopping 170ish KB of data. And loaded a lot faster than that damn Datasette — I was up and playing Telengard in a few minutes now! (And thanks to me eventually acquiring a fast loading cartridge to speed up things, it loaded even faster! It was no fraction of a second like it would load now, but hey, progress!)
So many exclamation points, I know. The sign of a poor writer. But it is a reflection of the excitement I had at the time for the Commodore 64 — a simple yet effective machine, every bit of it laid bare for me to manipulate, hack on, fiddle with, and, yes, play games with. It was my first true love in computing, and it still holds a place dear to my heart.
My actual Commodore 64 hardware is long gone, long since broken and lost to the ages, but I still am able to play its games and toy around with it thanks to a magnificent emulator called VICE. It is technically a multi-emulator that is able to run all 8-bit Commodore hardware, from the old PET computers to the VIC-20, Commodore 64, 128 and PLUS4. It’s quite a magnificent feat of programming and very impressive work was done to simulate it very well, especially the magnificent Commodore 64’s sound chip (SID), which was capable of some impressive sound feats back in the day.
Did I mention it can play games?
This game is probably one of the games you think of when you think of Commodore 64 gaming. It’s a very early example of a fighting game, where you can fight against the computer or another player to execute a variety of karate punches and kicks to knock down your opponent (unlike many fighting games, one good hit knocks them down and you gain a point). The controls seem rather awkward at first as you only have the standard Commodore 64 8-position joystick plus single button to control your fighter, but as you play more, you quickly remember the movements required to pull of any move. There were many variants of this game, and trying quite a few of them, I never was able to find the exact version of the game I played back in the day, but the version I ended up with was close enough.
Great Giana Sisters
Super Mario Bros. and Nintendo, eat your heart out. The Commodore 64 proved it could play side-scrolling platformers, too, and delivered a very good Mario Bros.-like with this game. Pressing up on the control stick to jump was a little awkward if you’re used to doing it with a button, but it was necessary, like International Karate+, to map everything to a single one-button stick.
Radar Rat Race
Hoooly crap. I had completely forgotten about this one until scrolling through a game list for the C64 and happening on this thing. The game is basically a clone of the arcade Rally-X, and is very well done and insanely fun. Big smile on my face playing this one.
Raid on Bungeling Bay
I didn’t play a whole lot of this back in the day, but I did remember that the helicopter controls were absolutely awesome, confirmed by my replay of it today. It’s a pretty simple multiscrolling fly-around-and-shoot-things game, but it’s really a solid game.
There seems to be many people who remember Speedball 2 and not this one, and claim that the second game was the better game. I disagree. 2 had a more zoomed in view with clunkier controls and chaotic (in a bad way) gameplay, while the original seemed a lot more solid and fun to play. 2 wasn’t bad, mind you, but I think the original just has it beat in every way that matters. In the end it’s just a simple football game, (“soccer” for my fellow USAians that are obsessed with that “other” so-called football) but hell, it’s fun, and that’s what counts.
I highly recommend grabbing the Vice emulator and giving these games (and others) a try. You might find that the Commodore 64 will win your heart, as well.