Commodore 64 Reviews A-L

All Commodore reviews were submitted by special VGC correspondent The C64 Critic

4th & Inches
Grade: C+
Publisher: Accolade (1987)
Reviewed: 2013/9/27

screenshotThe dawn of the 2013 NFL Season seems like the perfect time to finally review a football game for the C64 (that's American football for those across the pond). Apparently using the same engine employed by Accolade's Hardball baseball games, 4th & Inches toes the line between arcade and simulation. The end result leans more toward the arcade side, but there's still play-calling and player-substitution for those who want a coaching touch. There's no NFL licensing here; just two stock teams: the All-Pros and the Champs. Players are rated by esoteric descriptions like "speed!" and "tough!" When you want to power ahead for a yard or two, you substitute in your bigger, stronger (but slower) players. When you need to stretch the field you'll stick in your burners. Quick, who's best for a goal line situation, the backs labeled "strong" or "big"? It tells you in the instructions, but a numeric rating would have been more practical than having to check the manual just to see if "fast" is faster than "speed". The sound is adequate if sparse, and the graphics are decent. The field is situated horizontally, but the game is unable to scroll. Instead it must re-draw the entire field from scratch when the ball reaches the edge of the screen. This has the unfortunate side effect of making you run "blind" during punt returns and kickoffs. Worse, it often turns the passing game into chuck-and-pray since you can't always see your receiver before you let the pigskin fly (he's already off the screen). Another shortcoming is how once you select a play, you're locked in - no audible action here! Of course, if you wish to abort a pass play you always have the option of running it with your QB. On defense you select your player and basic formation. When the screen redraws you automatically take control of the defender nearest the ball carrier. This can be disconcerting, as you suddenly need to crank the joystick in a different direction. The computer clock management is questionable at best. I once watched the CPU let the clock run down to 0:00 when he could have called a timeout and kicked a field goal to tie our game. 4th & Inches isn't a bad football game, but it plays a little slow and the limited options are glaring in hindsight. I didn't get a chance to check out the two-player action unfortunately, and that might bump up the grade by half a letter grade or so. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

50 Mission Crush
Grade: D+
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc. (1984)
Reviewed: 2012/10/11

screenshotStrategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) was a well-known publisher of cerebral war games, so I was curious to see how they would handle a B-17 bombing campaign simulation with RPG elements. Your goal is to fly 50 successful bombing runs from England to continental Europe. Each mission begins with a quick briefing and the opportunity to properly outfit your bomber. Keep in mind that overloading can cause takeoff issues! Once in the air you direct your bomber to the target, release your payload, and do whatever it takes to return home safely. Since this is an SSI title, no joystick acumen is required - your plane is controlled by way of keystrokes. Your flight consists of phased turns. Changing altitude, firing guns, and dropping bombs are done via keyboard commands and the results are based on a loose statistical evaluation. Your bomber sustains damage to various systems (bomb sights, fuel tanks, etc.) which affect your ability to complete your mission. Damage is incurred while taking flak or being jumped by enemy fighters. This adds tension but it seems random and beyond your control, so you just have to endure it. While taking flak, fire burst shell animations mess up text messages already displayed on the screen. Is that intentional or a sign of sloppy programming? I named my nine crewmembers after friends and family members, and anticipated them gaining experience as I progressed. This is where SSI dropped the ball. The only indicator of their progress is a simple counter of the number of missions survived. They all gain the same amount regardless of their actions, so while "Newk" may have done the lion's share of fighting enemy aircraft, he gets the same single experience point as the others. The instruction manual looks good and even contains a mini "novella", but it fails to explain many things. My engineer was blown away during my fifth mission (sorry RPG Critic!) but I have no idea what impact this had on my flight. Your only evaluation is points you receive for successfully bombing targets (whoops - sorry about that orphanage). I'll give SSI credit for trying something different, but 50 Mission Crush feels too random to satisfy the war gamer or the RPG player in me. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Agent USA
Grade: B-

screenshot"Makes learning fun!" How many times have we seen this boldfaced lie emblazoned across the front of a software box? I can't say whether it was on the box for this particular game since I only have the disk, but if it was, it may be the only known instance of it being true. I wasn't even aware that this game was supposed to be educational, and that's exactly the point. In Agent USA you travel from city to city cultivating crystals while trying to locate the source of a new-tech viral infection called a Fuzzbomb. Essentially a giant TV, the Fuzzbomb transforms random "citizens" from giant walking hats into fuzzy walking lint balls. When the fuzzies make contact with other citizens they infect them as well. As you travel between train stations you can consult a map of the USA to determine where and how fast the virus is spreading. Along the way you'll learn math, geography, time zones, how to tell time, and how to spell city names - whether you like it or not. The world consists of nothing more than train stations with various numbers of "rooms" in them. To destroy the Fuzzbomb you must touch it while holding 100 crystals. You begin with only ten crystals but can drop them to "grow" new ones. The thing is, when you drop them the people will snatch them up. The good news is, those citizens become immune to infection, and sometimes even drop crystals in an attempt to grow more themselves. Pretty neat really! Being touched by an infected citizen will destroy half of your crystals, and this is annoying when you're at your limit of 100 and just one town away from the Fuzzbomb. The best strategy is to find a room in a train station with only one entryway, drop a bunch of crystals at the far end, and play goalie at the entrance, guiding citizens away before they see your crystals. If you get infected while carrying no crystals, you're done for. Despite its minimal graphics and sound, Agent USA is an interesting and fun diversion for a few hours. Once you beat it however there's not much incentive to play it again. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Airborne Ranger
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microprose (1987)
Reviewed: 2011/10/28

screenshotAirborne Ranger allows each of us to bring out our inner Rambo from the safety of our easy chair (while warming our feet on the Commodore power brick). Best described as a "thinking man's Commando", you control the actions of a soldier working his way up a map. You take out enemies (or avoid them) until you complete your mission and meet the Osprey helicopter at a predetermined pickup point. There are 12 missions to embark on, and you can select either a practice or veteran Ranger. The veteran gives you a persistent character that accumulates points, medals, and even gets promoted! I once lost a veteran Ranger at the end of a grueling mission only to discover that he was posthumously promoted and awarded a medal! The missions take place in three zones - arctic, temperate, and desert. These affect your rate of fatigue and availability of concealment. Varied goals include destroying a munitions depot, capturing an enemy officer, and photographing a secret enemy aircraft. You start each mission by flying over the combat zone to plan your general route of attack. You can drop three supply pods which will allow you to refresh your supply of ammo, rockets, grenades, bombs, and first aid kits. Once you parachute down, it's GO TIME! You can run, walk, or crawl to traverse the landscape but you need to be mindful of the countdown timer. Play too cautiously and you can get left behind by your Osprey. Side note: if you miss your pickup and run out of ammo, you can be 'captured' by the enemy and your Ranger is no longer available to you. However, if you then create a second Ranger and play the 'Liberate P.O.W. Camp' mission, you can actually rescue your formerly captured Ranger and continue playing as him! How freakin' cool is that!? You'll typically use a combination of crawling and running to forge ahead. Sprinting minimizes the chances of being shot, but you will get fatigued if you sprint too much. The best strategy is to sprint from trench to trench and then crawl until you're ready to take off again. If you complete your mission early, you can call your Osprey and get out of dodge without having to wait it out. Airborne Ranger is graphically decent and the sound/music is well done. The only thing that kept this game from an "A" was the realization that while the mission objectives are different, the basic gameplay tends to be pretty much the same. Still, I really enjoyed starting a Ranger in the Campaign mode to see how many points I could accumulate and what medals I could attain. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Beach-Head
Grade: B
Publisher: Access Software (1983)
Reviewed: 2012/3/1

screenshotEssentially a set of five mini-games, Beach-Head offers a fairly easy and quick way to get your fix. The goal is to move your military force to a beach and then defeat an evil dictator by destroying his fortress. You begin the game with a flotilla of ships at the top-left of a strategic map. You can opt to either head straight for the beach or "sneak" closer to the shore. If you choose to sneak up, you'll have to navigate your ten ships, one by one, through a treacherous waterway filled with mines and torpedoes. Difficult at first, it becomes much easier with practice and is my preferred approach. If you take the direct route, you'll begin by fending off enemy planes using your AA gun. You must train your gun on approaching fighters and attempt to destroy them as they strafe your ships. Occasionally there's a patrol plane you can shoot down for extra points, not unlike the UFO in Space Invaders. It can feel like you're spending forever on this screen. Next you'll find yourself engaged in a battle with the enemy fleet itself, as large guns fire at you from their decks. Using feedback such as "1300 meters long", you gradually raise or lower your own gun to destroy their ships. After sending the enemy fleet to Davey Jones Locker, you finally move onto the beach itself. Here is where your previous skills either pay off or leave you hurting. Each ship carries two tanks, and the last thing you want is to start your land attack with only two or four tanks! Your tanks move from left to right over a scrolling landscape filled with walls, trenches, things that look like mailboxes, and the occasional enemy. Touching anything is deadly and the collision detection is unforgiving. At the far end of this obstacle course is the fortress with a large gun emplacement at the top. Hit all ten targets on the fortress to destroy it and win the game. You even see a little white flag waved from the top, suggesting this may have been a French beach (wait, never mind, these guys actually put up some resistance). It usually took me three times reaching the fortress before I could destroy it, but if you're really good you can probably do it in two. You can play with two players, but there's no co-op of any kind. The top ten scores of all time are saved to disk, giving you extended bragging rights and something to aim for in the future. A bug I discovered lets you run up your score by continually shooting the displayed point value of any enemy destroyed in the tank screen. As my son discovered, that same bug will kill you if your tank runs into the score before it disappears. That dictator is one sneaky bastard! © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
Grade: C+
Publisher: Muse Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2012/3/1

screenshotWhile generally frowned upon in our society, the remorseless killing of two particular sub-classes of people has become not only acceptable but actually encouraged. Obviously we're talking about zombies and Nazis. Beyond Castle Wolfenstein lets you get your fill of the latter, allowing you to blow up Hitler himself as icing on the cake. You begin in a room in a three-story bunker, alone with only 10 bullets, 100 Marks, and some random number of passes. Your goal is to walk from room to room until you find a bomb hidden in a closet. You then need to stealthily deliver it just outside where the Fuhrer himself is holding a meeting (always on the third level). The game plays from a top-down perspective, and as you walk around you will be challenged by guards to show a pass. You must guess which pass is used for each level of the bunker, and you get two chances to get it right. If you show two wrong passes in a row, the guards will attack you and/or set off a bunker-wide alarm. You can use your Marks to bribe them if you aren't sure which pass is the correct one and don't want to risk it. My favorite tactic is to figure out the correct pass number, show it to the guards, and then stab them in the back as they walk away. This way I don't have to deal with them on the way back, and stabbing them helps preserve my limited number of bullets. Searching closets reveals tools, keys, first aid kits, bullets, etc., and of course, the bomb. Once you find it, you need to make your way to where Hitler is holding his meeting, leave the bomb outside the door of the conference room, and head back to your starting location as quickly as possible. Once the bomb explodes alarms go off and guards will attack you on sight. The graphics are pretty sparse and the sound minimal, but it was one of the first games to incorporate not only synthesized speech but synthesized German speech! Although you'd think it would get old, I never got tired of hearing "Halt!", "kommen sie!", "aus pass?", or best of all the incredibly high-pitched girlish scream when I drove my dagger home (hey, they're Nazi's for cryin' out loud!) While highly motivated to finish the game, after I blew up Hitler and his cronies my enthusiasm for a second go-round at a higher difficulty level was lacking. It's pretty fun to play through once, but the random bunker generator not withstanding it seems like just more of the same. I highly recommend the game to all Commodore enthusiasts, but doubt it's one that you'll sink endless hours into. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Blue Max
Grade: B
Publisher: Synapse Software (1983)
Reviewed: 2016/2/7

screenshotBack before we owned a C64 my father borrowed one from his friend for some non-gaming business. Once I found that Blue Max disk in the box however my dad found himself in a constant struggle to pry me off the system. I was fascinated with the concept of piloting a WWI-era biplane while shooting, strafing, and bombing anything I could get my munitions on. Blue Max is an isometric shooter in the same vein as Zaxxon (Atari XE, 1983). The object is to destroy a certain number of targets indicated by colorful flashing. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can zoom in low and strafe targets on the ground. I say adventurous because more than once I've unceremoniously plowed into the ground due to an unexpected wind gust. You can even fly under bridges if you're daring enough! The enemy won't go down quietly, as anti-aircraft guns, boats, tanks, and planes take potshots at you. Get hit and you'll suffer malfunctions affecting your weapons (become intermittent), fuel tank (consumes at twice normal rate), or your plane's maneuverability (sluggish and sometimes lists to the side). It can actually be quite thrilling to nurse your plane along with fuel leaking and impaired maneuverability. If you stay aloft you’ll eventually arrive at a friendly airbase to stock up on ammo and repair any damage. I discovered it's actually possible to be bombed while sitting on the runway preparing for your next flight! Which begs the question, why there are friendly airfields in the middle of enemy territory? Hasn’t it occurred to anyone to use those tanks to take away the my ability to conduct air operations? The stages aren’t terribly different from each other but enough to keep things interesting. Apparently it's possible to win by reaching an area with three fortified bunkers in a city but I’ve never gotten that far. Blue Max is a short, fun game that scratches that itch for some quick, mindless arcade action. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Blue Max 2001
Grade: D
Publisher: Synapse Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2016/3/13

screenshotDespite its futuristic title, Blue Max 2001 takes place a full 15 years in the past! You play the role of the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Max Chatsworth, the pilot in the original game. That would him you Max Chatsworth the 9th, one of the best made-up names since Homer Simpson declared himself Hercules Rockefeller, world's strongest millionaire! But how could there be nine generations since WWI? The math doesn't add up. Anyway, this game was programmed in 1984 when everybody assumed that by 2001 we'd all be zipping around in flying cars. So instead of a biplane, Blue Max 2001 puts you in a hovercraft that looks like your stereotypical flying saucer. Oddly, the picture on the box depicts a jet fighter. The opening music is moody enough but the graphics in the game are kind of ugly. You begin on a landing pad and lift off straight into the air. The controls are atrocious, and I could never get the hang of maneuvering my ship. You press forward and backwards to change altitude and diagonal to move forward and backwards. Lining up with enemy craft is a constant source of frustration. I can get my position right or my attitude right, but rarely both at the same time! Unlike the original Blue Max, the screen remains stationary until you move to the top left of the screen, at which time the ground begins to scroll diagonally. Your goal is to shoot and bomb pretty much anything you can (except for refueling depots), including cars, boats, artillery, and buildings. One really cool type of building looks like a tesla coil firing a bolt of lightning skyward. Enemy craft can shoot you but seem to prefer ramming you. Your ship can sustain more damage than your biplane ever could, but you're a sitting duck in the act of refueling. A single bomb is all it takes to put a fork in your game, and that seemed to account for the bulk of my deaths! Ugh. Instead of moving the series forward, I'm afraid Blue Max 2001 took it in the wrong direction. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Bruce Lee
Grade: A-
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Reviewed: 2015/8/18

screenshotBefore there was Chuck Norris, there was Bruce Lee. And let me tell you, for all the internet memes about how tough Chuck Norris is, Bruce Lee embodied ten times his badassery. True story - Bruce Lee actually fought Chuck Norris in the movie "Way of the Dragon" and literally beat him to death. In this Bruce Lee game however Chuck is nowhere to be found. Instead Bruce must deal with the likes of a bo-staff wielding ninja and a big green Sumo wrestler named Yamo. Chuck actually got his own C64 game which if memory serves really sucks but I haven't played it since 1985. Bruce Lee is a platformer at heart and plays as quick and easy as the best of them. In single-player mode you play as Bruce on a quest to collect lanterns and destroy some kind of wizard. A second player can control Yamo which is actually quite fun! Your quest begins in a village but after collecting all available lanterns a trap door opens and you continue below ground. There you'll contend with vines, exploding bushes, "pan lights", and electrical charges (in addition to the ninja and Yamo). Sporting something akin to the yellow and black outfit he wore in "Game of Death", Bruce has to punch, kick, and jump his way through the various obstacles. Precision is required as you must carefully time not only your jumps, but climbs (to dodge swords) and even falls (to avoid electrical charges). The controls are simple enough although I noticed Bruce would occasionally hesitate when running. Initially I blamed my 30-year-old joystick but after swapping it with other joysticks I concluded it was either a bug or a feature. While no show-stopper it's enough to screw you up from time to time. While a bit on the blocky side, the crisp, colorful graphics are pretty good (for 1984) and I like the sound and music as well. I had a great time playing Bruce Lee while sipping a delicious "Fielder's Choice" lager (from the unofficial brewery of this website, Heavy Seas) on a 90-plus degree summer day. This is the kind of game that promotes the "one more time" mentality as you get farther and farther along. Wife complaining? Cat meowing? Kids fussing? Tune it all out, block off a solid hour, and immerse yourself in Bruce Lee! © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SDZ 72,900
1 or 2 players 

Castles of Doctor Creep, The
Grade: A+

screenshotCastles of Doctor Creep delivers some of the best "spooky" fun to be found in the entire (and extensive) Commodore library! You must make your way through any one of 13 different castles without losing all your lives. Why you need to do this is never explained in the manual, but you know what? Some games are best left to your imagination. As you move from room to room traps, obstacles, puzzles, and locked doors attempt to thwart your progress. Some doors open with the push of a button, but others are color-coded and can only be opened with a key. Moving between rooms can be as simple as climbing a ladder or pole, or as complicated as using moving sidewalks while avoiding Frankenstein monsters and temporarily disabling force fields. The scoring is limited to the time it takes to reach each castle exit, and some of the more difficult castles can take over an hour to navigate! Luckily you can save your game at any time - although by saving and reloading you will forfeit your shot at having your time recorded. The top ten fastest times are saved for each castle. Castles of Doctor Creep can be played by a single player, but you're really doing yourself a disservice if you don't try the two-player mode. Having a second player can be a tremendous boon when attempting to shut down lightning machines, turn off force fields, or take control of ray guns. Two-player games are particularly fiendish because while it's crucial to work as a team, the fastest time is ultimately what determines who won and lost so it's extremely tempting to leave your partner out to dry when you're near the exit and he's low on lives. While ultimately a puzzle game, the atmosphere, sound, and graphics are reminiscent of a good adventure. Twitch reflexes and joystick skill are crucial for surviving difficult spots. I have to admit I've only been able to get through the first few castles so I can only imagine what kind of time investment it would require to get through some of the more difficult ones. Considering how much fun I've had playing with my youngest son - who absolutely LOVES all things scary and Halloween-y, I can't imagine playing without having him by my side to tempt mummies, trip trapdoors, or work matter transporters. This is a fairly difficult game to find anymore and I paid over $125 for a complete boxed copy of it. But you know what? It was worth EVERY PENNY! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Cauldron
Grade: C-

screenshotCauldron is sort of a hybrid side-scrolling shooter/platform jumper where you're a witch (literally called a hag in the game - I guess those were less politically-correct times). Your goal is to retrieve her golden broom from her mortal enemy, the Pumpking. You start the game above ground, walking out of your cottage to find six ingredients needed to reclaim your golden broom. The broom is hidden in one of four underground lairs, each of which contains some subset of the ingredients you need to make your potion. Appropriately, the ingredients are: Juice of Toad, Eye of Newt, Wing of Bat, Hemlock Root, Piece of Bone, and Molten Lava. Party at the witches cottage! Each lair is accessed through a colored door, and you must scour the surface world to find the matching keys before you can open the doors. To search for the keys, you fly on your broom through an opening in the trees and move left or right while watching the ground for keys. Make sure you take off and land only where a clearing exists, because touching anything else is instant death and the collision detection is very unforgiving. As you fly, you'll pass a forest, a graveyard, a volcanic mountain range, and open ocean. Depending on the area, you'll contend with flying bats, ghosts, floating pumpkins, flying lava, sharks, and sea gulls (really? seagulls? How scary is that?). The fire button shoots a magic bolt at these creatures, but I found it more effective to simply dodge them as you go. When you're hit, magic points are deducted, and hitting zero sends you tumbling to your death. Once you match a key to a door, you can land and enter a lair. Each lair is a platform-jumping puzzle, and you have to time and space your jumps so that you don't fall to your death. For some reason the witch can no longer use her broom to fly around these chambers, and gravity seems to have quadrupled in strength. Moving from one section of the lair to another is difficult due to some abruptly-shifting scrolling. It led me to die more times than I care to remember, as I couldn't see where I was going until it was too late. Even when you know where you're headed, the unforgiving collision detection and physics make getting around without dying a tall order. I was able to collect about half the ingredients but could never gather enough to challenge the Pumpking. While many people appear to have found the music in the game a highlight, I found it rather repetitive and annoying, like a 3rd-grade cousin with his first flute. Graphically the game looks very nice, with lots of color and smooth scrolling. I really like the Halloween theme, and I almost felt guilty playing this "out of season". The controls left a little to be desired, as when flying above the surface inertia carries you forward (much like Defender). It really becomes an issue when you're attempting to stop straight over a key so you can dip down and grab it. I think I might have given this game a C+ were it not for the difficulty, which I found almost on par with Ghosts and Goblins (at least underground). There is no two-player option, and the game doesn't record your high scores. I spent about an hour playing Cauldron for this review, and while I can't say I didn't enjoy it I also doubt I'll be booting it back up for another go anytime soon. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Championship Baseball
Grade: C-
Publisher: Gamestar (1986)
Reviewed: 2012/10/11

screenshotI bought this game on the advice of no less than the Video Game Critic himself. He claimed to have fond memories of playing this in his teens and said it was one of the better baseball games of its era. I'm beginning to think early-onset dementia may be overcoming him because Championship Baseball is average at best. Following an un-skippable intro screen (for the three people who cared about who the graphic artist and assistant producer were), you are treated to... the main loading screen! When the loading is finally complete, you can take batting practice or play a game. I started my own team with players rated against four different stats (batting, running, throwing, catching). You need to set your batting lineup before each game, and frankly I found it to be a pain in the rear. Would a default lineup be too much to ask for? When batting, the screen is split into two views; one behind the batter and one from a top-down perspective. In theory the behind-the-plate view lets you anticipate the pitch, but the lack of a shadow makes it really hard to read the ball. The overhead view is more useful, but I still found it impossible to hit a fastball. When the ball is hit you automatically assume control of what is supposed to be the closest player. In too many instances the CPU put me in control of an outfielder when an infielder was clearly closer to the ball. On top of that, the fielding controls are cumbersome and non-intuitive. You need to press and release the button and then push the joystick toward the proper base - in relation to the pitcher's mound. I got the hang of it, but still found myself throwing to the wrong base 30% of the time. There's a noticeable lag when throwing, causing you to wind up on the wrong side of some close calls. Conversely, I can't tell you how many times I was thrown out at second because I forgot to advance the runner on first after a hit. Why the game doesn't automatically advance your lead runner is beyond me. Despite the annoyances, I found myself enjoying Championship Baseball for at least the first four or five innings. After that the bad controls and wonky AI take their toll on me. With the Orioles finally getting a post-season berth for the first time in 15 years I'm in full baseball mode this month, but even with that exuberance it's hard to play a full game of Championship Baseball. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Commando
Grade: C-
Publisher: Data East (1985)
Reviewed: 2016/11/20

screenshotIn celebration of Veteran's Day I decided to fire up a few soldier-related games. Having already reviewed Airborne Ranger (one of my favorites), I opted for the far less cerebral Commando. While it may be a port of an arcade game, it's considerably less playable and enjoyable. With no difficulty settings available you are thrust right into the thick of things and the pace is relentless. Starting at the bottom of a vertically-scrolling screen, you must forge ahead (upwards) to free POW's. You'll be shot at, have grenades thrown at you, mortars dropped on your head, and cannons directed your way. Against all of this you have a rifle and some useless grenades. Why useless? Because to use them you have to hit the space bar! The action in this game is so frantic that taking your hand off your joystick for any length of time is certain death. Thus, I found better success by sticking with the rifle. Speaking of which, unless you have a gizmo to enable continuous fire your thumb will be killing you. You must constantly mash the fire button if you want a snifter of a chance to survive. I broke out what's supposed to be a "continuous fire" adapter for my joystick but it didn't work. Commando's graphics and sound are decent but there's a noticeable and somewhat distracting flickering of the screen. As an arcade conversion Commando may be passable, but by the time you're done you might need a medic yourself! © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Computer Ambush
Grade: D
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc. (1982)
Reviewed: 2013/2/13

screenshotOne of SSI's early attempts at computerizing their library of war games, Computer Ambush plays like some kind of weird computer/board game hybrid. I knew I was in for a unique experience when the game box produced two laminated maps, grease pencils, and an extensive manual. There's also a large yellow "summary card" with orders information on one side and a soldier characteristics chart on the other. Make sure you have room if you decide to play this game, because you'll need lots of space to spread out these handy reference materials! The tabletop roots of SSI are evident in the sparse, almost non-existent graphics and sound. You can play one of five scenarios against the computer or seven scenarios against a human opponent (the video game equivalent of going to the DMV). You select different soldiers that fit your play style and strategically place them at the beginning of the game. Pretty much all the scenarios boil down to moving your individual soldiers around a French town, hunting down German soldiers, or defending from German attack. Having long enjoyed tactical-level squad-based war games, I was really looking forward to hunting down some Krauts. Unfortunately this is one game where the interface really bogs down the action. It should be exciting and suspenseful to move your Sergeant carefully around a corner with his rifle at the ready and an enemy soldier lying in wait. However, doing so requires you to type in an esoteric string of commands like "pr", "mr23d", and "fa5030". That translates to Prepare Rifle, Move Regular north-east 3 squares while dodging, Fire on Area if an enemy is there, and a 50% chance to hit for 30 time points. Heck, just having your soldier do nothing more than face east means typing "mr30r"! And you won't even see your soldier executing your command, because you're treated to a black screen as time counts down, with any actions conveyed via sounds. You can view what happened in the after-action report screen, but most of the tension is lost in translation. If you're an old tabletop war-game "grognard" without a human opponent to beat up on, you may find this game enjoyable with its board game look and feel. Personally I couldn't get comfortable with the interface. I had a few moments of fun here and there as my soldiers took fire from an unseen enemy, but largely I felt like I was fighting the interface while wishing I had a decent view of the action. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Congo Bongo
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/4/15

screenshotI had fond memories of playing this game back when arcades still roamed the earth, circa my freshman year of high school. The completely original game concept featured a large gorilla at the top of the screen throwing boulders or coconuts down at you as you try to climb to the top while jumping over things and avoiding obstacles. Ok, maybe it wasn't so original, and frankly I'm surprised that Nintendo didn't take Sega to court over it. What they did do differently was make the game play from an isometric perspective and give up any pretense of your character being a hero. In fact, now that I think about it, I have no idea why he is so intent on climbing up to the gorilla but whatever. In any event I decided to load this game up and see what the Commodore was able to do with it. The answer: not much! This game is clearly a butchered port job from another system, probably the Atari 5200, and is hard on both the eyes and the ears. With so much potential it's a shame the developer didn't do a little more to take advantage of the Commodore's graphical and sound capabilities, but for whatever reason they used the same ugly washed-out orange-yellow-brown color scheme and sparse/monotonous sound effects of whatever God-forsaken system it was ported from. I was only able to get to the second level, which apparently decided that it would rather rip off Frogger than Donkey Kong, but from what I've read two levels is all the C64 version got anyway (the original arcade version had four). Trying to time jumps and judge distances is tough enough with the isometric display, but unforgiving collision detection makes getting through the levels an even bigger chore. After playing about a half-dozen games of Congo Bongo I decided I had had enough, and that the best thing I could say about the game was that it was on a floppy disk that also contained Galaxian and Boulder Dash. I'm glad to have played it again after all this time and getting through the first level was mildly amusing, but it's likely to be another 28 years before I play it again. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Elite
Grade: B
Publisher: FIrebird (1984)
Reviewed: 2014/3/4

screenshotIn space, no one can hear you scream. In your basement, when your wife is upstairs trying to concentrate on schoolwork however, it's a whole other story (trust me on this). As one of the first randomly-generated, free-wheeling space games ever, Elite is remembered fondly by almost all who have played it. Having purchased a complete/original copy, it warmed my heart to see all the goodies packed into the heavy box. A massive manual, a ship identification poster, and even a novella for crying out loud! It doesn't necessarily figure into the gameplay, but I read the entire thing and I have to say it really does set the mood and get you pumped to play. The object of the game is to work your way up from a poor, humble trader (with nary 100 credits) to an "Elite" pilot helming a ship bristling with armament (and a bankroll to match). To do this you must trade intergalactic goods between any of 256 planets per galaxy (8 galaxies in all) as well as destroy intergalactic pirates for bounty. The game is truly one where how you play is entirely up to you. As you earn money you can purchase upgrades for your ship, allowing you to hold more cargo, mount additional weapons, scoop up lost cargo, or automatically dock with an orbiting space station (one of the first upgrades most folks are likely to purchase). The cockpit view is a thing of beauty, putting all relevant information in an easily-parsed and well-organized HUD. The radar at the bottom does a great job indicating where enemies, space stations, and asteroids are located in the three-dimensional space around you. The graphics are largely wire-frame style against a black background, and they are subject to slow-down when battling multiple boogies. The sounds of space combat are classic 80's, and even my wife commented on how they reminded her of "dorky video games from when she was a kid". The C64's SID chips ability to play music is legendary, and the strains of Blue Danube you hear when you engage your docking computer will stick with you for life. The game really grabbed me at first and I spent almost every free moment upgrading my ship and flying around to find profitable trade routes. After that, however, it started to feel very hamster-wheel-ish. Elite would have easily been A+ material if there had been more missions, but there are only a couple of specific missions. It may be a free and open universe, but once you've purchased every possible upgrade there seems little to keep you coming back. Sure, I can keep racking up kills to raise my rank (I got as high as "dangerous"), but to what end? Still, I truly enjoyed the first 20-30 hours I put into this game, and frankly that's more than enough for any gamer to feel they got their money's worth. A great game in its own right, I just can't help but feel how close to perfection they were able to come had they only included more content or an overall "plot". For further reading there is an excellent article about the original authors of Elite and how they came about writing and publishing the game. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Friday the 13th
Grade: D

screenshotIt's accepted as fact by the scientific community that just about any video game based on a movie will be awful. Friday the 13th doesn't do much to buck the trend, but while playing it before Halloween with beer in hand, I didn't hate it. You begin in a church, playing the role of a camp counselor. You're presented with a quick bio that has absolutely no bearing on the gameplay. The idea is to locate and kill Jason before he can murder your ten fellow campers. This requires picking up weapons and assaulting the very teens you're trying to save! Why? Because Jason is a doppelganger who looks exactly like one of the teens. The only way to "unmask" him is to smack people with deadly weapons to see if they briefly change into Jason. It's like The Thing has invaded Camp Crystal Lake! Speaking of which, the developer thought to incorporate haystacks, a cemetery, and creepy wooded areas, but couldn't be bothered to include a lake. And Jason doesn't even wear a hockey mask! When you finally find him, you hit him with a weapon as he bashes on you with a bo staff (you heard me) until somebody dies. Kill him and you proceed to the next round, this time playing as a different camper. Aside from the fact that male characters seem to have an easier time dispatching Jason, the gameplay is the same. Rinse and repeat until you just can't take the music anymore. Speaking of which, my relationship with the soundtrack is love/hate. It starts out nicely with Toccata and Fugue, but other selections simply do not belong in a scary game. You'll hear great renditions of "The Teddy Bears Picnic" and "Old MacDonald" that tend to undermine the sense of sheer horror. Still, the shrieks of fellow campers being bo-staffed to death offscreen will send shivers down your spine. The occasional pop-up graphic of a machete buried in a man's head is also a pleasant surprise. Friday the 13th may be a one-trick pony, but during the Halloween season it's worth playing for at least 30 minutes. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Howard the Duck
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1986)
Reviewed: 2011/10/28

screenshotWhat do you get when you make a video game tie-in for a horrible comic series that turned into an even worse box-office bomb? You get the abomination that is Howard the Duck. Ostensibly your mission is to rescue your kidnapped friends being held by the Dark Overlord on Volcano Island. You begin by parachuting down onto an island, where you're instructed to find a backpack containing items that Howard will need: a jet pack, an ultra light flyer, and a Neutron Disintegrator. Once suitably geared up, you can now fly over a channel to another island. Setting a webbed foot into the water however results in an "I can't swim, Einstein!" remark from Howard. Like you're the idiot for thinking a duck could swim! On the second island you'll come into contact with mutants who look like the bastard love children of Eddie Munster and Count Chocula. You must strike a mutant once to make him spin and a second time to finish him off (using your Quack Fu martial arts). Given the atrocious controls (hitting, punching, and jumping are all done with the same button) it's easy to find yourself with more mutants than you can possibly kill. You'll also find yourself jumping while trying to punch or kick - another source of aggravation. Eventually you'll come to a bridge with rock-throwing mutants on the other side. Upon crossing the bridge the game ends - if you're playing the novice skill level. When playing on intermediate you can use your ultra light flyer to reach the top of the volcano. As with the jet pack, navigating thermal winds is tricky. Eventually you'll parachute down and cross another bridge while avoiding falling lava and energy bolts cast from the Dark Overlord. If you get close enough, you can kill him with a few well-placed shots from your Neutron Disintegrator. At this point you walk over and flip a switch to "turn off" the volcano, bringing the game to an abrupt conclusion. You never actually rescue your friends, and it's never explained why you need to turn off the volcano (or how that's even possible). Then again, if you can accept the premise of a cigar-smoking duck from outer space you just go along with everything else. The game makes decent use of the Commodore's graphics and no one can say the source material isn't original, but this game fails on every other level. The opening cut-scene is too long, and annoying controls are a constant source of frustration. If you're one of the half-dozen people on the planet who enjoy Howard the Duck source material you may find a small measure of enjoyment here, but the other 6,890,309,327 of us should steer clear. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Jumpman
Grade: A
Publisher: Epyx (1983)
Reviewed: 2013/2/13

screenshotGames of today could learn from the philosophy of Jumpman. Incredibly easy to play but very difficult to master, this game hits a real sweet spot if you're up for a 10-to-20 minute gaming challenge. The object is to collect bombs around a screen while dodging random bullets and other obstacles. You'll climb ladders, shimmy down ropes, avoid robots, and encounter random critters in your quest to clear levels and maybe record your initials on the high score board. The game contains 30 levels in all, and you're given the option of playing them sequentially, in random order, or in 8/10/12-level "chunks". I'd strongly urge you start with "beginner" to gain familiarity and confidence before moving on to intermediate or expert. I was able to complete the 8 beginner and 10 intermediate levels, but couldn't advance more than 5 levels through expert. Using a simple color pallette and catchy transition music, Jumpman embodies what's great about 8-bit gaming. Pixel-perfect timing is required to make certain jumps however, and on occasion you'll suffer what I consider cheap deaths. On most levels, bullets float slowly across the screen only to "fire" at you when they line up from any one of eight directions. The problem is, on some levels these bullets don't reset when you lose a life. Once or twice I respawned directly on a bullet, ensuring an instant second death. I guess this is offset by the occasional scarfing of the last bomb on the screen as your lifeless Jumpman tumbles towards the bottom. If he happens to hit the final bomb on his way down, the level is cleared and your life is spared. When near either edge of the screen, you can sometime trigger a bullet that hasn't floated onto the screen yet, adding strategic depth. High scores for both overall score and highest bonus score (rewarded for completing levels quickly) are recorded to disk for bragging rights or dork points, whichever you feel is more appropriate. So when you feel like spending a little time reliving your 8-bit childhood, load up Jumpman and take yet another crack at that leaderboard. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Jumpman Junior
Grade: B+
Publisher: Epyx (1983)
Reviewed: 2013/2/13

screenshotIf this were a PC game released in the mid-to-late 90's, it would have rightly been referred to as an expansion pack. Released the same year as the original game, Jumpman Junior offers 12 new levels of bomb-clearing fun - but not much else. The graphics, sound effects, and gameplay are all 100% reused from the original. Considering Jumpman itself is easily "A" material, it's not necessarily a bad thing that Junior sticks so close to its source material. Still, would it have really killed them to come up with a couple of new songs or a few graphical tweaks? I was also surprised by a glitch on the "Sreddal" level whereby the ladders moving up and down the screen would sometimes break apart, leaving part of one stuck at the top or bottom of the screen. There was a moving-ladder level in the original Jumpman and I don't recall having this issue. Additionally there's a design flaw in the "Fire! Fire!" level whereby if you die at the wrong time, you will be unable to finish the level due to fires blocking your path to remaining bombs (although you might be able to "move" these fires by dying on purpose). Don't let the "Junior" moniker fool you... this game is TOUGH! It's as if someone pushed Randy Glover (author of both games) to the ground, stole his lunch money, and told him it was because they found the first game too easy. He got his revenge! I was only able to get through the first five levels or so before losing all my lives in "Figurits Revenge", which can only be completed without losing a life and collecting all bombs in a specific order. The first screen is the only straightforward level, and from there the difficulty ramps dramatically. I guess with less than half the levels of the original, that can be expected. The game is certainly fun to play but if you had to pick between the two I'd go with the original for its extra levels, gradual difficulty ramping, and cleaner gameplay. Jumpman Junior may boil down to "more of the same", but like beer and Rush, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Kickman
Grade: D+
Publisher: Bally (1982)
Reviewed: 2015/8/1

screenshotI received this cart from none other than the Video Game Critic himself while attending a convention in Philly with him about 15 years ago. He purchased it for me as an incentive to get back in touch with my Commodore roots. A decade and a half later I finally got around to playing it. The verdict? It may be another decade and a half before I play it again. Actually that's a bit harsh; the game is mildly amusing for short-burst gaming. Playing as a clown on a unicycle, you move right and left to catch balloons on your head. The balloons come in different colors that fall at various speeds - the yellow are nice and slow, the red a little faster, the blue faster still, and the green fastest of all. After you clear the first screen subsequent levels incorporate pac-men and ghosts (yes - you read that right). A pac-man will eat any balloons or ghosts on your head, but he'll stick around until you're stuck with four pac-men on your head until the end of the level. If you can't catch a falling balloon you can try to kick it back up in the air. This can be done as many times as you wish, but meanwhile subsequent balloons will continue to drop and you can find yourself in trouble. The graphics incorporate a static cityscape as background and the balloons above in a Space Invaders-type formation. The sound effects are okay but the background music is disturbing, prompting most players to hit the MUTE button about 30 seconds in. This monotonous tune manages to be both boring and hauntingly evil at the same time. Sadly, Kickman has little replay value. It gets a little more hectic after the first screen, but then settles into the same thing over and over. I achieved a high score of 81,150 and feel no desire to go back and top it. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 81,150
1 player 

Laser Squad
Grade: C+
Publisher: Target Games (1988)
Reviewed: 2017/4/21

screenshotAnyone familiar with "the gamer in me" knows I consider X-COM: UFO Defense one of the best video games of all time. Over the course of my multi-year man-crush on its developer Julian Gollop I discovered he had in fact developed several precursors to X-COM for the C64! Laser Squad is considered one of the better ones. After spending about three years waiting for it to appear on Ebay, I finally secured a complete, boxed copy with one of the smallest manuals I've ever seen! About the size of a postage stamp, you'll need some sort of magnification to read it. I played through several scenarios in Laser Squad with mixed results. As much as I love tactical turn-based strategy I couldn't get into this as much as I had hoped. I'm sure many people have fond memories of playing against friends and family but I only played against the CPU. Your objective is to outfit and control a small squad of men against a force of combat droids. Varying scenarios let you rescue POWs or escape hordes of robots but it all comes down to keeping your men alive while eliminating enemy droids. Action points (APs) determine how many moves each soldier gets during their turn. Equipping weapons, changing direction, and movement all consume various amounts of APs. The interface is a little busy and non-intuitive so it took a couple of games before I got the hang of it. I can't tell you how many times I wasted APs by rotating my character to the left when I meant to rotate right. Another point of contention was figuring out how to open a door. You'd think it would be pretty straightforward or at least covered in the manual, but you'd be wrong on both counts. Believe it or not, you have to un-equip anything you're holding (which consumes AP of course) before you can open an unlocked door! How ridiculous is that? The scenarios themselves are interesting in that the environments are somewhat destructible. I've seen windows shot out, trees and bushes destroyed, and doors blown off their hinges. Items that litter the playfield can be destroyed or used for cover. If you detect droids one room over and don't want to risk walking through the door, just blow a hole in the wall! Destroyed droids or fallen comrades can be scavenged for extra ammo or weapons. During the CPU's turn the screen blanks out for any movement your men wouldn't be able to see - a nice touch that adds to the tense atmosphere. Laser Squad clearly has a place in the lineage of the X-COM series, but it would have been a lot more playable with a better interface and a decent manual. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Select new range: A-L [M-Z] [Next]

[Commodore 64 index]  [Back to Top]
 

Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, MobyGames.com, RetroGamer.net, Old Games Club, Lemon 64, Wired.com, C64 Preservation Project, Gamebase 64

All Commodore reviews were submitted by special VGC correspondent The C64 Critic