Commodore 64 Reviews A-Z

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 

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.

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 

Munchy
Grade: C
Publisher: Unknown (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/6/1

screenshotI snagged a copy of Munchy off Ebay after one of the Critic's readers suggested it for review and I realized it wasn't in my collection. Having never heard of it back in the day, I'm not sure this game was ever officially released by a real publisher, and I was unable to find much information about it online. Munchy is, for all intents and purposes, Pac-Man. I mean, just look at the picture for cryin' out loud! I have to believe that if any legally-recognized company put this product out on the market they'd have been sued by any combination of Atari/Midway/Namco. You run around a maze eating dots, avoiding ghosts, and occasionally gobbling up fruit for bonus points. If you eat a large dot, the ghosts become vulnerable for a short time and you can snack on them for extra points. As far as I could tell the course layout is identical to the original Pac-Man and even the ghosts are the same colors. I think the biggest difference is that Munchy has the status information (score, # of lives, current bonus fruit) displayed on the right-hand side of the screen, making the actual playfield slightly more "up and down" than the official Atarisoft version. The sound effects were slightly different, with a continual "woooo woooo woooo woooo" which will make you think your little brother is behind you trying to imitate the sound of a fire truck as best a 7-year old can. Yes, it's THAT annoying. I do like the display slightly better on Munchy than I do Pac-Man, so it's a complete toss-up as to which one is better if you're a Pac-Fan. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Pitstop 2
Grade: C-
Publisher: Epyx (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/6/1

screenshotI recently had a chance to play the original Pitstop with the Critic on his Atari XEGS, and Pitstop 2 isn't much different. You have the option of racing 3, 6, or 9 laps around any one of six tracks (or all six if you select Grand Prix). The graphics are much improved over the original. That isn't to say they're spectacular by any stretch, but compared to the original it's like night and day. As you race around the track you need to avoid other vehicles and keep an eye on your fuel gauge and tires. If you're running low on fuel or your tires are worn (as indicated by different color bands that appear on them) you'll need to make a pitstop. What could have been an interesting "mini-game" is a bit of a mess in this iteration, as it's more difficult to change tires than I remember in the original. Trying to maneuver your tire-changer around the front and back of the vehicle and then line him up just right is a maddening exercise in frustration. Apparently the developer realized this and put some dotted "guiding lines" on the ground but you still have to fuss around to get him to the sweet spot. Considering how speed is the #1 criteria for pitstops in real racing, it's amazing how slow and clumsy your crew is. Refueling is much easier; the gas man only goes left or right, so you move him towards the car until he starts pumping and push him away when you've got enough. Do not let him overfill your tank, as that will lead to your fuel dropping back to nothing and you'll have to refill it all over again. You can usually get away without even hitting the pits if you're only racing three laps, but otherwise you're sure to run out of fuel or blow a tire before you complete the race. One odd thing about this game is that it always presents the action in a split-screen format, even when playing the computer! When playing against another player I find myself glancing down occasionally to see what he's up to, but I really don't care when it's the computer player. It's a shame they don't have the option for playing full-screen, but what can you do. The audio is limited to your racing engine and some minimal sound effects when you do hit the pits. Pitstop 2 isn't bad for an early 8-bit racing title. The two-player split-screen was pretty unique for the time, but the lack of a save feature for best lap or race times hurts its replay value. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Raid Over Moscow
Grade: B+
Publisher: Access Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2013/9/27

screenshotFans of Beach-Head will find a lot to like about Raid over Moscow. Once again you're pitted against a militaristic threat, but instead of a faceless dictator, your foe is no less than the former Soviet Union! This game pulls no punches on calling out the true enemy of Democracy (at least back then). Several USSR cities launch missiles at the good ole' US of A, and it's up to you to pilot stealth fighters from an orbiting space station and kick the living borscht out of them. Obviously built using the same engine as Beach-Head, the game progresses in the same linear, mini-game fashion. The first task is to pilot one or more stealth fighters out of the space station. It's no small feat considering you're attempting to maneuver a machine not designed to operate in an airless, zero-G environment. After flying down to the offending city, you launch into a Zaxxon-like side-scrolling attack on the locals. You'll destroy military grade targets like oil fields, tanks, missiles, and... is that the NFL Hall of Fame?! School buses desperately try to escape the Hell you're raining down from above. TAKE THAT YOU EVIL 5th GRADERS!! What's that? The Russians love their children too? Big words for a man who stabbed the back of the band that launched his career, Sting! Anyway, assuming you survive you'll be presented with a new screen where you must destroy missile silos with well-aimed shots at just the proper altitude (much easier than it sounds). You'll go through this process X number of times depending on the difficulty setting, and eventually attack the Soviet Defense Center. You'll then get to experience the joy every child dreams of; launching rocket propelled grenades at the Kremlin! You'll pick off Ivan Drago wanna-bees sniping at you from the walls before entering the core of the nuclear reactor (within the Kremlin). You then do your best Tron imitation by flinging "disk grenades" at the robot feeding coolant into the reactor. Once these tasks are complete you have 2 minutes to destroy the boss. If you do, great, the city is destroyed but you somehow survive. If you fail, at least you've given everything you could in order to preserve our way of life, just like a good soldier should! In either event, Moscow is toast and America wins. Just like real life. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Red Storm Rising
Grade: A
Publisher: Microprose (1988)
Reviewed: 2014/6/3

screenshotIf there is one lesson the Critic has taught me time and again, it's that to be properly appreciated, games must be played "in season". And with the surprise turn of events that lead Vladimir Putin to invade the Ukraine, this is the perfect time to curl up with Red Storm Rising! That's right, The Cold War is back in season, baby! How I pine for the simple days of old when you knew at any moment the entirety of the human race could be wiped out by a simple misunderstanding. Like the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, Red Storm puts you in command of a nuclear sub sent on missions to counteract Soviet hostilities in the European theater. The success or failure will impact NATO's effort to turn back the Soviet juggernaut. Succeed and watch cut-scenes of NATO grabbing the upper hand. Fail and watch the Soviet boot stomp its way ever westward. Graphically and audibly simple, this game focuses on simulating the true experience of commanding a sub in the north Atlantic against a technologically inferior (but numerically superior) foe. No offense to my buddy Ryan, who spent four grueling years at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and eight follow-on years perfecting his submarining skills at sea, but he could have saved himself ALL that mess by simply putting a few solid hours into RSR. Packed with a military-style guide, the massive tome explains not just the gameplay mechanics but provides detailed information on advanced submarining skills like torpedo evasion, running silently at depth, and setting your enemy up for the perfect kill. There's also a keyboard overlay to help you with commands in the heat of battle. A database of weapons, subs, and ships rounds out the information you'll need to successfully "stalk the Bear". Part of the game is played on an overhead map of Europe and the North Atlantic, where your sub and listening platforms are shown as icons. On this map you'll move to intercept the assigned enemy, be it sub and/or surface fleet. The screen then switches to a tactical screen where the REAL action takes place. Move above or below the thermal layer, stick with passive sensors or go "active", increase or decrease speed, and dodge enemy "fish" as they hone in on you - sometimes from an enemy unseen. It's intense, it's exciting, and few accomplishments feel as hard-won and satisfying as taking out a Soviet aircraft carrier fleet - and getting away scott-free. Putin can have the Crimean peninsula, but he'd better think twice about sojourning very far from his Atlantic Fleet bases or he'll have ME to deal with. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Space Taxi
Grade: A-
Publisher: Muse Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/4/15

screenshot"Hey Taxi!" - "Pad 1, Please!" Muse Software didn't release many games during their brief existence, but Space Taxi is a fine example of how original this developer could be. Although the graphics are pretty sparse, the sound and music make excellent use of the Commodore's SID chip ability. The point of the game is to guide your cab from one pad to another, picking up and dropping off customers as quickly as possible without dying. There are five modes of play: Morning Shift, Day Shift, Night Shift, Standard 24-hour shift, and Random 24-hour shift. Each of the first three modes contains eight progressively difficult levels, while the 24-hour shift has you play through all the levels. In real life driving a cab is only slightly less dangerous, as this game has you contending with moving obstacles, gravity, and the inability to touch any solid object whatsoever (aside from landing pads). At least none of your customers ever pull a gun on you or stiff you for your payment! You push the joystick in the direction you need your cab to go as you float through the air, burning precious fuel each time and watching as the amount of your tip quickly dips downward. Some levels have refueling stations in them, and you can land to take on more fuel as needed. However, the cost for the fuel comes out of your bottom line so you want to be very judicious and not buy more than you need to finish the level. The quicker you can get your passenger to his destination, the more you make in tip money. I played the two-player version with my son Christian who was quick to wonder aloud "Where the heck does this taxi company find cabbies willing to constantly risk their very lives for such little pay!?!" Your score is the amount of money you make, and the game saves the top 10 high scores to the floppy disk itself forever. I suspect that when I placed 2nd on the list the name I bumped off had probably been there for over 20 years! Most modern consoles don't give you this high-score saving ability! I have to ding the game slightly for the plain-Jane graphics and for making two players share a single joystick, but it does support up to four players and does an excellent job imitating the physics of guiding a taxi through space (I assume). Supposedly there's also a "secret" 25th level you can access by beating the 24 regular levels, but I'm sure I'll never see it - this game gets tough fast! Apparently a sequel, Space Taxi 2, was released in 2004 in collaboration with the original game's author (John Kutcher) and sure enough it looks like it's still for sale as a PC download (http://www.twilightgames.com/spacetaxi/spacetaxi_info.htm). Space Taxi is a prime example of a game that's easy to learn but tough to master, and I recommend any C64 enthusiast track down a copy for their collection. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

Survivor
Grade: B-
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/6/1

screenshotSynapse had some of the best box artwork back in the day, but it didn't always translate to the best games (a common complaint in the 1980's). In Survivor you pilot a small asterisk though 2D space. You move up/down and left/right while attempting to take down large "capital ships" by destroying their laser emplacements. Each capital ship is surrounded by a shield you must break through in order to reach the lasers. While you're working on that, random flying enemies in the form of a bird, a giant X, or a smiley face occasionally approach in kamikaze-style attack patterns. Once you destroy all of its guns the capital ship will explode - taking you with it if you're too close! Survivor starts off at a leisurely pace with baddies appearing only once a minute or so and the turrets firing slowly. Subsequent levels get faster but at no point do the capital ships move, and their shields never get any harder to bust through. It just becomes more difficult to fend off the ever-increasing number of kamikaze baddies. The single player mode is much more difficult than the two-player, because in the two-player one person pilots your asterisk while the other controls its weapons. In the one-player mode you have to move your ship in the direction you wish to shoot which makes negotiating tight spaces very difficult. The joystick plugged into the second port is used for smart bombs, which makes them all but unusable unless you have incredibly fast reflexes. The sound effects are okay but the graphics are limited (asterisks in sppaaaacccccceeee!!). The capital ships are represented as outlines, and I think the developers could have done a little more to trick to them out. You can't ever "finish" the game and high scores aren't saved, but Survivor is still a fun diversion when played in short bursts. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

The Last Ninja
Grade: D-
Publisher: System 3 (1987)
Reviewed: 2012/3/1

screenshotNever have I wanted to like a game prior to playing it quite as much as The Last Ninja. Apparently a huge hit with our Commodore brethren across the pond, the game was released late in the C64's life cycle yet still managed to spawn two sequels. I'd heard plenty of buzz and seen lots of screen shots. The game features an isometric game field (a la Zaxxon), beautiful graphics, wonderfully immersive music, and of course - Ninjas! Can't miss, right? Wrong! I spent about an hour trying to get into this game and all I got for my trouble was frustration and bloody knuckles. The Last Ninja employs a unique control scheme, whereby your character will move in one direction while continuing to face another. In order to face the way you're actually moving, you need to rotate the joystick around to that direction. Sound confusing? It is. I can't tell you how many times I was getting a sword to the face (or a foot to the junk) as I flailed at thin air because I couldn't face my assailant in the heat of battle. As you walk from screen to screen looking for items and exploring, you'll face enemies one at a time, pray at statues, and navigate obstacles. At a water crossing it took me about ten tries before I could successfully make the three jumps from rock to rock to the other side. The isometric view makes judging your spacing and lining up angles extremely difficult. If it weren't for a website that shows you the exact jumps, I may never have made it. Picking up objects, necessary to advance the game, proved equally difficult. It probably took me five minutes to figure out how to pick up my first object (a sword on a rock). I could occasionally pick up a key, but at no point was I able to successfully pick up something from the belt of a dead man (nun-chucks?). Apparently you have to be standing at just the right pixel to execute the "crouch and grab" technique, and it drove me mad. I've read there's a dragon you have to either kill or run past at the end of the first level, but I couldn't bear the control scheme long enough to find out for myself. The only things saving this game from an "F" are the impressive graphics and the excellent music. Had they simply made your ninja face the direction you moved, this game could have been a real winner. I'm sure I'll eventually muster the patience to give The Last Ninja another go, but unless I have some incredible epiphany I'm afraid I'll never understand why this game was so popular. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Winter Games
Grade: C-
Publisher: Epyx (1985)
Reviewed: 2014/3/4

screenshotContinuing my trend of reviewing games just past the point of anyone caring (baseball after baseball season, football after football season, the WNBA at any point in time), I figured a solid week after the Sochi Olympics would be the best time to review Winter Games (No IOC trademark here! Any resemblance to actual Olympic events is purely coincidental.) Building on the success of Summer Games, Epyx takes the action to the colder climates and challenges the player to achieve the best score in any of seven winter-themed events. You enter your name, choose a country to represent, watch the opening ceremony, and then it's off to the slopes. The graphics do a great job of conveying the feeling of playing winter sports and playing in my basement on a real life "snow day". I swear I felt a few degrees colder from looking at the screen than I did before I booted the game up. You begin with a trick-ski event called Hot Dog, where the object is to leave a downhill ramp, do as many varied tricks as possible, and then stick your landing. Like most events, the timing of your joystick movements is crucial and landing correctly is an absolute bear! This event is followed by the biathlon (much better) and the incredibly weak and ponderous figure skating (just like the real Olympics!) Then there's the ski jump, speed skating, free skating, and finally bobsled. You can compete in any single event, practice one event, or play through all seven in order. As I mentioned previously, the timing of your joystick is crucial to doing halfway decent in all of the events. Then again, if you're playing by yourself you're bound to get at least six gold medals no matter how poorly you perform, as there are no computer-controlled opponents. You can still shoot for "world records" though, and best scores get saved to disk for future generations to admire and worship you over. Despite playing this during "the winter that doesn't want to end" and fresh off the actual Olympics, I had a hard time getting into Winter Games. The controls were just awkward and the weakest/lamest event (figure skating) effectively makes up two of the seven events. Why not include hockey or curling? I'd go back to see if I can get my name saved to disk for at least one event (preferably the biathlon), but there isn't much draw beyond that. Like most sports games of its time, Winter Games is much better if you have a human competitor, which would probably bump the score up to a B-. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, MobyGames.com, RetroGamer.net, Retro Games DB, Old Games Club, Lemon 64

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

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