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Commodore 64 Reviews B

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

Grade: B
Publisher: Access Software (1983)
Posted: 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 Davy 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)
Posted: 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 notwithstanding 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.

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1 player 

Blue Max
Grade: B
Publisher: Synapse Software (1983)
Posted: 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 are there friendly airfields in the middle of enemy territory? Hasn’t it occurred to anyone to use those tanks to take away 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)
Posted: 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 make 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)
Posted: 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 

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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, MobyGames.com, RetroGamer.net, Old Games Club, Lemon 64, Wired.com, C64 Preservation Project, Gamebase 64, Hooked Gamers, My Abandonware, Stadium 64, Games Database

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