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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Commodore 64 Reviews D-J

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

Grade: C+
Publisher: Hewson (1988)
Posted: 2020/4/30

screenshotThis game was recommended to the Critic as a "hidden gem", so when he passed along that info I just had to grab a copy off Ebay. The manual sets up a story about a weird intergalactic "road" that’s been discovered and needs investigation. There are several pages of this drivel along with a very detailed "blueprint" of the ship you’ll be piloting on your adventure. Sadly, 90% of this is just window dressing. All you really need to know about your ship is that it can hold up to six weapons and has a shield that depletes with each enemy hit.

As you begin flying down the "road" you’ll need to avoid obstacles that destroy on contact, collect triangles for extra weapons and ammo, jump ramps, and occasionally fend off alien attackers. Hostiles tend to appear in groups of four, firing random shots. Often you can simply let them fly past but if it’s the glory of the high score you’re seeking you’ll want to bag those ugly suckers. Piloting your vehicle isn’t as crisp as I would have preferred, as there is a noticeable delay when you crank the joystick left or right.

The 3D scaling effect is impressive however and the soundtrack is outstanding! There are no sound effects so it’s good they put some effort into the continuously-playing music. Every other stage of the game contains a trench-like section that requires using ramps to jump from one side to the other. This took me a while to figure out; you'd think somewhere in that verbose manual they could have mentioned "oh, and that big blue streak in the road will kill you, so don’t fly into it".

Sometimes I would jump to the one side of the trench only to hit an unavoidable obstacle, so trial and error is required to learn the correct pattern. The game didn’t grab me at first, but once I made #4 on the high score list I found myself playing repeatedly to see if I could beat that. So I guess there really is more to Eliminator than just great music and visual effects. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: FIrebird (1984)
Posted: 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 bogies. 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 a Guardian article about the original authors of Elite and how they came about writing and publishing the game. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Forbidden Forest
Grade: B-

screenshotAs I sit here sipping my Pumpkin Spice hot chocolate, the rain outside pitter-patters against the window sill as the candles flicker. This is Fall. This is spooky season. This is the best possible time to break out Forbidden Forest.

This game oozes atmosphere. The trees sport flaming red and yellow leaves. A full moon traverses the black night sky. A gratuitous amount of digital blood springs forth from every monster struck down. The intro song instantly gets you in the mood, which you can hear here.

You play a lone archer, moving back and forth at the bottom of a forest, trying to simultaneously avoid getting hit while killing monsters through seven stages. You have a limited number of arrows per level, but I never once actually ran out. You also have unlimited continues, and you'll need them. First you must select a difficulty level, and this determines how many enemies need to be dispatched before you can advance.

First up are giant spiders which approach from either side, giving you a split-second (or two) to nock an arrow, line up a shot, and let it fly. Once you've killed the requisite amount, you're treated to an intermission where your archer breaks into a happy dance. Though decidedly un-scary, it's a satisfying affirmation you've completed a level. It also provides just enough time for a quick sip on your pumpkin spice coffee or pumpkin beer, whichever one you went with.

Stage two features a giant bee that's just asking to be shot. His incessant buzzing (which gets louder based on proximity) will make you want to put him to rest as soon as possible. Next up are giant frogs. I discovered - much to my dismay - that shooting them when they're directly above causes them to fall on you, leading to your own demise! Your best bet is to notch an arrow, start running in either direction, and fire when a frog is going by. Just don’t stop moving!

The fourth stage has a fireball-shooting giant dragon that's vulnerable to shots to the head (who isn't really?). Then there's a maddeningly frustrating stage featuring a single large floating ghost. Shooting it in the face might be easy if it weren't for the skeletons rushing in from both sides! Worse yet, the ghost will abruptly shift his position. I STILL cannot figure out the "secret sauce" to defeat it reliably.

If you're lucky enough to get this far, your next challenge is a giant snake who rears up and spits acid at you. You need to avoid said acid just like you avoided the giant frogs. Dispatch him by shooting him in the nose, which feels like a cakewalk compared to that ghost!

Finally you're at the final boss, staring at a large demon only visible when lightning lights up the sky. I think he looks more like a giant ant, but whatever. You only have so much time to shoot him, and if you can't get him in time his giant head comes down on you and the game ends.

Though blocky and primitive, the graphics and music do a good job conveying a forboding atmosphere. The blood seems intentionally just a bit over the top, especially when skeletons are stabbing you directly in the face with their spears over and over again. It's borderline comical but in a way quite fitting, especially on a chilly, rainy October evening. © Copyright 2023 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.

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 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Posted: 2022/7/15

screenshotBefore you write off this review as seasonally-incorrect, keep in mind the original Ghostbusters film was released in June 1984, making it one of the best summertime popcorn flicks of all time! You begin this game with a $10K loan used to purchase one of four vehicles as well as a variety of ghost-hunting items. Once your vehicle is kitted-out you hit the mean streets of NYC. Flashing buildings on a city grid indicate supernatural activity. Navigate the Ghostbusters logo to that part of the map and hit the joystick button.

You're now presented with an overhead view of your vehicle driving up the screen towards its destination. You can move side-to-side, but I had no idea what the point was. Then I discovered I could outfit my vehicle with a "ghost vacuum" used to slurp up passing ghosts. Surely you remember that part from the movie, right?

When you finally arrive at your destination (it takes a while), you position two Ghostbusters in front of a building to catch flying ghosts. The idea is to funnel them near your trap (don't cross the streams!) to suck them in. You can capture one ghost per trap, and when full you need to return to your HQ to empty them. The more ghosts you catch, the more mullah you earn, the more mullah, the better equipment.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job slowly building up my bank account until suddenly the Marshmallow Man appeared and wrecked an entire city block, costing me $4K! Then it happened again and again, shrinking my account balance to $0 (hint: invest in ghost bait). Apparently the idea is to be able to pay back the original $10K when the slowly-counting PK meter at the bottom of the screen hits 9999.

Assuming you have the requisite dough, you move on to a final screen where you must run under the legs of a giant Stay-Puft man and into the skyscraper behind him. You only need to get two of your three men past, but it's challenging to time your runs under his stomping feet. Succeed and you're treated to a cut-scene of your Ghostbusters closing the portal to the spirit world. You're awarded $5K for your efforts and the game begins anew.

With excellent music and voice synthesis, this game really shows off the audio capabilities of the C64. The graphics are crisp and colorful, and the gameplay is pretty fun and varied - the first time through at least. It would get to be a slog after two or three more times. Once you’ve bought all the best equipment it’s just a matter of rinse and repeat. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: B

overlayForged in the same crucible as Airborne Ranger (Microprose, 1987) and Red Storm Rising (Microprose, 1988), Gunship! (with an exclamation point dammit) puts you in the role of an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot. The extensive manual clocks in at a whopping 83 pages; such is the learning curve of this sophisticated helicopter simulation. A flight training assignment lets you get a feel for your whirlybird in a forgiving environment. A handy keyboard overlay allows you to easily reference the 29 (!) hotkey functions. What is this, Steel Battalion (Xbox, 2002)!?

You customize your load-out before each mission, and there's really no point in carrying sidewinder missiles if you don’t expect any hostile aircraft. Once comfortable with the flight mechanics you move to one of four combat zones. Southeast Asian is easiest (low-tech weapons), Western Europe is most difficult (Soviet-era weapons), with Central America and the Middle East rounding out the middle tier. Each mission consists of primary and secondary targets along with plenty of "targets of opportunity".

As you patrol each duty zone you'll need to avoid small arms fire, anti-aircraft artillery, and surface-to-air missiles. Enemies are known to hide on the shadowy sides of hills and mountains, but you can elude them by flying low! Points and medals are awarded based on achieving goals and inflicting miscellaneous destruction - assuming you safely return to base! I will admit I crashed more than once because I wasn’t watching my altitude closely or ran out of fuel. Heck, once I even failed to enter the proper countersign when challenged by friendlies ("dammit guys, it’s ME!")

Much of the screen consists of instrumentation. A slow framerate and sparse scenery undermine the sensation of flying, but give the game credit for taking into account tilt, rotor, counter-torque, and the rest of that crap. For it's time it was impressive enough. The targets are clearly marked, and when you select one its picture is displayed on the bottom of the screen.

After each mission you’re given the option to continue or quit. The computer keeps track of your running score, total medals won, and promotions achieved, conveying a true sense of accomplishment as missions stack up. Gunship is notably more complex than most air combat games of its time, but if you're patient and detail-oriented, time with Gunship will be time well spent. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Howard the Duck
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1986)
Posted: 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 

James Bond 007: The Living Daylights
Grade: D
Publisher: Domark (1987)
Posted: 2021/9/16

screenshotI don't remember much about the James Bond flick "The Living Daylights" but I can only assume Bond's main enemy in the film were rocks. Never released for any home console, this 007 romp has eight levels of side-scrolling action, mainly distinguished by tripping over trivial objects.

You have five lives to complete all eight stages with no chance to earn extra lives. It's all or nothing, just like Bond would have wanted! Each level consists of the same general play mechanic. Bad guys pop up and shoot at you as you jump over obstacles. You can fire back, but you must stop moving in order to aim, and that really sucks.

The first level has me confused thanks to an unhelpful (and sometimes inaccurate) instruction manual. As I mentioned, the biggest danger to Bond are rocks scattered across the landscape. Not only will touching them deal damage, but you'll be incapacitated for a few seconds as well. To jump over rocks you push your joystick diagonally, but consistently making these jumps is no easy feat. I trip over those damn things constantly.

You can select a "special" weapon before each new level via a laboratory screen that looks pretty nifty. For the second level you'll want to go with the infra-red vision. Now the rocks have been re-skinned as sewer grates as you attempt to escort an KGB agent to an opera house.

Next you're off to an industrial pipeline screen (special weapon: hard hat) where the grates have been reimagined as pipes. The fourth level has you avoiding potholes created by a helicopter above as a milkman hurls milk bottles your way! Was this in the movie??

Four stages was pretty much all I could take. I suspect the developers were short on time and had to crank out the quickest thing that might pass for a Bond game, incorporating a few minor elements from the namesake movie. Thus you can add Living Daylights to the steaming pile of tie-in games that seemed to focus more on acquiring the movie rights than producing a fun game. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

John Madden Football
Grade: D-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1989)
Posted: 2023/2/10

John Madden coverI've been playing Madden since the early 2000’s but wanted to snag a copy of the original game so I could finally see where it all began. I was shocked to discover John Madden Football does not have an NFL license! You won't be playing with teams or familiar players of the era. Instead you’re limited to occasional nods to greats like "Sweetness", "Mean Green", "Riggo", and "Buttcuss".

The manual indicated I could create a team to my liking, so I was determined to model mine after the Steelers. But after significant effort I gave up, settling for the no-name default team. I'm not sure if my copy of Madden accidentally had PC instructions or if they all came that way, but the manual did not match what I was seeing. Even the C64 "Command Summary Card" failed to clarify much.

It took about an hour to create the mandatory "game disk" and "data disk", but I finally arrived at a kickoff screen. I will give EA credit for packing an incredible 81 defensive and 81 offensive plays into the game. In addition, you have the ability to edit existing offensive plays or even draw up your own! You can either let the CPU handle the action after the snap or jump in with your joystick. I found the controls confusing and nearly impossible when passing was concerned. I ended up just letting the computer handle the action on the field while I called the plays.

The interface resists you every step of the way, resulting in several "delay of game" penalties while simply trying to submit a play! Once the ball is hiked the presentation reminds me of MicroLeague Baseball (MicroLeague Baseball, 1984) with its fuzzy, pixelated graphic style. More often than not I couldn't tell what was happening or where the football was. You only know a first down was achieved by the roar of the crowd.

You can call audibles, substitute players, suffer penalties, and even sustain injuries. The game keeps track of all major stats and you can view them at any time. This depth however comes with a hefty cost, and that cost is time! I settled on 10-minute quarters, but even that took me ONE HOUR AND 20 MINUTES just to complete the first HALF of a game! You need to swap disks constantly, even for calling a timeout! Completing a single game required three different play sessions spread out over a week and a half, clocking in just shy of three hours total play time!

After halftime there is another coin toss! What?! For a game so proud of its football acumen, this is inexcusable. Madden also employs one of those old wheel-style copy protection schemes they call the "Season Ticket" where you have to match up the section, row, and seat number before you can start a game. It's a pain but at least they kept with the theme.

The original Madden was developed late in the Commodore's lifecycle and clearly with the PC in mind. It's an admirable attempt to convey as much depth as possible but proves too much for the C64 to effectively handle. I didn't completely hate the time I spent playing it, but can't imagine putting myself through such an ordeal again anytime soon. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Grade: A
Publisher: Epyx (1983)
Posted: 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 to 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 palette 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 sometimes 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)
Posted: 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 

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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, Retroplace

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