Commodore 64 Reviews D-J

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

Eliminator
Grade: C+
Publisher: Hewson (1988)
Reviewed: 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 

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 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 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.


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 

Gunship!
Grade: B

screenshotoverlayForged 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)
Reviewed: 2011/10/28

screenshotWhat do you get when you make a video game tie-in for a horrible comic series that turned into an even worse box-office bomb? You get the abomination that is Howard the Duck. Ostensibly your mission is to rescue your kidnapped friends being held by the Dark Overlord on Volcano Island. You begin by parachuting down onto an island, where you're instructed to find a backpack containing items that Howard will need: a jet pack, an ultra-light flyer, and a Neutron Disintegrator.

Once suitably geared up, you can now fly over a channel to another island. Setting a webbed foot into the water however results in an "I can't swim, Einstein!" remark from Howard. Like you're the idiot for thinking a duck could swim! On the second island you'll come into contact with mutants who look like the bastard love children of Eddie Munster and Count Chocula. You must strike a mutant once to make him spin and a second time to finish him off (using your Quack Fu martial arts).

Given the atrocious controls (hitting, punching, and jumping are all done with the same button) it's easy to find yourself with more mutants than you can possibly kill. You'll also find yourself jumping while trying to punch or kick - another source of aggravation. Eventually you'll come to a bridge with rock-throwing mutants on the other side. Upon crossing the bridge the game ends - if you're playing the novice skill level.

When playing on intermediate you can use your ultra light flyer to reach the top of the volcano. As with the jet pack, navigating thermal winds is tricky. Eventually you'll parachute down and cross another bridge while avoiding falling lava and energy bolts cast from the Dark Overlord. If you get close enough, you can kill him with a few well-placed shots from your Neutron Disintegrator. At this point you walk over and flip a switch to "turn off" the volcano, bringing the game to an abrupt conclusion.

You never actually rescue your friends, and it's never explained why you need to turn off the volcano (or how that's even possible). Then again, if you can accept the premise of a cigar-smoking duck from outer space you just go along with everything else.

The game makes decent use of the Commodore's graphics and no one can say the source material isn't original, but this game fails on every other level. The opening cut-scene is too long, and annoying controls are a constant source of frustration. If you're one of the half-dozen people on the planet who enjoy Howard the Duck source material you may find a small measure of enjoyment here, but the other 6,890,309,327 of us should steer clear. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

new James Bond 007: The Living Daylights
Grade: D
Publisher: Domark (1987)
Reviewed: 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 

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 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)
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 


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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

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