The Video Game Critic Presents the

Commodore 64


Commodore 64 System
Launch Date: August 1982
Manufacturer: Commodore
Format: Cartridge, Floppy disk, cassette tape
Controller Ports: 2
Save Capability: Floppy disk
Video Output: RF, composite
Initial Price: $595

Review contributed by The C64 Critic

Who is the C64 Critic?

The original Commodore 64 console, released in 1982, is commonly referred to as "The Bread Box" due its unassuming boxy look. Before production was officially halted in April of 1994, it had sold between 17 and 30 million units worldwide (depending on who you believe). It's also listed on some web sites as the best-selling home computer of all time.

The fact that it was a "computer" and not a dedicated gaming console is probably what helped it to sell so many units. Middle-class parents wanted their children to got a leg-up on this whole new computer fad. In reality however every single person I knew who owned one had nothing but a stack of games for it, and maybe a single word processing program. The graphics, sound, and complexity of games were head and shoulders above almost every gaming system on the market. It also didn't hurt that the ease of copying games made it a favorite among cash-strapped teens and young adults. Or so I have read!

A Commodore 64 computer

Console design: C-. A later version called the Commodore 64C sported a sleeker, sexier look, but the venerable Bread Box is what most people think of when they think of the Commodore 64. Essentially an 8-bit home computer wrapped in an ugly phlegm-nougat colored box, it's not much to look at but I guess in the early-to-mid 80's it didn't look out of place in most people's homes.

It has a pretty standard QWERTY-style keyboard with function keys and special purpose keys to boot. It has multiple jacks for joysticks, a cartridge slot, and serial ports for monitors, floppy drives, printers. I think there are a couple of other ports on the thing as well, but since they aren't gaming-related they're completely irrelevant and do not exist in my world.

Actually I believe the other two ports could be used for a data cassette and/or a dial-up modem. While nominally game-related, if a data cassette was your only means of loading a game you'd be better off taking that long data cord and wrapping it tightly around your neck until you choke yourself to death because that would be less painful than waiting for the game to load.

Console durability: A+. Almost 30 years later I have several bread boxes (and at least one 64c) lying around that work flawlessly. Not two weeks ago my wife spilled half a glass of wine on one of them and it didn't bat an eye. These things are rugged, and they had to be to survive the anguished fist-poundings and side-smacking rage that countless kids experienced during all-night gaming sessions. In all my years of being a C64 fanatic I've never known one to stop working correctly through normal use. Come to think of it, I've never known one to stop working through horrible use.

jumpman screenshot

Graphics: A. Compared to other popular systems of the time, the C64 had a decided graphical edge. Supporting two high-resolution graphics modes, the C64 was capable of sprites, bit-mapping, character collision detection, smooth scrolling, and 16 colors.

Audio: A. The C64 came with a built-in SID chip (Sound Interface Device) with three separate channels. It was really the first time that a computer was designed from the beginning to give audio feedback beyond simple beeps, and was instrumental in helping to make the C64 such a phenomenal gaming device. The sound was so famously good that over a dozen different software packages allowing you to create your own music and sound effects were released during the systems lifespan. To this day there are web sites devoted to C64 music and sound samples.

C64 setup
A Commodore 64 computer setup

Controllers: C. I've read that Commodore produced their own joystick controllers, paddles, and even a mouse, but I don't believe I've ever personally used any of them. This tells me they probably weren't so hot. Everyone I knew used either standard Atari joysticks or other third-party joysticks such as the TAC-2 or Wico. Some being better than others, it was nice that the C64 allowed for a multitude of joysticks that were compatible with other gaming systems.

C64 swag

Media: C-. The media used with the C64 was either a data cassette tape (F-!), cartridges, or floppy disks. The cartridges worked fine and the floppies were head-and-shoulders above the data cassettes for ease of use, storage, and reliability. Still, discs can be slow and loud due to the 1541 floppy drive.

Packaging: B+. The packaging for the games Commodore put out was pretty basic. It was envelope-style packaging that opened like a folder and contained your floppy disk(s), manual, and a registration card and/or advertisement flyer. Companies like Infocom would spice things up by including various "extras". For example The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had a cover you could open to reveal ads for fake products, pretend sunglasses, a plastic baggie containing a "Microscopic Space Fleet", a button, "fluff", and destruction orders printed on cards. Other companies went even further than that. The Ultima games for instance often included a cloth string purse that contained "Coins of the Realm" (metallic coins of gold and silver color supposed from the land of Britannia) and a cloth map of the land. Much like the controllers, the packaging could range anywhere from "A" to "D" material, it just really depended on the company producing the game.

Library: A+. Almost any video game released for any system during the time the C64 was in production saw a C64 version. There were also plenty of C64-only releases as well. Games for the system tended to be colorful, sound great, and avoided slowdown when lots of action was taking place. I remember comparing versions of various games between the C64 and other systems, and the C64 version almost always looked and played better. The sheer library of games for this system runsinto the thousands, with every genre you can think of represented.

C64 boxes
2010 caption: $75 worth of games
2022 caption: Two million dollars worth of games

Collectability: B. A massive production run, coupled durable design and more games than you could conceivable play in a lifetime, the C64 was to be a game collector's dream. Unfortunately the cost of games for the system has risen substantially over the last few years, with complete games running into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Innovations: Nothing Commodore did with their system was truly innovative. They simply took other ideas and combined them into a single, powerful package at an affordable price. I guess that was its real innovation; recognizing that a home computer didn't have to be all spreadsheets and databases, but could also be entertainment devices as well. Their only real competitors at the time (Apple, Atari, Texas Instruments) treated gaming as an afterthought for their computers, whereas the C64 seemed to hold it front and center.

Pros and Cons:
+ Tough, durable, likely to outlive most of their owners.
+ Vast library of games touching every conceivable genre.
+ Core components and peripherals easily and inexpensively attained.

- Data cassette drive will drive you to drink.
- Floppy drive is noisy, slow, and prone to mechanical issues
- Power supply "brick" gets hot enough to cook an egg on.

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