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Commodore 64 Reviews K-Q

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

Grade: D+
Publisher: Bally (1982)
Posted: 2015/8/1

screenshotI received this cart from none other than the Video Game Critic himself while attending a convention in Philly with him about 15 years ago. He purchased it for me as an incentive to get back in touch with my Commodore roots. A decade and a half later I finally got around to playing it. The verdict? It may be another decade and a half before I play it again. Actually that's a bit harsh; the game is mildly amusing for short-burst gaming.

Playing as a clown on a unicycle, you move right and left to catch balloons on your head. The balloons come in different colors that fall at various speeds - the yellow are nice and slow, the red a little faster, the blue faster still, and the green fastest of all. After you clear the first screen subsequent levels incorporate pac-men and ghosts (yes - you read that right). A pac-man will eat any balloons or ghosts on your head, but he'll stick around until you're stuck with four pac-men on your head until the end of the level. If you can't catch a falling balloon you can try to kick it back up in the air. This can be done as many times as you wish, but meanwhile subsequent balloons will continue to drop and you can find yourself in trouble.

The graphics incorporate a static cityscape as background and the balloons above in a Space Invaders-type formation. The sound effects are okay but the background music is disturbing, prompting most players to hit the MUTE button about 30 seconds in. This monotonous tune manages to be both boring and hauntingly evil at the same time. Sadly, Kickman has little replay value. It gets a little more hectic after the first screen, but then settles into the same thing over and over. I achieved a high score of 81,150 and feel no desire to go back and top it. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 81,150
1 player 

Laser Squad
Grade: C+
Publisher: Target Games (1988)
Posted: 2017/4/21

screenshotAnyone familiar with "the gamer in me" knows I consider X-COM: UFO Defense one of the best video games of all time. Over the course of my multi-year man-crush on its developer Julian Gollop I discovered he had in fact developed several precursors to X-COM for the C64! Laser Squad is considered one of the better ones. After spending about three years waiting for it to appear on Ebay, I finally secured a complete, boxed copy with one of the smallest manuals I've ever seen! About the size of a postage stamp, you'll need some sort of magnification to read it.

I played through several scenarios in Laser Squad with mixed results. As much as I love tactical turn-based strategy I couldn't get into this as much as I had hoped. I'm sure many people have fond memories of playing against friends and family but I only played against the CPU. Your objective is to outfit and control a small squad of men against a force of combat droids. Varying scenarios let you rescue POWs or escape hordes of robots but it all comes down to keeping your men alive while eliminating enemy droids.

Action points (APs) determine how many moves each soldier gets during their turn. Equipping weapons, changing direction, and movement all consume various amounts of APs. The interface is a little busy and non-intuitive so it took a couple of games before I got the hang of it. I can't tell you how many times I wasted APs by rotating my character to the left when I meant to rotate right. Another point of contention was figuring out how to open a door.

You'd think it would be pretty straightforward or at least covered in the manual, but you'd be wrong on both counts. Believe it or not, you have to un-equip anything you're holding (which consumes AP of course) before you can open an unlocked door! How ridiculous is that? The scenarios themselves are interesting in that the environments are somewhat destructible. I've seen windows shot out, trees and bushes destroyed, and doors blown off their hinges. Items that litter the playfield can be destroyed or used for cover.

If you detect droids one room over and don't want to risk walking through the door, just blow a hole in the wall! Destroyed droids or fallen comrades can be scavenged for extra ammo or weapons. During the CPU's turn the screen blanks out for any movement your men wouldn't be able to see - a nice touch that adds to the tense atmosphere. Laser Squad clearly has a place in the lineage of the X-COM series, but it would have been a lot more playable with a better interface and a decent manual. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lode Runner
Grade: B
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Posted: 2023/1/11

box coverThis charming puzzle-platformer reminds me quite a bit of Jumpman, save for the whole "ability to jump" detail. In Lode Runner you're a little guy navigating brick platforms and ladders. You must collect all the boxes while avoiding wandering dudes trying to touch you inappropriately, resulting in instant death. It’s a slice-of-life premise anyone can figure out even without a manual.

Apparently those "boxes" are supposed to be gold bars. Have the developers seen Pitfall? Now that's a gold bar! The guys trying to end your looting ways are actually guards. Despite what the box cover would indicate, you have no weapon. Your only means of maintaining bodily integrity are avoidance and - you guessed it - hole digging!

That's right - you can dig out a single chunk of brick to either side of you, into which hapless guards tend to fall. You can then walk over them and merrily continue on your way. Talk about disrespectful! After a few seconds the holes will fill in automatically, causing the guard to respawn along the top of the screen. Should you fall into a hole, all you can do is wait helplessly until it fills in and consumes one of your lives. Embarrassing for sure, but it happens more than you'd think.

There were several times I had to pause to figure out exactly "how" I could reach a cleverly-positioned box. Keep in mind that certain stretches of brick walkway are undiggable (is that a word?), indicated by being solid red. You can fall from literally any height without damage, but keep in mind the guards share the same ability.

The graphics are simple but effective, and animation is buttery smooth. I couldn't help but feel like the game could have used some looping background music. One annoyance is the "telescoping" intro and outro effect. It's neat the first time you see it, but I'd just as well just have the next stage instantly appear. But my biggest gripe is how the game often won't allow you to dig a hole if a guard is close by. This even happens with my trusty Tac-2 joystick!

Each level is pre-configured with the guards starting in the same locations, so over time you could learn how to beat all 150 (!) levels by playing it enough. I like how guards are "frozen" for a few seconds at the beginning of each screen, allowing you to mentally map how to proceed. Each level completed earns you an extra life, which on reflection is a pretty fair indication of the difficulty! Lode Runner requires both quick reflexes and mental somersaults, presenting a considerable challenge for any retro-game enthusiast. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

MicroLeague Baseball
Grade: B
Publisher: MicroLeague (1984)
Posted: 2022/4/6

screenshotIt took a small, nondescript company called "MicroLeague" to do something in 1984 that MLB can’t seem to accomplish to this day: it made baseball fun! But this isn't your brother's baseball game; MicroLeague is pure strategy.

You begin by selecting two teams from a selection of 25 (with additional teams available via "add on" disks). The potential matchups are a baseball historian's dream. You get two 1983 All-Star teams, American and National all-time greats, and 21 of the historically best teams ever from the 1927 New York Yankees to the 1983 Baltimore Orioles.

I couldn't resist taking my 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates up against the 1983 Baltimore Orioles. For my starting pitcher I went with John "The Candy Man" Candelaria. Each player is rated on a number of statistical data points which indicate how he will perform in the game. I just went with the default batting lineup, because I had no confidence that I could come up with a better side than good old Chuck Tanner. The ensuing contest was every bit the exciting and down-to-the-wire game as I would have expected.

On defense you can throw fastballs, curves, sliders, or changeups. You can also pitch-out, bring in the infield, pull in just first and third base, or intentionally walk a batter. You don’t have to select pitch-by-pitch however, instead choosing a general pitching style for each batter you face.

Scrolling text provides a rich play-by-play of hits, fielders, and close calls at bases. After a few games (including one that went 19 innings!) I was still seeing new text so there is a decent variety of descriptions. Audio is minimal but there are sound effects for hits, strikeouts, cheers for exceptional plays, and fanfare music. The crowd of spectators looks more like someone spilled a giant bag of Skittles in the stands.

As someone who gave up caring about Major League Baseball during the canceled 1994 season I found myself strangely drawn back into the excitement of individual matchups, stat comparisons, and "what if" scenarios. Sadly, every game is self-contained with nothing carried over to the next. To play a season you'll need a separate "General Manager/Owners" disk. It’s a shame that wasn't baked into the original game.

After a few games of MicroLeague Baseball I could really appreciate the relaxing nature of making simple managerial decisions coupled with the nervous excitement of being in a 4-4 tie going into the tenth inning. It may not look like much but there's something to be said for this game's cerebral, hands-off approach. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Unknown (1984)
Posted: 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 are 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)
Posted: 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 pit stops 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 

Project Firestart
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1989)
Posted: 2018/10/26

screenshotCheck it out - a game set in the future that actually takes place in the future! In 2061 genetic experiments are in progress aboard an orbiting space station to develop a stronger, heartier race of mining creatures. What could possibly go wrong?

Project Firestart casts you in the role of an intrepid "fixer" sent to retrieve the station's log files, initiate self-destruct, and get the heck out of Dodge before two hours elapses. Otherwise *they* well remotely destruct the ship, taking you with it. Which begs the question, why are they sending you in the first place? They must really want those logs!

Once you arrive they fax you a map. Who could have guessed such a problematic, hated technology would make a comeback in 2061? I'm surprised they didn't issue me a beeper for good measure! I had read Project Firestart is considered one of the first (if not the first) "survival horror" titles and I believe it. Despite minimal sound and sparse inventory there's a pervading sense of dread and foreboding as you search the deserted vessel while keeping an eye on that ever-ticking countdown.

On occasion you're subjected to a jump-scare in the form of a sudden loud noise accompanied by a quick cut-scene of a mutant. When played in a dark room in total silence it is a jarring experience! Despite being armed with an energy weapon there isn't much combat. Finding your way around is the primary challenge and it can feel tedious at times. The game seems designed for confusion. You press "up" to enter a room but to exit you have to push left? And while I'm no cartographer I am a guy and could not make heads or tails out of the so-called map. I did find a decent fan-made map on the internet so apparently I wasn't the only one with issues.

Apparently there are several endings to the game although to date I've only been able to achieve one of them. Sadly, it's the one where you die! There's no "Try again?" option. No, you have to power-cycle the C64 and completely reload the game. Talk about punishment! Project Firestart is a difficult and often disorienting experience. Still, when played alone at night it does a surprisingly good job of raising goose bumps and building tension as you feverishly try to complete a harrowing mission in the lonely desolation of space. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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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