Commodore 64 Reviews S

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

Seven Cities of Gold, The
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1984)
Reviewed: 2019/11/12

screenshotIt's too bad I never played this as a kid because I could see myself losing months at a time in this engrossing, open-world exploration title. You start off as a young explorer hitting up the Spanish royals for money to fund an expedition across the ocean. You purchase ships and outfit them with goods and crew before heading off to the uncharted lands of the West. Your mission is to find and retrieve gold, bring it back to the throne, and possibly spread some religion to the heathens you come across. The default map is the actual New World, including North/Central/South America and accompanying minor islands. That’s right I said minor! You heard me Cuba!!

You can also have the game create a random world for you to explore. Once you make landfall you disembark with whatever men and food you wish, exploring on foot. Your goal is to find any hint of civilization you can either "pacify" or peacefully trade with. Guess which is most easy? Wiping out entire villages with your superior firepower is almost inevitable, especially since touching a native will kill them, and they just LOVE crowding around their brand new "visitor".

I can’t tell you how many wars I set off simply trying to locate the chief! Apparently this "feature" is indicative of the fact that when two cultures unknown to each other come into contact it’s very easy for one side to perceive a gesture as one of hostility - thus touching off needless conflict. Still, any culture that doesn’t respect basic personal space is just asking to be wiped out, am I right? As you conquer tribe after tribe and occasionally find lost treasure, you’ll need to make the occasional trip back to Spain.

Over time your map will start to fill in. At first I found the postage-stamp viewport a pain in the ass, but you have to keep in mind the entire idea is exploring a new world and it's not like they had GPS or anything. You're never quite sure what's beyond your immediate surroundings. The ultimate goal of the Seven Cities is to discover an advanced capital city with a butt-load of gold in it, which I never did. While I lacked the patience to explore every nook and cranny of the map, I did enjoy the minor degree of exploring and pillaging I did, despite the constant accidental battles. Seven Cities of Gold is quite impressive in scope but its clumsy execution doesn't quite live up to its considerable ambition. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

new Sid Meier's Pirates!
Grade: A+
Publisher: Microprose (1987)
Reviewed: 2021/11/17

screenshotBe sure to grab some rum when you boot up this one, because it’s critically important to be "in character" to fully experience this grand masterpiece. In Sid Meier's Pirates! (yes the exclamation point is part of the official title) you're a swashbuckling adventurer living in the Spanish Main in the 1600’s, and what adventure there is to be had!

You begin by either jumping into a predefined scenario or starting a new "career" with a basic crew, a single ship, and the entire Caribbean laid out before you. You then select your time period, nationality, difficulty, and one special skill. I always choose fencing as my skill because you’ll use it CONSTANTLY throughout the game.

Once you've made your initial choices, how the game plays out is entirely up to you. This is one of the very first "open sandbox" games I can recall, which was mind-blowing at its time of release. Want to be a good servant of the King or a complete scoundrel who just likes to pillage and plunder? You can even vacillate between roles as events unfold, although it requires effort to repair hard feelings. Annoy any one country too much and you won't be welcome in their ports. And by "not welcome" I mean they’ll open fire on you the second you enter their harbor.

As you sail the world you'll encounter rich merchants, other pirates, pirate-hunters, military vessels, and towns in various states of prosperity. You make money through trading, attacking other ships, capturing towns, or finding treasure. If you capture pirates, you can hand them over to the nations they've offended or let them go for insider information. Occasionally you'll be offered a piece of treasure map or information about a kidnapped relative in need of rescue.

You'll even be introduced to the local Governor’s daughters and can decide whether or not to propose marriage which impacts your final score. Some are definitely cuter than others, so choose wisely or risk having your crew make fun of you for the remainder of the game (not actually true, but would have been hilarious).

The game comes with a beautiful old-timey looking map of the Caribbean that you’ll use to navigate your way around and honestly the thing is suitable for framing. A copy protection scheme asks you questions at certain points so be sure you keep the literature handy.

You're awarded points for completing certain side-quests or gaining infamy and/or influence, but for me the final rating/score was just a byproduct. Pirates! isn’t about a score or rating, it’s about living in the moment with a Mai Tai in one hand and Blunderbuss in the other. Not a euphemism! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Space Taxi
Grade: A-
Publisher: Muse Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/4/15

screenshot"Hey Taxi!" - "Pad 1, Please!" Muse Software didn't release many games during their brief existence, but Space Taxi is a fine example of how original this developer could be. Although the graphics are pretty sparse, the sound and music make excellent use of the Commodore's SID chip ability. The point of the game is to guide your cab from one pad to another, picking up and dropping off customers as quickly as possible without dying.

There are five modes of play: Morning Shift, Day Shift, Night Shift, Standard 24-hour shift, and Random 24-hour shift. Each of the first three modes contains eight progressively difficult levels, while the 24-hour shift has you play through all the levels. In real life driving a cab is only slightly less dangerous, as this game has you contending with moving obstacles, gravity, and the inability to touch any solid object whatsoever (aside from landing pads). At least none of your customers ever pull a gun on you or stiff you for your payment!

You push the joystick in the direction you need your cab to go as you float through the air, burning precious fuel each time and watching as the amount of your tip quickly dips downward. Some levels have refueling stations in them, and you can land to take on more fuel as needed. However, the cost for the fuel comes out of your bottom line so you want to be very judicious and not buy more than you need to finish the level. The quicker you can get your passenger to his destination, the more you make in tip money.

I played the two-player version with my son Christian who was quick to wonder aloud "Where the heck does this taxi company find cabbies willing to constantly risk their very lives for such little pay!?!" Your score is the amount of money you make, and the game saves the top 10 high scores to the floppy disk itself forever. I suspect that when I placed 2nd on the list the name I bumped off had probably been there for over 20 years! Most modern consoles don't give you this high-score saving ability!

I have to ding the game slightly for the plain-Jane graphics and for making two players share a single joystick, but it does support up to four players and does an excellent job imitating the physics of guiding a taxi through space (I assume). Supposedly there's also a "secret" 25th level you can access by beating the 24 regular levels, but I'm sure I'll never see it - this game gets tough fast! Apparently a sequel, Space Taxi 2, was released in 2004 in collaboration with the original game's author (John Kutcher) and sure enough it looks like it's still for sale as a PC download (http://www.twilightgames.com/spacetaxi/spacetaxi_info.htm). Space Taxi is a prime example of a game that's easy to learn but tough to master, and I recommend any C64 enthusiast track down a copy for their collection. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Strip Poker
Grade: D+
Publisher: Artworx Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2017/5/23

screenshotSpurred on by the Critic's recent faux-review for the Virtual Boy, I decided to boot up my old copy of Strip Poker and take a stroll down mammary lane (see what I did there?). I remember being 15 years old, loading up Strip Poker in my bedroom, and spending long, nervous hours trying to get these digital ladies de-clothed before my mom could walk in. 30 years later I find myself sitting in my basement, Strip Poker loaded, spending long, nervous minutes praying my wife wouldn't come down and catch me. (Spoiler alert: she totally busted me!) Wife: "What is that blob on your screen?" Me: "Ummmm, it’s Melissa?" Wife: "Okay... but why are you sitting here in your underwear?!" It hadn't occurred to me that I really didn't need to take off my clothing while playing this game, but I wanted to get into the spirit of the thing.

Anyway scientists have calculated that there are over 4 BILLION variations of poker in the wild, but Strip Poker offers your standard five-card draw. You select between two ladies to play against, Suzi or Melissa (and oh it will be Suzi, trust me on this!). You start with $100 and an initial hand of five cards. You can stay, fold, bet, or exchange cards you don't want over three rounds. The goal is obviously to win as much money as you can, knowing that every time you take $100 of hers she must lose an article of clothing.

Deplete her $100 five times and you've "won" a highly digitized drawing of a "nekkid chickie". Lose and you may have some explaining to do to your wife. I have to admit that what little I know about poker today can be traced back to those sweaty hours in my room trying to beat this game. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say the AI is pretty good!

I could never tell when my opponent was bluffing or not. Sometimes she'd bet heavy on a crappy hand, other times she'd bet meekly when she was crushing it. Go figure! For most people Strip Poker is a novelty item with little replay value, but card players can probably bump up the grade by a letter. It may not be as exciting as it once was, but If you prefer your ladies old-fashioned, modest, and heavily pixelated, this game is for you. Okay, maybe not so modest. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

new Super Sunday
Grade: B+
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1985)
Reviewed: 2021/11/17

screenshotoverlay Super Sunday appears to have an identity crisis. While my packaging clearly states "Super Sunday" you'll find other versions around the internet labeled "Superbowl Sunday". It's confusing, but could be worse considering the Atari version got stuck with the title "Computer Football Strategy".

No matter what you call it this game is Avalon Hill's answer to MicroLeague Baseball. It's a purely stat-driven manager-perspective take on the popular American professional sports league which will go unnamed. Donning your virtual clipboard and headset, you’ll take the helm of any one of 20 historic Super Bowl teams. Each NFL team (whoops) is identified by city, and its players by last name and position.

Super Sunday is a single-game affair, with no season mode or chance to see your favorite players rise and fall with the tides. Still, the ability to put my 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers up against the 1984 Washington Redskins (as the Washington Football Team was called back then) is a fantasy matchup I’ll gladly take on any cold, rainy Saturday afternoon.

I tried my hand against the CPU and even against the Critic himself. On offense you select from three general formations and about a dozen actual plays. You also select key players like the quarterback, running back, or receiver. On defense, you can blitz linebackers, fall into prevent mode, and even key on a particular player. Joysticks are supported, but it's so awkward to enter plays that way you'll probably opt for the keyboard, even with two players.

Once your selections are made you just sit back and watch the play unfold on a nicely-rendered field with animated players. It's exciting because you can't always be sure when a tackle will be broken or a receiver will shake free for a big gainer. Likewise, an unexpected turnover may cause you to scream at your monitor, prompting the wife to stick her head in and ask WTF your problem is now.

I was impressed with the realism of Super Sunday. It really did seem like certain players were more or less likely to squeeze out extra yards or make a tough catch based on their historic stats. If you're the type of gamer who can appreciate the cat-and-mouse aspect of trying to call just the right play at just the time to outfox your opponent, this game will scratch that itch. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Super Zaxxon
Grade: C
Publisher: HesWare (1984)
Reviewed: 2016/3/13

screenshotAfter playing Blue Max 2001 (Synapse Software, 1984) I felt the need to wash that bad side-scrolling taste out of my mouth. So I took the opportunity to boot up Super Zaxxon, a game I'd never played before but had high hopes for. Having recently played Zaxxon (SG-1000, 1984) at the Critic’s house I was eager to see how the Commodore version compared. You control a space shuttle moving over a diagonally-scrolling playfield with various targets and obstacles. After traversing the standard playfield you can enter a tunnel and... well, pretty much just keep doing the same stuff.

After a second air base-type field you'll encounter one of the worst bosses I've ever had the misfortune to laugh at. It's an awesome-looking "space dragon" that takes about two or three shots to destroy. Seriously, instead of armored scales this beast is apparently made of papier mache and goose down pillows! Heck, even a stern warning would be enough to reduce that thing to tears! But hey, who am I to judge? If the fine folks at your Sunday newspaper can keep pretending that Family Circus is enjoyable, I can go ahead and pretend this is a real boss.

Graphically Super Zaxxon is impressive, with incredibly smooth scrolling that stands in stark contrast with the SG-1000 version which chugs along like a turn-based RPG. The audio is decent but the shooting sound calls to mind your seven-year-old nephew imitating a laser gun (“PHEW PHEW PHEW!!”) If you're a Zaxxon fan you could certainly do worse than Super Zaxxon, but the only "super" you'll find here is the one in the title. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Survivor
Grade: B-
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/6/1

screenshotSynapse had some of the best box artwork back in the day, but it didn't always translate to the best games (a common complaint in the 1980's). In Survivor you pilot a small asterisk though 2D space. You move up/down and left/right while attempting to take down large "capital ships" by destroying their laser emplacements. Each capital ship is surrounded by a shield you must break through in order to reach the lasers. While you're working on that, random flying enemies in the form of a bird, a giant X, or a smiley face occasionally approach in kamikaze-style attack patterns. Once you destroy all of its guns the capital ship will explode - taking you with it if you're too close!

Survivor starts off at a leisurely pace with baddies appearing only once a minute or so and the turrets firing slowly. Subsequent levels get faster but at no point do the capital ships move, and their shields never get any harder to bust through. It just becomes more difficult to fend off the ever-increasing number of kamikaze baddies. The single player mode is much more difficult than the two-player, because in the two-player one person pilots your asterisk while the other controls its weapons.

In the one-player mode you have to move your ship in the direction you wish to shoot which makes negotiating tight spaces very difficult. The joystick plugged into the second port is used for smart bombs, which makes them all but unusable unless you have incredibly fast reflexes. The sound effects are okay but the graphics are limited (asterisks in sppaaaacccccceeee!!). The capital ships are represented as outlines, and I think the developers could have done a little more to trick them out. You can't ever "finish" the game and high scores aren't saved, but Survivor is still a fun diversion when played in short bursts. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Sword of Fargoal
Grade: B-

screenshotAn example of a "rogue-like" or "RPG-lite", Sword of Fargoal casts you in the role of a hero seeking a magical sword from the depths of a dungeon. The dungeon consists of randomly-generated levels with the sword placed somewhere between levels 15 - 20. I played this game as a wee lad and played it again as an adult, and I STILL can't find that #!@$ sword!!! Each dungeon level is enshrined in "fog" until you walk around to reveal the walls. You'll find gold, chests, traps, stairs, a sanctuary, and of course, monsters. The gold is kind of lame in that all you can do is exchange it for experience (sorry D&D fans, no upgrading armor or weapons).

A few monsters actually look pretty neat considering the state of the art in 1983. They're represented by small icons and sometimes reused with different names and color schemes. I especially like the icons used for the monks and spiders. Combat is initiated when you move onto a monster or a monster moves onto you. You ALWAYS want to be the one initiating combat because otherwise you'll lose the ability to disengage if things get dicey.

During combat you just watch the computer resolve the fight turn by turn. My general strategy has always been to methodically clear each dungeon level one at a time, but considering my lack of success perhaps you'd be better off making a B-line for level 15. There's no save feature or ability to pause. That's a shame, especially when I had to abandon a game in progress because I had to step away.

The sound effects are pretty minimal, but my wife commented about how eerie it sounds when monsters move - like something from the movie Jaws. The manual could include more information (like how a Mage can steal my hard-earned spells) but for a game written by a one guy in 1983, I guess you can't expect a tome. The lack of a save and pause is unfortunate, but it won't deter me on continuing my life-long quest to find the Sword of Fargoal. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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

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