Commodore 64 Reviews S-Z

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 

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 ( 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 

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 

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 to 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 

The Dam Busters
Grade: D-
Publisher: Accolade (1985)
Reviewed: 2018/11/28

screenshotI try to adhere to the Critic's mantra of staying seasonal and with Veterans Day looming I was thrilled to find a still-in-shrinkwrap, unopened copy of The Dam Busters on my shelf. This game takes place during World War II - the last "good" war! But while Accolade published some fine games for the C64, I quickly learned this is not one of them. The Dam Busters puts you in the role of pilot, navigator, gunner, and bombardier of a British Lancaster bomber on a mission to destroy a German dam. Along the way you'll encounter barrage balloons, anti-aircraft flak, enemy fighters, and spotlights. If it sounds like a thrilling incursion, dial your expectations back now! First of all, missions occur in the dark of night, so while you can look outside from a variety of angles, it's always blackness staring back. I spent over an hour just trying to get through the "tutorial" which lets you practice bombing runs with no resistance. You're given a quick lesson on how to set your throttle, boosters, altimeter, and airspeed to the ideal settings. The instructions tell you to "move your throttle down slightly until your RPM gauges read two o'clock", but your gauges immediately begin to drift. Is that good? Bad? Does it even matter? The instructions also reference where the "red needle" airspeed indicator should be in relation to the "blue needle". The problem is, both freakin' needles are blue! It's as if the person writing the documentation was given design notes that didn't match the final product! Needless to say, at no point did I ever remotely come close to bombing a damn thing ...which ironically is what I was trying to do in first place. Nine times out of ten I just plowed into the ground, with the reason provided "failed to put out engine fires"? Eventually I quit the damn/dam tutorial and jumped straight into the second scenario. The ability to ward off enemy fighters, shoot down barrage balloons, and destroy searchlights elevates this game from pure "F" territory into "D" range, but only because it was vaguely playable - although not particularly fun. I tend to gravitate toward flight simulators and war games, but The Dam Busters is one that completely misses the mark. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

The Last Ninja
Grade: D-
Publisher: System 3 (1987)
Reviewed: 2012/3/1

screenshotNever have I wanted to like a game prior to playing it quite as much as The Last Ninja. Apparently a huge hit with our Commodore brethren across the pond, the game was released late in the C64's life cycle yet still managed to spawn two sequels. I'd heard plenty of buzz and seen lots of screen shots. The game features an isometric game field (a la Zaxxon), beautiful graphics, wonderfully immersive music, and of course - Ninjas! Can't miss, right? Wrong! I spent about an hour trying to get into this game and all I got for my trouble was frustration and bloody knuckles. The Last Ninja employs a unique control scheme, whereby your character will move in one direction while continuing to face another. In order to face the way you're actually moving, you need to rotate the joystick around to that direction. Sound confusing? It is. I can't tell you how many times I was getting a sword to the face (or a foot to the junk) as I flailed at thin air because I couldn't face my assailant in the heat of battle. As you walk from screen to screen looking for items and exploring, you'll face enemies one at a time, pray at statues, and navigate obstacles. At a water crossing it took me about ten tries before I could successfully make the three jumps from rock to rock to the other side. The isometric view makes judging your spacing and lining up angles extremely difficult. If it weren't for a website that shows you the exact jumps, I may never have made it. Picking up objects, necessary to advance the game, proved equally difficult. It probably took me five minutes to figure out how to pick up my first object (a sword on a rock). I could occasionally pick up a key, but at no point was I able to successfully pick up something from the belt of a dead man (nun-chucks?). Apparently you have to be standing at just the right pixel to execute the "crouch and grab" technique, and it drove me mad. I've read there's a dragon you have to either kill or run past at the end of the first level, but I couldn't bear the control scheme long enough to find out for myself. The only things saving this game from an "F" are the impressive graphics and the excellent music. Had they simply made your ninja face the direction you moved, this game could have been a real winner. I'm sure I'll eventually muster the patience to give The Last Ninja another go, but unless I have some incredible epiphany I'm afraid I'll never understand why this game was so popular. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

Who Dares Wins II
Grade: C+
Publisher: Alligata Software (1985)
Reviewed: 2016/11/20

screenshotContinuing my binge of Veterans Day shooters, I decided to go with the Commando-inspired import Who Dares Wins II. After all, it wouldn't be right to ignore our SAS brothers overseas. So why start with the second in the series? Because I don't own the original - that's why. From what I've seen online however, there isn't much of a difference. There's no doubt Who Dare Wins II is a Commando (Data East, 1985) rip-off, as both play nearly identically. You're a soldier armed with a rifle who must travel up the screen avoiding enemy combatants while trying to rescue fellow soldiers and capture outposts. There are eight levels to clear and if you finish them all you start back over at level one. Yes, being a foot soldier is a thankless job! "In gratitude of your unflinching and dedicated service, you're now going back to the front to do it all again soldier!" I must confess I prefer this to the arcade port of Commando. Who Dares Wins has a slower and calmer pace, so you can be thoughtful and strategic instead of straight run-and-gun. Additionally, they managed to implement a functional method of grenade throwing. You simply hold the fire button a second longer than you normally would. While this sometimes causes you to throw a grenade inadvertently, it's far better than having to hit the spacebar like Commando. Several levels begin with a man tied to a pole about to be executed, and you can save him if you can shoot his executor in time. That's pretty cool. The game also put a lot of thought into the vehicles, incorporating ground-strafing fighters, trains, boats, bombers, and robotic tank things. Who Dares Win II is a fairly easy game as C64 shooters are concerned but I appreciated its deliberate pace and so did my thumb. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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1 player 

Winter Games
Grade: C-
Publisher: Epyx (1985)
Reviewed: 2014/3/4

screenshotContinuing my trend of reviewing games just past the point of anyone caring (baseball after baseball season, football after football season, the WNBA at any point in time), I figured a solid week after the Sochi Olympics would be the best time to review Winter Games (No IOC trademark here! Any resemblance to actual Olympic events is purely coincidental.) Building on the success of Summer Games, Epyx takes the action to the colder climates and challenges the player to achieve the best score in any of seven winter-themed events. You enter your name, choose a country to represent, watch the opening ceremony, and then it's off to the slopes. The graphics do a great job of conveying the feeling of playing winter sports and playing in my basement on a real life "snow day". I swear I felt a few degrees colder from looking at the screen than I did before I booted the game up. You begin with a trick-ski event called Hot Dog, where the object is to leave a downhill ramp, do as many varied tricks as possible, and then stick your landing. Like most events, the timing of your joystick movements is crucial and landing correctly is an absolute bear! This event is followed by the biathlon (much better) and the incredibly weak and ponderous figure skating (just like the real Olympics!) Then there's the ski jump, speed skating, free skating, and finally bobsled. You can compete in any single event, practice one event, or play through all seven in order. As I mentioned previously, the timing of your joystick is crucial to doing halfway decent in all of the events. Then again, if you're playing by yourself you're bound to get at least six gold medals no matter how poorly you perform, as there are no computer-controlled opponents. You can still shoot for "world records" though, and best scores get saved to disk for future generations to admire and worship you over. Despite playing this during "the winter that doesn't want to end" and fresh off the actual Olympics, I had a hard time getting into Winter Games. The controls were just awkward and the weakest/lamest event (figure skating) effectively makes up two of the seven events. Why not include hockey or curling? I'd go back to see if I can get my name saved to disk for at least one event (preferably the biathlon), but there isn't much draw beyond that. Like most sports games of its time, Winter Games is much better if you have a human competitor, which would probably bump the score up to a B-. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

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