All Commodore reviews were submitted by special VGC correspondent The C64 Critic
Publisher: FIrebird (1984)
In 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 boogies. 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.
Publisher: Domark Ltd. (1985)
It'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
. And 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.
Publisher: Microprose (1986)
Forged 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.
Publisher: Activision (1986)
What 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.
Publisher: Epyx (1983)
Games 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 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 pallette 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 sometime 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.
Publisher: Epyx (1983)
If 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.
Publisher: Bally (1982)
I 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
(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
Publisher: Target Games (1988)
Anyone 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.
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