My top ten Commodore 64 games

by Paul Morrison


Not too long ago, it was put to me that it might be a good idea to have lists of my top ten games on various systems on the website.  That way, people would gain a bit more insight into the kind of gamer I am and maybe of whether I'm even qualified to be embarking on something of this nature.

I thought that was a good idea, but rather than add lists I thought I'd at least give the games the respect they deserve in the form of write-ups.  It's taken longer than I would have liked, but I'm adding my first top tens to the website now.

It must be stressed that these are just my favourite ten games, in alphabetical order, as they stand at the moment.  If you're anything like me, these lists can change at any point in time.  For that reason, I've added some games that just failed to make it at the end of the last post in every list.  They may yet change on here over time... and I might beef up the text of those that are already here (some feel a bit rushed).

With that all said, here are my top ten games for the Commodore 64.  Please feel free to comment on any or all of them.


Ancipital

by Paul Morrison


Jeff Minter is a very singular game developer, and his Llamasoft is a very singular company. Never in the history of computer games has a programmer married his love of arcade machines and cloven-hoofed animals with such success. And it's a far better marriage than that description might have you believe...

Although there have been, and continue to be, a number of successful Llamasoft games featuring a variety of different ungulates... Sheep in Space, Attack and Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Gridrunner (erm, hang on...)... my personal favourite of Jeff Minter's Commodore 64 games was always Ancipital.

Hmmm.  That must be funny.

Hmmm.  That must be funny.

Playing as Cippy, a goat-like creature from far away, you must escape from within the confines of a 100-room complex of evil, well, just because. Why would you stay there, really? It's not just as simple as walking through the front door, though, as each room is sealed shut and can only be unlocked by blasting the weird things within and by stomping on the walls from a great height.

Seeing as this is a British game from the early Eighties, the inhabitants of the complex are not robot guards or sentries. Instead, you'll be assaulted by such things as hammers, cigarettes, fruit, nuts and bolts and other household objects and pets. It's quite bizarre, but tremendously enjoyable.

Yak's the way I like it!

Yak's the way I like it!

It's great fun to play, with a control method that features a real sense of weight. Making Cippy change direction to stomp on a wall feels real, especially when the room shakes with a crunching sound effect. With each “level” being contained within a single screen, I believe that Ancipital would be a perfect game to be remade for Jeff Minter's iOS Minotaur Project. If that doesn't happen, then we should remain thankful for the version we have... it's superb.


The Bard's Tale

by Paul Morrison


I'd always fancied the idea of a role playing game... in fact, I'd been involved in a short-lived and ill-fated game of Dungeons & Dragons when I was about twelve, where an older lad declared himself Dungeon Master and then created and killed off my character, Luxor, in one session.

That had dampened my enthusiasm a bit, but the thought of solo RPG fun with no heartless bastard hovering around just waiting to arbitrarily spoil it was very appealing. The problem was they were such big games that you needed a disk drive, at least for the good ones, and I didn't have one.

Ha! Try hiding from that, you dirty sneak!

Ha! Try hiding from that, you dirty sneak!

Then I saw The Bard's Tale, on cassette, for £2.99.

I actually grabbed it from the shelf in case anyone else got in first, I was that excited to see it. Despite having read and re-read the ZZAP! 64 review and deciding I really wanted the game, I didn't have much idea of what I was letting myself in for.

To the victors go the spoils.  Look at that lot!

To the victors go the spoils.  Look at that lot!

To a novice explorer such as myself, The Bard's Tale's town of Skara Brae was quite overwhelming, as were its four sides of tape and massive spell book! But it was such an intriguing and exciting world that I couldn't help but get completely wrapped up in it.

Although the town is small, the task is massive (especially with a two-cassette multiload!) and your group of six intrepid adventurers will take some fearful beatings along the way! It's all worth it in the end, though, and although it took me thirteen months of solid play I never regretted a single minute. What a fabulous experience.


Buggy Boy

by Paul Morrison


I've always loved a good racing game. There's just something about flinging a vehicle around a track at high speed that really appeals. Maybe it's because there's no way I could do it in real life without ending up in traction at the very least, but I do really enjoy my high speed racing thrills.

They were a little hard to come by on the Commodore 64 at times, at least in terms of real quality. There were those that I had a good time with, but getting that illusion of speed right was a bit of a problem. And then Buggy Boy came along.

I can't see any way that this will end well...

I can't see any way that this will end well...

It was a bit of an obscure game to convert... it wasn't a big name as such, there was no hype around it and its biggest selling point was the giant car character you controlled on screen, which there was no chance of reproducing on the Commodore 64. The game itself merely involved trailing around one of a choice of five courses, collecting flags along the way and hoping to get to the end before time ran out.

Sometimes, though, the simplest ideas are the best. Taking that basic premise and working it into shape as the best Commodore 64 game possible, Buggy Boy captured the flavour of the arcade game and featured a great sense of speed but best of all, incredible playability.

These ramps work much better than they look.

These ramps work much better than they look.

At first you'd just flog the car, hoping to get to the end before the time ran out. But as you became more proficient and started to learn the layout of the tracks, you introduced an element of risk/reward as you decided which flags you could risk going for in an attempt to keep the score booster going.

Despite the relative simplicity and lack of courses, Buggy Boy was so much fun that I think it was the most replayable arcade racer I owned. The challenge of a higher score was always there, but even if you didn't beat your best it felt so good to throw your buggy around the track that you couldn't resist another go. And that's a quality essential in all the best games.


Citadel

by Paul Morrison


Most of the games that were the subject of a ZZAP! Diary turned out to be absolute belters. Martin Walker's Citadel was no exception, and was one of his two finest hours in terms of games programming (some of you may not know, though, that he was much more prolific writing game music... something that has shaped his career to date). Hunter's Moon was his other best game, but Citadel tops that splendid effort, for me.

It's another sci-fi effort, not too dissimilar to Paradroid in some ways. Set in a far-flung future, the people of Earth have colonised huge areas of space. But space is so big that some secrets remain. One very distant world has been discovered to contain a massive underground complex, devoid of human life but, as the probe droid that was sent in to investigate found out, not unoccupied...

That portal with the two lights is what you're looking for... it takes you to another city.

That portal with the two lights is what you're looking for... it takes you to another city.

The humans decide to send an armed robot underground to investigate, and it is this robot that you control. The city does indeed appear deserted when you enter, but an eerie and ominous hum leads you to suspect that all is not as it seems. As soon as you approach a trapdoor in the floor, those suspicions are confirmed...

Moving within a few squares of a trapdoor springs its release mechanism and it will open to reveal its contents. If you're lucky, it will be a power cell, a door switch or weapons upgrade. If you're not... you'll find one of the alien defences is all too happy to greet you.

Nothing, in any universe or galaxy anywhere, is any match for a good blaster.

Nothing, in any universe or galaxy anywhere, is any match for a good blaster.

This sounds bad, and indeed, it is, but you're well-equipped to deal with whatever is thrown at you. In fact, if you're smart, you'll work out how the defences behave and can plan accordingly. Do the right thing and you'll minimise the risk of damage. Do it wrong and panic sets in, and if you try and run away you're likely to trigger all manner of traps at once, at which point death is inevitable.

Citadel is a very clever game, which requires a lot of tactical thought and planning rather than just wading in with all guns blazing. The odds can be overwhelming at times, but when it goes wrong it's always your own fault, and the chances are that as soon as you've died you'll have thought about how you could have approached the situation better, and you'll be back to give it another go. It's very rewarding indeed, and still stands up well today.


Dropzone

by Paul Morrison


I always hated Defender in the arcades. It was absolutely rock hard, and when ten pees were at a premium the last thing you wanted to play was a game that would humiliate you in less than a minute. For this reason, I always gave Defender a wide berth, unless there was nothing else available.

Cool shades, little fella.  Now, buzz off.

Cool shades, little fella.  Now, buzz off.

It was with some disappointment, therefore, that I went to load Blue Max from my Arcade Hall of Fame collection to find that it had been replaced with Defender-wannabe, Dropzone. I'd already played Dropzone and, as with Defender, I was absolutely cack at it. I probably played it a couple of times and then went back to Spy Hunter.

As time went by, I kept reading Dropzone reviews or comments about the game which all said it was one of the best games ever. I figured that I owed it to myself to give this game another try... to at least play it for enough time to see if I could get good at it or at least respect it.

I knew I should have watched the weather forecast before I left for work.

I knew I should have watched the weather forecast before I left for work.

It took some time, but I finally worked my way up to a level of proficiency. I wouldn't say I was the best at the game... I'm clearly not. But I did achieve an air of respectability. I got to the point where I could regularly score 100,000 or more, and while that pales next to the great players, I think it was enough to say the game and I had a mutual respect for each other.

If you hit The Zone with Dropzone, you were in for a special time. It was possible to become totally absorbed in the game, able to counter whatever it threw at you with some nifty moves of your own and losing all track of time. Even though I'm not an expert at the game, it's actually earned its place in my Top Ten.


Frankie Goes to Hollywood

by Paul Morrison


It's so strange to see this game in my Top Ten. I'm not particularly a pop music fan... I like heavy instrumental guitar rock above all else, musically. And yet, this game kept me enthralled for such a long time. I thought long and hard about it, and although there are other deserving candidates on the Just Missed list, I felt that this one had to get the nod.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood is one of the strangest and most intriguing games I've ever played. You control an anonymous member of the public and you start your quest in Mundaneland, an average area of Suburbia. Unlike most of the other residents, though, you have ambitions. You want to break free from the mundane. You want a personality.

2% a real person?  I thought I was feeling a bit off lately.

2% a real person?  I thought I was feeling a bit off lately.

It's a pretty quiet neighbourhood in some ways, Mundaneland. You can happily stroll in and out of the houses unchallenged, as nobody else is around. Well, there's one person, but I'll mention that later. Although the houses are empty, their possessions are not, and having a bit of a mooch around will pop open a window and reveal an item's contents. You're free to take anything you like, as long as you have room to carry it.

Some items will give you a points and personality boost, but others are more helpful. Video tapes, particularly, can be used to open mini-games, which is where the real meat of the game lies. If you wander into the scene once it opens up, the game will begin. Many of these are quite bizarre, for instance one sees Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev involved in a spitting match!

Oooh, what a little devil!

Oooh, what a little devil!

The games are never less than interesting, but if you get a little bored then you'll soon find yourself involved in something even more cerebral as you stumble across a dead body! You'll be given clues as you walk around, and you need to use these to solve the murder. It's a fascinating sideline to the game which takes you completely by surprise the first time you play!

Successfully complete all aspects of the game and you're granted access to the Pleasuredome and the chance to become a real person. I'd love to tell you all about it but I've never managed it. I've got very close, but haven't quite got there. I'll keep trying, though...

I've been in nightclubs where the floors have felt a bit like this...

I've been in nightclubs where the floors have felt a bit like this...

Frankie Goes To Hollywood is a stunning game, and was truly groundbreaking at the time. I put so many hours into it at the time that it had to be in this list. Even if it baffled me at times and I didn't know exactly what was going on, I enjoyed it hugely and I think that anyone that has played it is better for the experience.


Impossible Mission

by Paul Morrison


As a teen boy, it was easy to be seduced by Impossible Mission. From the moment it loaded up and Professor Elvin Atombender calmly addressed you with the words “Another visitor. Stay awhile. Stay FOREVER!”, you were in. Getting to play as the most well-animated secret agent ever just sealed the deal.

You begin the game just inside the entrance to Atombender's underground lair, and must explore all its 32 rooms to obtain the code you need to confront the mad Professor and end his evil scheme. Naturally, this is no country mansion and your mission will not be a simple stroll.

This living room would be quite nice if it weren't for the mad, laser-wielding robots.

This living room would be quite nice if it weren't for the mad, laser-wielding robots.

The thing that Impossible Mission gets right is the atmosphere. There's no jaunty tune playing throughout... Atombender's Lair is silent, save for the Professor's voice and the ominous hum and BZZZZZT!! of his security robots. The first time you play the game and walk into a room to be confronted by patrolling droids is actually pretty terrifying.

It's not the hardest platform game you'll ever play, in terms of leaping about the place. Many ledges and walkways are reached through the conveniently-placed lifts installed within the place, and only a couple of platforms involve tricky jumps. The problem is that you have a tight time limit, and of course those robots get in the way. One touch, or a zap from their laser, results in “death”, and it takes ten minutes of game time to respawn.

Atombender is obviously quite mad.  How am I supposed to get a Mars bar from that machine?

Atombender is obviously quite mad.  How am I supposed to get a Mars bar from that machine?

It's brilliantly conceived and executed, and the fact that the robots' “personalities” are randomised for every game means you have to be on your toes every single time you play. When you finally complete the game it's immensely satisfying, and a memory that will stick with you. FOREVERRRRR!


Monty on the Run

by Paul Morrison


As legendary platform games go, Monty on the Run is up there with the best of them. Originally programmed by Spectrum legend Pete Harrap, it fell to Jason Perkins to convert the game to the Commodore 64. He managed this very successfully, but that alone might not have been enough to elevate the game to my top ten...

Even a mighty mole like Monty can't make that jump...

Even a mighty mole like Monty can't make that jump...

Monty on the Run was released in 1985, before I owned a Commodore 64. My first experience of the game was at a mate's house. I was lucky enough to have plenty of mates with different computer systems, so I got to experience the best of all worlds before I was able to set foot in them myself. Every new game was eagerly anticipated, and while many delivered, several did not.

Monty on the Run for the Commodore 64 was special from the opening seconds, before you'd even played the game. C64 owners across the country were sitting slack-jawed when the game opened with the most stunning piece of computer music heard in a game to that date. I'm stating that almost as a fact, but I defy you to find anyone that would  disagree.

With this new jet pack I can simply fly around the house!

With this new jet pack I can simply fly around the house!

The game itself was (is) a cracking platform game, full of traditional gameplay elements but with lots of little tricks and twists to keep it interesting. Teleporters, a jet pack and a Sinclair C5 would all make appearances, and all posed particular problems (especially that damn C5!).

The game was equally good on both Spectrum and Commodore 64, but it married up so well with Rob Hubbard's stunning and now-legendary soundtrack that the Commodore 64 version undoubtedly has the edge. I played it to death in the day, even completing it without cheating, and still enjoy a run around The House even now.


Paradroid

by Paul Morrison


I was eagerly anticipating Paradroid before I even owned a Commodore 64. I'd somehow found myself reading ZZAP! 64 every month, and Andrew Braybrook was writing a diary of his progress on his latest game. It promised to be amazing... robot warfare on giant spaceships! How could it go wrong?

Oddly, then, I was somewhat disappointed when I first played it. My visions of colourful, angry-looking droids were dashed, replaced instead by an overhead view of black-and-white numbers floating around a screen. This wasn't what I was expecting... not at all.

It's great fun, picking off the small fry.

It's great fun, picking off the small fry.

And then I played it.

It was like no other shoot 'em up I'd ever seen. Suddenly, everything made sense. The numbers were essential... they made every robot recognisable at a glance. You'd know how much trouble you were in by the class of robot you were mixed up with. Then you had a decision to make... should you take it on in a firefight, or attempt a transfer?

Yeah... good luck with that one...

Yeah... good luck with that one...

That was the other genius element of Paradroid... the transfer game. So simple in concept, it added a level of depth and strategy that was previously unimaginable in a mere shmup. By engaging an enemy robot in a battle of wits, your Influence Device could take over the enemy for a short time, inheriting its abilities and therefore becoming much more powerful than the standard device.

This was a simple but brilliant idea, and elevated Paradroid from sci-fi shooter to bona fide games legend. The feeling of exhilaration from accidentally tumbling into a 999 droid as a 001, with transfer mode activated, and actually winning, was unparalleled. Even today I find it a joyous experience to play.


The Sentinel

by Paul Morrison


Geoff Crammond's name is one that stands tall among the pantheon of games programmers. He's achieved legendary status for his achievements, and rightfully so. His racing simulations were magnificent for their time, with incredible attention to detail that was unrivalled by anything else on the market.

That being the case, it might seem odd that I've picked a Geoff Crammond game that doesn't involve racing. In fact, it's about as slow a game as you'll ever play. But it's incredible. It's The Sentinel.

This is where it all begins...

This is where it all begins...

It's hard to start trying to categorise this game. So I won't. I'll just write briefly about the game's objective, which is difficult enough to describe in itself. The Sentinel is a mysterious being that holds control over 10,000 worlds. He sits atop a platform at the highest point of each world, surveying the land and stamping out anything that affects the balance of energy.

This life-sapping entity must be removed. A Synthoid is created, with the ability to absorb energy... including that of The Sentinel. The Synthoid cannot physically move, and it cannot be seen by The Sentinel. To move, it must absorb energy from trees and boulders. It can then create a shell, into which it can teleport. Once the Synthoid starts to affect the balance of the world's energy, The Sentinel will detect it and will move to stamp it out.

Never wavering... the steely gaze of The Sentinel is withering.

Never wavering... the steely gaze of The Sentinel is withering.

Once you know The Sentinel is making his move, there can be a tendency to really start to panic. Even though the game is very slow, you have to think fast or you'll be in trouble. Once you feel The Sentinel's icy gaze, you may never be the same...

It's a testament to The Sentinel's majesty that, to this day, there hasn't been a notable copy of its concept. It stands alone as a unique entity, a one-of-a-kind shining example of the kind of creativity this country and profession are renowned for. It's constantly challenging, always enthralling and frequently terrifying. The Sentinel is simply superb.

Just missed: Armalyte, Bounder, International Karate, Rainbow Islands, Stunt Car Racer, Summer Games II, Thrust, Turrican, Wasteland, World Class Leaderboard