C64 games I've heard of but never played before - Strontium Dog and the Death Gauntlet

by Paul Morrison


Hey, it’s C64 Month! And although I hadn’t specifically planned on writing anything for the occasion, I’ve been spurred into action by a Twitter post I saw earlier today. It was a post mentioning the very game I’m writing about here, and it inspired me to think about, play, then write about a few Commodore 64 games I’ve heard of, but never got around to playing. Strap yourself in and join me on this voyage of discovery!

There’s an old-school title screen for you.  Sadly, there’s only room for half of the title.

There’s an old-school title screen for you. Sadly, there’s only room for half of the title.

OK, so here’s the game I was talking about but before I start… just look at that title. Isn’t that possibly the most awesome and amazing computer game title of all time? It’s possibly only challenged by Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time in the “awesome and amazing computer game title” stakes. Magnificent.

As for the game… have you ever played an endless runner? I’m sure you have. Canabalt? Temple Run? Jetpack Joyride? Maybe Crossy Road, or Super Mario Run? They’re all examples of the endless runner. I was very surprised to find, though, that Strontium Dog and the Death Gauntlet just may be the first ever example of an endless runner game.

Strontium Dog and the Garish Backdrops of Death.

Strontium Dog and the Garish Backdrops of Death.

I was amused by the title screen… not only for its splendid chunkiness, but also for its assertion that publishers Quicksilva were “The Game Lords of Britain”. They were certainly notable, but that’s a very bold statement from a programmer clearly hoping for more work!

Pushing on beyond the title screen, I was disappointed to note that Strontium Dog is not a dog at all. I should have read 2000 AD back in the day, shouldn’t I? Disappointment soon turned to revulsion at the background graphics… three boldly-coloured stripes which work in conjunction with each other to hurt your eyes to maximum effect.

Poor old Dog somehow manages to impale himself on a set of weights.

Poor old Dog somehow manages to impale himself on a set of weights.

The titular Gauntlet of Death seems to refer to the run which Strontium Dog must undertake. Actually, his name is Johnny Alpha, but there’s no denying that Strontium Dog is a much cooler name, which is probably why they went with that for the game title. That, or they didn’t want to get it confused with Ocean Software’s permanently-imminent Jonny and the Jimpys. We may never know.

At first, it seems exceptionally difficult as the path is strewn with obstacles which only serve to impede and injure poor Dog. To compound his misery, there are all kinds of machines and beings wandering about the place, and as befits a lawless, irradiated landscape, they tend to be armed.

The Planet of Renegades is paved with gold.  Oh wait… no, it just looks horrible.

The Planet of Renegades is paved with gold. Oh wait… no, it just looks horrible.

Fortunately, Johnny is more than capable of dishing out a bit of laser death himself. Not only that, he has a couple of extra tricks up his sleeve to help him successfully run the Gauntlet. Electro-Flares stun the roaming reprobates while his time bombs actually send him back in time to get him out of a predicament. It’s a bit like a hyperspace, really. Can’t say I’ve ever used it though.

Johnny can run at whatever speed he likes, but moving faster reduces his strength and if he collides with anything while out of strength, he’s a dead Dog. There are useful items littering the place though; some of these replenish Johnny’s strength, while others add to his collection of flares and bombs. Best try and pick them all up, if you can.

Strontium7.jpg

I said that Strontium Dog was an endless runner whereas technically, it isn’t. The objective is to reach your mates, Wulf and Grunt, so you can escape this treacherous planet. I haven’t succeeded yet, but I don’t think doing so will be all that difficult. Having said that, I’ve read that if you do reach the end, you start again but on a harder difficulty level so to all intents and purposes that description is correct. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but it does get repetitive. Still, as the game which may have inadvertently kicked off a genre, it’s another noteworthy entry in the Commodore 64’s catalogue.