Karateka, Commodore 64

Karateka was Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner‘s first published game. He programmed it (originally for the Apple II) while attending Yale University in 1984.

It’s a simple martial arts fighting game that uses rotoscoped graphics to create realistic animation. Back in 1984 they were pretty revolutionary.

The aim of Karateka is to fight your way into a guarded fortress to rescue your love interest, Mariko. Using well-timed punches and kicks you defeat waves of opponents; defeat attacking hawks; and make your way past deadly falling portcullis – until you reach the boss, Akuma. Who of course you have to fight to free Mariko.

Karateka is – I think – a better-looking game on the Commodore 64 than on the Apple II. Both versions play quite slowly (frustratingly slowly for some, although you can boost the speed in an emulator), but the underlying gameplay is still sound.

Jordan Mechner himself was involved in a 2012 remake of Karateka, released for XBox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and iOS.

More: Karateka on Wikipedia

Jail Break, Commodore 64

Jail Break is a conversion of the Konami arcade game of the same name, and was developed and published by Konami themselves in 1986.

It’s a very spartan run-and-gun game where you’re basically a lone policeman, up against waves of escaping convicts.

Rescuing fleeing civilians will gain you an extra weapon – a shotgun or a bazooka – though neither really makes any impact on the gameplay. Which is truly awful.

If there was an award for worst sprites in a video game, the Commodore 64 version of Jail Break would be in contention. The expanded characters look ridiculous, frankly, and are animated just as badly.

The game’s only saving grace is that there’s some colour variation in the different stages. And it has a nice loading screen/tune. Woopie… Otherwise, it’s a pile of retro-gaming excrement. Konami really took their eye off the ball with this one…

More: Jail Break on Mobygames

The Evil Dead, Commodore 64

Another great film turned into video game kitty litter! This one in 1984, by Palace Software.

The interpretation is as an overhead survival game, with you playing Ash (spelled incorrectly in the game – slap on the wrist to the programmer!) who is besieged by Kandarian demons inside a remote log cabin. You can close the doors and windows to stop the demons getting in, and must also kill any that make it into the cabin. To kill them you must first find a weapon (randomly located around the cabin, or outside), and then use it on them. Whether it’s an axe, a sword, or a shovel – it makes no real difference – the effect is the same. Eventually, when you’ve killed enough demons, the ancient Book of the Dead will appear and you have to throw it into the fire to triumph.

As a huge fan of the 1981 film I’ve always thought that this game was total and utter rubbish. I remember as a young gamer hoping that it would be good enough to buy, but I read the reviews and thought “there’s no way I’m buying that!”. And I was right. The graphics are pathetic, the cabin is tiny, and the gameplay is clumsy and repetitive. There’s no escaping the fact that The Evil Deadthis Evil Dead (there are others) – is both a missed opportunity, and a steaming pile of crap.

Are there any positives about the game? The intro sequence and tune are quite nice. The scrolly text message at the bottom of the screen describes the monsters as “mutants”, which is sure to piss off any die-hard Evil Dead fan who reads it. Other than those like me who don’t really give a toss.

A BBC Micro version of The Evil Dead was also released by Palace. A ZX Spectrum version was developed and completed, but was never released as a stand-alone game. It later appeared as a freebie on the b-side of another Palace release: Cauldron, so eventually made it out.

More: The Evil Dead on Wikipedia

Raid Over Moscow, Commodore 64

Raid Over Moscow was a controversial release for Access Software in 1984. The game depicts a fictional nuclear war scenario between the USA and Russia and involves US forces fending off nuclear attacks, then flying into the Russian capital to attack what is supposed to be The Kremlin.

Like most of Access‘s early output Raid Over Moscow is an interesting, playable, and beautifully-programmed action game that is broken down into distinct stages. Firstly there’s take off, which involves piloting a “spaceplane” (their word, not mine) out of a hangar and towards Russia. Secondly, there’s a side-scrolling, isometric shoot ’em up section that plays similarly to Zaxxon, in that you increase/decrease altitude and move left and right to avoid obstacles while at the same time blasting anything that gets in front of you. Eventually you land and then have to take out the troops guarding the gate to the city. Reach the final stage and you then have to destroy a series of robots protecting the reactor underneath the Soviet “Defence Center” (actually the State Historical Museum), and you must do this within a strict two minute time limit.

In spite of the questionably propagandist scenario (Raid Over Moscow was made during the Cold War which kind of explains the thinking), this is still an excellent game. It presents a decent challenge and is extremely well-produced. And it still plays great to this day.

Later re-releases saw the title changed to simply “Raid“, with all references to Moscow being dropped.

More: Raid Over Moscow on Wikipedia

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Commodore 64

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is the 1988 successor to Maniac Mansion. Successor in the sense that it uses the same game engine and gameplay style, but does not exist in the same universe.

You play a jaded reporter called Zak McKracken who wakes one day after having a surreal dream involving aliens. This dream proves to have a profound effect on Zak’s life, and he meets another person – a girl, called Annie Larris – who’s also had the same dream.

As a graphic adventure game, Zak McKracken is noticeably more refined and complex than Maniac Mansion, although it might not appear that way initially. It takes some effort to reach the part of the game where four individual characters become playable. The game also contains a few situations where – if you do the wrong thing – you can’t complete it. So can be frustrating.

That said: I think Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is brilliantly designed and great fun to play. Especially with a walkthrough, because some of the puzzles are relatively difficult to solve.

Compared to other SCUMM games Zak McKracken seems less about conversations and more about puzzles, and item and money management. And, of course, travel. You have to get used to buying plane tickets in this game – if you can first find your credit card…

Still available to buy on Steam and GOG.com today, Zak McKracken is arguably better even than Maniac Mansion. It’s all a matter of taste.

More: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Wikipedia
Steam: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Steam
GOG.com: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on GOG.com

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Maniac Mansion, Commodore 64

Released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Maniac Mansion was the birth of SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), the game engine that defined LucasArts point-and-click adventures for a decade. Actually, back then they were called Lucasfilm Games, and they were breaking new ground in a number of different places.

For starters: you can play Maniac Mansion as one of seven playable characters – and switch between them at will (at least when the game lets you), and the game has puzzles that can either only be solved by one character, or have multiple solutions to one problem. Pretty groundbreaking for the time.

Maniac Mansion was also the video game that defined “verb lists”, or verb charts – lists of verbs that can be clicked-on, then used to carry out certain actions. This was an interesting new development in the graphic adventure genre back in 1987, and one that still reverberates to this day, with games like Thimbleweed Park.

At its heart Maniac Mansion is a tribute to late-night horror films, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but with a humorous – almost Richard O’Brien-like – twist. The game cuts away to other characters doing things, like a TV soap opera, and the dialogue is self-referential and funny.

The graphics in Maniac Mansion are pretty basic, but work very well and are colourful and full of character. The big heads of the main characters are very distinctive and somewhat reminiscent of the main character in Labyrinth. The backgrounds are ‘interactive’ and sometimes change when clicked-on (the fridge for example). A lot of this was very innovative back in 1987 and it really made the gaming world sit up and take notice.

There are better-looking versions of Maniac Mansion around, but this original Commodore 64 version is still well worth a play any day of the week. The MS-DOS, Amiga and Atari ST versions all have updated graphics and mouse controls, and are all excellent. There’s also an NES version too. And – as the eagle-eyed will already know – the full Maniac Mansion is also available to play as an Easter egg in the 1993 sequel, Day of the Tentacle.

More: Maniac Mansion on Wikipedia

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Labyrinth, Commodore 64

The actual, full title of this 1986 adventure game from Lucasfilm Games is Labyrinth: The Computer Game, but I’ll refer to it from now on as Labyrinth.

Labyrinth was the very first Lucasfilm Games adventure game and is based on the fantasy film of the same name – the one written by Terry Jones, directed by Jim Henson, and starring David Bowie in a big white wig.

Labyrinth is a fairly simple character-based adventure with puzzles, and mostly involves walking around talking to the various ‘beings’ that you meet, trying to solve various problems and unlocking the route forward.

It doesn’t have any of the complex puzzles or character interactions we see in later LucasArts adventures although it does establish a basic graphical style for the point-and-click genre to come. It also has a rudimentary menu system that feels a bit like an early prototype of SCUMM.

Playing the game now, it’s obviously not one of Lucasfilm Games‘ best, even though it was quite innovative for the time. Unless you’re a big fan of the film, or are interested in the evolution of LucasArts adventures, Labyrinth probably won’t hold a great deal of interest for you.

More: Labyrinth: The Computer Game on Wikipedia

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Raid on Bungeling Bay, Commodore 64

Raid on Bungeling Bay was Will Wright‘s first ever video game and it was released for the Commodore 64 by Brøderbund in 1984. Will Wright – in case you didn’t know – was a co-founder of Maxis and also designer of SimCity and The Sims.

Raid on Bungeling Bay is an overhead helicopter shooter and the basic aim is to set off from your aircraft carrier to bomb six enemy factories found located among a chain of islands. They’re of course heavily defended, and they also ‘develop’ as the game unfolds, giving you a time limit to stop them from taking over the world.

You have a front-mounted cannon which can blast boats, ground emplacements, aircraft, and other ground vehicles, but you need to drop bombs on the factories to destroy them. The process is to find a factory, clear the area of enemy defensive positions, then place yourself carefully over the top of a factory, before dropping your bombs. You can hold nine bombs per sortie and each factory pretty much takes a full payload of nine to destroy. Landing back on the aircraft carrier will replenish your bombs.

Other things to watch out for: enemy aircraft attacking your carrier (you have to go and fight them off), and an enemy battleship that is gradually built, before setting off to intercept your carrier. The battleship resents your presence and will fire homing missiles at you if you are within range.

I have a soft spot for this game, even though it looks quite dated now. I played it for hours as a kid. I just loved the feel of flying around in the chopper – viewed from overhead – blasting stuff on the ground. And it still feels good to play now… I picked it up and played it recently and almost completed it. It’s a nice little self-contained action game with some interesting mechanics and a wonderful control system.

MSX and NES versions of Raid on Bungeling Bay exist, but – rather strangely – none anywhere else. I say “rather strangely” because Bungeling Bay is a great game and would probably have worked well on other platforms.

More: Raid On Bungeling Bay on Wikipedia

The Sentinel, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Geoff Crammond‘s The Sentinel is just as good as the original BBC Micro version of the game, if not better – ie. it’s absolutely bloody brilliant.

Like the game of chess – but scarier – The Sentinel is a game of strategy and cunning that is played-out on a mountainous chequerboard landscape that is overseen by the titular Sentinel. The Sentinel slowly rotates his view of the landscape and if he see you he’ll start absorbing your energy – energy that you need to get around, so avoiding his gaze is key to survival.

The basic aim is to move to a position where you can see the ground The Sentinel is standing on. This allows you to absorb him, and not the other way around. You move around using energy (represented as a bar at the top of the screen), but have a limited amount of it, so must absorb trees (and other, lesser guardians) in order to keep it topped-up. When you do move you create a sort of clone of yourself to teleport into, which you can then look back at and absorb for more energy, unless The Sentinel beats you to it.

The Sentinel is not a game that will appeal to those who’re looking for simple entertainment, but… You’d have to be pretty simple yourself to dismiss it as “boring”. It’s actually one of the greatest video games of all time!

More: The Sentinel on Wikipedia

Spy vs. Spy, Commodore 64

Back in 1984 Spy vs. Spy was a revelation. It was – and still is – a shining example of two-player versus gaming. Two spies, each searching for the secret plans, and each laying traps in order to stop the other – it tended to bring out the devious side (and the trash talk) of anyone who played it. Myself included. Many hours were spent playing this game against my brother back in the mid Eighties, and Spy vs. Spy quickly became a cult favourite for myself, and for many other Commodore 64 owners.

Of course, this being a split-screen game, each player can see what the other is doing, which adds another level of deviousness and trickery to the gameplay.

Spy vs. Spy is beautifully presented, with humorous animated graphics based on the MAD Magazine characters of the same name. Placing traps is achieved by cycling a pointer over a bank of icons on the right-hand side of the screen. There are six different types of traps and each has to be set up by first hiding it in either a piece of furniture, or inside a door. And when your unwitting opponent triggers a trap you laid: it’s kaboom. Or course: the same can happen to you as you’re searching for the plans.

There are eight levels of difficulty, with more rooms being added as the levels go up. There are also five levels of computer AI for the single-player game, so Spy vs. Spy has some serious replay value.

It’s still a brilliant game to play now and is definitely a Commodore 64 classic!

More: Spy vs. Spy on Wikipedia