Continuing the retrospective: There were a lot of games made for the Commodore 64/128, and to be honest, my experience with the C64 is probably less extensive than with other gaming systems. Nevertheless, there were several games I used to play quite often on the C64, which basically amounted to the interim system between the Atari 2600 and NES. Many games have not aged very well, but there is still some sentimental value to these, and some are still genuinely fun to play. The C64 was significantly more powerful than the Atari 2600, so the games were often much larger in scope and began to have more to accomplish than arbitrary point scores (though, honestly, many games were basically run-and-gun, compete for the high score type games)
- Test Drive/Test Drive 2: A series of games that has pretty much endured the last 20 years and will probably continue to thrive, the first two games were on the C64, and they were great fun. At the time, at least. These games have not aged well. The concept is pretty sound: you’re taking a high ticket sports car out for a test drive, and you’ve got to make it back to the dealership without getting cought by the police (a feature that was pretty neat at the time, and which figures prominently in car games that followed) or totalling the car (a variant has you racing against someone else). But the driving controls are unresponsive and clunky, making it difficult to control and less fun to play. Still, I had a blast with this as a youngster – who wouldn’t want to drive around in a Lamborghini or Ferrari?
- California Games: Epyx made a host of popular sports games for the C64 that I used to play a lot, including Winter Games, Summer Games, etc… but California Games was the neatest because it featured non-standard games like skateboarding, footbag (aka hackey sack), and surfing. The different games were varied and depended on differing gameplay. As such, some were tons of fun, and some were little more than an exercise in seeing how many times you could press a button in a short period of time (thank goodness this style of game has mostly gone away). It follows, then, that some games hold up better than others. I’m particularly fond of footbag myself (partly just because I like the names of the tricks, like Jester and Axel Foley)
- Karateka: Probably my first martial arts type game, I was actually kinda suprised at how much I liked this game. I remembered playing it, but not how much fun it was. It’s a basic game, with only 6 attacks (puches and kicks, each of which has 3 different heights), but still relatively fun. The controls aren’t quite as responsive as I’d like, but it still works out reasonably well. You play a man trained in the art of karate (a karateka), and the goal of the game is to rescue a princess from the evil Akuma. To do this, you must defeat the guards of Akuma’s castle and eventually face Akuma himself. It’s a very short game, but challenging, as your foes get progressively more difficult to kill (Akuma is really tough). Amusingly, many players got to the end of the game and got killed by the princess because they attempted to rescue her while in a fighting stance (the fact that she’s able to kill you with one kick to the head begs the question: if she’s so powerful, why does she need to be rescued?!). If you’re not in a fighting stance, you hug and kiss the princess. Apparently a lot of players never figured this out and thus never completed the game… By today’s standards, this isn’t great, but it was surprisingly fun revisiting this game… The game’s graphics and animations were astounding at the time, and the game’s creator, Jordan Mechner, went on to create the hit Prince of Persia series.
- Skyfox: Now comes my first flight sim game, I don’t think I ever really got that far in this game, but there were a lot of things I really liked about it. First, it had a pseudo first-person 3d feel to it, and I think it’s one of the first games to have the “cockpit view.” When deploying on a mission, the game has a very memorable launch sequence that really stuck with me… The graphics were also good, and I remember being enamored with the enemy units (for some reason, the concept of attacking a mothership was really neat to me).
- Temple of Apshai: When going over my atari 2600 picks, I noted that I couldn’t get enough of various fantasy games (like Adventure and Dragonfire), and this game was the first to really mimick pencil and paper role-playing games like D & D. I loved it. It’s actually not that great. Horrible graphics and an awkward gameplay (when you enter a room, you’re supposed to consult your manual to get a description of the room) make this a less-than-exciting experience. It was just a basic dungeon crawl with no real story, but it was also my first taste of an RPG, and I loved it. Needless to say, it doesn’t hold up that well, but it’s worth noting because it was my first RPG. The one thing I will note is that the soundtrack to this is actually very effective. It has this low, ominous tone that continues as you hack through the dungeon, providing a great ambient background. Plus, for you Homestar Runner fans, Strongbad plays this game!
- Some other games worth noting: Spy vs. Spy (a two player game and funny booby traps, but otherwise not the greatest game), GI Joe (I played this mostly because I loved GI Joe, but the game stunk), and an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade video game (I can’t seem to find the version I played, and I remember very little about the game, except that I used to play it all the time while listening to a Motley Crue album. Should I have admitted that? Probably not.)
Most games of the time weren’t that impressive, but they were the direct forerunners to many of the conventions we take for granted in today’s games. They’re still fun, but they wear thin relatively quickly. One final disclaimer: I’m positive that I’m missing a bunch of really great games, but I should stress that this is a) a subjective list and b) limited to my experience playing video games as a youth. Anyway, perhaps one more wrap up post for the C64, and then it’s on to other things.