Last Updated on August 6, 2023
In 1984, in the north east of England, in a tired seaside town, parents either side of 40 bought their family its first computer from a local photography and Hi-Fi retailer, McKenna & Brown. The computer was cheaper than at the Uptons department store a few doors away, mostly due to the inclusion of a third-party (but compatible) datasette replacement.
That was the beginning of my love of the Commodore 64, a machine that over the following seven years (until the arrival of our Amiga 500) beguiled and frustrated me in equal measure. After all, the quality of games varied wildly back then, and finding a “keeper” involved a lot of trial, error, subscriptions to monthly mail order subscriptions, or spending two quid at WHSmith on a Mastertronic title.
I’ve seen a few lists lately cashing in on recent interest on the Commodore 64’s appearance on Evercade and its 40th anniversary. These are invariably collections of the “best” games, but always feature games I would have avoided (and in most cases, still would).
So, to counter the balance, I’ve compiled a list of the games I played the most on the Commodore 64. They may not be the best or the worst, but they entertained me on the inevitable wet school holidays throughout the late 1980s.
1. Turrican (1990)
After reading the review of this game in Zzap! magazine, I was transfixed by the graphics and high review score. The only way to scratch the itch was to buy and play the game, which I did – as soon as I could find it.
While not alone in pushing the C64’s limits, Turrican nevertheless boasts an incredible soundtrack, graphics that could have come from an Amiga, and an array of hugely playable and different levels.
Even on the cassette release, Turrican doesn’t take long to load, and the game is worth every second of the load time. I’ve spent hours on this game over the years, with the Commodore 64 game easily as good as the Amiga version.
2. Seabase Delta (1986)
This took up so much time, as you might expect from a graphical text adventure.
Seabase Delta was published by Firebird and probably cost about £1.99 to buy, was cheap even then. Playing the game successfully meant spending time making notes, jotting down a map, etc., But even that couldn’t help you complete the game.
Playing as journalist Ed Lines, Seabase Delta is a sequel to Subsunk, which I have not yet played. The art is good for a graphical text adventure from this era, and the storyline witty.
I’m not sure if there was a general bug with the game, or just my version, but it seemed impossible to complete.
3. Raid on Bungling Bay (1984)
Created by Will Wright, this top-down action strategy game was a key step on the road to Sim City for the developer. But before that came along, Raid on Bungling Bay challenged you to guide a helicopter around a map and bomb factories.
Failure to do so means the villains (the Bungeling Empire) can build a war machine to conquer earth. Destroying the factories quickly is in your interests, as the empire can introduced more advanced weapons, such as homing missiles and fighter jets. All you have is a helicopter and an aircraft carrier that you must protect.
4. Project Stealth Fighter (1987)
From MicroProse, this flight and combat sim based on the then-unseen stealth fighter was an amazing experience. The pack included two disks with a detailed manual and card keyboard overlay to help you find the control buttons. Day and night missions into the Middle East were included; some targets were in Libya, which at the time was considered a “rogue state.”
In all honesty, whie the vector line graphics were good, the game was slow at times. But turning down the lights to fly the night missions, especially with a Quickshot 2 Turbo joystick, was just fantastic.
(The game was later remade as F-19 Stealth Fighter for DOS and 16-bit systems in 1988.)
5. Sanxion (1986)
This stonking shooter from Thalamus kicked off with an electronic version of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet. With an unusual split display, Sanxion requires you not only shoot enemy craft and avoid obstacles, you also have to control the ship’s height. Let go of the joystick, and your Damocles combat craft simpy crashes into the ground.
The result is a challenging shoot-em-up experience, one that takes place over a number of in-game locations and against a wide selection fo colourful craft. Sanxion is loosely linked to Armalyte and Delta, also from Thalamus, but I would call this the better game.
6. Booty (1984)
Here’s a game that gets on the list through necessity, rather than me particularly enjoying it.
My first C64 game was Galaxy, but it became boring after a few weeks. To increase my selection of games, my parents bought two Firebird titles, Exodus and Booty. While I would say the unique shooter Exodus was my favourite of the two, Booty presented more of a cerebral challenge.
The aim is to collect a load of colour-coded keys to unlock rooms on a haunted ship. Along the way you collect treasure, and avoid ghost pirates, rats, and parrots.
I may be wrong, but I think the only way to complete the game – which has quite a tough difficulty level – is to employ the cheat mode (hold the keys K+E+V+I+N, the name of the developer) for an easier route through the ship and infinite lives. Even then, it’s a tricky proposition, and believe me, I’ve put some hours into trying to complete this one.
7. Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes (1987)
While I was aware of Kevin Tom’s Football Manager (and much later bought a budget re-release of Football Manager 2), Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes was my introduction to soccer management sims.
Mixing a Monopoly-style board game (replacing property cards with rated players) with a computer game that facilitated dice rolls, match day action, and the odd “you’re fired!”, Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes was – incredibly – a game for all the family. My sister and mum would occasionally join me playing the game, and if you didn’t know how to cheat (a case of inputting incorrect play stats), it was an enjoyable way to spend time with a Commodore 64.
Football Fortunes is a modern version of the game, running on PC and tablet and requiring a full boxed board game or home printable version. Learn more at www.footballfortunes.co.uk.
8. Battle Through Time (1984)
Every game in this list was an honest, legitimate, original purchase. Except this one.
I have no idea where Battle Through Time came from, but its sci-fi shooter trappings with obvious time travel element made it particularly enthralling, especially for a young Back to the Future fan. Released in 1984 but not entering my hands until a couple of years later, it’s essentially Moon Patrol, but across different eras. This game takes you to seven timezones: World War I, World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, World War III, post-apocalypse mutations, and the Prehistoric age.
Fun in a brainless arcade shooter kind of way, this game is also blessed with good music, changing on each level. For example, Darth Vader’s theme is in there, along with various genuine classical pieces. Given the seven levels, this game took some completing, which is why I spent so long on it…
9. Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future (1986)
I found this to be a complicated but thrilling adventure game on the Commodore 64. Possibly a purchase by my dad (a big Dan Dare fan since the 1950s), the game nevertheless took up a lot of time. Enjoyably so.
The aim is to defeat the big-headed green Mekon from destroying Earth, and involves collecting things and punching aliens. I believe the ZX Spectrum version had a gun, but on the C64, Dare simply punches the Mekon’s Treen army into submission. The game was also presented like a comic strip, which certainly helped maintain the feeling that this was an adventure based on a 30 year old character from days past.
With a difficulty level pitched just right, the game had a satisfying ending. When you spend time trying to complete something, that’s what you want. In fact, I’m sure I played it through a few times – which is more than I can say for its sequel…
10. Driller (1987)
An odd one to finish on, but this is a game that changed my perception of what a home computer could do. The result was that I was determined to spend more time in its bizarre 3D world, regardless of how quickly (or otherwise) it moved.
Driller (Space Station Oblivion in the United States) was a game that required you to explore and mine various zones. Each was named after a previous stone, but to be honest often the best part of the game would be listening to the intro music (above).
Published by Incentive, Driller boasted filled 3D polygon graphics, termed “Freescape.” Driller was the first game to use this engine, with subsequent titles Total Eclipse (1988) and Castle Master (1990) taking it further. Later, 3D Construction Kit (1991, Virtual Reality Studio outside of the UK) was released, giving creative gamers the chance to build their own Freescape environments.
Wow, that took up some time.
The C64 games that mattered
To be honest, this list could have been at least twice as long. I had a ton of games, loads of Mastertronic titles, compilations, and even the RoboCop 2 cartridge. I was insanely obsessed by Sly Spy for a time, probably due to it being my frst game on disk.
We all have games that resonate with us. These are mine. Would love to know what yours are.
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine and MakeUseOf.com.