February 1990 - Qewb, Pinhead

Man, the cover is looking a little low-rent.

The Editors Notes is kind of self-flagellating, talking about the C=64 techspecs were't keeping up and so not much 8-bit talk at COMDEX...

The feedback goes into depth helping a reader make a primitive learning system, so you could type "A BEAR IS A MAMMAL" and "A MAMMAL IS AN ANIMAL" and then ask "WHAT IS BEAR".

There's big coverage of Quantum Link's (which became AOL, which in turn just bought the company I work for) Club Caribe, spun off of Lucasfilm's Habitat, it was a really intriguing graphical online community, with people's avatars walking around a 2D space... worth checking out about especially if you have any interesting in MMORPGs and the like.

Not sure if it's just my D64 image or what, but the menu program crashes on boot with a "STRING TOO LONG  ERROR", disconcertingly.

Qewb - Robert Bixby

Some kind of Tetris descendent. The action though is sideways, and optionally even double sided (alternating "falling" to the left or the right), and with other options where the piece rotates every click, and where the fallen pieces shift over a spot every turn. I didn't play this very long, and reading the instructions I think it lacks Tetris's trademark "fill in a solid line so it disappears" goal; instead the goal is to just get as many pieces in as possible. Rating:3/5

Pinhead - James Merlo

A "Circus Atari" (guess that was originally "Circus" in the arcade in 1977) clone but with a sparser selection of balloons and only one bouncer - using the paddle(!) or the joystick (paddle is default press F3 to start with the joystick)  you maneuver the trampoline to safely catch the clown, and then bounce him up toward the next balloon. Nice feeling game, and the "splat" animation is kind of amusing. Rating:3/5

January 1990 - Flags, Royal Rescue

Ah, the 90s. Though first a look back: "Innovations, Laughs, and Gaffes: A Look Back at Commodore's Wacky Decade"- I think that's the best headline I've seen in the magazine. (The article is pretty interesting.. some oddities like a 198 games-centric unit that sold mostly in Japan, kind of a tweener between VIC-20 and C=64) In general it marks the beginning of a troubled year for the magazine... there's a gap in the summer, and when the magazine comes back (after a purchase by Omni/Hustler group) it is as an insert in COMPUTE (which lost its exclamation point in the transition.)

I love that there was a Commodore executive named "Max Toy".

Interesting feature, first of three parts, on Neural Networks.

Heh. The Letters to the Editor is better than usual... "where can I join a copiers' guild around Indianoplis?" (sorry we don't support piracy) "my game got ruined- how can I contact Epyx?" (we think they might be kind of out of business) "What are spreadsheets?" and finally "What happened to those books you used to advertise?" The last one tugged at my heart strings a little, they mentioned Clark and Kathy Kidd's Commodore 64 Games for Kids... I remember my mom giving me that one, as kind of a down payment on me getting a computer in the future... sometimes I forget how tight times were for my parents. (In high school things got a bit better, but because of life insurance from my dad's untimely passing. Silver lining to a super grey cloud.) But I digress.

Flags - Peter M. L. Lottrup

Boring Education game, and frankly any flag that's not a simple tricolor is suspect, they didn't go out of their way to render more complicated designs. Rating:2/5

Royal Rescue - Ligia Latino

Flickscreen Platformer... probably Montezuma's Revenge is the most similar game I can think of. It's funny how restrictive the action feels, in this post Super Mario Bros age... you can't jump on or off of ladders, control your jump once it has started, any fall taller than you is deadly. Still, those limitations add a nice light puzzle element to the various boards. I guess your goal is to rescue the princess (as well as collect items, I suppose), there are a lot of lock and key puzzles, and overall it's not too shabby! Rating:4/5

Interlude: Large Unified Theory by PWP (VIC-20 Demo)

Thought I'd take a moment to show you this terrific VIC-20 Demo:

Unlike many Demos, this isn't just showing off technical genius (with boastful, fanciful scroller text messages to bide the time) it tells a little story and uses iconography and sequenced music to do so.

December 1989 - Circuits, Final Defense

Huh. The Article Notes mentioned switching to saddle stitching, so they can finally succumb to reader's requests to put the program listings next to the articles.

Fred D'Ignazio's "D'Iversions" column mentions getting a lot of mileage from talking about Nintendo vs 64 for games, and describes one passionate fan's letter, including an anvelope with pro-64 slogans like "Down with Nintendo! Too many people like Nintendo better than Commodore! Bogus, dude! Most untriumphant!" Guess that's as good an end of the 80s as any.

A lot of games reviewed here, including "Omega", an interesting program-a-robot-gladiator-tank game. I enjoyed it, but by the time I hit levels where the "sit and wait for enemy to come to me" strategy didn't work I hadn't learned how to build a better fighter. Neat idea though.

Circuits - Eric Haines

Attractive but complex "juggling" game. 2 or more electric sparks are travelling down through winding circuits, and you have to direct them into these pyramids (that take multiple hits with the circuits to destroy) and not let the circuits hit the circuit break. (I think "Circuit Break" would be a better name for the game.) Control is odd... left and right switch the mode of a left and right facing gate, up rotates a circular switch, and bottom changes the colors of these little teleporting things. I dunno, maybe I'm too tired but it was all too much to keep track of for me. Offers a cooperative two player mode as well. Rating:3/5

Final Defense - Hubert Cross

Like Chopper Pilot and I think one or two others, this title chooses to have you fly right to left. Strange that that feels so odd to me. Another graphically rich game, it takes place in phases: take-off, alternating strafing ships and bombing tanks, and then landing. The gameplay itself is pretty simplistic. Rating:3/5

November 1989 - White Water, Flash Card

Huh, Editor's Notes says the C128 is no longer going to be produced. Too bad, seemed like a cool system.

White Water - Tim Hanson

Kind of pretty "don't hit things" scrolling game. Interesting that the player's boat is drawn at a few different angles, and the gator is nicely animated, but the "hovercraft" coming at you look like escapees from an Atari 2600 game. Rather too difficult thanks to touchy collision detection, and apparently your boat is coat in nitroglycerin, because any hit leaves you a square shaped firework. Kind of endearing how one of the 8 rock patterns the article describes make up each level has the authors name Tim "hidden" in it. Rating:3/5

Flash Card - Martin L. Otterson

There's either a mandate to have at least two games an issue, or they're just really missing the "education" section, because this isn't even a math drill, just a press the button and see the answer thing. Rating:1/5

October 1989 - Slap Shot, Triple Search

Somehow the colors of that happy trio seem appropriate for the swan song of the 80s...

Speaking of cool, they changed to a noir look for the "go look at the magazine" warning screen, light text on a black background, but the palette for the menu is the same as always...
Anyway, on to the games...

Slap Shot - John Fedor

2 player only, 2-on-2 Hockey. Seems to be a clear derivative of Hat Trick, but without the player opponent or cool groove marks left behind by the skates. Again, not playing it properly, so it's good but points off for lack of originality. Tentative Rating:3/5 (Also the puck shoots weirdly slowly)

Triple Search - Mike Bloustine

Alright, by the bent standards of this blog, this isn't a game, more of a utility. Seems ok for what it is, I guess. Rating:2/5.

Interlude: PETSCII Portraits

 Amazing PETSCII (the character graphics Commodore computers used) portraits, by Otium.

These are via one of my favorite tumblrs, Text-Mode, which finds lots of great examples of this kind of art, sometimes using literal computer graphics, sometimes just in that tiled style.

(Even more examples....)

September 1989 - Block Battle!, Wham Ball (BONUS: Freak Attack, Blast-Off!, Egg Beater, Egg Neverest, Rescue Pod, )

Editor's Notes talks about the revitalization the Apple II go with the IIGS, and talking about rumors Commodore might do similar. I guess to me that sounds a bit like what the C-128 was...

So, this month has the winners for February's "Great Arcade Machine" contest... they were all disk-only, I guess too verbose (or dependent on G.A.M.) to include as type-ins. So I guess I'll review them here.

Block Battle! - Jon Dearden

Sorry, Jon Dearden, adding an exclamation mark does not actually make this an exciting game. Kudos for being one or two player but... I dunno. The red blue and black squares represent three "levels"? And you slide your pieces to try to get them to the other side, but not let them fall through the hole, but every turn consists of moving a piece and sliding a row or column. Whatever. There's too many interesting things going on this issue for me to change my strategy/puzzle hating ways. Rating:2/5

Wham Ball - Rick Bauer

This game reminds me a bit of "Video Pinball", like for the Atari. The control is messed up on my keyboard, I could only get one side of flippers going. (not sure why they didn't give it keyboard control) So you clear out those little dudes in there with the pinball. (Weirdly, before I could get either flipper moving, I put it in Warp Mode and it seemed like the game was in a stable pattern of bouncing...) Wonky music. Rating:3/5 and that's probably too generous.

Freak Attack - Kevin Messerschmidt

A very attractive game, but not much meat to it. Aliens are attacking the city or something, and you fly your saucer around shooting them, and stopping the bombs from hitting the city, and picking up the little guys. Rating:3/5


Nice title screen! Simplistic invader/galaxian game, I guess with some kind of 'boss" but not a very menacing one.  Some months a while back this could have been a featured game. Rating:3/5

Egg Beater - Keith M. Groce

Clear contender for "Best Animated Whisk in an 8-bit Game". The egg creatures are cute with a nice (if not very interactive) animation too. Still I wasn't sure I had this game figured out... touching the "deviled" eggs seem to kill me, touching the normal happy eggs seemed to give me points, but the top guy (who was maybe cycling through various ingredients of french toast? No wait, scrambled eggs) seemed to be deadly as well.  Rating:2/5

Neverest - Robert J. Olsen

Definitely the best game title of the set, if not the best of the gameplays. Not the worst either though... Game play is a bit odd - you craft can fire sideways or down, and you chip away at the big mountain... your goal is to destroy the inner base but avoid the saucers and missiles fighting back. Odd how long it takes to chip away parts of the mountain. Rating:3/5

Rescue Pod - Gary M. Perdue

Gameplay is kind of like August 1984's "Descent to Kaylon" or December 1986's "Moon Rescue" though given that was 5 (or 3) years before this, I guess it's excusable. You pilot a slow clumsy saucer down the surface, where a little guy will run into your ship, and you need to bring him (or her?) back to the top of the screen. 6 or 7 planetoids at different altitudes, and moving at different speeds, hinder your safe passage. Goes against the grain here in that seems to be too easy rather than too hard. Interesting pseudo-rotation effect for the planetoids, though on the one that's spinning "fast" the trick is shown, it's just a simple side scroll. Rating:2/5

August 1989 - Boomerang, Marathon

I admit I am (mildly) amused by the "64 vs. Nintendo" banner when "Nintendo 64" has been such a big thing in my gaming life.

"Sprite Clock" puts a tiny clock in the corner of your screen. I gotta question the utility of that...  mostly because you have to enter the time each time you start it up but I also wonder about the resources it might be using up. (I admit being envious of Win95's clock when my b+w laptop was stuck on Win3.1... I made up my own in Visual Basic, and was surprised when I brought it to my desktop and found out I had chosen an obnoxiously bright pink for it.... ANYWAY.)

Boomerang - Kevin Dixon

This is the first time I've noticed a "Editor's Choice" badge, awarded for this game. (The astronomy program "Stars II" got the same honor.) Again, the usual disclaimer of I haven't tried this against a human yet, but it seems kind of lackluster. Two player only arena deathmatch, the gimmick is each player has a single "boomerang" - after you fire it and it misses, you have to go retrieve it from where it's stuck in the wall. (Oh, also the arena walls are randomly generated, and each player has to "approve" the layout) The boomerang is a bit misnamed... it doesn't return to you but you can steer it, along with your player, to track the other player for a limited time. (I realized that the mechanic is not entirely unlike my own original Atari 2600 game Loaded4Bear (plugplugplug), except you are still moving after firing (and there's no camouflage aspect)) Tentative Rating:3/5

Marathon - Leonard Morris

"RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! THESE TOWNIES DON'T TAKE TOO KINDLY TO STRANGERS" reads the header. Townie? Really? Anyway. Third month there's been a derivative C128 BASIC game by Leonard Morris. This is exactly like last April's Amidar clone Brusher, minus the "fill in the squares" aspect, and plus one extra enemy. Like some of the other C128 BASIC games, it has that negative pattern where you can only change character direction at certain intervals (in this case, when you hit the intersections) - I'm 90% sure there's a C128 BASIC command "smoothly move sprite to new location", but if you depend on that, the responsiveness of the game really suffers. Press button to remove enemies once per level or life. Rating:1/5

July 1989 - Mine Sweeper, Monster Bar-B-Q, Math Magic

The Editor's Notes talks about it being the 6th anniversary of the magazine, and how crazy software sales were until the shakeout of 1984... which is funny, I thought the narrative was more that the video game industry crashed, but that a lot of people ended up moving to home computers, until Nintendo revived games-for-games-sake...

An article on fantasy games mentions multiplayer online games... kind of a prelude to MMORPGs I guess, though I think many were turn-based. (Frankly, few games without a physics "engine" catch my eye for long.)

Mine Sweeper - Ben Campbell

No, not THAT Mine Sweeper. A very pretty game, but brutally difficult. You fly left or right, but it doesn't seem to affect the movement of the mines that drift in various patterns for you to destroy. Destroy enough missiles and a boss enemy shows up with its laser firing back. Again, beautiful (especially the turnaround animation and the cityscape below) but difficult and ulitmately there's not much there there. Rating:3/5

Monster Bar-B-Q - Cullen O'Day

Cute Monster/Halloween themed C-128 BASIC game. It's a shooting gallery, various monster heads pop up behind tombstones, and you control a crosshairs (that hops in half steps rather than sliding around smoothly) and try to use your zapper on them. The game ends after 10 misses or monster escapes. Very cute graphics! Rating:3/5

Math Magic - Michael Kaelin

Didn't the "Education" stuff used to be in its own section? Anyway, this is a simplistic math drill... set up the type of math and the difficulty, then move your crossbow left and right to fire at the correct answer out of 4. There's a bit of a timer on the lower right. Rating: 2/4

June 1989 - Jericho II: The Revenge, Match Mania

Advertising Snippet of the month... for "obvious" reasons I remember this ad/cover for SSI's AD&D game "Curse of the Azure Bonds". (Headline of the Ad: "This Summer, It Won't Be the Weather That Makes You Hot")
Could the "Azure Bond Curse" be one that forces extremely poor choice in armor? I mean, isn't the that the part armor is most meant to protect, right there?

Jericho II: The Revenge - Robert Bixby

When I reviewed the original I missed that "Jericho" is the name of the "supermoth" that is the ball - and you are (for some odd reason) asked by your naive competitor to help protect his Kilt-ish wares, but traitor that you are you use your double paddles to help ensure Jericho's complete victory... anyway. Given the name of the game, it definitely feels like a story tacked on by the staff, but the sequel uses graphics to make the moth aspect much more blatant. This is a two-player-only sequel, each player plays a 4-wall Breakout clone and tries to get "their competitors" pattern (that their paddles are surrounding, oddly) eaten first. Five rounds, each one adding in an additional supermoth. Probably the biggest problem with the game (besides its repetitive sound track of looped insect-y noise) is how long it would take: Each kilt square takes multiple hits (cycling through colors) and even running at 40x warp speed in VICE (something I'd recommend, actually, watching the kilts get eaten is kind of cool and chaotic) a full game takes around 45 seconds, which I think means an actual game would take upwards of half an hour. I think starting on level 5 would have made a much more doable, if chaotic, game. Tentative Rating:3/5

Match Mania - Donovan E. Anderson, Jr.

A "spot the difference" game for 1 or 2 players. 4 panels are displayed, one character is different in one of them, press the number of the differing panel. Game continues indefinitely until you hit "0" to stop. Some of the character sets they chose were very clever, making neat visual patterns with the 2-4 characters used. Still not much of a game I'd want to play. Rating:2/5.

May 1989 - Verbatim, Knock 31

The cover reads "Keeping your Dot-Matrix Printer Happy: Experts' Tips on Care & Cleaning" and suddenly I have a vision of a "dot matrix happiness specialist", and thinking how lonely they must be these days.

The Editor's Notes talks about how many submissions they get; they claim 30-40 a week, down from 300 a week in 1984, and a notable decline the past year. WOW! They... must have seen a LOT of crap submissions, to be honest, because some of those early submissions were real stinkers. Steve Harter mentioned getting $5,000 with the upfront plus royalties, so there was money to be made. (Once I get through the run, it will be interesting to plot out the scores, though I know I'm hardly unbiased and even my own scoring system probably shifts as I start feeling more or less sympathetic.)

Maybe many of the submissions were apps and not games? They do mention rejecting stuff like "Bowling League Secretary" for being too specific (though that sounds more useful than some stuff they do... I remember writing a Dart Team Secretary app on my PalmPilot) and also that they judge program on size, since people are going to have to type 'em in after all...

Verbatim - Mark Tuttle

Just from the table of contents, by hopes for a Mark Tuttle game named "Verbatim" were pretty low, and I guess they were met. This game is a bit like Mastermind meets Hangman. You can have the computer pick a 3-6 letter word or play it two player and have a human enter the word to guess. (I guess people suffering from severe short term memory loss could rig a one player game with that as well.) Anyway, you get five guess, correct letters in the right position are shown uppercase, used letters in the wrong place are lowercase, wrong letters are shown inverse. (I caught the game halfway through it's victory color flashing.) Rating:2/5

Knock 31 - Robert B. Cook

Knock-knock. Who's there. This random vegas card game with 3 computer opponents. This random ve- aw, forget about it. Rating:2/5

April 1989 - Space Worms, Brusher

Interesting cover change, using 1/3 of the front rather than 1/4 for the title, and shrinking the main title for space to emphasize the name of the computer... seems like it might be targeted at solving "new reader" issues at the newsstand level.

Also the main feature description on the cover is pretty exciting:
Pros Tell

  • Where to Start
  • What Tools You Need
  • How to Program

Man... if only my subscription hadn't run out before then, I could have saved a lot of money on my comp sci education! (I kid, I kid. Actually tooling around on these machines was a big boon to my comp sci days, even if I went to college figuring I'd major in English.)

Actually the Editors Notes talk about how the percentage of readers programming went from 89% to 77%, and that probably more readers were new users.

Space Worms - Jason Merlo

This game feels like a gussied up Star Dragon... there's an animated star field, a better looking player, a variety of minor graphical swaps for the enemy of the board, more chaos in the enemy movement,  but the game play is still really hollow. Your gun is one of those ones where you have one bullet active at a time, and bullets travel til they hit the worm or the top of the screen, so partially out of boredom you take risks so you can get that nice machine gun effect... or it would be nice, but the lack of sound takes away the visceral pleasure say River Raid had with the effect. As you plunk away the worm eventually shortens, no matter what segment you hit. If they had followed the lead of Centipede, and maybe had a body segment become a head if you hit the middle of the thing, so that you then had multiple enemies to dodge (like a primitive Buster Bros.) this game really might have been something. Rating: 2/5

Brusher - Leonard Morris

Heh... like last month, there's a C-128 BASIC port of an old arcade game, by Leonard Morris... this one is a knock off of Amidar - I game I never saw in the arcade but played on the Atari 2600. You run around a boring grid, sections you pass turn color, and when you turn the color of all 4 sides the square fills in. Pressing the fire button (or on higher levels touching a magic paint splotch... it wasn't clear in the game whether it was an enemy or a friend) knocks out the lonely enemy pursuing you. More enemies would have helped. I figured this was another silent game until the end level music game up, and then I merely wished it was another silent game. Rating:2/5

March 1989 - The Anglers, Bacteria

More layout changes, most notably the table of contents.

Focus on simulations. Man, it must have been really frustrating jonesing for realistic simulations on the computers of the era...

The game reviewed EA's Instant Music - judging by this video it sounds pretty cool! (Pun intended, but regretted.)

Add snippet of the moment:

Anyway, onto the games!

The Anglers - Tal Bush

A two player only fishing game... I wonder if it would have killed them to throw in a computer opponent. Anyway, the game select screen is a little wonky in terms of you use the function keys to set what obstacle is going on in each "row" of water separately... nothing (the default), seaweed (which you have to drag in), or a speedboat (which pulls you into the water). First to eight wins. Rating:3/5

Bacteria - Leonard Morris

"It is the year 2008 and scientists have discovered a potent bacteria that cures practically all known diseases." It's a cooling looking game board, and the gameplay is kind of like someone tried to port Tempest to C-128 BASIC. You move around the outer edge of the petri dish (or whatever it is), so that your gun is always angled to the center. You plunk off the relatively innocuous bacteria in the center, and avoid the mutant (and indestructible) one that joins you at the edge. Rating:2/5