Autumn of 1992 was a tippy time for fans of the Commodore 64. You could still find games on the shop shelves in the UK, but not quite as easily as a few years before. Over the summer, retailers like Boots placed huge adverts in Commodore Format offering 3-for-1 deals on cassette games. A snip, for sure. But the reality was much sadder: retailers wanted to clear their warehouses of yesterday’s technology. This was an 8-bit fire sale.

Meantime, Commodore had launched its new Amiga 600 that spring. But it was the technology from Japan – specifically, the Super Nintendo – that kids were clamouring for that christmas. Games were changing. Simon Forrester was staff writer on CF at the time, and remembers it well. “These new console games… they had a weighting to the physics and a frenetic energy that you just didn’t see in 8-bit games – a Japanese design sensibility. They were…well, more fun.”

Mayhem in Pipeland - Happy

So things seemed a little bleak for the Breadbox. But turn to page 54 of CF26 and you’ll find something rather special. A chink of light. Something – amid the endless reviews of budget re-releases – to get excited about.

The very first mention of Mayhem In Monsterland.

John and Steve Rowlands were best known for their work on the Creatures games. Burned by their experience of publishing with Thalamus, they’d decided to self publish their next title. “We knew that cute could be successful”, John said back in November 1992. “And we decided we wanted to incorporate elements from the best console platform games ‘cos there were no good ones of the type on the Commodore 64”.

That’s right – the boys were about to serve us up the game we all pretended that we didn’t want. Something…well, that was a bit like the SNES.

Over the course of the next year, John and Steve wrote a monthly diary for Commodore Format as the game developed. It became apparent that it was to be set in the Mesozoic era (the time of the dinosaurs, kids – Ed) and that our hero was a baby yellow dino called Mayhem. His mate, Theo Sauraus – an apprentice magician – made a mistake casting spells one day, turning the world sad and devoid of colour. It’s Mayhem’s job to dash through Jellyland, Pipeland, Spottyland, Cherryland, and Rockland collecting Magic Dust so that a new spell can be cast and the world turned back into a happy place.

Mayhem in Spottyland - Happy

But how?

“Well, couldn’t really give him a laser”, remembered Steve. “His weapon had to relate to the game! So we give him a horn.”

And therein lies the game’s unique attraction. John and Steve promised speeds that had never been seen before when Mayhem started to dash. And sure enough, a jab of the fire button would set off our hero horn first and on a mission – impaling everything in his path. The results were inevitably compared to Sonic The Hedgehog, and other elements to the Mario series. But again – check those CF diaries. Steve and John had been open with these influences from the start.

So let’s forget about all of that stuff and look at it in the abstract. What was it that made CF‘s “perfect” game so good? In short – skill and love. John and Steve knew how to push the Commodore 64 in a way many others could not. And as a self published title, the brothers didn’t have anybody breathing down their necks asking for it to be finished last Wednesday. There was time to get everything bang on.

And it was.

Mayhem's 15th Anniversary title screen

There are colours most people would never have seen before on a Commodore 64. The speed at which you can smash your way through the landscapes (and the baddies!) really is breathtaking. And there are the cute touches, like the way Mayhem’s face turns into a nervous expression if he’s too close to a ledge and the music changing in tempo with the landscape. A wander into the murky and cynical world of YouTube comments is often worth a laugh whenever somebody uploads a Mayhem video: it is the ultimate compliment that so many posters refuse to believe that the game is running on a Commodore 64.

It’s sad that Commodore Format‘s mischievous 100% review score tends to be the thing we talk about whenever the game’s mentioned. We forget just what an incredible achievement the title is. A beautiful, colourful, fun game running in chunks of 64K – smaller than many photographs on your phone!

Perfect? No. There are a few bugs in it, as the game’s detractors will delight in telling you. And the gameplay doesn’t change much throughout – becoming downright infuriating at times. The fairest thing to say is that it hasn’t aged brilliantly.

But the best thing that appeared on the C64 in 1993 or any time in the following 20+ years? Hell yes. CF

CF SAID: “The best game you’ll see on the C64 this decade or next.”

WE SAY: CF’s review has made people cynical of the game for far too long. If it had gotten 95%, we’d only ever talk about how brilliant it is. Forget the review and go and enjoy a truly outstanding Commodore 64 game that we should all be proud runs on the machine.