Got a C64 Mini? Missed out on the early ’90s era first time around? These are the games from the Commodore Format years you HAVE to sideload onto your dinky Commodore.  

c64mini

The Commodore 64 has been enjoying a huge upswing in its fortunes in recent years, with games like Sam’s Journey pushing the machine like never before and the return of legendary publishers like Thalamus. Even iOS and Android users have been able to enjoy stuff like Bounder, and Bitmap Books launched its enormously successful series of titles with a book on great Commodore games.

For some people, the C64 never went away. For others, the resurgence in popularity of the machine – fuelled by the easy connections we can now make to like minded folk on places like Twitter –  offered a chance to not just rediscover the machine, but to enjoy new games for it. Both worlds have collided this year thanks to the C64 Mini, with both casual users from back in the day and hardcore fanboys who’ve never stopped snapping them up at an incredible rate.

IT’S (STILL) ALL ABOUT THE GAMES

If you’ve got this far into an article on a website about something as niche is Commodore Format, you probably don’t need us to tell you what the Mini is all about – but the official site is here if you do. The machine’s had mixed reviews, with some fair criticism of its joystick and operating system. But most people have found themselves spending far more time with this bit of kit than they imagined, mainly because of its ability to sideload any old C64 game you like if you’ve got the file and a USB stick. It’s proven the most popular feature of the machine for a lot of people. Now, as ever, it’s the C64’s amazing range of games that cancel out everything else.

If you had long since upgraded to an Amiga by the time Commodore Format appeared in 1990, you’ve missed out on some of the best Commodore 64 games ever. But don’t worry: here are some of the best from 1990 to 1995. And if you want to play ’em on your Mini, find the D64 file  on Gamebase 64, download it to a stick and follow these instructions. If you’re still confused, have a look on YouTube where you’ll find quite a few tutorials to suit everyone.

Ready? Awesome. Let’s go.

1. THE BLUES BROTHERS

  • Released: 1991, Titus
  • Genre: Platform-y Mario kind of thing
  • Original CF rating: 90% (issue 16)

Back in the day, you were duty-bound to laugh at anyone who owned a console, espousing the merits of gameplay over graphical prowess. The great irony was that all Commodore 64 owners craved something that was as fun as Nintendo’s Mario, and the game which probably got nearest to it without straying into outright plagiarism was The Blues Brothers. Titus’ loose conversion of the 1980 John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd mobie arrived on the beige box in time for Christmas 1991.

The guys have a gig to do on your Commodore 64 and they need your help to do it. They’ve lost all their equipment. Guitars, amps, microphones, you name it. It’s all scattered across town, which is made up of six levels. You can pick to be Jake or Elwood (both in two player mode) and dash around the streets collecting your lost items and loads of other bonuses in time to play the concert. Avoid the cops (who shoot on sight) and street thugs or crush them with crates and anything else you find. Collect “records” (sort of like coins in Super Mario!) for extra lives and other goodies, hitch a ride on a balloon or swim through water to get to hidden screens…all to a wonderful, bass-heavy soundtrack straight from the film. It’s a polished game in every respect and loads of fun. The platformer we’d been waiting for, really.

2. TURBOCHARGE

  • Released: 1991, System 3
  • Genre: Driving shoot ’em up spectacular!  
  • Original CF rating: 93% (issue 13)

CF had changed dramatically in its first year, responding to research which showed the average age of reader was 13 by dropping its mix of serious and fun to focus almost entirely on games. What played to Commodore Format‘s hand was that even though there were now more powerful computers out there, the C64 software being produced was some of the most exciting and advanced ever, pushing the computer far beyond anything its designers would have thought possible. A prime example was issue 13’s cover star Turbocharge. The mix of driving and shooting was made all the more frantic by a clever optical illusion. The car in Turbocharge never actually moves: it’s the road. The speeds which are thus achieved, and the ability to have forks in the highway, are a technical achievement that was never bested. The slick presentation, including an astounding introduction sequence, was System 3 and the Commodore at its best. This is what C64 Chase HQ should’ve been – beautiful stuff.

3. MIDNIGHT RESISTANCE

  • Released: 1990, Ocean
  • Genre: Rampaging shoot ’em up   
  • Original CF rating: 80% (issue 2)

One of the C64’s most popular run ‘n’ guns actually has its roots in Japan. Back in 1989, it appeared in Japanese arcades as ミッドナイトレジスタンス – Middonaito Rejisutansu – and quickly ate up quarters and ten pence pieces in the US and UK. It become so iconic it has a cameo in the Robocop 2 movie: during an interrogation scene, a corrupt officer has his face repeatedly smashed into a branded cabinet.

The plot’s actually unusually thoughtful for the era, casting you as the member of a resistance movement attempting to rescue your family from a drug kingpin. In reality, none of that’s important once you hit fire and begin your rampage. This is bloody, multi-directional violence at its 8-bit peak! On the first level you simply run right, firing at anyone in your path. Some of your enemies will drop keys, which can be used at a weapons storage unit for greater fire power. Hold on to every key and homing missiles, flamethrowers and three-ways (er, “three-way” meant something different in 1990 – Ed) are yours!

The game’s relatively gentle opening stage quickly melts away into a frenzy of swooping helicopters, reinforced tanks and devastating jet planes. Enemies leap from every direction and you end up climbing, jumping and dashing in each one too. A thumping set of SID tunes gives the devastation a heart pumping intensity rarely seen on the Commodore 64. The opening, crashing bars of level one’s soundtrack jolt you into action: this is a mise en scene we normally associate with much more modern software. This game will give you palpitations! But don’t take our word for it. Seek it out in its entirety today, and ignore that respectable but too-low 80% score CF gave it: it’s a horrendous typo by the guy who designed the page. The real score? 90%. Much better.

4. EXTERMINATOR

  • Released: 1991, Audiogenic 
  • Genre: Er..arcade hand bashing style of thing  
  • Original CF rating: 91% (issue 5)

Now here’s a really fun, interesting game which never gets very much attention. It’s another from early 1991, set in a leafy suburb of Chicago. It has a problem: every house has been taken over by mutant insects. Things have become so bad that even drinks cans, kid’s toys and household appliances have mutated into life, so the residents get on the blower to…the Exterminator!

Here’s where it gets really interesting. The Exterminator doesn’t turn up in a van with overalls and cans of poison. Nope. The hero you play in this supernatural spoof kinda thing is a giant floating hand! You move from room to room in every house (each one’s a level), literally crushing the bugs in your giant fist. There’s another option: press fire and pull down and you can pummel yourself to the floor, crushing anything beneath you (often a toy tank that’s sprung to life).

There are five houses, each with six rooms. The enemies get more twisted as the game progresses, as do the neat touches: as well as a wonderful rendition of Flight of The Bumblebee, the massive hand in question throbs if it’s injured. The graphic themselves are almost entirely digitised from the arcade version, so it looks very unique. It’s a one of a kind, is Exterminator. Playable, original, and with heaps of detail you’ll be finding long after you’ve finished and return for one more try. And another. And another…

5. EXILE

  • Released: 1991, Audiogenic 
  • Genre: Arcade puzzler  
  • Original CF rating: 97% (issue 10)

Audiogenic’s second game in our list is this mysterious arcade platformer, up there with the most grown-up of Commodore 64 games. It takes patience, planning and skill. And the 1991 classic divides people to this day.

“Thought the covertape demo was dreadful”, says one CF fan over on our Facebookpage. A post underneath enthuses about the title, though. “I lost weeks of my life to it. An utterly absorbing game!”

And there’s the crux: putting in weeks is what Exile requires you to do – perhaps like no Commodore 64 title since Elite, a game which itself sparks full scale wars on internet forums. And just EliteExile is not a bad game. It is just not a game for everyone.

You play the part of Mike Finn. He’s the leading member of Columbus Force, a space-exploration organisation who’ve been ordered to the planet Phoebus on a rescue mission. You have to save the surviving crew of a captured ship from the clutches of a psychotic renegade engineer called Triax. He’s the exile of the game’s title, and he appears briefly on the very first screen stealing a vital piece of equipment from the ship.

And so that’s where you begin – deep below the surface of Phoebus in Triax’ laboratory. Standing between you and the rescue of everyone else is a network of caves, tunnels and rooms filled with Triax’ insane experiments. There are robotic security guards everywhere and man-made obstacles to navigate. Objects and switches that might help you litter the floor and walls.

And that is one of the game’s real strengths: you can interact with pretty much everything. Flick a switch, move a brick, push a robot. Each object has a physical mass and reacts in a different way according to Phoebus’ atmosphere; you have to take into account what items might do in a severe lack of gravity to solve puzzles.

You can walk, run, jump, duck..and even use a jetpack. The latter is what so many people have fun with and often load up Exile for: Mike Finn will float around in Phoebus’ atmosphere until you push him a certain direction. He might be smashed back by water or other forces, or a well-timed jump might hop you into a previously unseen part of the planet. There’s even a neat teleportation system to navigate that can save you time flying around and dozens of other hidden things to discover. It is a game with depths still being unearthed in 2014 – a mapper’s paradise.

CF’s reviewer Gary Penn said it was the best thing he’d seen since The Sentinel – praise indeed. And CF’s final editor, Simon Forrester, told us that it’s his favourite Commodore 64 game. But the sheer volume of things to do and get your head around are the same reason that so many younger players were put off at the time, with many shutting off their computers in frustration after playing the demo.

Perhaps, almost 30 years later, it’s time to give Exile another go. Let the adult you see what all the fuss is about. CF

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