Streetfighter 2 arrived for the Commodore 64 in February 1993 (in a sort of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” style of way). Alien 3, Mayhem, Lemmings and an official Liverpool footy sim’ were also penciled in for later in the year. All blockbusters, sure – but there were fewer games coming out for the Commie and even fewer shops willing to stock them. It made the Power Pack even more important, and possibly the only time a lot of kids got to play about with new stuff each month. This tape served up three full games to keep you going until Spring…if you had some patience (and a lot of graph paper).

HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER

The One That Definitely Doesn’t Feature Daleks is a decent port of a fantastic Spectrum game. Highway Encounter was developed by Vortex Software, who you’ll remember from tape 27’s Deflektor. Their main man was the Greek Cypriot Costa Panayi, a mechanical engineer at British Aerospace in the early ’80s who’d been turned on to computers by people at work who were raving about the ZX-81. Intrigued (and figuring that learning to work with 1K would be a challenge in efficiency), he ordered one too. Costa waited three months for it to arrive, losing an office sweepstake in the process (his turned up last) but falling hard for coding. Along with workmate Paul Canter and with members of Panayi’s family they stuck with the Spectrum machines and put out their games professionally as Vortex. Contractors were hired to move their well-received stuff over to the Amstrad, MSX and Commodore 64. Pedigree Software got the gig to put out Highway Encounter C64 via Gremlin in late 1986.

In the game, aliens have invaded the earth again and the only way to destroy them is with a powerful weapon called the, er, lasertron (it’s the yellow pointy thing on the screen). The lasertron only detonates in a place called zone zero which is at the end of a dangerous highway. It’s too risky for humans, so remotely controlled robots called Vortons (not Daleks, nope) are tasked with pushing the lasertron to its explodey destination instead.

There are five Vortons, but you only take charge of the first one (if anything happens to it, one of the others gets promoted until you’re out of metallic slaves). You can shoot aliens in your way and use your tank-like strength to push things out of the way or trap your enemies behind stuff. The important thing is not to summon everyone else to push the lasertron until the coast is clear of obstacles and nasties.

Highway Encounter wasn’t as well received on the Commodore as it was by our Spec-Chums, notching up 79% in ZZAP! and 7/10 from Commodore User. That’s probably fair, ‘cos when you’re controlling a Vorton on C64 it does feel like you’re pushing a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel. It absolutely detracts from the experience. Highway doesn’t look as nice on the Commodore, either, but the beautiful original game design is still there. There’s a cracking Fred Gray tune adding an edgy atmosphere to the drunken robot proceedings, too. Recommended.

PACK FACT: By 1995, Costa Panayi’s knack for innovation was so renowned Fisher Price hired him as a consultant. He helped them make cool stuff for toddlers.

HEROBOTIX

If you’re one of those veteran ’80s gamers who loves making maps, Herobotix is gonna be right up your alley. Cracking out the graph paper isn’t just a good idea, it’s an absolute must if you want to succeed at this overhead, flick screen maze game.

So you’re a tin can for the second time on this month’s tape here. In yet another grim prediction of a distant future, everyone’s fighting and one side’s got hold of some particularly nasty weapons. The other side sends their droid (the Herobot of the title) to enemy territory to try and capture vital information about what’s going on. And that’s where you come in.

You move your robot in the way you’d imagine, first tasked with searching out six pieces of the deadly weapon. Then you’ve got to tap into a master computer, before making your way to an escape shuttle. The main challenge comes from blasting guardians as you move from screen to screen, but you’ll also find switches that through trial and error you’ll suss out do different things on (often far away) screens. If you find a computer terminal, it’ll probably show you a small map of the area. There’s additional help from password protected teleporters.

At the time, Herobotix got a bit of stick for being pedestrian (CVG was particularly irritated by its pace). 30+ years later, minus the incessant demands of ’80s gaming to be newer bigger faster louder, you’d argue that the thoughtful nature of the game is its precise charm. You’ll need a lot of tea, a lot of paper and a lot of time to get through this one – and there’s nowt wrong with that. That Rack-It put out such a big slab of game for under three quid back in 1988 isn’t to be sniffed at either. Here’s a map to help you, by the way.

PACK FACT: The instructions in CF aren’t that good, so a couple of things we figured out when playing through for you here. If you’re having trouble activating anything, a prod of F1 will probably work. If you find you can’t work out why you’re losing energy, it’s because you drain it by merely firing a weapon (we know, we know).

BATTLESHIPS

Battle Ships, give or take an “S”, is…Battleship, a 1989 Commodore 64 version of the pencil and paper strategy/guessing game that’s thought to have origins as far back as 1890. There’s evidence it was played in the trenches of World War I, and by the 1930s you could buy a notepad-and-pencil version at train stations and in toy shops. Later, an electronic version became one of (UK store) WH Smith’s biggest ever hits. It was inevitable, then, that it’d rock up on the microcomputers in the ’80s.

If you didn’t play this in the back of your maths books when you were a kid, you can find out more here (and there’s CF‘s take here). C64 Battle Ships is pretty much the exact same, using a grid to judge firing positions, but there are loads of extras to take advantage of the technology. There’s a nicely handled 3D sequence showing the firing of your shots, some smart graphics when you hit a ship and – best of all – a multiplayer option. If you can’t find anybody to play with, the computer will give you a game (and it’s good). It’s excellent execution of a simple idea, which is what tends to give you the Commodore 64’s best moments. You’ll absolutely have some of them here, especially with a buddy.

PACK FACT: The spot on execution and the wonderful little details in this addictive game won’t be a surprise when you learn that it’s the work of proper 64 leg-end, Chris Butler (Turbocharge, Arnie, Ghosts ‘N Goblins). He did it in some down time after Space Harrier.

CARNAGE

February 1993’s tape rounded off with a demo of Zeppelin’s fine Super Sprint-with-weapons-clone Carnage. The full game has fun stuff like bombs and a shop to help you destroy the competition, but this single screen version just lets you buzz around the track a few times before booting you back to the title screen. It’s not the best way to show off a nice and quite involved little racer, but it’s still fun. As the C64 market collapsed, Carnage was sold to Commodore Format in 1994 and appeared in full on tape 44 – so we’ll have a good look at this fondly remembered title when we reach May 1994 in this series.

PACK FACT: David Sowerby and Neil Hislop did Carnage in-house for Zeppelin. When the late commercial days of the C64 are told, this North East based publisher never seems to get much credit for developing games right until the end. Read their story here.

SUMMING UP

There are two games here with some serious longevity, and it’s never been easier to get them either. Highway Encounter and Herobotix are both installed on TheC64 and the Mini.