In the 1980s everyone wanted a Commodore 64. However, a lot of families, like mine, could not afford one. I owned the C64’s cheap and cheerful little sister, the Commodore Plus/4 (connected to a black and white portable TV).
The Plus/4 along with its brother the Commodore 16 were Commodore’s entry-level replacement for the ageing VIC-20. Unfortunately, despite popularity in Europe and Mexico they were a big flop in the US and were discontinued after two years.
The Plus/4 was less powerful than the C64, with no sprite capability and a much weaker sound chip. It did have a faster processor, better BASIC language, and many more colours. This allowed game developers to create some great games for both the Plus/4 and the C16.
Here are some of the great games I enjoyed playing during those years.
Spore was a simplified Gauntlet clone style maze game. It was initially available on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, with the C16 version being the same as the C64 version (except for the music) and in many ways better than the ZX Spectrum version released by Mastertronic in 1987.
The outstanding feature was the game included a level editor for users to create their own maps, which kept me happy for many hours. A remake of Spore for PC is available from the tdbsoft website.
Kickstart C16 was based on the arcade game Superbike. Unlike the other 8-bit versions which were inspired by the BBC Television series Kick Start. Although the C16 game still used the “Mr Walkie Talkie – Be My Boogie Woogie Baby” music.
Treasure Island is a release title for the Commodore Plus/4 (not available for the C16), based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was a flip-screen style game, where the player is Jim Hawkins. You’d have to battle through a maze of rooms avoiding cutlass being thrown at you by pirates while trying to find the treasure. When this was found you was chased back to your boat by Long John Silver. This game was great fun and even better than the ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 versions.
Way Of The Exploding Fist is a C16 game in which the player takes part in a series of one-on-one karate matches, all overseen by a wise master. Fights were not won using the energy bars found in modern fighting games, but instead, the player needed to get two points. You would earn a point by getting a clean strike on your opponent, anything else would give you half a point. Once the player defeats an opponent, they move up to the next stage and a more difficult adversary. The much better C64 version of the game was successfully converted to the Plus/4.
Icicle Works, another Plus/4 only title, was a Christmas themed Boulder Dash clone where you take the role of Santa Claus trying to retrieve his Christmas Presents. Santa would need to watch out for Polar Bears and Penguins, as one touch from them makes him explode into Christmas Presents.
Commando was a Commodore 16 conversion of the Arcade game of the same name. Unlike the arcade, this game did not scroll and only included five single-screen levels. Despite this, as a young man, I found it challenging, and I don’t think I ever completed it. A plus/4 conversion of the C64 version has been created by the same guy who converted Exploding Fist.
I’m sure you all know this one. In this game you control a Ninja Saboteur. The task is to break into a security building (disguised as a warehouse) and steal a disk. The Saboteur must fight through the building to obtain the disk and then escape via a helicopter on the roof before the time limit runs out. The player could set up a bomb to destroy the building for bonus points.
When you purchased Saboteur! You got two versions of this game. A C16 version and an enhanced Plus/4 only version. The Plus/4 version of the game is the same as the other 8bit versions and is a great looking game. The Commodore 16 version is frankly a load of old pants. The game was designed to run on computers with at least 16k of ram, so it is missing elements, for example, you cannot kill the guard dogs or use a joystick. This version occupies nearly every single byte of memory on the C16, but still manages to look terrible.
Finders Keepers was the first game in the Magic Knight series of games (the others being Spellbound, Knight Tyme and Stormbringer). It’s a platform game with some maze sections. The hero starts in the King’s throne room and is transported, via a teleporter, to the castle. The castle is made up of two types of playing area: flick-screen rooms in the manner of a platform game and two giant scrolling mazes. The C64 version of the game has three possible solutions. Unfortunately, they had to cut a lot of things out from the C16 version, so it ends up with only one, but it was still a great game.
A football management game in the style of Football Manager but with more features. You start in the fourth division and have to take your team to the top. You could also compete in FA Cup and European Cup. This was the first Football Manager game I’ve ever owned. I had played Football Manager on the C64 and Spectrum, but this game had a lot more features and things to manage. The funny thing about this game is that it was written in basic. So you could break it, and re-write it if you wanted.
Spiky Harold was the first hedgehog video game, and he definitely wasn’t blue. He was brought to us by Firebird Software in 1986. The idea of the game is to help Harold find enough food to go into hibernation for the winter.
Each of the chambers beneath the hedgerow contains an item of food which Harold can eat. However, he must avoid the creatures who will try to stop him, as well as conkers, sulphur clouds, bouncing balls and peeping periscopes. On his travels, Harold may find some coins which will give him extra lives, and wine glasses that will make him drunk.
Tazz is a clone of the Arcade game Tazz Mania, which was a clone of Robotron 2048. It was made by Bubble Bus Software in 1986. The story of the game is you have miniaturised into a computer to gate crash a wild party hosted by a really nasty bunch of bugs. You do this by shooting the bugs. You also need to avoid the bouncing sprite and by the crushing walls. Mindless and very silly, but most of all, fun.
If you had an 8-bit computer, you have already heard of Thrust. It’s a classic 2D dimensional physics-based game. The aim is to manoeuvre a spaceship around different planets. You rotate and thrust around while avoiding limpet guns and stealing pods. It was originally programmed on the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron, but it was converted to most 8bit computers such as the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari and Commodore 16 as well as the Vectrex and Atari 2600 game consoles. Due to the games simple concept, all versions of the game are pretty much the same, although the Commodore 64 would probably be considered the best version as it had a great piece of music from Rob Hubbard.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Glen for passing over his write up to host on Vitno. Unfortunately Glen’s website will be closing it’s doors, but at least his work will be forever archived online for all to enjoy. You can find Glen on Twitter here: Glen McNamee