After wrapping up my February review of the C64 Mini, I got to thinking: What are the 10 best Commodore 64 games for the system?
And how would I define that concept?
As you know, I am an avid gamer and really love the Commodore 64. But that makes picking out the best games that much harder; hence, my need to define what I mean by “the best.”
That is why I came up with one major criteria: No arcade ports. On top of that, I decided to emphasize the games that I played with my friends and that I have extensive experience playing. That is what I will call the nostalgia factor.
In this article, I will tell you about my top 10 picks as well as a few honorable mentions. Again, none of these are arcade ports so please try to keep that in mind, when you do not see such gems like Bubble Bobble, Ghost ‘n Goblins, or Rainbow Islands on this list.
Ready? Let’s get the party started!
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10. Wasteland (Electronic Arts 1988)
The inspiration behind the Fallout series, Wasteland thrusts you into a post-apocalyptic world and tasks you with survival as the leader of a party of four characters that have to use their combined talents to survive the deadly wastes.
An RPG with its roots in tabletop gaming, Wasteland was also notable for its gritty storyline and visuals – a true first for a C64 game. As one of the first persistent-world games ever made, Wasteland also explored a deeper narrative for the gamer by having certain texts as requisite reading when the player arrived at certain points in the game.
A sequel to Wasteland was produced for modern PCs and it is reportedly as good a distillation of the original’s spirit that you are likely to find outside of the classic Fallout games.
9. Pirates! (MicroProse 1987)
Coming to you straight from legendary game designer Sid Meier (of Civilization fame), Pirates! Is a combat sim that uses the titular pirate ships to wage wars across the seas.
As a Sid Meier’s game, it also tries to simulate the life of a pirate as described in 16th through 18th century texts. This means pillaging, privateering, and seaborne battling.
The play area available to gamers include most of the coastline of the Spanish New World colonies and references to real world locations and events.
A peek back into the beginnings of a legendary game design career, Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a must-play for fans of Civilization and Commodore 64 strategy titles alike.
8. Bruce Lee (Datasoft 1984)
An action platformer starring the legendary Hong Kong action star Bruce Lee. As the title star, you run around stages avoiding bad guys and collecting lanterns along the way.
In many ways, the mechanics are similar to a Mario platforming game but with a collection element, rather than a linear completion goal. Very tough in later levels, Bruce Lee is an incredibly fast-paced game that will definitely test your reflexes.
7. International Karate + (System 3 for Europe, Epyx for NA, 1987)
The first International Karate introduced computer gamers around the world to the fighting game genre, a concept that would later come to dominate arcades and consoles with the release of the legendary Street Fighter II.
If you are curious about where it all began, or you just like a fighting game that adheres to a points-based fighting system (similar to that used in karate tournaments), then International Karate + is your game.
You can see the nascent beginnings of the fighter genre as well as enjoy some pretty basic, though compelling, gameplay. There are no special moves or fatalities in this game, but what you get instead is a peek at an earlier time in gaming history as well as one of the most competitive multiplayer games released for the C64.
One thing that is completely novel about it is the addition of three karateka instead of just two. You do not normally see that in a fighting game, but it was one of the major defining features of IK +.
6. Last Ninja 2 (System 3 1988)
An action-adventure title from an isometric perspective with a rocking soundtrack, Last Ninja 2 involves the player assuming the role of a ninja and avoiding environmental obstacles from a juggler to a wandering policeman on patrol.
Following the storyline of the first game, Last Ninja 2 involves similar high-stakes antics in New York City as you attempt to retrieve the Koga Scrolls and save the world from an impending doom.
What sticks out the most about Last Ninja 2 is the incredibly detailed isometric backgrounds that the player passes through. These are true graphical marvels for their time.
And that soundtrack – believe me when I say it – it rocks.
5. Turrican I and II (Rainbow Arts 1990 and 1991)
Easily one of the most impressive pairs of games on this list – especially from a modern game design standpoint – Turrican I and II are both as epic as they are fun to play.
For a modern frame of reference, think classic Metroid mixed with a shoot ‘em up.
Blazing fast action, combined with an epic storyline makes Turrican one of those rare series that truly attempted to elevate the concept of what a video game could be as an entertainment medium.
Beyond the C64 version, these two games have inspired endless clones and remakes, so modern gamers do not have much of an excuse for not experiencing this title.
4. Winter Games (Epyx 1985)
Epyx’s Winter Games takes the competition normally associated with the Winter Olympics and boils it down to video game format.
The objectives of each minigame are simple but fun. Back then, it was one of the most atmospheric games around: being awarded a medal to the national anthem of the country you had chosen to represent was very rewarding, especially when playing with friends.
If you have ever played a Mario Party game or an Olympic-themed sports title, then you can thank Winter Games for pioneering that format.
3. MicroProse Soccer (MicroProse 1988)
An overhead soccer game that is amazingly fast paced for a 30+ year-old title. MicroProse, later known for their X-Com series as well as Sid Meier’s Civilization, originally found great success as a sports and racing title maker.
This talent is on full display with MicroProse Soccer. While you cannot see all of the players on the field, the graphics move fast enough so that it does not matter and you never sense the fog of war that limits your strategic options.
It is a pretty basic soccer game, but that is what makes it so much fun. One neat feature that made MicroProse Soccer stand out from its competition was the humble addition of rain and the weather-based effects that come with it (I still occasionally call it Rainy Soccer 😉 ).
For a more emotional description of it, please check my top 10 retro soccer-game list.
2. Creatures I and II (Thalamus Ltd 1990 and 1992)
Another pair of classic platforming titles on the Commodore 64, Creatures I and II show off the C64’s amazing color palette and ability to deliver top-notch graphics on what was otherwise a pretty basic chipset.
But do not let the cute graphics fool you – there are also some moments of gore and horror that are kind of surprising for titles this old.
You basically have to free the creatures from these torture chambers to complete the games, combining platforming elements as well as exploration and light puzzle solving.
Jet Bike Simulator (Codemasters 1988)
Another classic title from the legendary house of Codemasters, Jet Bike Simulator is, as the name implies, a jet ski racing game.
Think of Wave Race 64 but from an overhead perspective.
You have to beat your opponents while going around a track and avoiding obstacles at the same time.
It is a classic bit of racing game fun that is neither pretentious nor terribly complicated. It even features some of the most extensive use of voice sound clips in an early video game.
Fun fact: an almost identical version named Jet Ski Simulator was released the next year. Yeah, bikes are slightly faster and you can hear some new sound effects, but the gameplay is the same.
Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (Audiogenic Software Ltd. 1988)
Named after one of the greatest English defenders of all time and the evolution of International Soccer by Andrew Spencer (the first soccer game to feature a replay after a goal), EHIS is A side-scrolling soccer game that puts eleven players with different skills on the field. Absolutely revolutionary for the time! It is definitely a good alternative for those players who do not like the overhead view offered in MicroProse Soccer.
Competitive and easy to understand, the game has less of an arcade feel to it than MicroProse Soccer, leaning a lot more towards simulation (for the time, of course), but it offers a similarly compelling experience.
It is tough to choose which one is better but, as an overall package, the MicroProse Soccer game is tough to beat… Sure, EHIS can be played in cooperative, but Rainy Soccer is simply too fun in versus mode.
Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (Palace Software 1987)
A mixture of Conan the Barbarian and International Karate, Barbarian lets you duke it out in the arena against a fellow male or female barbarian as you hack and slash at each other until one person is dead.
It is pretty wild to be frank.
Overseen by Shang Tsung’s own grandfather, Barbarian is another early peek at the fighting game genre and tosses out the points-based, karate tournament system popularized by IK in favor of a brutal game.
If you like hacking and slashing or Conan the Barbarian type material, this game is right up your alley. If you like 1980s metal, this game will probably tickle your fancy.
Alright, let’s move to the number 1 on this list: and the winner is..1. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (Lucasfilm Games 1988)
When people talk about Lucasarts legendary adventure games on the Commodore 64, this is what they are talking about. Gamers familiar with Maniac Mansion or even later games like Return to Zork are already familiar with Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders’ central conceit.
You start out working for a sleazy tabloid and, eventually, your ambitions get the better of you and lead our hero on a winding quest that reveals a lot more about his world than he probably expected.
Vibrantly told in detailed graphics, the writing is what really puts Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders over the top. The amount of interaction options and ensuing dialogue will absolutely blow your mind.
If you are looking for an awesome adventure game with a great story, from any era, you owe it to yourself to pick up Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders and play through it. It will help you understand what all the critics are raving about when they talk about Lucasarts early adventure games on computers.
The Amazing Zak McKracken concludes our journey, retro folks. It has been another fun ride to the past, but I do not like riding alone, so please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.