I love classic games of all sorts. I still occasionally replay my copy of the original 1981 Castle Wolfenstein through an emulator and have always loved playing arcade games when the arcade collections are released. So when I heard that a Commodore 64 game emulation system was coming to the iTunes App Store, I was thrilled. Of course, that joy was short-lived as the app was approved but quickly pulled due to an exploit that allowed BASIC to run and potentially allow harmful code to execute (I know, I know, but still …). Anyway, recently Manomio have announced that a new version, stripped of any ability to run BASIC, has been re-released on the App Store! They provided us with a review code to test. Let’s take a look!
- Original Commodore 64 game graphics and SID sound
- Auto-save, to continue exactly where you left off
- Realistic joystick and beautifully crafted C64 keyboard
- Portrait and Landscape play
- Vertical and Full screen gaming (auto rotate for iPod users)
- Unique retro-feeling gameplay
- Eight classic games and many more on the way!
There are a few things to think about when evaluating a set of games from a classic game system: the game selection, the graphics and overall feel of the modern implementation, and the controls and playability.
Let’s start with the games. For background, my parents bought a Commodore 64 when they came out, but by that time I was programming the PDP-11 at school and wasn’t interested in the few games that were available compared to what I had on my Apple ][+. That said, I had enough friends who had the C64 that I did get to see that many of my favorites were also some of the best stuff on the C64 – things like Commando, Boulderdash, Ghosts & Goblins, and so on. When you take a look at the list, you’ll realize that the $5 cost isn’t going to cover the cost of licensing the best games the C64 platform has to offer!
Here is the list:
- Arctic Shipwreck: the goal is to move your mammoth around to keep the people from sliding off the ice.
- Dragon’s Den: a sort of Joust-clone where you fight through enemies to defeat dragons.
- International Basketball: Basic basketball game with international lane lines to justify the title.
- International Soccer: Pretty standard soccer game.
- International Tennis: At that point tennis games were glorified Pong games with color. This fits that description.
- Jack Attack: Bounce on enemies to destroy them.
- Jupiter Lander: Not to be confused with ‘Lunar Lander’ … well, actually it is a pretty obvious clone.
- Lemans: Basic top down driving typical of the era … but Spy Hunter was already popular when this hit.From this list, I knew of Jack Attack, Jupiter Lander, and Lemans … but NONE of these would appear in the ‘top #’ lists for C64 games. The press release says that more and more games will be added, including the free addition of a Bruce Lee game coming in the next update. However, since Manomio is taking advantage of the in-app purchasing system, we can assume that the majority of game additions – particularly anything high profile – will end up on the high-end of the cost curve!After a down start, let’s switch to the upside: the graphics, sound and iPhone implementation are absolutely stellar! The graphics occupy the upper half of the screen in vertical orientation, with the single-button joystick in the lower part. In landscape rotation the game occupies the whole screen and the controls are hidden in the left or right side. It sounds odd but works extremely well. The C64 wasn’t a graphics or sound beast, so there should be no issues with emulation, and there aren’t – everything works perfectly!I wish I could say I saved the best for last, but sadly it is the worst aspect of the C64 emulator that finishes this review: the controls. Now some will remind me that with an 8-directional analog joystick notorious for drifting, the C64 controls were pretty lousy to begin with, and I would agree. However, my first experience with the app was a quick run through each game to see if any of the games had controls that worked well. They didn’t. Some were acceptable, others were abysmal, none were smooth. I managed to work through all of them in order to get some time playing the core games.
And sadly there is a reason none of these games are considered ‘top classics’ for the platform: they are all pretty average at best, and some are lousy. There is a single shining glimmer of hope: the core C64 emulator is stellar, so I am hoping that they can tweak the controls and get some good games – and I also hope that they deliver value to their paying customers who dropped $5 (a lot in App Store context) on faith of getting something good and in support of a developer trying to do something praise-worthy but ending up on the fringe of Apple acceptability. Let’s just hope that they come around with substantive updates that show they have earned the support and faith many of us fans of classic gaming have given them.
Where to Buy:
What I Like:
– Nice emulation
– Wonderful screen usage and rotation
– Great sound adaptations
What Needs Improvement:
– Lousy game choice
– Terrible controls
– In-app purchasing means anything good will cost $$
Source: game download code provided by publisher.
Here is a YouTube video that was released with the original introduction of the app.