Evercade C64 Collection 1 review

The Commodore 64 is one of those rare formats, like the Amiga and Atari ST, where it’s impossible to count how many games were released for it. The 8-bit microcomputer launched in 1982 and was still knocking around in the mid-90s, even gaining conversions of Capcom’s Street Fighter II and Final Fight. Games were released on floppy disks, cassettes, and cartridges – with some being mail order exclusives, available long after the system was deemed commercially viable. If anyone ever claimed to have a definitive number for released titles, be highly suspicious.

Blaze’s first C64 Collection features just 14 games from a catalogue that runs into the thousands, and yet, it’s still able to provide a pretty good taster of the experiences the C64 had to offer. It, quite simply, features games from multiple publishers that cover all kinds of genres, taking us from 1983’s Jumpman to 1989’s Stormlord – with all the advances in programming techniques along the way. No ‘90s games, sadly, but this was perhaps to be expected – most games of this era were licensed.

With the C64 being quite a different beast from the likes of the NES and Mega Drive, it’s worth covering how the emulation is handled. Pressing ‘Select’ brings up a virtual keyboard – which can be made transparent, handily. A handful of games require keyboard input to either select modes or difficulty, while the sports sims additionally require team names. This means that some titles aren’t entirely pick up and play, in the sense that you can’t just bash the A button to start. Not a deal breaker, but worth mentioning.

A few games also have brief loading screens – some feature ‘TV style static’; others simply freeze for around five seconds with no indication that they’re loading. 

It’s a good idea to read through the manual, as it gives tips and details control schemes. It’s especially helpful for Winter/Summer Games, breaking down each event’s rules and mechanics.  

Jumpman is a slightly frustrating introduction to the C64, hampered by twitchy controls. A good job, then, that the default difficulty bestows a generous 7 lives. Essentially a clone of Donkey Kong – minus the chest-beating goon himself – it involves navigating ladders and platforms while collecting bombs. One false move results in a quick death. Martial arts platfromer “Lee” is a better way to spend your time – a very early example of the platformer genre, granted, but the difficulty is far more balanced and performing flying kicks is satisfying.

Gateway to Apshai is billed as an early action RPG, taking the form of a dungeon crawler with an inventory and loot. It’s crude – dating back to 1983 – and the controls are fiddly on a handheld, but it soon becomes manageable. It’s interesting to see the foundations one of the most popular modern genres was built on, making this feel like a valuable history lesson.

For a title released in 1984, Impossible Mission is pretty impressive, boasting smooth animation and that now-famous speech sample. Again, you may have to consult the manual while playing – assembling puzzle pieces isn’t entirely intuitive. Save states come in most handy here. We really do have it easy these days.  

1986’s Movie Monster Game impresses too – especially for the year. At first, it appears to be an isometric take on Rampage, but it soon emerges to be far more varied and innovative. After picking a movie monster homage – including a comedic take on Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – you’re then prompted to pick a mode. These include fleeing a city, destroying a landmark, eating everything in sight, and searching for a lost monster child. Indeed, there’s quite a bit of variety here, and the presentation is great – being centered around a cinema. But there is a problem, and it’s one that kills a lot of the enjoyment – it’s very slow. No wonder review scores were mixed.

Vertical shooters Marauder (1988) and Alleykat (1986) had a mixed reception at launch too. Alleykat is the more innovative of the two, being based around futuristic races – instead of a starfield, or similar, you’re zipping along a racecourse while blasting enemies and grabbing cash. Marauder isn’t a conventional shooter either, featuring a buggy with a mounted turret that you have full control over. After the opening desert stages are out of the way a sci-fi theme emerges. Decent music elevates the experience overall.

For a more contemporary shooter, look no further than Subterranea (1988) – which seemingly takes inspiration from Konami’s golden age of shooters. This horizontal affair looks great and the difficulty is well-judged, even featuring bonus rounds where blobs of biomass must be strategically destroyed. Stages do end abruptly though, which is odd. They even end mid-conflict.

Stormlord (1989) is another looker. Perhaps even one of the system’s best-looking games. It’s a side-scrolling platformer with projectile lobbing and a risqué fantasy theme. It isn’t a simple side-scroller either – items must be found and used accordingly, such as honey pots to lure swarms of bees. Our hirsute hero can withstand a fair bit of damage, making progression relatively smooth.

I expected Jeff Minter’s Iridis Alpha (1986) to be one of the cartridge’s highlights, but to call it punishing would be an understatement. The developer’s trademark colourful presentation is…present, but there is no learning curve – you’re thrown right into the thick of it, juggling two crafts on two planets at once. The homing attacks seem very hard to anticipate on a small screen. It’s brutal. Maybe if you put the hours into this one back in 1986, you’ll have more appreciation for it.

Battle Valley (1988) held my attention for a lot longer than the above. This something a hidden gem and I was surprised to learn it was a budget title originally. The idea is to swap between a tank and a helicopter while capturing bases, with the former clearing the path for the latter. The tank can destroy turrets and silos, allowing the helicopter to move forward and repair bridges. The controls are more advanced than other games present (all seven face buttons are used) but they’re still easy enough to learn. It’s not as if modern games have controls any more complex.

Then there are the sports titles. Summer Games (1984) and Winter Games (1985) are an acquired taste, but even so, they’re synonymous with the C64 – Epyx knew the C64 inside and out, even back in 1984. They may fare better on the Evercade Vs – where up to 8 players can alternate turns – than on the cramped handheld Evercade. I found Winter Games to be the better of the two, if only because of the bobsled event, which is reasonably challenging.

This leaves us with Street Sports Baseball (1987), which you may be surprised to hear is another hidden gem. It packs in a lot of personality, with each team formed of quintessentially ‘80s stereotypes – wide shades, mohawks, mullets, and more. The cool kids versus the nerds. It’s quite advanced for the year, with the chance to pick players and an overhead view for pitching and fielding. Don’t be quick to snub this one – it’s a fun little game.

As the Evercade’s first home computer collection, this is a decent enough package that’s clearly carefully curated to include a mixture of hits, curios, and lesser-known gems. The controls are a little finicky in places, and experiences may differ between playing on an Evercade handheld and the VS console, but this is still a strong start for Blaze’s new range.