?In the 1980s, the Commodore 64 ruled over the home computing market thanks to an affordable price point, helpful office applications and, of course, hundreds of games that offered an alternative to the era’s arcade fare and cartridge-based consoles. The trusty C-64 gave consumers the opportunity to play ports of popular releases and original offerings alike just by throwing in a disc and typing “Load “*”, 8,1.” With that little bit of BASIC programming came a world of gaming possibilities. Since Topless Robot has previously featured an overview of The 20 Greatest Games on the Commodore 64, this Daily List will gear its focus toward the 15 greatest sci-fi and horror games released for the computer. As you’ll soon see, these were two genres that were always well represented on the Commodore. Load “*”, 8,1!
15) Space Taxi
If you ever dreamt of being an intergalactic cabbie whose fares all had tracheotomies, this was the game for you. The basic concept of Space Taxi — avoid obstacles and get your passenger to their destination — would be reworked for Crazy Taxi and The Simpsons’ Road Rage. Although those games are clearly superior, they suffer a slight disadvantage by not including levels that are as nonsensical as Space Taxi‘s beach and candy-themed boards.
Tough levels and some programming bugs led many to dub this game as “Robocrap.” That’s bull and shit. Despite the difficulty factor, there was a good deal of fun to be had here — even if you just decided to shoot everyone in sight while enjoying the catchy theme tune. Speaking of music, there are apparently two cheat codes to this game that are both named after Morrissey songs (“Suedehead” and “Disappointed”). This is totally random and makes zero sense, but is endlessly awesome if you happen to be a fan of both Robocop and The Smiths.
13) Friday the 13th
At Crystal Lake, Jason has taken on the guise of a camper, and it’s up to you to figure out which one and stop him before he kills again. Or you could just say fuck it and slay everyone in sight. Thus is the beauty of Friday the 13th, a game so schizo that it features the tranquil “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” on the soundtrack one minute than throws this image at you the next:
As if that weren’t enough to get you to stain the couch, the game also features digitized screams each time Jason claims another victim. Totally creepy/wonderful stuff.
12) Gremlins: The Adventure
Utilizing a text interface with on-screen graphics, this adventure was a welcome contrast to Atari’s crappy Gremlins arcade game. It’s also pure wish fulfillment for anyone who ever wanted to walk in Belly Peltzer’s shoes. While attempting to stop Stripe and company from taking over Kingston Falls, players are given the opportunity to blend, microwave and generally fuck with any Gremlin they encounter. At times, the game does fall victim to the obtuse sort of puzzles that plagued graphic adventures in the 1980s (good luck making it through the YWCA sequence without throwing something). But all is forgiven once you are greeted with the site of a computerized Gremlin flasher.
11) The Movie Monster Game
?A riff on the Rampage formula, The Movie Monster Game thrilled kaiju fans by letting them destroy cities as Godzilla. Yes, Epyx shelled out the rights for the notorious Tokyo stomper. Since the game’s other monsters include no-frills (and blatantly unlicensed) versions of The Blob, Mothra and The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, it must have cost them a pretty penny to do so. Money well spent if you ask me.
10) Big Trouble in Little China
Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the Earth quakes, poison arrows fall from the sky and the pillars of heaven shake: He plays this shameless rip-off of Kung Fu Master. Players alternated between Jack, Wang and Egg Shen in an 8-bit battle to save Chinatown from Lo Pan (the ten foot tall version, not the little old basket case on wheels). As for achieving success at the game? Obviously it’s all in the reflexes.
9) The Rocky Horror Show
The Rocky Horror Show was a strange choice for a C-64 game. Odder still is just how enjoyable it turned out to be. Fitting in with Rocky Horror‘s gender-bending ideology, players could choice whether they wanted to take on the role of Brad or Janet. They would then search the Frankenstein Place for pieces of the “De-Medusa” machine needed to free their lover from stone before time ran out and the house returned to the planet Transylvania. Obstacles appeared in the form of various characters who would either spout song lyrics at you or steal your clothes (as this and Ghosts ‘n Goblins proved, 1980s game designers were obsessed with pixilated underpants).
This was popular enough to spawn a quasi-remake for the PC in 1999 that featured Christopher Lee as the narrator. As a bonus, here’s a video of Lee breaking down the mysteries of the Time Warp in his own unique way above.
8) Dalek Attack
This effort had gamers taking the guise of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor (the Timelord’s seventh incarnation) to fight the Daleks. Fiendishly difficult though it may have been, the game was still something of a lifeline for pale nerds whose Saturday nights were spent playing games on the Commodore and watching Doctor Who marathons on their local PBS affiliates instead of hanging out with friends and having a social life. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.
Two Aliens games were released for the Commodore 64, and both did a respectable job in replicating the film’s action and scares. As seen above, Activision’s offering had an edge over its European counterpart by featuring fun cut scenes and a series of sequences ripped from the film that genuinely tried to make players feel as if they were on LV-426. The now-crude graphics aside, it’s still arguably the best game based on any of the films in the Alien saga.
There’s bad cyberpunk (Billy Idol’s “Shock to the System” video) and good cyberpunk (the old Max Headroom series). This loose adaptation of William Gibson’s influential sci-fi novel definitely falls into the latter category thanks to some brilliant sound design and levels that fully immersed you in the futuristic environments of Chiba City and, oooh, Cyberspace. It seems pass? now, this was revolutionary stuff back in 1988.
5) Saucer Attack
It’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, the videogame! Not officially of course, but it’s hard not to draw parallels between that 1956 sci-fi classic and this shooter that had players trying to save Washington, DC landmarks from UFOs. Simple, fun gameplay and unmatched graphics that pushed the computer to its limits earned this one a spot in the hearts of gamers around the globe. Abductees, not so much.
4) Mad Doctor
Even though the C-64 was often touted as a family friendly computer, you could still have some demented fun on it if you tried hard enough. Enter Mad Doctor. Playing as a morally flexible scientist, your mission was to go all Dr. Frankenstein and bring a monster to life. This meant that you would have to participate in such anti-social behavior as grave robbery, murder and violating the laws of nature (as well as being extremely bad mannered). The doc’s fellow villagers may not have liked the results of his exploits, but it was hard for demented gamers not to be charmed.
Having already given us Pitfall!, David Crane set his sights on adapting Ghosbusters for the home computer. The resulting game more than made up for its graphical inadequacies with innovative challenges. From the follow-the-bouncing-ball opening screen to the final showdown with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, it somehow allowed players to experience what the Ghostbusters lives were really like — minus the slime and Sigourney Weaver canoodling.
2) Maniac Mansion
This point-and-click adventure established LucasArts as a gaming powerhouse and paved the way for the equally stellar Sam & Max Hit the Road, Monkey Island and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindmenders (it also singlehandedly destroyed traditional text-and-graphic games such as the Marvel Comics Questprobe titles as well as the aforementioned Gremlins: The Adventure). With various characters to choose from and multiple endings, the game had the highest replay value of any home computer title of the era. It’s also insanely funny, bested in humor on the C-64 by only one other game…
1) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Teaming with Infocom’s Steve Meretzky, Douglas Adams created a work of “interactive fiction” that fully captured the hilarity of its source material. Before this came along, text adventures were dry affairs in which players would scurry around completing standard tasks until the game thudded to a conclusion. Hitchhiker’s raised the bar not only through comedy, but also by making an art form out of frustrating players. Not buying a cheese sandwich early in the game would have dire consequences later on, the thing your aunt gave you which you don’t know what it is was always causing problems, etc. A frequently told urban legend involves Infocom selling “I got the Babel Fish” T-shirts in reference to the game’s most mindfucking puzzle. If such shirts exist, how come they never show up on eBay? And where is mine? (Size XL please). Nevertheless, the aggravation was always fun — even when you wound up getting killed by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal you were ready to grab your towel and start again. The long-promised Milliways sequel never materialized except for some rough outlines rescued from the Infocom archives. That’s just as well because this game was an anomaly. A perfect storm of entertainment, brilliance and fun that will and could never be equaled.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.