CF at Christmas: 1991

cf16_Jan1992

Was this Commodore Format‘s peak? The covertapes alone would keep you busy all Christmas holidays. The volume and quality of games is insane, too. You’d never think Nintendo were mere months from launching the SNES in the UK. This was CF‘s best selling issue ever.

In part two of our series on Commodore Format and the C64 at Christmas, it’s the festive season of 1991. Father Of The Bride is at the cinema, The Simpsons season 1 is on the TV and WWF’s Hulk Hogan is a household name. It was the year of the fad – and if there was a craze, there was a big money license of it on the Commodore 64. 

When Commodore Format launched in the Autumn of 1990, the C64 was enjoying something of an Indian summer. The powerful Amiga and the sexy new plug ‘n’ play cartridge consoles from Japan like Sega’s Megadrive were in the shops, but the 8-bit Commodore was still selling more games than any of them. Many months, you’d find a C64 game at the top of the all formats chart.

In spite of it, the machine was undeniably yesterday’s tech. Launch editor Steve Jarratt figured his magazine would last “maybe two years”, so you’d think as we look to the back end of 1991 the games might be slowing down a bit.

No chance. This Xmas was freakin’ huge. 1991 was the year of the craze, and if it was massive there was a Commodore 64 version of it in time for the holiday season. The Simpsons, WWF and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were all out in time for December. With Ocean lining up a Commie version of the new Bruce Willis flick Hudson Hawk and even a new cartridge game in Battle Command, it didn’t really seem to matter on the surface that Nintendo’s SNES was mere months from a UK release. Commodore Format sold almost 61,000 copies of its Christmas 1991 issue (#16) – the biggest seller of its entire run. Britain was still helplessly in love with the C64. Here, also taking in issue 15, are five more reasons why this holiday season:

THE BLUES BROTHERS 

One of the big secrets when you had a Commodore 64 in 1991 was that even though you were duty-bound to laugh at anyone with a console, you actually wanted something a little bit like Mario to play yourself. At Christmas time, we got just that from the most unlikely of places: a conversion of the 1980 John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd movie, The Blues Brothers.

The guys have a gig to do on your Commodore 64 and they need your help to do it. They’ve lost all their equipment. Guitars, amps, microphones, you name it. It’s all scattered across town, which is made up of six levels. You can pick to be Jake or Elwood (both in two player mode) and dash around the streets collecting your lost items and loads of other bonuses in time to play the concert. Avoid the cops (who shoot on sight) and street thugs or crush them with crates and anything else you find. Collect “records” (sort of like coins in Super Mario!) for extra lives and other goodies, hitch a ride on a balloon or swim through water to get to hidden screens…all to a wonderful, bass-heavy soundtrack straight from the film. It’s a polished game in every respect and loads of fun. The platformer we’d been waiting for, really.

CF SAID: “A screamer of an all-direction scroller!” (90%, issue 16. Read review)

THE SIMPSONS: BART VERSUS THE SPACE MUTANTS

Homer wasn’t the funny lead Simpsons character he would later become in the very early 1990s. Every kid had a Bart t-shirt, and it’s him you take control of in the Commodore 64 game.

The space mutants have arrived in Springfield and only Bart – with his x-ray specs – can see them. You have to spot and destroy them all! Every time you bump off an alien, you get some “proof”. If you collect enough, the rest of the Simpsons come to help you defeat the end of level baddie. It’s a tough, multi-layered scrolling platformer that will see you collecting and using whistles, rockets, magnets, keys and wrenches to achieve your goal. You’ll pass through shopping malls, a fair ground and even get to prank call Moe’s Tavern – just find a coin and use the phonebox on level one. That’s one of many fine little touches in this colourful, unique game. You’d have to say that the difficulty after the first two stages is what can spoil it. And there’s a, er, terrible rendition of the theme tune. But in 1991, not enough Europeans had seen the TV show to know! But that’s the cool thing – even if you don’t love The Simpsons you’ll still get a lot out of this game.

CF SAID: “It has an extremely addictive, almost maddening hook.” (90%, issue 16. Read review

SUPER SPACE INVADERS

It’s Space Invaders and it’s, er, super! 13 years on from the 1978 arcade game that changed everything, Domark brought the concept back to the Commodore 64 and put some bells on. There are beautiful, varied backdrops. Bigger enemies. And lots of them. There are also different shields and powerups you can collect to protect yourself and some huge end of stage guardians. Undoubtedly, though, the best thing Domark added is the comical “cow abduction” bonus stage, where you have to shoot at invading aliens before they reach the cattle in your field and carry them off into space.

What else to say? It’s Space Invaders, yes. But a slick take on the theme. It’s one with an intelligent learning curve and some really thoughtful touches. It was probably taking the mick a bit to ask ten quid for it in 1991, but it’s definitely worth a crack now.

CF SAID: “You always want to see more screens. Amazingly addictive”. (92%, issue 16. Read review)

PP HAMMER AND HIS PNEUMATIC WEAPON

Yes, they really did put that cock gag right there in the title of this otherwise pretty smart little platform adventure game!

PP (sigh) is an archaeologist, travelling the temples of the world for gold. In Commodore 64 land, that places you inside a world of platforms and ladders. You can drill using the weapon of the game’s title to break through walls and get to gold or to access new parts of the map. You’ve got to be quick, though – the walls eventually reappear and you can end up trapped. Just keep moving and demolishing blocks!

You’ll also find keys and other useful stuff along the way. And for the most part, it’s cool – it scrolls very well in all directions. The levels are huge. It’s sometimes a bit unfair, though: for example. you’re unable to see some parts of the map you are about to walk onto and you can end up falling onto a spike or into some water that you just can’t anticipate first time ’round.

But there are 38 levels and enough powerups and different sorts of things to discover to make it worthwhile. And once it gets you, you’re horribly addicted. A password system and intelligent loading means you can always begin where you left off, too. It’s something a bit different.

CF SAID: “Easy to get into. Cute graphics. Great in small doses.” (79%, issue 15. Read review)

BATTLE COMMAND

You’ll already have read about the disastrous launch of the C64GS in our Christmas 1990 feature. You have to feel bad for Ocean Software, who pulled out all the stops and delivered pretty much every cartridge game that they promised. At Christmas 1991, they sneaked out one of the very last (just Space Gun and Robocop 3 would follow in early ’92). The wounds of the previous year were everywhere, though. Battle Command cost just fourteen quid, whereas carts had originally been retailing at over twenty. And “WILL WORK WITH ANY COMMODORE 64 OR C64C” was plastered all over the box. That had been another thing – regular C64 users, used to cassettes, had just been confused about whether these carts would work at all. As we said – disaster.

Anyway. It’s a shame. Battle Command, like Toki on cart months before, was great. It’s a 3D shoot ’em up. You’re in a tank. Usually there’s some sort of plot to each mission (“save the scientist”) but it’s incidental. You just blast everything in your path. Great fun.

The C64 was never fantastic at doing the 3D thing but with some extra oomph under the bonnet – what with it being on cartridge – it works well. It’s hard to track down – it can go for over fifty quid on eBay. But if you do get it, you’ll appreciate just what a wasted opportunity the whole C64GS thing was. All games could have been like this. Sigh.

CF SAID: “Bursting with action. Atmospheric. Glorious fun!” (88%, issue 15. Read review)

 

ON THE POWER PACK…

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Platform heaven on the Power Pack this month. The best covertape ever? First Samurai, by the way, ended up delayed by months after Robert Maxwell threw himself off a boat. THANKS ROBERT. (Read more about that in our Mev Dinc chat!)

Not one, but two tapes this month. The extra cassette featured the full utility The Graphic Adventure Creator, which let you make your own text adventures. It was a bit more advanced than similar software, and had many a teenage boy fantasising about the millions he’d make until he realised he couldn’t get a hang of the thing. Oh well.

The Power Pack proper was, frankly, insanely good. Creatures 2 came out this Christmas. We haven’t mentioned it in our round up because there’s a full feature by Andy Roberts for you here, but the demo on this month’s tape was set in the snow and had a Commodore Format theme. It was just a tiny taster but kids were hooked, with lots writing to Jason Finch to ask how the snow graphics were even possible.

There was also a whole level of First Samurai to play, which meant CF readers had cut down versions of two of the best games ever on one tape. Along with the cute – if frustrating – Mission Impossabubble and Head The Ball, there was enough to keep you busy ’til the New Year even if Santa brought your C2N nothing else.

…AND FINALLY

CF's parent company, Future, launched SuperPlay to coincide with the release of the SNES. Thought the C64 games were still coming thick and fast, Christmas 1991 was definitely the end of something. By the holidays of 1992 the videogames scene was very different - the first steps towards the scene we know today.

CF‘s parent company, Future, launched SuperPlay to coincide with the release of the SNES. Though the C64 games were still coming thick and fast, Christmas 1991 was definitely the end of something. By the holidays of 1992 videogames were taking the first steps towards the “centre of your living room” culture we know today. No longer would they be relegated to the teenage boy’s bedroom.

This was the last Christmas you could buy a Commodore 64 off a shelf in most high street stores, and if you did you got a special copy of CF in the box. Nintendo’s SNES would be released just twelve weeks later – in March 1992. No matter how much we loved it, you couldn’t help but look at F-Zero and PilotWings in a shop window and realise that the Breadbin was showing its age. But did it make Creatures 2 any less fun this Christmas? Nope. And could you play it on any other machine? Balls could you. And with a Streetfigher 2 conversion promised for the New Year, the C64 – amazingly, wonderfully – marched on. CF 

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