Sometimes, it just isn’t meant to be. The C64 is the most popular and coded for computer ever, but not everything destined for our beloved machine made it into the shops. In the first installment of a new series, here are three games that looked utterly barnstorming when Commodore Format featured them – only for them never to appear. Words by Neil Grayson with Frank Gasking.
- Grandslam, 1992
- Death by: fake screen shot
What was it all about? Well, cute platformers were massive in 1992. This was another one, featuring a beaver called Jethro who was on a mission to save his girlfriend in classic videogame style. There were four valleys for our buck-toothed hero to conquer in search of his love, each with an end of level boss.
What did CF say? “One of the best things is the gorgeous movement that goes into Jethro’s movement. If you leave him alone he looks at you with a bored expression…when he uses up all his lives, he lays on the floor, kicking his feet and crying his eyes out.”
What happened? Beavers! didn’t exist on the Commodore 64. The story at the time was that the game kept getting delayed because there weren’t enough available programmers. But CF’s beautiful screenshots were actually created by Grandslam on an Amiga to generate some excitement for the game, which was quickly abandoned when they decided the floor was dropping out of the 8-bit market. Whether CF were taking Grandslam’s word on that “beautiful animation” or had actually seen it on another machine, we’ll never know. Grandslam’s Richard Underhill recalls that magazines tended to let their imaginations run riot off the back of mockups or Amiga screenshots in pursuit of a decent news story, which is almost certainly what happened with Beavers!.
Chances of finding it: Not a chance on the ol’ beige box, but there’s a disappointing version on the Amiga/CD32.
- Read CF‘s Beavers preview here.
2. PARASOL STARS
- Ocean, 1992
- Death by: drunk wife
What was it all about? It’s the third in the Bubble Bobble platformer series, following on from Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. It first appeared on the PC Engine back in 1991 (unusually, and contrary to urban myth, it didn’t appear in the arcades). Bubby and Bobby are both present, and it’s more akin to the first game than Rainbow Islands. This time around, you have a parasol which can block as a shield, stun enemies, capture droplets or hurl enemies. At many points, it can be used as a parachute.
What did CF say? Advertisements aside, just the one real mention for Parasol Stars in CF, on issue 20’s Early Warning! scanner when things still seemed on track. “Can it better Rainbow Islands?”
What happened? The C64 version had been farmed out to veteran coder Colin Porch – responsible for a string of greats like Head Over Heels and Operation Wolf. He was working on Parasol Stars freelance, from home, and things had been looking good. Three months in, Colin remembers taking his work to Ocean. They were pleased. “Most of the elements of the gameplay had been included”, he recalls. And then, disaster:
“My wife and I had not been getting on very well, (usually rowing about her drinking habits) and she decided to go back to her first husband of twenty years earlier. Before leaving, she broke or corrupted all the disks she could find, including all the Parasol Stars developments and back-ups. She expressed extreme remorse afterwards, (she was two different people depending on whether she had been drinking) but the damage was done. I only had a disk previously shown to Ocean, about three months old, which had remained in my briefcase since showing it to them. They, unfortunately, could not spare the time for me to repeat the work.”
Chances of finding it: Agonisingly, Colin had a bunch of C64 related stuff until a few years back. In a “moment”, he chucked it all away. It’s quite possible some of the Parasol Stars stuff was on there. It was nowhere near a finished game, though, but you can pick it up on the Amiga, ST, NES, Gameboy and PC Engine.
- Read CF‘s first sighting of the game here.
3. CHUCK ROCK
- Core, 1992
- Death by: mental old man
What was it all about? As we were saying up there with Beavers!, the early ’90s were absolutely mad for slick platform games, mainly ‘cos of the success of stuff like Mario. Slapstick side scroller Chuck Rock was set in the stone age, and the 16-bit versions were such a success that Core used Chuck as a mascot in the days before Lara Croft of Tomb Raider. In a move which surprised everybody – and unannounced – the publishers sent a finished Commodore 64 version to the UK press in the spring of 1992.
What did CF say? Commodore Format went to town on Chuck Rock, giving it the front cover of issue 21 and awarding it 91%. Reviewer Trenton Webb loves the “belly butt” as a weapon and is one of the few journalists to pick up on the fact that the rocks – which you, er, chuck – are the key to getting the most out of the game. “Chuck Rock’s main failing may be that it’s all over too quickly”, enthuses Trenton, “but that’s only because it insists you play again, and again.” ZZAP! 64 magazine loved it even more, awarding it 96% – a huge score for a mag known for being super harsh on the latest games – noting the beautifully animated graphics and agreeing with CF that you’ll be on your C64 with Chuck until the brontosaurs come home.
What happened? Core gave the production of the C64 version of Chuck Rock to a team in Italy called Genias. You might know them from stuff like classy sideways shooter Catalypse, or summer ’91 volleyball game Over The Net. They did the 1991 version of Tilt, too, which is sometimes confused with the Codemasters’ game from 1990. Here they are:
In spite of two blinding reviews in the UK, Core weren’t happy with Chuck Rock and canned the project. Genias eventually persuaded them to come to an agreement with Italian distributers Softel and release it only in Italy, where the C64 scene was still very strong in 1992. This accounts for the finished, boxed versions of the game that sometimes appear on eBay for thousands of Euros. But the story’s a bit jucier: back in 2013 on this Italian website, Raffaele Valensise remembers that the relationship with Core was rocky (oh ffs – Ed) from the start. “The managers kept saying Chuck wasn’t the same colours as the Amiga versions”, he said. “It was difficult, they didn’t really believe in the Commodore 64”.
This is one of the more tragic cases we’ll deal with in this series, because Chuck Rock was finished, reviewed to acclaim and then canned everywhere except Italy essentially because a manager couldn’t understand why it wasn’t as pretty as on the Amiga. There’s the chance, of course, they just didn’t want to risk a C64 release as late as 1992 – but why not just say that, eh? Tch.
Chances of finding it: It’s pretty easy to get hold of a version to emulate (and maybe play on your C64 Mini!). In fact, somebody did a good crack of the cassette version last year. As for the physical game, it does come up on eBay sometimes. In 2013, a tape and disk combo went for 1800 Euros. Yowsers. CF
- Part two of CF’s Games That Weren’t will be published in July. Meantime, go and visit co-author Frank Gasking’s entire site on lost C64 games!