Top 40 Commodore 64 Games Of All-time That You Must Play


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Today, if you ask a kid about Commodore they’ll probably stare at you with a blank expression that roughly translates to “what?”. However, this was the biggest name in personal computing if we travel back to the 1980s. In fact, the Commodore 64 was in production between 1982 to 1994- a whopping 12 years (boy, computers had much longer lifespans back then).

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Commodore’s model 64 is the single most popular home computer of all time. It sold 17 million units during its 12-year lifespan according to Commodore’s official estimates. If we’re talking single models of computers, nothing even comes close.

IBM’s PC lineup laid the foundation for modern personal computing, alongside Apple’s Macintosh. However, the Commodore 64 was outselling both of these during the 1980s. Unfortunately for Commodore, they failed to innovate and capitalize on their groundbreaking success during the later part of the 1980s and early 1990s.

This eventually opened the path for rival companies like Amstrad, Compaq, Apple, IBM, etc. However, the Commodore 64 is still remembered fondly by old-school computer geeks who grew up during the 80s. It also laid the groundwork for PC gaming as a platform, rivaling consoles such as the NES/ Atari 2600.

Compared to other PCs of its time, the C64 had superior graphics and audio capabilities. It was also quite affordable, with a launch price of just US$595. To give you a frame of reference, the Apple II cost 1298 dollars and the IBM 5150 PC started at 1565 dollars.

Because of its excellent graphical capabilities and low price, the C64 built up a reputation as one of the best gaming machines of its era. Today, we shall take a look at the top 40 Commodore 64 games of all time that you must play. So without further ado, let’s get started, shall we?

Impossible Mission

No, this game didn’t inspire Mission: Impossible- the famous action movie franchise featuring Tom Cruise as super spy Ethan Hunt. Those movies are based on Bruce Geller’s TV series of the same name, which originally aired in the 1960s. However, you can’t deny that there are some big similarities between this game and the movie.

Impossible Mission features a secret agent on a mission to apprehend Elvin, the evil scientist trying to hack into national security systems. It plays like a puzzle platformer, with the player working against a clock to find passwords while dodging hostile robots. 

Wasteland

The precursor to Fallout, and subsequently most modern post-apocalyptic RPGs. Wasteland is set in an America that has been destroyed by nuclear war. Entire regions are cut off from each other due to radioactive fallout, and people are recreating civilization from scratch.

Unlike AAA RPGs these days, Wasteland involves a lot of number crunching and randomness. It’s basically a tabletop game on your computer screen, with all the accompanying quirks and complexities. There isn’t a whole lot of action, but you get to choose from a myriad of ways to solve every problem that is presented.

IK+

You know, karate movies were a thing in the 1980s and this game captures the essence of that era. You are one of three karatekas, slugging it out on a scenic beach against the backdrop of a setting sun. The gates to ancient Japanese monasteries and temples adorn the set, while you kick away bombs that seemingly drop out of the sky.

What makes International Karate+ unique isn’t the backdrop or martial arts theme, but its 3-man stage. You can play with a friend, but the computer will always control at least one fighter. This is different compared to most fighting games that are 1 v 1, 2 v 2, etc. 

Bubble Bobble

Bubble  Bobble is a classic platformer with a plot that involves a damsel in distress, much like Super Mario Bros. Except in this game, you’re in control of a dragon pair who used to be human until an evil wizard turned them and kidnapped their girlfriends. Another thing that’s indicative of this game’s old age is its single-screen design.

There are no scrolling sections, you start and end each level on the same screen. However, the screen is filled with a lot more platforming compared to other games of this type. You defeat enemies by trapping them inside bubbles which can be popped, then the enemy inside turns into food points.

Target: Renegade

There are many versions of this beat ‘em up that were released on PC platforms of the 1980s, such as the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. What’s interesting is that not all of these are side-scrollers. Some versions of Target Renegade use a flip-screen to transition from one part of the level to another.

It’s a sequel to the first two Renegade games, and features a similar plot- you’re an archetypical macho man who goes around beating up street thugs. The end boss is a local mafia king who is wreaking havoc in the city by kidnapping and torturing people. He kills your brother, and you take down his entire crime empire in an act of vengeance. 

Sid Meier’s Pirates!

This is the original Pirates! which was released in 1987, for platforms such as the Apple II and C64. In 2004, Firaxis made a sequel/ remake that uses the exact same name. For the most part, both games feature the same plotline and gameplay.

The remake obviously has improved graphics and some quality of life changes that make it easier for a player to get into the game (UI/ balancing stuff). The game is about sailing the high seas and doing pirate stuff. Looting ships, recruiting crew members, searching for treasures, dueling other pirates, etc. 

Turrican II: The Final Fight

A game that is heavily inspired by other side-scrolling action adventures such as Metroid and Psycho-Nics Oscar. It has gameplay elements from Metroid like the rolling ball form, but its art style and theme borrow more from Psycho-Nics Oscar. Turrican II, like its predecessor, is set in the distant future.

Humanity has mastered space travel and developed colonies all over the galaxy. To maintain peace, an intergalactic human alliance has been formed. At the start of Turrican II, one of their ships is ambushed by a large enemy cruiser and you have to find out what’s going on. 

Last Ninja 2

When the first Last Ninja game was released in 1987, many considered it a revolutionary title (although it wasn’t super popular). That’s because the game blended several genres into an action-adventure package that was easy to pick up and enjoy for just about anyone. You had exploration, puzzle-solving, martial arts, and spells- all combined to create a ninja game.

The sequel contains more of what people liked in the original, with larger levels and a new plotline. For the most part, the gameplay remains unchanged. And we also see a return of the same isometric camera angle that was used in the first game.

Sword of Fargoal

One of the oldest dungeon-crawlers, and possibly the game that inspired all modern interpretations of this now ubiquitous format. You are an explorer in search of an artifact called the “Sword of Fargoal” which is hidden underneath several dungeon levels. Each dungeon level is designed to feel like a maze, with doorways that connect rooms and corridors.

While you explore the dungeon, you gradually remove areas of fog. Along the way, there will be traps and enemies who try to stop you from reaching the Sword of Fargoal. But you’ll also find potions and items that improve your combat abilities. 

Maniac Mansion

A game about crazy stuff, with a plot that seems like it was conjured by someone on bath salts. You’re a teenager called Dave, trying to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend from the science lab of a professor who’s being mind-controlled by a sentient meteor. This science lab also happens to be a giant mansion filled with all sorts of bizarre creations.

The gameplay is similar to that of other graphic adventures of this time. This means you have a point-and-click UI and a HUD with a bunch of menu options in the lower 1/3rd of your screen. You can talk with people, pick up objects for examination, and complete puzzles.  

Shadow of the Beast

A young man serves as a warrior for the powerful lord of beasts known as Maletoth. He was kidnapped as a child and put through unholy rituals that gave him a beast-like appearance and superhuman abilities. One day, this creation of Maletoth watches his own father getting executed and recovers some memories of his own past.

He then realizes that something is wrong, struggling to understand what happened when he was still a child. Eventually, this warrior turned on his own master. You’ll fight through multiple side-scrolling platformer levels filled with enemies until you reach the final boss who is a colossus.

This final creature is so large that you can only see its arms and legs. After you beat it, your curse is broken and you’re returned to a human form once again.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Originally released on arcades in 1985, Ghosts ‘n Goblins was a smash hit right from the start. Eventually, it was ported to other platforms like the NES and C64 where it set sales records. One thing you should note about this game is the fact that it’s frustratingly difficult.

Not because of some ingenious level or boss design, but because of how powerless and slow your main character feels. You control a knight in heavy armor who’s trying to rescue a princess. You’ll go up against zombies, gargoyles, demons, etc. on your journey to defeat the king of the underworld.

Be warned though- your hero dies in two hits. And if you haven’t completed the level within a given time limit, you’ll have to restart. After the final boss is defeated, you play through the entire game once again (at a higher difficulty setting) to get the “true ending”.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

An alien civilization has infiltrated the largest telephone service provider in the nation and is using a special frequency to control the minds of people. A tabloid writer is independently researching this effect and trying to stop it. He meets a scientist and two Yale students who assist him with research on a cure for this phenomenon.

Eventually, the group finds out that another alien race has left behind the counter to this mind-control system. However, the parts for their machine are scattered all over different parts of Earth and Mars. 

Ghostbusters

The story behind this game’s development is quite interesting. After the original Ghostbusters movie premiered in 1984, the VP of business development at Columbia Pictures approached Activision’s president. He wanted a Ghostbusters video game made, and done as quickly as possible in order to capitalize on the movie’s hype.

As a result of this rush order, Activision took one of its existing ideas for a driving game and turned it into a licensed Ghostbusters game. The entire game was coded in just 6 weeks, whereas most other games made by Activision during that time took months. The game puts you in control of a vehicle that’s moving within a maze-like city, vacuuming up ghosts.

Batman

If you’ve watched the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton, you’ll immediately recognize that this game is based on elements from that movie. Everything from the level design to art style is inspired by the 1989 Batman movie, which is a good thing. It has this unique combination of Gothic and Art Deco styling that really sells you on the idea of Gotham City as its own character- a living, breathing entity.

Batman plays like a standard action platformer, and the first level is Axis Chemical Plant. This is also where the movie starts, with Jack Napier falling into a vat of chemicals that turns him into the Joker. Occasionally, you will have puzzle and vehicle segments to vary the gameplay.

Wizball

A shooter game that isn’t about blowing up stuff, but filling the world with color and happiness. Zark, the evil magician, has stolen all color and life from WizWorld. Now, Wiz and his cat Nifta will restore the world to its former glory by shooting droplets of paint at sprites.

The levels scroll vertically, and you take the form of a small green ball. Everything starts out monochromatic, with 3 shades of grey. You don’t have all the colors in your inventory and need to shoot bouncing colored balls that release colored droplets.

Commando (1985)

A game in which you play as a special forces soldier who’s been dropped behind enemy lines. Your goal is simple- massacre anyone who gets between you and the exfil point. Armed with machine guns and grenades, you’ll shoot your way through waves of enemies that seemingly pour out of nowhere.

There are fortresses and bunkers in the way, so you’ll need to use your grenades properly in order to take out entire groups of enemies with one move. Super Joe (your character) can shoot in any direction, and rescue prisoners trapped inside enemy structures. You also get extra lives after gaining a certain number of points.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

Quest of the Avatar is different from its predecessors, and the first game in the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy. The first 3 Ultima games comprise the “Age of Darkness” trilogy”, and focus on a hack ‘n slash-oriented dungeon crawl theme. In comparison, Ultima IV tones down the action for a more story-driven approach that emphasizes player choice and decision-making over pure action.

The previous Ultima games had stories based on high fantasy, sure. But they always had a megalomaniacal supervillain who was the epitome of all evil, that your hero had to defeat. Ultima IV features a more nuanced plot with grey morality.

Ultima IV is set in a prosperous land, that’s benefiting from a renaissance as opposed to previous games which were set in a dark world filled with violence. Your goal is to understand and develop virtuous qualities in order to become an Avatar. 

Defender of the Crown

A strategy game that is set in medieval England during the mid-12th century. Multiple factions are fighting over control of the kingdom after the King’s death, and you’re a Saxon tasked with repelling the Norman forces. There are multiple paths you can take to victory, allying with various groups and antagonizing others.

You can even take over territory controlled by your former Saxon friends, as this is a proper grand-scale strategy game. Most of the gameplay comes down to resource management and army building, striking the most vulnerable targets at the right time.  

Head Over Heels

A puzzle game with an isometric camera that puts you in specially designed levels that are meant to be completed by using two different characters at the same time. You’ve got Head and Heels, both with unique powers. The Head is better at jumping and can use ranged attacks by firing doughnuts.

Heels can run much faster than his partner, carry stuff, and climb staircases that Head can’t access. You’ll have to use both of these guys to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Each level is laid out in the form of a room, and there are over 300 of these. 

Koronis Rift

It’s a LucasFilm game, so you know it’s going to be good. Koronis Rift is about space exploration and examining the ruins of ancient alien civilizations using your rover. You travel between “Rifts” that are basically gates connecting various zones on a planet.

The artifacts left by aliens are called “hulks”, and these are guarded by AI-controlled robots. The robots come in various forms, but all share the same flying saucer base design. You can use your very own drone to collect samples from the alien artifacts, which can then be analyzed for tech upgrades or sold for money.

Revenge of the Mutant Camels

Well, it has a really weird name. Probably something you’d find in a 1950s sci-fi horror movie. When you actually play the game, you’ll find out that it’s every bit as bizarre and weird as you expected (probably because it’s inspired by surrealism).

It’s a simple horizontally scrolling shooter and a sequel to Attack of the Mutant Camels in which you shot at fire-breathing camels from your fighter aircraft. This time, you play as one of the camels and spit little blue energy balls from your mouth (which can be upgraded to do more damage). In the commodore 64 version, you can even team up with a goat. 

Spindizzy

It’s an action platformer, but there are no enemies to defeat or princesses to rescue. It isn’t your typical side-scroller and uses static isometric levels. Spindizzy is a game about exploring a series of rooms connected to each other within a 3D space.

You’re given a robot that can transform between three different forms- a sphere, a square pyramid, and a gyroscope. There are stairs, pits, banks, and other forms of obstacles that prevent you from exploring all areas. You have to do it within the given time to advance.

Mayhem in Monsterland

Far away is a fantasy land filled with sentient dinosaurs. One of them is a wizard called Theo Saurus who botched one of his spells, turning various lands into colorless prisons filled with monsters. Now, he has gone into hiding since his fellow citizens and various groups of monsters are trying to hunt him down for destroying their lands.

Your character, Mayhem, discovers Theo and assures him that all will be set right. Mayhem proceeds to clear the land of its monsters, bringing back life into the colorless world. Mayhem can collect magic dust by defeating regular enemies, then he can use this dust to power up special dash attacks. 

Boulder Dash

An underground maze game in which you play a treasure-hunting explorer who digs deep beneath caves and tunnels through the ground. Each cave/ underground chamber is laid out in a rectangular format, filled with corridors and traps. You collect diamonds that are distributed throughout this maze while trying to avoid loose rocks that will take away a life point if they fall on you.

Laser Squad

The creator of Laser Squad used his experience designing this turn-based tactics game in X-COM: UFO Defense which was released nearly 6 years later in 1994. Laser Squad is a squad-level combat simulator in which you perform various missions like rescue, reconnaissance, assault, etc. Each unit in your squad has a set of action points that are used to turn, move forward, take cover, etc.

You have to choose your actions carefully, in order to prevent teammates from dying. Each soldier functions in turns, moving around the map while collecting stuff/ taking cover. If a soldier watches his fellow squad member die, he might panic and lose morale which will adversely affect performance (or might even cause him to flee the battlefield). 

Dropzone

In the future, humankind has colonized space and built industrial facilities on planets both within our solar system and further away. One such colony is on Io, a moon orbiting Jupiter. It’s a scientific research facility that has been taken over by alien forces.

You’re the only help they’ve got- a special soldier armed with a rocket backpack and laser rifle. You also have smart grenades that can instantly wipe out large groups of aliens. Your goal is to find the scientists and rescue them from these aliens while also destroying any enemies you meet along the way. 

Buggy Boy

Originally released with a special 3-screen upright arcade cabinet, Buggy Boy is a racing game featuring buggies. These are small 4-wheelers with an open top and rear-mounted engine, designed for offroad use. There are 4 separate courses, each with its own unique environment and track layout.

You’ll race on sand, grass, mud, etc. and your goal is to complete each event in the shortest possible time against AI rivals. Unlike traditional track racers, Buggy Boy lets you pull off stunts. Like driving on 2 wheels, making jumps off ramps, and bouncing off logs. 

Operation Wolf

Operation Wolf was designed to be a light gun shooter. This means you get a special infrared gun that you point at the TV in order to aim. Of course, the computer version has modifications so this isn’t necessary and you can aim with a regular joystick/ mouse.

This is also one of the earliest rail shooters on home computer platforms. You’re special operative Roy Adams, trying to rescue 5 hostages held in separate locations. Roy is armed with an Uzi submachine gun and grenades.

Double Dragon

With a name like Double Dragon slapped onto a video game from the 1980s, you know what you’re going to get. Lots of martial arts action featuring dudes with headbands who beat up thugs and enemy fighters using their superhuman karate/ kung-fu skills. This game is a spiritual successor to Kunio-Kun, another beat ‘em up game made by Technos. 

Bruce Lee

I didn’t expect a game titled “Bruce Lee” to be a platformer, but that’s what it is. However, it gets even weirder- instead of fighting bad guys or participating in some martial arts tournament Bruce is rampaging through a wizard’s castle. He is looking for the blessing of immortality, located somewhere inside the castle (along with a large treasure containing money).

The Last Ninja

An evil warlord destroyed Armakuni’s shinobi village, and now this lone ninja is out on a headhunt for the shogun. He started out learning the art of assassination and stealth, which will come in handy during his quest for revenge. You’re also looking for a set of sacred scrolls containing ancient ninja wisdom, these were stolen by the shogun when he raided your village.

Pool of Radiance

Basically, a digital version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, using rules and character designs from the tabletop game. It is set in the Forgotten Realms world, showcasing the port city Phlan. You can create a party of up to 6 members.

Each character has a gender and race as their basic identifier. Then you can select a class (job) for each character and tweak their ability stats. You travel the mystical land, learning its secrets and battling dangerous foes while getting stronger through experience. 

Project Firestart

Cinematic games have been a thing long before our modern AAA era. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, they used cutscenes and narrative-driven experiences with great success. They didn’t have photorealistic graphics or big-budget voice acting, but you still felt the impact of these stories.

One of these cinematic games is Project Firestart- a survival horror story set in a science fiction future. Space horror is a special kind of experience because you always feel so isolated. Knowing that nothing is out there, except you and whatever you’re trapped with inside the space station. 

The Sentinel

One of the most critically acclaimed games of its time, The Sentinel is often found on top video game lists. It’s technically impressive, featuring 3D graphics in an era where people were still gaming on the 8-bit NES. Granted, these are rudimentary 3D models with the poly count of a triangle.

But they are still quite revolutionary for a game released in 1987. The Sentinel is a puzzle game in which your goal is to absorb energy from your surroundings to create structures. These structures help you climb up to the top of the map, by transferring your consciousness into clones of yourself. 

Spy vs Spy

Have you ever watched one of those cartoons in which one guy is trying to kill the other with an extremely complicated network of interlocking traps and mechanisms? Which of course would be completely impractical in the real world. A comic strip was published in Mad magazine back in the day, featuring the antics of two rival spies using such devices to trap each other.

Spy vs Spy (the game) is an adaptation of that comic strip into an interactive medium. However, you don’t actually construct any traps. Instead, your goal is to escape the designated area with a top-secret briefcase before your adversary.

Orion

A 2D side-scrolling shooter in which you travel between planets collecting chemicals to restore balance in the Orion constellation, where stars are drifting apart. However, the collection of chemicals won’t be as easy as walking in and picking them up. You have to fight off aliens guarding the mines that produce these chemicals. 

Stunt Car Racer

A rather unique take on the track racing formula, Stunt Car Racer features elevated roads with no guardrails to prevent you from falling down. You drive an unconventional car, designed for jumps and quick bursts of speed rather than cornering or braking.

Tracks also have gaps in the middle, which you have to jump across by using your Turbo boost. If you fall you lose time, and a crane will have to lift you back up.

Rescue on Fractalus!

The game gets its name from the use of fractal technology to create detailed mountains that have craggy exteriors. You fly a fighter aircraft through dense clouds of fog between these mountains while trying to rescue downed human pilots who are being hunted by enemies. Your aircraft has shields, and you need to turn them off after landing near a downed pilot to rescue him.

Rainbow Islands

Also known as The Story of Bubble Bobble 2, this game is a sequel to Bubble Bobble. At the end of the first game, you manage to restore the two dragons back to their human form. That’s how they appear in this game, which follows the ending of the last one.

This time, Bubby and Bobby are out to save Rainbow Island from the Dark Shadow. He is the wizard who turned both of you into dragons in the first game. Since we are going with a rainbow theme here, your characters can shoot rainbows that act as bridges between platforms. 

Conclusion

At one point during the C64’s lifespan, they were making 400,000 of these things each month. It faced competition from other microcomputers like the ZX Spectrum but Commodore held a huge chunk of the total PC market. One of the reasons it became so popular was the combination of a low price tag and availability through regular retail stores (as opposed to dedicated electronics stores).

Commodore kept prices low by designing and manufacturing their chips in-house. By the way, this system got its name from the fact that it has 64K of memory. That’s kilobytes (crazy from a modern perspective how much they accomplished with so little).

The low price tag is more influential than you can imagine because personal computers weren’t really a thing back when the C64 was released. They weren’t even called PCs, people just referred to them as “microcomputers” owing to their tiny profile (especially when compared to room-sized mainframes). Sure, the NES was a lot cheaper and its size was similar to that of the C64.

But the NES could only do one thing- play games. With the Commodore 64, you could play games, listen to music, process documents, print posters, write code, send messages, etc. It introduced this revolutionary concept of having your own computer at home to millions of middle-class families around the world.

Jacob

As long as I can remember myself I always enjoyed video games. I had amazing moments playing them and that's why I became a game developer, to create amazing experiences for the players. Read More About Me

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