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16 January 2021

retroCombs: A review of the Commodore VIC-20 Games on the THEVIC20 and THEC64 maxi

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.

THEVIC20(C64) it is a divisive Commodore emulator. There are those, like me, who love that the system is keeping the retro-computing alive, while other lament that the system is nothing more than a mere emulated shadow of the original. Which ever side of the campfire you sit, my goal for this short series of videos was to shine a light on the games included with these systems. As I stated on several social media posts, the games are a collection of winners, stinkers, surprises and questions.

Before I share additional thoughts about my time experiencing many of these games for the first time, please watch both parts 1 and 2 below.

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Watch the Video: THEVIC20 and THEC64 VIC-20 Games (Part 1)

In the video below, I play games Adbductor through Gridrunner.

Watch the Video: THEVIC20 and THEC64 VIC-20 Games (Part 2)

In the video below, I play games Harvester through Zor.

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Video Errata

None as of 2021-01-16.

Below are the links I mention in the videos. All Amazon links are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting the blog and the YouTube channel!

  1. THEC64
  2. THEC64 mini
  3. THEVIC20
  4. THEVIC20-1 blog post

Complete List of Games (and additional thoughts)

Not all the Commodore VIC-20 (or C64 for that matter) games included with THEVIC20 are good. Some are the bare minimum needed to fill one of the carousel slots (I’m talking to your Connect 4!); however, there some fun gems. Remember, the carousel is only the beginning. You can use a USB drive with .d64, .tap, or .crt files to experience the massive collection of Commodore 8-bit software, and not just games.

Part 1 (Abductor → Gridrunner)

Below are the list of games I demonstrate in part 1 of the series. A time code follows the title and these time codes are in the video so you can jump around to the games you want to see. I also include a joystick rating (see rating system below).

Rating Description
🕹️ You will play for a minute or two and never play again. A curiosity.
🕹️🕹️ Fun for occasional play. You probably won’t play after a day.
🕹️🕹️🕹️ Hours of fun and you’ll return to play. It’s a gem.
  1. Abductor (🕹️🕹️)[01:30] - Think, Defender meets Galaga, but with less impressive graphics. Excellent recreation that shows off the 8-bit capabilities of the VIC-20.
  2. Andes Attack (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[03:17] - Inspired by Defender but with llamas in peril! Fun, retro, excellent sound, and addictive.
  3. Arcadia (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[05:06] - Another game similar to Galaga but reminds me more of the Atari 2600 game from Imagic, Demon Attack, so that’s automatically a winner!
  4. Bewitched (🕹️🕹️)[06:16] - Not related to the beloved 1960s-70s sitcom. More closely related to the Atari 2600 game, Adventure, but with more keys, walls and mazes.
  5. Blitzkrieg (🕹️🕹️)[07:40] - Missile command without the complicated controls. One function; drop bombs on building before you run into them. Mindless and easy.
  6. Brainstorm (🕹️)[09:04] - Why did the chicken cross the road? Not sure and this game doesn’t help explain why aliens would either. Obviously a puzzle game and one that I had no patience to play. Horrible.
  7. Catcha Snatcha (🕹️)[11:34] - Some might enjoy this early predecessor to the now popular kitchen games. I don’t like kitchen games (my wife loves them), so this is a “no-go” for me.
  8. Connect 4 (🕹️)[13:22] - It’s connect 4. What more is there to write, only that the checkers are not round. Why not? No joystick support for this one. Unless you love connect 4, you won’t appreciate that this one takes up one of our precious carousel spaces.
  9. Encounter (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[14:00] - One of many Pixel Production games that intrigues me. The storytelling is fantastic (for a VIC-20 game) as are the graphics. In this production you make decisions, via puzzles and challenges, as you have a close encounter of the third kind.
  10. Frantic (🕹️🕹️)[16:41] - I didn’t spend enough time in the video with this one. There are some intriguing features of this game once you understand the controls. Great sound and “first-person” shooting from the early 80s.
  11. Frog Chase (🕹️)[18:29] - A frustrating version of Frogger that I found impossible to play. Huge lag and controls and game play makes the game feel like a BASIC program.
  12. Gridrunner (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[19:30] - Classic, and finally, a popular game included on THEVIC20. Frantic pace with great game play and audio. One of the VIC-20’s best.

Part 2 (Harvester → Zor)

Below are the list of games I demonstrate in part 2.

  1. Harvester (🕹️)[01:30] - Obviously Dune inspired with all it’s “Boosterspice;” and can be a laborious as reading the Dune series. Awkward controls make for a game you are unlikely to think of as fondly as Dune.
  2. Headbanger’s Heaven (🕹️+)[02:30] - I want to like this, “things dropping from the sky game,” but I’m having a hard time with the controls. This was tough one for me to rate. I gave it an unusual and non-committalcommital (🕹️+).
  3. Hell Gate (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[04:15] - A game with an unpronounceable antagonist name but from one of our favorite developers, Jeff Minter. This one is Gridrunner-esque, frantic, and a whole bunch of fun to play.
  4. Laser Zone (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[06:20] - Another Minter game simple to Hell Gate but a little less frantic. Like Hell Gate, great graphics and sound make for hours of fun game play.
  5. Martians (🕹️🕹️)[08:00] - Back and forth, back and forth, game. You control the back an forth while you try and destroy the Martian who are rising up. Bound your laster off of leftover Martian wings to clear the round. Spend time with it and it gets better.
  6. Matrix (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[10:00] - Not based on the beloved 1990s film; however, Jeff Minter strikes again (literally) with this Gridrunner/Centipede clone that is exciting and super addictive.
  7. Mega Vault (🕹️)[11:30] - Frustrating game that is so hard, even the colorful graphics won’t keep you in the game play. I really want to like this game, but since I can’t get past the first obstacle, I’ll never know if it’s fun.
  8. Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time (🕹️🕹️+)[13:10] - The best name for a VIC-20 game EVER! Not only that, but this game is fun to play. Not as original or exciting as Minter’s other titles, but who doesn’t like laser shooting Llamas (which is as much fun to type as it is to say?
  9. Psychedelia (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[15:20] - Not a game but a wonderful psychedelic simulation. If you want to perch your THEVIC20 on a bookshelf and have it run a “screen-saver,” this is as close as it gets. Remember to hit keys on the top row to change to the display.
  10. Snake (🕹️)[18:00] - It is the classic Snake game but comes with an extra dose of frustration. Impossible joystick control and if you make it past 10 seconds of play, please let me know in the comments below.
  11. Starquest (🕹️🕹️+)[20:00] - Another Pixel Productions game; and when they state Productions, they mean it. A game with wonderful graphics and sound that suck you into the story. May not be everyone’s cup of tea and takes some time for the story to unfold, but the 11-year old in me can pretend I’m on a starship saving the universe.
  12. Subspace Striker (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[23:45] - See above; however, this one is sucked me in with it’s Lunar Landing style mini game. I plan to get the instructions for this one and spend some time working through the story.
  13. Tank Battle (🕹️+)[26:50] - It’s Tank Battle and similar to every other Tank Battle program available on other 8-bit platforms. TB games really are the solitaire of 8-bit computer games; every platform has one and as far as that goes, this one serves it’s purpose.
  14. Traxx (🕹️)[27:40] - Traxx has a great premise, but the controls are too frustrating. The ship jumps around 1, 2, or 3 space in response to a single space joystick request. I never cleared a level. Skip this one unless you are looking for a reason to throw your THEVIC20 against the wall.
  15. Wacky Waiters (🕹️)[29:50] - Did we really need two restaurant inspired games? Answer, we didn’t and this one suffers the same fate as many; controls are horrible.
  16. Zor (🕹️🕹️🕹️)[31:00] - See 11 and 12 above; however, this one stands out for it’s alien artillery game, graphics, sound and flashing screen. It shows off the graphics capabilities of the VIC-20. And how about that PETSCII drone?

Final Thoughts

  1. These videos were recorded during my Christmas and New Year’s vacation. I extend my holiday vacations to enjoy and share these types of projects. Playing with THEVIC20 during the holidays created great retro-computing memories.
  2. Had THEVIC20 not included a keyboard, many of these VIC-20 games would be frustrating to play. This might explain one of the reasons, other than hardware, why the VIC-20 emulator is not included on THEC64 mini.
  3. As many have stated, there are better games that should take carousel space. I’m sure the reasons Retro Games includes these titles is due to cost and copyright. If funds were exchanged, Jeff Minter and Pixel Productions made a killing! I understand Retro Games can’t just grab games and throw them on the system. Doing so would almost suredly open them up to legal action. Don’t buy these systems based on the games included. If you do, you will be sorely disappointed.
  4. HOWEVER, if you want to know what made these systems so special, get out there and purchase a THEVIC20, THEC64, or THEC64 mini now. You will have a blast reliving the glory days of 8-bit computing.

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🕹️ retroCombs, OUT!