Commodore 64 Homebrew : I am so puzzled.
Updated: Sep 19
I have been aware for some time that a lot of these posts have been very hardware centric.
So as a little treat, I thought I'd try something a little different and consider whether I should do more posts akin to this in future. For anyone still “puzzled” by all this, in a nutshell I thought I'd start writing another “top 5” ('a la' the Amiga500 list) and focus on puzzle games on the C64 platform. Anyway, enough of the disclaimer! Let's get into the topic at hand.
One of my favourite genres (especially on the C64) is puzzle games. I'm not sure why exactly, but it seems to be a perfect platform for some great puzzle games. Whether it be converting a Neo Geo classic (Puzzle Bobble), taking us to an intergalactic golf course (Planet Golf) or competing with other homebrewers with some class-act original homebrews, puzzle games offer diversity and a chance to exercise the old “noodle”. So let's look at my top five recommendations. For the record most of these are cheap or even free, so you've got no excuse not to check them out. Like my Amig500 list, these are in no particular order at all – this is just a top 5 list of puzzle games that I go back to, again and again!
Released in 2015 by John Lonningdal and Saul Cross, this game was actually number one in the RGCD 2015 homebrew cartridge competition and it very much deserves it. An extremely polished game with great colourful graphics and fitting music, this is a joy to play. The idea of the game is fairly simple but the puzzles are not overly obvious to complete. The game is a 2D platformer style puzzle game but based on logical thinking not response times. It's not what I would call an arcade game but a game to ponder and experiment with and in. The idea of the game is to complete the levels by arriving at the checkpoint after dispensing with the enemies. I say enemies but these are really just blocks of fire that you destroy with blocks of ice that you can place and then melt. You can place, drop and melt your blocks so some strategic thinking is definitely the key to this one.
This is a game that I struggle to explain fully, but believe me it's addictive, fun and very polished. To say it's a homebrew seems almost derogatory as it has the same level of quality of any commercial release from “back in the day”. Check it out, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Gravitrix is another Commodore 64 puzzle game that I go back to often. This is a bit more hardcore as a puzzler than Icicle Race. So in this game you have to, well..you..err... you know what - here's the official description from the game's creators (as honestly it's a tough one to explain without just playing it!).
“To complete each level, you must clear the screen of all of the coloured GRAVITRIX stones. ALL of the stones of EACH colour must be connected in a single 'group' in order for them to vanish, ie. you cannot have multiple, unconnected groups of the same colour in different areas of the screen. The big challenge in GRAVITRIX is that the stones don't just have different colours - they have different 'directions' (or gravity) as well!
Each coloured stone 'falls' in its assigned direction (symbolised by an arrow) whenever there is nothing blocking its path, and this leads to some tricky chain reactions that must be solved. To make your life even harder there is also a time limit, environmental blocks and other gameplay elements that are introduced during the early levels.”
So, like I said, it's a complicated setup to this one but trust me, once you play it you'll start to see how it works. Gravitrix offers 120 levels over 6 different worlds so it you're up for a hardcore challenge it's a must try. Graphics are bright, colourful and crisp and the music fitting for this type of game. Available as an RGCD cartridge release but also on floppy disk and download, it's one I highly recommend if lateral thinking is “your thing”!
Assembloids is a “reworking” of a puzzle game, originally created by Photon Storm. Released back in 2012 as an RGCD cartridge or Psytronik floppy, it still hold a place in my heart, as a great, if not “less brain taxing” puzzle game. You see, Assembloids is more of an arcadey, joystick-focused-response game than the previous two just mentioned.
The basic premise is a tile mover - where the goal is to make up complete faces by responding quickly to the “face piece” and placing it in the correct place on the grid. It sounds complicated but honestly, it's a game that almost anyone of any age can pick up and play. It doesn't require logical or lateral thinking, just rapid responses and quick joystick action. This is the kind of game, I'll happily pick up to play in short bursts but often find hours have flown by as it has that “just one more go” element to it.
OK, I promise that this will be the last game released by RGCD and Psytronik (but, it's just they really do release most of the best homebrew titles on the C64 so..).
Planet Golf is part puzzle game and part sport (well it is a golf style game so I guess that's obvious).
Unlike most Golf games, this one isn't your typical “simulation” of the real thing and that's why I think it deserves to go down in the puzzle category.
Coded by Antonio Savona (legend!) this is a surreal but fun golf game set on a number of different planets. The game is of a 2D style and the goal is to master the ball's trajectory and power in order to sink it into the hole. Nothing new there except, in this game you also have different gravities to compensate for and this adds a whole extra dimension of difficulty. I am not going to lie, it's not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fun, taxing and beautifully executed with nice graphics and music/fx. If you like golf, you won't go far wrong with this one, just remember it's more of a puzzle game than a sports simulator!
Last, but not least is a wonderful conversion of an absolute classic Neo Geo game. Quick digression (you know I like my little personal anecdotes!) I actually bought a Neo Geo MVS console in order to play this game - it doesn't disappoint - and I still fire it up for a quick blast whenever I can! Puzzle Bobble is vaguely in the realm of a Tetris-type puzzle game where the goal is to shoot different coloured balls into the same coloured balls and destroy them before they hit your character at the bottom of the screen. Sounds simple...and it is to be honest. That's the beauty of this game. It's very simple but highly addictive. The challenge comes in shooting your ball at the right angle and considering what your next steps are going to be after that. The challenge comes in, like tetris, you can see what is coming next but you have no ability to change it. To be honest, it's kind of hard to explain this without over complicating it. I therefore highly recommend you download it (there's no physical release) and you'll see how easy and addictive it is.
Puzzle Bobble is an arcade game originally so you can imagine it has that “simple to play but hard to master” feel to it. Puzzle Bobble is free (it's a labour of love not cash) and can even be played with a friend so why not give it a go, you've literally got nothing to lose!
Check out our other favourite Commodore 64 games here.