Introduced in January 1982 by Commodore Business Machines, the Commodore 64 holds the title of best-selling single personal computer model of all time, partially owing to its status as an 8-bit video game machine.
Sales estimates range from between 10 to 17 million units, making the Commodore 64 a major player in some video game markets though not in all. What this means is that the Commodore 64 sported a massive software library including everything from productivity management to video games.
Some of these video games became classics on other systems, and it’s not hard to see why. Outpacing both IBM, Apple, and Atari PCs in the United States, the Commodore 64 was a premier name in video games prior to the arrival of Nintendo’s NES.
Without delay, here are the 10 top video games for the Commodore 64:
10. Bubble Bobble
Taito’s arcade action platformer Bubble Bobble first appeared in 1986 and has arrived on numerous consoles, smartphones, and the PC since. A cartoonishly brilliant game, Bubble Bobble on the Commodore 64 came as close to the arcade glory you could get on a home console. The music was quintessential 8-bit fare and the graphics, while more muted than the arcade iteration, were nonetheless appropriate and offered enough contrast so that players could easily identify in-game objects. The gameplay, on its surface, is relatively simple but increasingly difficult as the stages progress. Straddling the lines between a puzzle game and an action game, Bubble Bobble does not shy away from using time pressure and enemy presence to spur player behavior, making it a tough game in its later stages. Its ubiquity across platforms speaks to its quality and timelessness and the Commodore 64 represents one of the purer distillations of the arcade experience that enthralled so many upon its release.
9. California Games
Epyx Sports’ 1987 California Games was an iteration on the developers popular Summer Games and Winter Games titles, this time featuring a distinctly Californian tint to the whole thing. While the Summer Games and Winter Games titles feature more traditional sporting events, California Games, in its pursuit of a West Coast vibe, has events such as skateboarding, freestyle footbag (also known as hacky sack), surfing, roller skating, flying disc (frisbee) and BMX. Released on many consoles including the Commodore 64, again the Commodore 64’s ability to distill a superior arcade experience for an 8-bit system has this version of California Games topping the others easily. The game was released to wild acclaim and even spawned a sequel, California Games II, although this title did not fare as well as the original.
8. Lode Runner
Lode Runner, on its face, does not look that different from your standard platformer; however, it is unique in that it is the first platforming game not to focus on acrobatics, but rather on puzzle solving. Published by Broderbund in 1983, the gameplay concept involves collecting all the gold in a level and avoiding the patrolling guards while doing so. As the game progresses, levels become increasingly difficult. Interestingly, Lode Runner was one of the first games to include a level editor packed in with the game. This heralds from the title’s developments phase. The original version by Douglas E. Smith received rejection from Broderbund in a terse, one-sentence statement according to accounts. Smith reworked it into the Lode Runner concept and was provided an advance to refine the game and produce something featuring 150 levels. In a creative bit of outsourcing, Smith employed local neighborhood kids to beta test the game. At their request, he made the level editor so that they could build their own levels, many of which ended up in the final version of the game.
7. The Bard’s Tale
The title is a bit misleading, as it is actually the subtitle to Tales of the Unknown: Volume 1. The subtitle became so popular in common use that it supplanted the original title and is popularly known today as The Bard’s Tale, a fantasy role-playing game produced by Interplay in 1985 and distributed by video games giant Electronic Arts. With partially animated avatar portraits and Dungeons and Dragons-based gameplay inspired by the PC classic Wizardry, The Bard’s Tale was a perfect recipe for success on the early PC gaming scene. The player character of the bard was also an interesting innovation as he casts spells by singing songs. Sporting impressive graphics and engaging gameplay and narrative, The Bard’s Tale inspired many of the fantasy epics we see today.
6. Turrican II: The Final Fight
The second in the Turrican series and the game credited by creator Manfred Trenz as being the original design, the Commodore 64 version of Turrican II: The Final Fight came out after the Commodore Amiga port but is considered by many a comparable or superior version. With gameplay reminiscent of Metroid, Turrican II also has an engaging, heavily sci-fi narrative that is deep for its time. Sega and Nintendo home console versions of the game went under the name Universal Soldier but featured largely the same game. As with Metroid, the player had a range of powerups and items to collect through exploration. The music is also credited as being some of the best on the Commodore 64.
5. Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
Capcom’s ultra-challenging side-scrolling action game with an overt demonic/horror theme has made appearances on every conceivable gaming platform ever since its release in 1988. An arcade action game in the purest sense, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts retains its coin-destroying status even on the Commodore 64. A pioneer in what it meant to be a difficult video game, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts was also bolstered by solid gameplay and an addictive quality that helped it stand out in a relatively crowded field. And then there was the replay factor – not to spoil anything about the game, but once you think you’ve mastered it and all is well, you’re in for a rude awakening. Never merciful but always fun, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a stellar addition to the Commodore 64’s library and easily one of its best games.
4. Maniac Mansion
Lucasfilm Games 1987 graphical adventure for PCs and home consoles, Maniac Mansion, is a classic of video game narrative and point-and-click form. Playing as Dave Miller who is on a quest to save his girlfriend from a mad scientist, Maniac Mansion involves switching between multiple other characters that Dave brings along on his quest to solve puzzles and advance the story. Colorful and cartoony graphics that are emblematic of the PC gaming style in the late 1980s, Maniac Mansion is a gem that holds up even today.
3. Ultima IV: The Quest of the Avatar
The original version came out in 1985 for the Apple II and it was pretty much an instant classic, causing Origin Systems to port it over to other formats on an expedited basis. The first game in Ultima’s “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy of games, Ultima IV featured a world map a reported 16 times larger than that found in Ultima III. The game also featured improved dialogue and world interaction, deepening and broadening the experience for returning players and wowing the heck out of new audiences alike. Ultima IV is regularly regarded as one of the best PC games made of all time and the Commodore 64 version is right there with it. The exploration is primitive by today’s standards but retains an archaic beauty the underlies its place in the greater pantheon of video games. If you’re looking for a fun, classic RPG on the PC, this game is right up your alley.
2. Skate or Die!
Electronic Arts’ ubiquitous Skate or Die! is everything 1980s in a video game package. Inspired by Epyx games Winter Gamers and Summer Games series, Skate or Die! featured roller skating inspired courses and contests with a selection of different skaters to choose from to run the course. Each skater avatar had a unique look and abilities, so much so that your choice of character could determine how easy or difficult a given course could be. Challenging beyond measure but oddly compelling, Skate or Die! is that rare sports game, like NBA Jam, that transcends genre fanatics and becomes a mainstream sensation. Spawning a less-than-successful sequel, the creatively named Skate or Die! 2, Skate or Die! inspired future skating games like Tony Hawk and even snowboarding game SSX.
If you’ve never heard of Wasteland, you’ve certainly heard of one of the biggest games it has inspired; namely, Interplay’s spectacular Fallout series. A classic PC RPG in the vein of the later Fallout, Wasteland pioneered many of the concepts that the later series would perfect. The game features relatively the same background story – America is destroyed during a nuclear catastrophe – and follows many of the RPG tropes you would expect. Both critically acclaimed and wildly successful in stores, there were planned sequels for Wasteland that Electronic Arts never got around to making – hence, the inspiration behind Fallout. The Commodore 64 version didn’t break any new ground compared to its siblings but offered perhaps the single deepest RPG experience that could be had on the system. It was tough going between Ultima IV and Wasteland, but, in terms of overall impact, Wasteland was new and fresh whereas Ultima IV continued a well-known series. For its fresh approach to PC RPGs and a narrative that was pretty radical for its time, Wasteland is an amazing game on the Commodore 64.