My rules … I must have played the game a lot.
This is really a favourites list, these aren’t the necessarily the “best” games.
OK. Having started this, I’m now going to change it.
It will now be several Vic 20 Top 5’s. Why?
Two reasons: it isn’t quite fair to compare a 19.5kb game to a 3.5kb game, and ten games wasn’t enough 🙂
Top 5 Vic 20 Cartridge Games
This was one of the last Vic 20 games that I purchased and I hadn’t previously played a game by Atarisoft on the Vic, so it was a something of a shock to discover possibly the best “sprite” handling in any Vic game. The game plays quickly and feels smooth and “arcadey”. There is almost none of the usual colour-clash on show. There are 6 (I think) different level layouts and even the sounds add to the arcade-like feel. A really really impressive effort — hard, fair, unforgiving, and playable. If you have a Vic, track this huge purple box down.
Radar Rat Race
The game starts with 3 enemy rats, 10 bits of cheese, several static cats, a maze, and a radar. The radar shows the location of the cheese and the enemy rats, but not the static cats or the maze itself. Your objective is to eat the cheese and avoid death. Subsequent levels add new mazes and extra rats. There are even “speed run” levels where you have a small amount of time to eat the cheese without moving enemies … not as easy as it may sound. You only defence is a “sparkle fart” which disorientates any chasing rats that fly into it. Lots of fun, and even the girls enjoyed it, but it was too hard for them to complete a level.
One of the few “arcade conversions” on the Vic and, like Donkey Kong, you can’t expect too much more from the Vic 20. 4 levels, each involving your flying a ship and shooting upwards. It’s like Space Invaders with a few funny levels. Even a boss – Flag Ship – on levels 4, 8, 12 etc. For its time an advanced shoot ‘em up and a game at least partly responsible for my love of the genre. And it is “frog” spelled backwards. And, in the arcade version, if you listened carefully, the speech was poor enough to announce loudly “insert groin”. Coins work better, I assure you.
A mildly curious shooter where your score is in the centre of the screen and all the action happens around it. Other than that twist, this is basically Asteroids. Where it scores heavily though, is in terms of playability and replay-ability. It’s one of those games where you die and you know it was your fault, and that makes you want to play it again. In fact, I played this more times in succession than I did any other Vic game mentioned in this blog. The graphics deserve a mention too, while simple in terms of colour and content, they move very smoothly which is essential of a game that relies on precise play. Worth the £3.99 I paid even now … would make a genuinely fun HD upgrade. Where are Bally Midway now?!
Cosmic Cruncher vs Sargon Chess 2
The first four cartridge games that I have mentioned are a clear cut above these two and the rest of my cart collection. Choosing the 5th game was tricky so I copped out and chose two.
Cosmic Cruncher is a playable enough pac-man clone with a few levels and no obvious flaws. Its rival is Sargon Chess 2. This is quite special really, a fully AI chess program in such a tiny amount of memory that beat me. I’m not great at chess, but I can often beat the easiest level or two. So worthy of a mention in terms of impressiveness. In fact sod it, don’t even look at Cosmic Cruncher, get Sargon Chess 2 instead.
Top 5 Vic 20 Expanded RAM Games
The Perils of Willy (16k) – Software Projects
This is Manic Miner with 33 levels. By that, I mean that you must complete one level to progress to the next – in Jet Set Willy, you could go where you wished (skills permitting). For the humble Vic 20 the graphics are OK, picture a chunked up, fatter, version of the Spectrum. None of the levels featured in the actual Manic Miner; I guess with the resolution being so much lower it simply could be done with any degree of accuracy. And accuracy is the operative word with any of the Miner Willy games – pixel perfect jumping has to be mastered. This is a flawless version of a timeless class, as good as ever it could have been. But rusty nail hard … I never did manage to get further than the first dozen or so levels – and that took some doing!
Wunda Walter (16k) – Interceptor Micros
Parallax scrolling. Crazy fast game, fairly tough to grasp, but rewarding and fun. The premise is simple, you control a fat balloon-type creature named in the title, and you hold the fire button to rise, and release it to fall. You may move left and right while the screen automatically scrolls horizontally. There are pellets to collect, on the ground, but while the main aim is survival you don’t progress until you’ve collected enough pellets. There are four “zones” and then the game wraps, standard fare for a game of this era.
Jet-Pac (8k) – Ultimate Play the Game
While the Vic 20 may have a horribly low resolution, its CPU can whip along rapidly enough which is needed in this game as the software sprites rip about. There is colour-clash that the Speccy version is jealous of, but when the game plays this well it is easily forgiven. Another quality game from the past that still plays well today. Though the 16k Spectrum bad boy featured 8 different levels, the lowly 11.5K version only had 4. I have no idea why they didn’t opt for all 8 levels and make it a 16K game. Time pressure maybe, who knows? Anyway, it’s a pity as it’s the only slight downer of an otherwise fine conversion. Go Vic20!!!
A.C.E. – Air Combat Emulator (16k)
‘WARNING: Due to the realism of ACE some players may experience air-sickness.’
Really?! That’s what it says on the back of the box! Unbelievable – well, maybe not, but certainly daft. This gets a special mention in part because the task taken on board is so stupidly difficult. Build a (bare bones) flight sim into a machine with less memory than a modern toaster. And less graphical prowess than a fridge. OK, so viewing the enemy planes won’t scare you and the explosions don’t fill the screen with pain. But hey, you can pitch & roll, and fire at stuff that you hardly ever see. I guess in some respects it is more realistic than some modern easy games! To get anywhere near what they did with this game is stunning. I salute them and you should too. Be impressed not by the games, but by how good the games are given the constraints of the hardware.
Matrix (8k) – Llamasoft
Oh, Geoff Minter. This is Gridrunner’s big brother. The unexpanded game (mentioned below) returns but with more variety, crazy bonus levels, and camels. The extra 8K gave Geoff the chance to turn a simple classic into a bigger and better game. Everything still feels tight and correct, there’s just more to do. A perfect sequel, not too much changes, but clear improvements are there. Come on!
DEATH RACE (8k) vs Kong (16k)
Death race, possibly, has you gasping at the screen shot. But don’t worry, those houses don’t whizz smoothly by, or even move. That said, this game is fun and a great effort. There is a genuine feeling of speed and there are precious few attempts at a racing game of any kind on the Vic. Well played them folks at Atlantis! Now Kong, by contrast, is a game type that has many clones on the Vic. And this is one of the few that uses 16K. And it plays like a spiteful warthog. How they could make it so bad when companies like Atarisoft show such quality with their cart?!
Top 5 Vic 20 Unexpanded Games
From memory, these are the contenders, the games that I expect to come out on top.
The tides of time will surely have changed things, won’t they?!
Rockman – Mastertronic
Not to be confused with Megaman (or Rockman) on the NES. While this is a rip off, it rips off Boulderdash and does it rather well. The game instantly gets kudos for the impressive full-screen mode, and the large number of levels (twenty, I think). You need to get the diamonds, but rocks fall once there is space under them. You can push rocks onto monsters to kill them, which is a lot harder than it sounds – the whole game plays very quickly. A tremendous challenge to clear even a few levels, and a truly astonishing game to fit in 3583 bytes!
Gridrunner – Llamasoft
Geoff Minter. Fast stuff. There’s a grid. There are things on it. And there’s plenty of shooting. It’s great. Really fast, really simple – just the way great old games should be. Move about, dodge, shoot all the enemies. It’s pure blasting fun. And there are only so many times I will repeat myself. A cracking title.
RIP – Mastertronic
Like Rockman, same programmers I’d guess, it uses a lovely full screen mode. Also, it features about 20 levels. RIP is much easier to play though. Run round the levels, nap the diamond on each map, shoot the monsters. The diamond appears randomly, so on occasion it is impossible to reach — not to worry, exit the level and re-enter it. Fast and fun. Another great title from Mastertronic.
Cave Fighter – Bubble Bus
From memory, this game is massive. I think it’s a multi-load! Will replay before I write more! Whoa … my memory sure cocked up here! This game IS a multi-load, but boy it is flawed! The graphics are OK, the movement of sprites is smooth, but the game is broken by THE WORST collision detection I have seen in 30 years of gaming. The 2nd screen, above, shows a bubble near the hero — and it kills me — at that range. And, seriously, every monster is that bad. I clearly remember once getting quite far, but unless you are able to able to steer clear of each monster by a good inch, you’re snookered. A potentially great game ruined 😦
Yet another Donkey Kong clone. You know, ladders and a few collectables. OK, there are no barrels, but hey, it looks like there should be. Now that’s out of the way, the game is really great. Full-screen is used, but only for time and score, and all animation is smooth and it feels very much a polished, well produced title. Collect the keys, jump the gaps, dodge the beasts, beware of glue (it sticks you for a scary second or two) and exit at the door. 4 levels, and a we have another winner from Mastertronic.
The best Vic-20 loading screen ever made is shown above. Seriously – there aren’t many to choose from. This is a two-screen game where you have to get a key, and return to the start. But these are complex levels with a lot going on, and the size of the game can be forgiven. What there is, is very well put together and the whole game feels right. It’s the kind of design that could have made the world’s greatest LCD game. Very much recommended.
Oh man, I remember ACHING for this game back in the day. The box cover was so damn cool and it was by Software Projects (the Manic Miner / Jet Set Willy people) so my desire was burning strong. Oddly, I couldn’t remember anything about the game. So, with curiosity, I loaded it up. Oh dear. I wondered if it had worked. It is as mess. Imagine a game written by Geoff Minter’s drunk uncle, that was then butchered as a squadron of cats trampled over his keyboard as he worked. He didn’t care though, the game appeared to almost work. Scrolling from left to right, you have to randomly shoot before almost randomly dying. Yey. Not. Screen-shots not included as I was hurting too much. Or something.
Hey, it’s Pac-Man. Without a maze. Yes. Er … what? Ok .. you’re the smiley face and you must eat all the eggs without getting eaten by the snakes. But the snakes are trapped, they can’t eat the eggs. Oh, except the red one. That one will eat eggs, eat you, and free other snakes. When you do managed to clear the eggs, the fun starts. You get to eat the snakes … from the tail end. This bit is really great. Proper fun and dangerous, like any well honed bonus stage. Also, this game has the C64 version on the other side! A cool bonus, if only more games today offered multi-platform-versions. A cool game, not flawed in any way, just not great.
Shamus And Pharaoh’s Curse
These two games are a little odd. They come in big boxes, feature a wild turbo load, claim to run on the unexpanded Vic-20, but only worked when I plugged extra memory in. Weird indeed.
A bit of a Robotron clone, shoot the monsters, grab the items and proceed through the levels. What strike you right away is the polish here, the sprites move smoothly, don’t clash horribly, collide accurately and everything works well. Good game design, solid and very clever code is on display. A great achievement.
The platform game to make you realise just how bad Cave Fighter is. Again, great sprite work in evidence here, superb collision and movement. Lots of levels, good layout – but unforgiving at times. Very polished, and if you prefer jumping to shooting, you might like it more than Shamus, but I doubt it.
The Top Five
4. Mega Vault
5. Crazy Cavey
So there you go ..
You’ve read my STUPIDLY long Vic 20 nostalgia trip that took almost as long to write as some of the games did to load!
Please chat, insult, and engage.