The Commodore 64 computer had dozens of racing games, and they ranged widely in quality. I played a fair amount of these as I was growing up, and only a handful of the ones I remember really stand out as great games.
Motor Mania (1982)
Ah, the joys of loading games from cassette! Who wouldn’t want to wait upwards of 20 minutes for a game to load‽ That was a rite of passage for many Commodore 64 owners, but I was able to skip it and bring the load times down to a blazingly fast five minutes. By the time my family got the C64, the cost of disk drives had come down enough to make them affordable.
Playing these games today on an emulator is no problem, of course. Even tape games can load instantly. Speaking of enhancements, I prefer to tweak the colour palette of the C64. The original colour palette always looked a little faded and washed-out to me:
With the CCS64 emulator I can customize the 16 colours so that they look a little brighter and more vivid. This can also be done in the VICE emulator. When you see my screenshots, they use my altered palette.
Anyway, back to the game. It really isn’t overly complicated. It’s a top-down racing game.
This is from back in the days when one guy could sit down and make a whole video game by himself.
There’s not much to it. Speedometer, odometer, fuel meter, and generator meter are displayed on the right. The ●⨉⨉⨉⨉ are your spare tire and number of cars left. You start at one of the filling stations that appear frequently.
Once you slowly maneuver out of the filling station, you can start speeding down the highway. The first thing you’ll notice is the sound. This game has the most realistic sound of any home racing game I’ve experienced from 1982, and it’s the most realistic in these reviews so far. Once again, the Commodore 64’s exceptional sound capabilities have been taken full advantage of.
Other cars in the race don’t drive as fast as you do, but I don’t think the object is to beat them to the finish line. I don’t think there even is a finish line. I think the object of this game is to keep on driving for as long as you can.
The other cars can be quite a pain to get around, as they follow the lanes of the road exactly in these angled parts.
When you crash, you start with one car down at the gas station. Don’t pull out too fast from here either or you’ll crash into the wall.
There are other hazards on the road besides the edges and the other racers. That black checkered patch appears to be tar or something. If you drive into it, your car will get stuck and slow almost to a stand-still.
There are many parts where the road constricts and narrows. You should slow down during these passages.
There are no other racers along these country roads, but they’re plenty challenging.
Another good reason to slow down is the appearance of these fire trucks that occasionally cross the intersections. You will hear a siren as you approach if there is a fire truck coming near. And again, the siren sounds pretty damn realistic thanks to the great sound chip inside the C64.
The dirt roads require you to slow down even more. Make sure you don’t go too slow for too long though, or your generator meter will start to fall. You need to keep your speed up to keep that meter up, and if it falls down to zero, you will lose a car.
You also pass gas stations every now and then. You must look at your fuel gauge and decide whether you need to top up the tank, because sometimes when you’re low on fuel, the game decides to be a cruel son of a bitch and put miles and miles of road ahead of you with no gas station in sight. When you do pull in to refuel, slow down as much as you can, come to a complete stop, and press the joystick button.
Those blue pixels are another hazard. If you hit them, your car hisses and slows down to a complete stop. Only after a wait of a few seconds can you start driving again, simulating a flat tire and a tire change. Your spare tire will vanish from the indicator panel to the right. If you hit another patch like this, you will lose a car. I think they’re supposed to be nails or pieces of broken glass or something.
More hazards. The tar patch is back, and a red line of some sort. I can’t really guess what it is, but it’s bad. If you drive over it, your car will slow down, much like when you drive over the tar patch. But after you drive off, your engine will start to overheat. The word “HOT” will appear under your odometer, and soon after and next to that “OIL”. The only way to get rid of it is to find a gas station and get your car fixed. If you can’t do that in time, you will lose a car.
That purple and black patch on the screen is an oil slick, I believe. Don’t ask me why it’s purple. It also kind of looks like the disembodied head of Count von Count. Driving into that will slide your car randomly over on the road, and if there are other cars or the edge of the road nearby, that could spell disaster.
Somebody wasn’t paying proper attention.
For the most part, everything in this game appears randomly, though there are certain long stretches of highway, country road and dirt road that seem to be triggered by the odometer. This game isn’t very complicated, but everything is put together so exceptionally well that it’s great fun to play, even more than 30 years after it was coded.
I don’t think this is the last top-down racer I’m going to review, but I think it’s the last enjoyable one. It’s definitely worth getting if you own a Commodore 64, and worth the download if you want to try it on an emulator.
Super Cycle (1986)
Epyx was a company that made lots of high-quality computer video games back in the 80s. If you saw their logo on a box, you knew the game would be worth spending money on. This game came out in 1986, and it’s up to their usual high-quality standards. The only gripe I have is the sound, so I’ll get that out of the way first.
The sound is kind of unrealistic, especially after playing “Motor Mania” where the C64 was made to sound like a real engine revving up and driving. This one has that 8-bit video game chirpy sound, if you know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of a let down, but there are some good things about the way the sound is utilized that I’ll describe below.
The intro music is fantastic, and it’s one of my favourite C64 game tunes. Even during that time when I hadn’t played my C64 for years, and before I’d started getting into emulation, I would still get this tune stuck in my head.
Before you can race, you can set up some options. And the customization options absolutely blew my fucking mind. I’d never seen anything like this before. Not only could you change the colour of the bike you raced with, but you could also change the colour of your jacket! And not only its colour but its style! This was some crazy complex stuff for 1986 gaming.
The third-person view is back, and so is a view of your speedometer and RPM meter. You need to shift gears in this game, but it’s not complicated or annoying like in “Motocross Racer” for the ColecoVision.
Forward on the joystick makes you go, back makes you brake. The button controls gear shifting.
Ready to shift into 2nd gear…
…in 2nd, ready to shift to 3rd…
…now in 3rd gear and trying to get to top speed.
This game is wonderfully challenging. You need to avoid other racers and stay away from the sides of the track…
… or you will crash and burn. You get unlimited bikes to race, but you have a time limit. If your time runs out before you cross the finish line, it’s game over.
There are sound cues that you need to listen to as you drive. For one thing, you can tell by the sound of your bike when you need to switch to a higher gear, but you can also tell this from looking at the RPM meter. You can also tell when you need to slow down on a corner because you’re taking it too fast. Your wheels will start to “squeal”. Well, there’s an odd approximation of a squealing sound anyway. But listen for it because when you hear it, it means pull back.
I made it over the finish line with lots of time to spare in this first race. Time left over is not only added to your score, but each second you squeeze out of the previous race is added to your time for the next race, giving you that much more time to complete it.
Here’s the start of the next race. Each race takes place in a different location with different scenery, and because this was made by Epyx, the graphics are beautiful.
“Super Cycle” is one of the best racing games for the Commodore 64, and certainly the best motorcycle racing game made for it. The other racers have fairly realistic AI, so they’re not just wandering around the track and getting in your way. They actually behave like they’re racing along with you. The controls work very well, and this game gets very addicting as you try to get as many seconds added to each next race as you can.
Supremely fun game. Hunt down this one for sure.
Pitstop II (1984)
Here we have another Epyx game, and this one fires on all cylinders.
This is one of the best known games for the C64, and like “Super Cycle” it had versions made for other popular home computers of the era.
There are some options to choose from when you get to this screen. You can make it a single or a two-player game, though the display is the same for each choice. When you choose single-player, you will race against a computer-controlled car.
Of course, you can choose a refined and dignified name here, like SHITS MCFUCKFACE.
Drivers get ready one by one. Red car is Player 1 on the top, blue car is Player 2 on the bottom.
The split-screen action was impressive for the time. Each half keeps track of its own race as far as the CPU is concerned, and everything is rendered in real time without any delays or weird effects.
Each car engine uses its separate sound channel, and you can hear the pitch of each rising and lowering as you race. They don’t however have that gruff, noisy engine sound like “Motor Mania” has, so I wouldn’t consider the sound of this game to be great… merely good.
When Player 1 passes Player 2 or vice versa, you can see their car approach from behind in the other half of the screen, then zoom ahead in the opposite half. This was impressive graphics for a home video game at the time, and I think “Pitstop II” was the first game to do this.
For these screenshots, I banged up my tires during the race so I could show you the main distinguishing feature of this game – the pitstop. As you race along your chosen track, you must avoid the other racers and the edges of the race track. Bumping into them will cause damage to your tires. You can see the level of damage done to your tires by way of the indicator colour on them.
In the screenshot above, the front tires of my car are at the “red” level of damage. This is bad, and they need to be changed. In fact, you can see me heading into the pitstop lane that’s opening up on the left. The indicator colours as they cycle through are blue, purple, green, cyan and red. If one of your tires blows, you are sent to the side of the screen to wait out the race.
Here is a view of the pitstop. These two schmucks are probably the slowest and clumsiest pitstop crew in the history of racing. But Player 1 and Player 2 have to use them, so things even out. You control them with that grey steering wheel icon. Moving the joystick over to the guy with the fuel hose and then pressing the button will allow you to control him.
Move him left or right to fill your tank. Filling your tank takes a lot of time, so only fill it when you absolutely need to and only as much as you think you barely need to squeak across that finish line. If you fill up your tank all the way every time, Player 2 sure won’t, and he will be able to leave the pitstop well ahead of you.
Pressing the joystick button releases the steering wheel icon again. You can move it over to the doofus in blue and then you can use him to change your damaged tires. The two stacks of fresh tires on the right are there to replenish yours. Make old Scruffy wander with your damaged tire over to the fresh tires and suddenly the tire he’s holding will be magically replaced by a new one.
When that’s done, replace it on the car and get him out of your way. You can’t drive off if either of these slow-as-fuck people are too close to your car. I swear I used to work with one of these slow assholes.
Release the steering wheel icon by pressing the joystick button and moving it over to your car. Press the button again and you will be back on the road.
You can see the location of the pitstop on the map inset in your field of view. It’s that section of the track crossed horizontally by a line. Remember that you only pass the pitstop once per lap, so if you need gas or if you need to replace damaged tires, make sure you pull over to the pitstop before your opportunity passes.
I restarted the race after this demonstration so I could play normally. I played the hell out of this game when I was a kid, so I learned how to play it pretty good. In this first 3-lap race I didn’t need to visit the pit-stop once.
After I finished, my opponent finished his race.
Then we were both done. The computer AI is a slow driver, but he’s very safe so he won’t ever blow his own tires out.
And that’s the end of the first race. You can play on six different tracks, or play at all six in series AKA the Grand Circuit. You can choose 3, 6 or 9 laps for each track. The levels of difficulty range from rookie to semi-pro to pro. It’s an easy game to pick up, but a hard one to put down as they say.
“Pitstop II” is one of the most popular C64 games for a reason. It is an outstanding game, and I think it is one of the best racing games ever made. This one definitely needs to be experienced, so go out and find a copy, or download one for your emulator today.