Memories Of The Commodore 64, 40 Years Later

The beige breadbin that is the Commodore 64 turns 40 years old this month. I’ve played on a lot of computers and consoles over my 40+ years of gaming, but there has always been something very special about the C64. It wasn’t my first gaming machine and it wasn’t the best or even my favourite… but it was special. Right here, I’m going to take a look at (or at least, try to remember) some of my fondest memories of growing up with the C64. Bearing in mind that I am over the mid-40s now and I’m the kind of person who goes upstairs and forgets what I went up there for. So, recalling things from several decades ago is really going to be a challenge.

As a family, our first gaming machine (like a great many other gamers in my age range) was the Atari 2600. This was where my passion for gaming began, playing arcade games like Space Invaders, Pong and others at home. Getting utterly confused by Raiders of the Lost Ark because it had an actual plot to follow and an ending to see, which was very unusual back then. Family holidays were spent at one of England’s many seasides and that was where I was introduced to the arcade. By the time the Commodore 64 was released in 1982, 6-year-old I was already pretty much heavily into gaming. However, I didn’t even play on the C64 until a few years after its release.

Christmas 1986 was the first time I got my hands on the machine. I have told this story before in one of my books (available on Amazon), but I’m going to tell it again here. Growing up, as a family, we didn’t have a lot. This was largely due to my ‘dad’ being a wanker and walking out, leaving my Mom to bring up three kids on her own with very little money. It was the early 80s and being a single parent back then had a stigma attached to it, the help was not there like it is today and things were very rough. Especially when my dad left my Mom with loads of debts to clear too. Mom would often hold down multiple part-time jobs and struggle to put food on the table. Us kids would have to wear second-hand clothes and such. We couldn’t afford to have the heating on and in winter in England, it was fucking freezing cold. Basically, we had very little and what we did have was never new.

CHRITSMAS C64

Anyway, Christmas Eve of 1986 and my Mom had to go out to work at a local pub to help bring in some much-needed cash, leaving me and my two older brothers at home for a few hours, with our neighbours checking in on us now and then (yes, this was normal back then). I would’ve been 10 at the time and my oldest brother 16. With Mom out of the house for a few hours, we kids did what kids do on Christmas Eve… we went looking for presents. My older brother, Rob, found a neatly wrapped gift at the back of my Mom’s wardrobe. A pretty large oblong-shaped thing that was quite heavy. The label was addressed to us three kids with love from Mom. With the precision of a surgeon carrying out a tipple bypass operation, Rob delicately removed the sellotape from the present, being careful not to rip the wrapping paper. With one end of the gift open, he slowly slid the heavy oblong-shaped box out. It was a Commodore 64. A brand new, still factory-sealed (well, a bit of tape at the end of the box) Commodore 64. As previously mentioned, we never had anything new it was always second-hand. A new C64 must’ve set my Mom back a good few quid in 1986 even though it was already a few years old, with the Commodore 64 being released at the start of 1983 here in the UK.

ARGOS C64 PRICE 1985

Not only was there the computer itself but a joystick, the C64 cassette deck for loading the games and a copy of Gauntlet. which was the big game of 1986. Altogether, that must’ve cost my Mom loads of money. Just doing a bit of basic research and at Argos (prices in the pic above are from 1985) around 1986, the C64 was sold for £180, the joystick was £6, the cassette deck around £30 and a copy of Gauntlet would have been around £7. That’s £223 or almost £540 these days. That was a big chunk in 1986 for a single parent with very little income and all while paying her way out of debt that wasn’t hers. My Mom must’ve worked and saved for months.

So, the computer was unboxed, set up, Gauntlet was loaded and we were playing our Christmas present on Christmas Eve while my Mom was at work. A couple of hours later and everything was packed away, the box slid back into its Christmas paper sheath and the sellotape re-applied and everything was placed back where my brother found it. Ready for Christmas morning when we would have to act surprised. That was my first time playing the Commodore 64, it kick-started my love for the computer and was the start of my journey as a gamer proper. Yeah, we had an Atari 2600 first but I was a few years old at the time and didn’t really understand or enjoy gaming in the same way I did as a 10-year-old playing the C64 for the first time. The 2600 was my introduction to home gaming, but the C64 was the machine that grew me into a gamer.

PIRACY C64

Piracy was rife back then and incredibly easy too. All you needed was a twin tape deck and some blank tapes. Get a copy of an original game (or even a copy of a copy of an original game) and pop it into one of the tape decks, press play. In the other deck, you’d have your blank tape and press record. A few minutes later and you have a copy of a game. In the 80s during the rise of the microcomputer, everybody I knew was pirating the software. Everybody knew someone who copied games and they knew someone who knew someone who copied games. We had a few original games, sure. But most of our collection were copies. Everyone was doing it, so it never felt wrong. Plus, the whole ‘piracy is bad’ thing didn’t really begin to take off until the latter part of the 80s and piracy was seen as more of a grey area than an outright illegal act. There was a whole swapping community back then and people who owned games on one of the microcomputers of the day would often lend games to people, they would be copied and soon enough, copies of games were everywhere.

People copying original games, people copying copies of original games. The piracy scene grew and grew and due to that, we had a fuck-ton of games to play growing up. Still, there was the occasion when we would get an original game. I remember one time when my brother was really looking forward to The Last Ninja, released in 1987. I think it may have been his birthday and he kept dropping hints that he wanted the game to my Mom. She was always great at pretending to not pay attention or make out that she had no idea what he was talking about… but she was taking notes. My brother was an amazing artist when he was younger, a skill he never bothered to follow through with. Anyway, one of the things he liked to do was take ads in gaming magazines and draw them himself and he was really bloody good at it too. He would save up and spend his pocket money on pencils, paper, poster paint and so on. He once drew the iconic The Last Ninja poster, the one that was mostly black and with a pair of eyes.

THE LAST NINJA C64

He drew the whole lot, the font, the bit of light reflecting off the ninja mask, the red lines details in the eyes and the beads of sweat. It was incredibly detailed and it looked just like the real poster. Sometimes he would put his own posters on his bedroom wall, sometimes he even painted murals directly on his bedroom wall. Why he never kept up with his art, I have no idea because he was really good. So, he had this self-made The Last Ninja poster and showed it to my Mom, saying this was the new game he wanted for the C64. She did what she did best and made out that she had no idea what he was going on about. Then, one weekend, Mom took a trip to Toys ‘Я’ Us and picked up a copy of The Last Ninja for my brother’s birthday… only she didn’t.

Instead of buying a copy of The Last Ninja, Mom actually bought a copy of a game called Ninja. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad little game. A bit basic, very short and could be finished in around 5 minutes but it was okay, with some great music from Rob Hubbard. Needless to say, my brother was not best pleased. The Last Ninja was this sprawling (kind of) open exploration/action-adventure type game with some amazing graphics and combat. It was fucking hard with some very tricky jumping mechanics and awkward controls, but it was getting some amazing review scores at the time and it became the best-selling C64 game ever. Comparing that to the budget game Ninja? Yup, very disappointing. Mom did eventually go out and get a copy of The Last Ninja, after my brother’s birthday.

THE LAST NINJA C64 2

OutRun is another fond Commodore 64 memory of mine. I love OutRun and still think that it is the quintessential arcade racer. I used to play it a lot in the arcade whenever we went on family holidays. So, when it was released for the C64, it was a must-have game. The arcade version was eye-blisteringly fast, beautiful to look at and great fun to play. The C64 port… not so good. Still, you just could not expect arcade quality in a home computer. OutRun on the C64 was rough, but it was still payable and at the time, it bought me a lot of joy back then. Plus, the tape had the original arcade soundtrack on it. The story behind how the port was made has gone on to become quite a bit infamous within the gaming community. I even wrote an article on that very subject right here.

There was something about that 1987-88 era of the Commodore 64 that was just magical Loads of really great games came out around then. Two I have just mentioned with The Last Ninja and OutRun. but then you also had the likes of International Karate +, Wizball, The Great Giana Sisters (best gaming rip-off ever) and Sid Meier’s Pirates!, just to name a few. Because we didn’t get our C64 until late 86 and as it had already been out for a few years by then, we had a lot of games to catch up on. This is where the whole piracy thing came into full force. There were very few Commodore 64 games that we didn’t own and via a mass collection of previously blank cassette tapes (housed in several boxes) and we made up for all we had missed before 1986. Everybody pirated C64 games and Idris Elba is a liar.

PIRATES C64

Titles like Bruce Lee and Pitstop II became games me and my brother played together for some 2-player action. The first time I even pulled a sicky at school was just so I could stay at home and play some Commodore 64. I became obsessed with Ghostbusters and played it for hours on end. I was getting so close to finishing the game over a weekend too and had to go to school on Monday. So, I played sick Sunday night, telling Mom that I didn’t feel well and that I wanted to go to bed. It just so happened that I had the C64 set up in my bedroom at the time and a small black & white portable TV. So off I went to bed feeling ‘ill’… only to load up some Ghostbusters and play it on the quiet. Listening out for my Mom’s footsteps coming up the stairs as she would come to check up on me as I was so ‘ill’. I’d quickly turn the TV off and cover the red light on the C64, before pretending to be asleep. then when she went back downstairs, flick the TV back on and continue playing.

GHOSTBUSTERS C64

The next morning and I had to continue the charade of being ‘ill’. Mom got the thermometer out and I did the old trick of putting it near the lightbulb of the bedside lamp when Mom left my bedroom. Not too long as I didn’t want to have a temperature of 200º, but long enough to keep me off school for a day or two at least. It worked and Mom spent the next couple of days going up and down the stairs to check on me, bring me soup, etc. All the time I was playing the C64 and switching the TV off every time I heard those footsteps. I became a bit of a ninja at it. Of course, I couldn’t pretend to be asleep every time Mom came upstairs as being asleep for 2 days straight would look suspicious. I had a backup plan, I had a couple of school books and I would pretend that I was doing some school work every now and then. You know, in an effort to say ‘look Mom, I really want to go back to school but I’m too ill’ and then play come C64 when she went back downstairs.

SKOOL DAZE

Skool Daze was another game I would play religiously. Any self-respecting microcomputer aficionado would tell you that playing Skool Daze is a ZX Spectrum thing and not a Commodore 64 one. I agree too, the Speccy version was better, but I didn’t have a Speccy, I had a C64. It still played well though, a few niggles aside. Oh, and I have to tell you the story of when I stole from Toys ‘Я’ Us. I was really into playing Little Computer People. It was basically a precursor to The Sims. The game would give you a person to look after in their own house. You would have to type various keyboard commands to get the person to do things. The problem was that Little Computer People was one of the (many) pirated games that we had, so no instruction manual. No instructions meant that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Anyway, I was in the city centre with a couple of friends on a Saturday afternoon and we went in to Toys ‘Я’ Us. After some browsing, I found Little Computer People on the shelf. I opened it (there was no security or cellophane on the games back then) and took the instruction inlay out, popped it into my pocket and left. Yup, I stole the instructions to Little Computer People on the C64. Not the game itself, I put that back on the self, without its inlay.

LITTLE COMPUTER PEOPLE C64

Memories of getting frustrated while playing Aztec Challenge, trying to dodge those spears in the first stage. I only ever did that once and saw the second level on the stairs once. It was only after watching a playthrough recently that I got to see the rest of the game. Beach Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back and its speech samples. Shooting at all those little stickmen as they screamed ‘MEDIC!’ and leaving bullet holes all over the place. Speaking of speech samples, the ‘Another visitor. Stay a while, stay forever’ of Impossible Mission is something that has been ingrained into my memory forever. It was a great game too, the smooth running animation, somersaulting over robots and searching rooms. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing back then, but I loved playing it.

And what about all of those Games games? World Games, Summer Games, California Games and so on. I remember those being some seriously competitive shit. Me and my brothers would play them together, trying to beat each other’s scores and times. People say that playing Monopoly can be a family destroyer. Well, the Games games were the digital version of that. They were also games that we had to work out how to play them as they were pirated copies and had no instructions. As each of the events in each of the titles had their own control methods, working out just how to play them often took a long time. Rescue on Fractalus!, what a pioneering game. A first-person shooter with exploration. Kind of like a 3D version of Defender with you having to save people on the surface of a planet… just watch out for the jump scare alien. A little tit-bit for you. Rescue on Fractalus! was developed by LucasArts and they were going to make a sequel in the late 90s. It eventually evolved into Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on the N64.

RESCUE ON FRACTULAS C64

I could sit here for hours listing Commodore 64 games that I played and the ones that moulded me into the gamer I am today. I’ve barely even to touched the  tip of the iceberg here. But I am in danger of this becoming a bit of a tome of an article. To be honest, our Commodore 64 didn’t have a very long life. By the time 1989 came around, my older brother was working and bringing in his own money. He bought an Amiga 500 and the Commodore 64 resided in my bedroom for a while, before it was put into the loft and soon forgotten about as the 8-bit computer made way for its 16-bit brother. We only got about 3 or so years of use out of it, but the Commodore 64 was what shaped me into the gamer I am today. It wasn’t my first gaming experience, perhaps not even the best. But it was a time that I look back on fondly and remember all the fun I had.

I’m Looking For Some Doom Fans

I’ve been working on a little (big) something for the last 2.5 years. I can’t say too much publicly because, well, the project has not yet been announced. But I can say that it involves id Software’s seminal FPS, Doom.

At the moment, I’m on the lookout for a few Doom fans. People who grew up playing the original game, people who’ve been influenced by it and so on. If you’re new to Doom and only recently discovered it or if you still play it since its original release. As long as you’re a Doom fan, I may have something you could be very interested in.

I know this is pretty vague and lacks details but if you are intrigued and know of any big Doom fans or if you are one yourself, then please use the contact form on this blog and I can reply with more information.

DOOM FACE

Whatever Happened To Bits In Gaming?

Growing up in and through the 80s and being an avid gamer, ‘bits’ was the buzzword to use. You’d just throw it into random gaming conversations, even if you really didn’t know what you were talking about, in an attempt to sound like you knew what you were talking about. Bits, they were everywhere for a couple of decades.

This site’s name even comes from the whole bits thing too. Little Bits of Gaming (as was the site name before I added moves to the mix) came about for a couple of reasons. First was due to the fact that I originally wrote smaller articles that you could read in a couple of minutes about gaming. So the main aim of this blog was to provide ‘little bits of gaming’. The second reason was the whole bits connection to gaming.

BITS SCREEN 1

I’m sure younger readers will have no idea what I’m talking about right now as bits are just not used anymore, unless you are talking retro gaming. Truth be told, I’m not even sure how or why the whole bits thing began, it seems to stem from the third generation of gaming. From that early to the mid-80s era when Nintendo launched their Famicom/NES and Sega had their Master System 8-bit consoles. But then again, I think the whole 8-bit thing was perhaps retroactively created once the more powerful 16-bit machines hit the market, as a way to differentiate between the two generations. Sega even had ’16-bit’ proudly displayed on their Mega Drive console. See, we didn’t really use ‘gaming generations’ as a phrase back then, or at least I certainly didn’t. We had 8-bit and 16-bit machines instead.

Now, I actually grew up with computers and not consoles. We had a Commodore 64 in the mid-80s when Nintendo and Sega were doing their thing. I had friends who owned gaming consoles, so I did get to play on them. But it was computers and not consoles that I grew up with, in our house as a kid. Even then, we never once referred to our C64 as an 8-bit computer ever. But now? Now the C64 is very much considered an 8-bit machine… even if it wasn’t at the time. In fact, our first ever gaming machine was an Atari 2600, which very much was a console. But it never had bits attached to it. The 2600 is considered to be part of the second generation of gaming. So would that have made it 4-bit as it was the previous generation before the NES and Master System 8-bit machines? Which would then make the first generation of gaming the 2-bit era… Right? But we never called them that, they were just things we could play games on, bits never came into it.

BITS SCREEN 2

Anyway, after that 8-bit age of gaming, along came the likes of the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16, Super Famicom/Super NES and the Mega Drive/Genesis 16-bit era. With a few early contenders for a 16 and 32-bit mix thrown in too (Neo Geo). The numbered bits thing really was just a way to highlight that a machine was more powerful. About twice as powerful in fact, hence the doubling of the numbers from 8 to 16-bit. But here’s a question, what the hell was a ‘bit’? As far as I can tell, a ‘bit’ is the limit on how many colours the could be displayed, the resolution of the graphics and the basic processing power. I may be wrong, but that is about the best and simplest explanation I can find. So basically, the more bits, the better the game looked.

Really, it was just a way to measure the difference in processing power of the machines. I’m not the most technically minded person around, so someone else could perhaps explain bits better than I. But the point is that we didn’t really know or even care what bits were, it just meant the game looked better. But we certainly held our heads high if we had a 16-bit machine while someone else had an 8-bit one, even if we really had no idea what it all meant.

BITS SCREEN 3

The bits thing carried onto the fifth generation of gaming too, it was now the 32-bit age. The Atari Jaguar, 3DO, Sega Saturn and of course, the PlayStation. Some machines even liked to boast their bits in their names, Amiga CD32 and Sega’s Sega 32X add-on both have 32 right there in their names. While Nintendo decided to one-up everyone else and release the Nintendo 64. 64-bits in the 32-bit era? I suppose that technically, the N64 was 64-bit… using some clever 32-bit architecture. Again, I’m not massively tech-savvy, so someone else can explain how and why the N64 was both a 64 and 32-bit machine at the same time. 

Then we moved on to the next and sixth generation of gaming. This is where the bits thing began to disappear. The whole idea of calling each successive age of gaming a ‘generation’ really came alive around now. Even though we were now in a 64-bit age, it just never really got used that much. Even the machines themselves dropped the idea of using the bits in their names too. The Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox did away with 64-bits and were just named or named as sequel machines. We were still in the 64-bit era of gaming, but no one really called it that, it was just the new generation of gaming. Bits were dying out. 

BITS SCREEN 4

Of course, this all brings us up to date in terms of bits, the bits thing is just not really used anymore. We are now in the ninth generation of gaming. The seventh generation, the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii era would’ve been the 128-bit age. The eighth, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U/Switch consoles would be the 256-bit era. Then, of course, the now current and ninth PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S generation would be the 512-bit age of gaming. Yet, we never use bits anymore, do we? I’ve never heard anyone refer to their PlayStation 5 as a 512-bit machine as we used to a while back.

It’s just strange to me that at the time, we never really used bits to describe our consoles. Nobody back in the 80s said the NES was an 8-bit machine, it was just the NES. We never called the Mega Drive a 16-bit console… even though it had 16-bit right on its front. We may have used bits to sound like we knew what we were talking about on a technical level, when we really didn’t. But nobody ever said “I’m going home to play my 16-bit console”, it was just the Mega Drive or the SNES. Basically, bits were and still are a load of old bollocks. A buzz phrase used now, retroactively to separate the early generations of gaming… but not the earliest or the latter ones. There just seems to be the 8-bit and 16-bit eras and then it becomes the PlayStation and beyond eras… sometimes very occasionally called the 32-bit era. A lot of youngsters don’t even know there was gaming before the 8-bit era because of the focus that the 8 and 16-bit years, while those earlier consoles are forgotten. Or they get bundled in with the 8-bit consoles when they were not 8-bit at all.

BITS SCREEN 5

Bring back bits I say and let’s use it from the 2-bit consoles right through to the modern-day just for consistency’s sake. Instead of just the 8, 16 and sometimes, the 32-bit years. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to review some indie 8 and 16-bit style games on my 512-bit console.

Game Review: Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition

I haven’t played a good RTS for a long while. It is a genre of game that doesn’t get a lot of love these days, especially on consoles. I grew up playing RTS games. The likes of Dune II: Battle for Arrakis, Mega-Lo-Mania and the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, were games that swallowed my free time as a teenager. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is an RTS game on consoles, developed by Gentlymad Studios and published by Assemble Entertainment.

“In 2021, a group of terrorists blew up nuclear power plants around the world and plunged the world into chaos. Only few were able to escape into underground facilities called “Endzones”. 150 years later, mankind returns to the surface – under your command! In an extremely hostile environment full of radioactivity, contaminated rain, extreme climate change, and people dreaming of a better life, you’ll have to prove your worth as a leader. Dedicate yourself to great ideas and guide your people into a period of prosperity and new inventions.”

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 1

So then, as the blurb up there tells you. You are leading your people and fighting for survival following nuclear fallout. Though I mentioned a few RTS games in the intro up there, they were mainly ‘construct buildings and attack your opponents’ type titles. However, Endzone: A World Apart plays more like a SimCity  crossed with The Settlers RTS game over a build an army and destroy your enemies one. Though there are a few fights in this, they are not the focus. Here, your main goal is simply to survive and keep your little peeps happy. The main gameplay with Endzone: A World Apart centres around town management and maintenance.

Begin with a bare basic settlement and a few civilians and start out by gathering the essentials. Water is always a good thing to have and certainly a much-needed commodity. So, build a jetty on a body of water so your people can gather water. Then you’ll need a cistern to store your water for use. Still, before all of that, you’ll need builders and water carriers. See, that is just one resource, something as simple as water and you already have several elements that you need to manage to obtain and maintain it. Times that by the many other resources in the game, 90-odd buildings, the numerous jobs your little people will have to do and you have a pretty involving game here.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 2

Endzone: A World Apart is not a simple game at all. Let me put it this way, this comes with a tutorial that will take you a good few hours to reach the end of, in itself. Your town can grow from that bare basic settlement, to a bustling mini-metropolis over time. Time that you will be spending by managing and micro-managing every single aspect of your town as your lead your people to survive everything that a post-nuclear fallout brings.

Check the land for radiation and moisture to see if it will make good farmland to grow crops, decide which crops to grow, research new buildings and tech, rediscover electricity and more. Your people will soon start to have children that will need education, so you’ll need to keep on top of that and build a school. Your population will grow and so, you’ll need more buildings and better resources to keep everybody happy. Endzone: A World Apart just keeps throwing layer upon layer at you, unpacking more for you to do and manage as you play. As I say, this is more like SimCity or The Settlers than a Command & Conquer RTS, so you really do need your best management head on.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 3

Now, Endzone: A World Apart was released last year on PC. This updated console version, Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is the base game, all of the DLC and a few other tweaks to help with smoother play via a controller on consoles. Outside of the standard survival mode, you also get several scenarios to play around with, each with their own stories to follow. The game also comes with some impressive difficulty setting options where you can tailor pretty much every aspect of the game to find a setting that will suit your gameplay style.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 4

Coming with a hefty £45 price tag, but that price does include a piece of DLC and this is a huge game that will eat up many an hour. Still, there are actually two DLCs available and you really would think this version would have all of the DLC, especially at this price. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is not a game that everybody will enjoy. It is slow, methodical and you do have to take a lot in. The tutorial is very in-depth but it’s also pretty imperative to play through… which can take a good while. This is a very deep and involving city-building RTS and these things just plod along at a slow and steady pace. So if you are looking for something with a bit more ‘action’ then you’re just not going to find it here. However, if you do have a soft spot for an in-depth RTS game (on console), then you’ll be hard pushed to find one much better than Endzone: A World Apart. A recommendation from me if you don’t mind that £45 dent to your wallet.

The Curious And Confusing History Of Commando, Bionic Commando And Super Joe

1985’s Commando from Capcom is one of the most massively influential shooters ever made. I am a tad hesitant to say that it created the run ‘n gun subgenre, I need to double-check that, but I will state that Commando certainly popularised it. Following the release of the game, the arcades became full of similar titles and even the home market saw plenty of run ‘n gun games too. The likes of Ikari Warriors, Green Beret, Contra, Who Dares Wins and even more modern games like Cuphead all owe a little something to Capcom and Commando for leading the charge.

COMMANDO SCREEN 1

A couple of years later in 1987, Capcom released Bionic Commando. At the time, I recall my older brother telling me that Bionic Commando was the sequel to Commando. But was it? The short answer is… ‘Yeeeeeaaaah, kind of, in a way of thinking, from a certain point of view, in a roundabout way, sort of… but not’. The long answer is this article.

There were certainly clear connections between the two games. Outside of the use of the word commando in both titles, they were both Capcom games. Both had a similar run ‘n gun gameplay mechanic. Perhaps Bionic Commando was a tad more platformy and swingy but it did still have a run ‘n gun element. Then, of course, there was the fact that both games were designed by the same man, Tokuro Fujiwara. I mean, one could see how it would be possible to think that the two games were sequel and prequel to each other.

COMMANDO BIONIC SCREEN

Officially though? This is where it gets a bit messy and confusing. See, for Bionic Commando’s western release, it was not explicitly said to be the sequel to Commando but it was heavily implied. The original arcade flyer to help promote Bionic Commando to arcade owners looked like this:

COMMANDO BIONIC POSTER

Quickly glossing over the “CAPCOM Swings Into Action With Its First Dedicated Video Game!!!” bit. What does that even mean? Capcom released a number of games pre-Bionic Commando and surely they were ‘dedicated’ video games too? I don’t recall 1942 being anything other than a video game, I definitely didn’t use it to clean my oven or anything. It was just a video game. But it is the bit at the bottom, there is a blurb that roughly describes the game. In that blub, it does say that: ” Super Joe Is Now BIONIC.”. See, this is where I need to address the whole Super Joe character bit. In Commando, you played as Super Joe. And yes, I have an arcade flyer to prove as much too.

COMMANDO POSTER

Super Joe is mentioned several times there. You definitely played as Super Joe in Commando then. So with Bionic Commando claiming that Super Joe is now bionic… for a game called Bionic Commando, from Capcom, with both games having similar titles and being designed by the same man. I think it would be more than safe to make the connection that the two games are sequel and prequel to each other. All good then eh? Well, not quite. See, I did say earlier that this really only applies to the western releases of both games. Back in Japan where Capcom are based… it is a different story.

In Japan, Commando’s character is not Super Joe, he was just an unnamed soldier. Not only that, Commando wasn’t even called Commando in Japan either. In Japan, the game was released as Senjō no Ōkami or Wolf of the Battlefield. In Japan, there was no character connection between Commando and Bionic Commando (called Top Secret in Japan), they were two completely separate games. When Tokuro Fujiwara created Bionic Commando, he actually wanted to make a sequel/follow up to his 1983 game called Roc’n Rope. However, Fujiwara made that game when he was at and for Konami, not Capcom. So he couldn’t officially make Bionic Commando a sequel to Roc’n Rope as Konami owned the rights. If you look at some gameplay of Roc’n Rope, you will see some similar shared concepts with Bionic Commando. Platforming action with the use of a harpoon-gun to reach different platforms. Throw in some run ‘n gun action and you’d have Bionic Commando.

ROC N ROPE

So yeah in Japan, the home of Capcom, Commando and Bionic Commando were completely unrelated. There was no Super Joe character to link the two games and Bionic Commando/Top Secret was even created as an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope and not Commando/Wolf of the Battlefield. The Super Joe connection was purely created for the western audience. Which does kind of leave a question mark over if the two games are ‘officially’ connected when that was not the intention of the game’s creator… even though they are officially connected by Capcom themselves outside of Japan. It really is a rather strange history and one that only became more confusing with later games. Oh yeah, this is not done yet, there’s a lot more to look into.

See, Commando actually did get an official sequel. Not a ‘yeah I guess there is a slight connection here’, but an actual bona fide direct sequel that was not Bionic Commando. Released in 1990 from Capcom came Mercs or Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan. Yes, an official, no bones about it, sequel. Featuring the same classic run ‘n gun gameplay that made Commando so popular. Only now, with a simultaneous 3-player option. Yup, you and two chums could team up and blow the crap out of stuff. Now, one could bring up the different titles here. It may have been an undisputed sequel called Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan, but not here in the west. Why was it not just called Commando 2 if it was a direct sequel to Commando? I guess that really comes down to the story of the game, I mean, the characters are mercenaries and no longer part of the military. So calling it Commando 2 wouldn’t quite fit, would it? Wolf of the Battlefield II worked as it doesn’t necessarily make a connection to the military but still very much does work as a sequel to the original game and its title.

MERCS

So yeah, the title of Mercs here in the west just sounded better as the characters were not part of the military and worked as mercenaries. Still, you do have to question how a game with a different title can be considered a sequel if there is no real connection other than a similar gameplay style. Well, there was another connection. The three playable characters in Mercs were called Joseph Gibson, Howard Powell and Thomas Clarke. Of those three, Joseph Gibson, who was always depicted in blue, was the main character. It doesn’t matter if you take the official promotional material for the arcade version or the various home ports. Joseph Gibson, dressed in blue, was always front and centre.

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Do you know who else was dressed in blue? Super Joe in Commando. Hey, wait a minute… Joseph Gibson and Super Joe? Yup, they are in fact one and the same character, officially canon according to Capcom too. So yes, Mercs (despite the lack of a sequel title) is the real sequel to Commando and not Bionic Commando, which was actually an unofficial follow up to Roc’n Rope due to legal reasons… even though the western release of Bionic Commando was officially linked to Commando by Capcom themselves. Confused yet?

Well, there is more. There was another game. Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 was released in 2008 on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Finally, the two official titles merge. We now have the original Japanese name and the western one together to make the third and (so far) final game in the series. This one played more like Mercs in that it was a 3-player, mass explosion run ‘n gun game… but now in 3D! Again, the main character was depicted as being in blue with promotional material having him front and centre. So… Super Joe/Joseph Gibson again then? Well no. The three characters had codenames and this fella was called Wolf… as in the title of the game. But he must be Joe just using a codename then. No. The character select screen displays his real name as Roy McMurray. This game really has nothing to do with Commando other than the name and run ‘n gun gameplay. There was no connecting plot or characters to the previous two games.

COMMANDO 3

So, what happened to the star of the series Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then? Well, this is where we need to go back to Bionic Commando. Now, the original arcade game never had a sequel, not a connecting one anyway. There was Bionic Commando: Elite Forces on the GameBoy in 2000. This is said to be a ‘proper’ sequel to the original, yet it has nothing to do with the original at all. Still, it’s more of a sequel to the NES port of the original game, which itself was very different from the arcade version. Anyway, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has nothing to do with the Bionic Commando featuring Super Joe. There is an all-new plot with new characters, none of them are Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson. Really, this could be seen as a stand-alone game. So we aren’t going to find any answers as to what happened to Super Joe here. For that, we would have to wait a good few years. 2008 saw the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed.

BIONIC COMMANDO REARMED

Okay, so let’s get even more confused now. Bionic Commando Rearmed was a, built from the ground up, complete remake of the NES version of the arcade original. The NES version was a very different game with a different plot to the arcade version. Still, Super Joe was in it… and he is captured. That is what happens with this remake too, Super Joe is sent in on a mission and is captured. So you, playing as Nathan Spencer, go in and try to rescue Super Joe and help him finish his mission. This means that Super Joe has now jumped ship from the Commando franchise (he wasn’t in the 3rd game) and is now officially part of the Bionic Commando franchise… a franchise that (remember) was not originally part of the Commando one. It was an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope.

Anyway, Bionic Commando Rearmed actually served as, not only a remake, but also a prelude to 2009’s Bionic Commando. This game was a kind of a reboot of the original arcade game but still a sequel (of sorts) to Bionic Commando Rearmed… which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original… which itself was a different take on the arcade version. This new Bionic Commando takes place 10 years after the first game… that’s the NES version and not the arcade original. You play as Nathan Spencer from Bionic Commando Rearmed and this time, Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson is the bad guy. Yup, you have to track down and deal with the hero of the original game that you are currently playing the reboot of. The character who jumped from the Commando franchise to the Bionic Commando one. Could this shit get any more convoluted? Well yes, yes it can.

BIONIC COMMANDO 2009

Finally, in 2011, we got Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. So, while this was released after the 2009 Bionic Commando game, it is actually set before it… but still after the first Bionic Commando Rearmed. I’m seriously getting a headache now. Nathan Spencer is the main character, back from the previous games. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson serves as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer in this one… who becomes the bad guy in 2009’s Bionic Commando which was released before this one.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened to Super Joe. He started out as the hero of Commando (outside of Japan) before being placed in the world of the arcade version of Bionic Commando by Capcom but not the games creator, Tokuro Fujiwara. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then popped up as the main character in the official Commando sequel, Mercs… before disappearing from the next game in the franchise with Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. That was because Super Joe had officially been placed in the Bionic Commando franchise, thanks to Bionic Commando Rearmed, which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original that featured Super Joe as the hero… even though he wasn’t in the Japanese arcade original. Anyway, in the NES port and the 2008 remake, Super Joe became a secondary character as Nathan Spencer took the lead (though he was called Ladd in the NES version). Only for Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson to become the bad guy in the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot… which is a sequel of sorts to the Bionic Commando Rearmed remake. Which then got its own sequel Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 in 2011… which saw Super Joe return as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer.

SUPER JOE

Now that is out of the way, I suppose I could tackle the whole Double Dragon/Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun/Renegade multiple franchise mess… after several months to recover from this whole Commando/Bionic Commando/Super Joe chaos.