Version Reviewed: 1.1
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When Manomio first released their officially-licensed Commodore 64 emulator for the iPhone, I instantly had images of Family Computing magazine in my head and memories of playing boatloads of games on the system back in its heyday. Well, faster than you can say LOAD “*”,8,1, the app was pulled from the store leaving many of us without an opportunity to attempt reliving our past.
As many are aware by now, the pre-release version of C64 included a working BASIC interpreter to go along with its collection of 5 games. This was basically a recreation of the Commodore 64 screen and keyboard, and you could type BASIC commands at the prompt. Although more of a novelty for real diehard fans than anything else, this facet of the app was in direct violation of the iPhone SDK agreement clause 3.3.2, which strictly limits or prohibits the use of interpreted or executable code in an app. Manomio agreed to remove BASIC, as well as make a couple of other requested changes such as renaming the C64 Shop tab to More Games, in order to get the app to the public. The focus of the app was always about creating a pipeline to C64 games, and the BASIC issue could possibly be negotiated over time.
Well, it did not take long for users to discover that v1.0 of the app had a relatively simple workaround that could be used to enable the BASIC interpreter. Intentionally or not, Manomio had left in a backdoor to the rejected functionality. Apple was none too pleased, and pulled the app from the store post-haste. Manomio apologized for the oversight, and quickly resubmitted the app with an additional 3 free games. Two months later, everyone can finally play the much-discussed C64 via v1.1, and it's definitely a mixed bag. It steps up to the plate with a solid engine, but swings and misses with a terrible set of games and some inconsistent controls.
The complete list of games included in C64 is Arctic Shipwreck, Dragon's Den, International Basketball, International Soccer, International Tennis, Jack Attack, Jupiter Lander, and Lemans. Unfortunately, most of these games come from the first couple of years of the Commodore 64's existence, which released way back in 1982. They only one I recognized as having played was International Soccer, which was originally released in cartridge form. It plays pretty much the same, sans the option to choose team colors, but, as you can imagine, the gameplay for a sports game like this is very much outdated. The rest of the titles all faired the same, some of which controlled acceptably, while others did not. Sad to say, none of them gave me a reason to go back after trying them out.
If I did want to go back, however, the actual C64 game engine did do a great job of preserving state for all of the games. All 8 titles remember where you've left off, and allow you to resume a game in progress. As for the controls used, they may not always offer the best precision, in some part due to the inherent stiffness of the joystick, but they are well-integrated with the iPhone. For every game, you are provided with a virtual 8-directional joystick and a fire button. When held vertically, the controller takes up the bottom half of the iPhone screen, leaving you a very small, simulated C64 monitor on the top half. In order to get more real-estate, all you need to do is hold the system horizontally, and then you have the ability to use a floating joystick implementation. Your right thumb acts as the joystick wherever you touch on the right-side of the screen, and your left thumb acts as the fire button anywhere on the left of the screen. This control option also uses a Commodore 64 glossy monitor filter on top, but you can choose to make the game completely fullscreen by just tapping on the C64 logo at the bottom of the screen. The overall controls are hit or miss depending on the actual emulated app, with none of the available options feeling 100% ideal, but they do make an admirable attempt.
The rest of the app includes some tabs that are basically empty placeholders, such as More Games and Advanced options. This is really a tell-tale sign of C64's not quite ready for prime-time feel. The quality of the apps included is a downer, and it casts some doubt on whether the rest of the eventual catalogue will live up to the fleeting nostalgia. Manomio has hinted at some of the games expected to come, including Paradroid, Bruce Lee, Uridium, Druid, Cybernoid, Alleykat, Stormlord, and Kikstart. Bruce Lee will arrive for free, with other titles expected to cost up to $1.99. There is also some mention of bundling lesser known titles as one purchasable item. Manomio has secured a licensing deal with Hewson, makers of many Commodore 64 titles, which is a good sign. Hewson and Epyx games have appeared before in a Plug and Play Joystick unit, so hopefully we will eventually see the likes of Summer Games, Winter Games, and California Games, some personal favorites from the time.
In the meantime, what we are left with is a pretty niche title that is for Commodore 64 enthusiasts only. With some fine-tuning and fleshing-out, the app can surely improve. There is some question as to whether it’s really worth it to revisit the past like this though. Many, if not all of the games in the Commodore 64 library, can be obtained in emulated fashion on your computer and have been reconceived in some form or another over the past 25 years or so. Do you need to pay to have these games with you on the go? And do they still live up to your memories? Probably not, but I do plan on reinstalling the app when some more updates hit, just for old time's sake.
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