Ben Rayner reviews Commodore 64: A Visual Compendium…
Bitmap Books has been working hard to keep the Giants of gaming history alive through its collection of visual compendiums, each detailing the life of a classic console, or a Titan of gaming gone by if you will.
Villordsutch had the pleasure of reviewing the Amiga edition of this collection (which of course he did a stellar job on) but that means it falls on me to handle the Commodore 64 or the C64 to its friends and previous owners.
While Villordsutch opened with a shockingly frank and heartfelt admission of hatred towards the Commodore Amiga, my initial words are that of a gushing fan who loved the sounds sights and yes even the dusty smells of the Commodore 64. Well, mine was dusty but it came that way, I swear!
No, it wasn’t my first console experience. I’d already had my sweaty palms curled around a Nintendo SNES controller for some time. Conquering the likes of Boogerman, Killer Instinct and Super Mario Bros.. I remember fondly however the day I discovered the Commodore 64 for the first time. Daring to venture into the loft for whatever reason with my father on a lazy Sunday, only to find a beige leather duffel bag with PUMA emblazoned on the side and tapes protruding through what should have been a zip.
After some bewildered scrabbling through a sea of tapes (which I later realised were games! Can you imagine!) I found the console itself and along with my older brother we began a reenactment of the opening scenes from 2001: Space Odyssey! (Basically, we fiddled with wires and jammed tapes in and out until we got it working and were greeted by the immensely long loading screen for Ghostbusters. I mean, literally so long we fired it up, had dinner, then came back to find it still loading!)
From that feeling of pure joyous discovery, I developed a love for the C64. From its looks and sounds which light up my portable TV and filled my small shared bedroom with comforting warring sounds, to the fact that I still can’t get my head around the space age magic of a tape managing to send signals into a tape deck which are later unscrambled into a game on my telly box!
Sadly, as the years melted away and my memory faded, My beloved C64 in its beige leather clad home, escaped my clutches (I want to say my mum sold it at a car boot but I couldn’t say with the 100% accuracy my completionist brain demand) so when this supposed epic compendium of C64 memories was offered to me, I couldn’t resist having those nostalgic cravings sated!
Thankfully, I really wasn’t disappointed! From the moment I clapped eyes on this shiny white paperback, accentuated with sparks of 8bit colour, I was in love. The protective sleeve (because Bitmap Books are cool and practical like that) stamped with varnished miniature examples of insane graphics. Well, at least insane for their time!
Detailed chronologically, each page tells the story of the C64 game by game, every one lovingly poured over with artwork from some big names of the time and scene, such as John Hare and Oliver Frey, whom if you haven’t already seen examples of then you really need to google right now! Especially Frey! Really. Go ahead, I’ll wait!
Now tell me how sad it is that we just don’t see artwork like that in today’s video game packaging!
Along with some brightly coloured and professionally printed art for your peepers, each game has a mini review from a host of contributors including programmers and indie devs such as Jeff Minter and Archer MacLean, giving an insight into some of the greatest games the console saw as well as a few gems you may not have heard about.
I mean, Ghostbusters, Ghosts’n’Goblins, Action Force and Battle Chess I knew about thanks to them lying, ready to be discovered in the leathery gaming Grail I’d found but Robocop, The Untouchables and Rambo First Blood Part III! I had no idea! Which of course means the book became a bible for “what random things should I buy on eBay next?” (Something my wallet is still upset about…)
With such a rich history to tell, and the style it adopts means that Commodore 64: A Visual Compendium does a lot more than it says on the tin. Sure it sums up the consoles decade of gaming importance and yes it even appeals to newcomers, offering younger generations a glimpse into real retro gaming, allowing them a taste which will no doubt lead to an addiction that only trawling car boot sales can fix but more than that, it’s a beautifully precise time capsule that captures a moment of so many childhoods or my childhood at the very least. It captures that sentiment perfectly.
This is a book to keep and pass down to all your little gamers! Lovely!