No site about retro computers is truly complete without having at least some articles about retro gaming. Usually, those articles are about what I call the 'true classics': great games which were made during the commercial lifetime of the platform.

For the Commodore 64, this would include games like Creatures II, Summer Games, Turrican I & II, The Last Ninja I & II, Mayhem in Monsterland, etc.

I'm never one to merely accept the norm, so this article will shine a spotlight on some of the great, new* games released for the Commodore 64 instead. The games I'll be looking at today are Edge Grinder, Knight & Grail and Prince of Persia. There are many more modern releases for the C64, so look out for more articles in the future!

What makes these games interesting is that they are, in many ways, just as good or plainly better than some of the highest regarded commercial releases from the 80's and 90's. Most of them are also available for free, though some only run (or run best) on a cartridge.
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Above: Edge Grinder, Knight ’n’ Grail and the Easy Flash cartridge loaded with Prince of Persia
Edge Grinder
Above: Edge Grinder is a fast paced shoot em up with a fun mechanic
Edge Grinder is a classic horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up, with a key difference. Instead of the usual shooting your way through the levels and trying to get to the end, the game revolves around getting as many points as you can from just one level. To gain points, your ship can both attack the aliens and hug the walls in the level really closely. The closer you get, the more points you score. So, each section forces you to choose: shoot down the aliens, hug the wall or try to do both.

Because there is only one level, the game quickly becomes centred around trying to get the best possible score and find the optimal path through the game. A complete run of Edge Grinder clocks in below five minutes so it may seem like the game is too short. However, simple as the idea is, the game can get quite addictive. There is something really nice about replaying the level and getting a better score every time. The level itself is not too difficult to beat, but does offer a reasonable challenge.

Besides, finishing the game is not really the only goal - can you do better and score more points next time. In this way, there is a tactical element to the game as well. Choosing wether to blast the aliens or hug the wall is not always easy, especially if you want a better score. The game is well designed to make you think about that choice. Well, in so far as you have the time - some of the alien patterns force you to choose pretty quickly.

It looks really nice (especially considering it is only 16KB in size), with both the level and aliens being well designed. I especially love the colour scheme of the explosions, which are different from the usual C64 white/grey/orange ones. Sound consists of one rather long SID track, which I find to be a good fit for the game. Interestingly, the track lasts quite a bit longer than a complete play through of the game, which helps keep it varied enough. There are no sound effects.

Edge Grinder was released on a 16KB cartridge (without loading times) as well as a disk image which loads all data in one go. The lack of multi load helps keep the action fast and for me, makes it easier to have 'just one more go'.

Overall, it looks, plays and sounds great, so I can wholeheartedly recommend this game to shoot-em-up fans!

8 / 10

Knight ’n’ Grail
Above: Knight ’n’ Grail is absolutely one of the best modern releases for the Commodore 64
Arguably the closest thing the Commodore 64 has to a proper 'metroidvania' game, Knight 'n' Grail is about a knight on an epic quest to gain the grail. He needs the grail to save his loved one, who has been turned into an evil dragon.

In order to win the game, you'll have to fight several dragons, collect new armours and weapons and navigate a labyrinthine castle and connected caves, find secret doors and kill or avoid lots of enemies. The game allows you to save your progress and has a number of teleports to get around the map quicker. It's quite big, so the built in auto-map comes in handy.

The castle is very well designed, it looks really good with some excellent use of colour splits. Different rooms in the castle all are unique enough so you won’t easily get lost but still all fit together as whole. The same goes for the other areas, such as the caves. Enemy placement and design fits the ‘metroidvania’ style well, with different enemies being weak to different weapons and all enemies being recognisable easily. The knight moves very well, with the right amount of speed not to feel too slow, but still the right amount of slowness to not feel light.

Navigating around the castle is a fun trek, with your knight controlling well so the platforming doesn’t feel like a chore. One of the few weaknesses in the game are the boss fights, I feel the bosses are too easy to beat. Unless you use the wrong weapon or armour, then they’re effectively impossible to beat. But this is a minor point in what is one of the best games released for the Commodore 64, well… ever.

Sound design is interesting, there is an absolutely great SID track that plays during the game. However, it regularly fades out to leave you with sound effects. I found this odd in the beginning, but it actually really works rather well - you get the best of both worlds and the sudden restart of the theme helps the atmosphere enormously. Not that it needed much help, but still.

The whole game is a joy to play, it has exploration aspects, some light puzzles, great balance in the combat and it never gets so hard you don't want to continue. It's one of those games I kept playing until I had seen both endings, which is always a good thing!

Released on disk and as disk image, there is quite a bit of loading in the game. This is accelerated automatically if you have a compatible fastloader / utility cartridge (such as the ever popular Action Replay series). If you don’t, however, be prepared for loading times reaching above a minute for a section.

It plays, looks and sounds great, with some lovely music and nice graphical touches. Simply put, this game is a must-buy for serious (and not so serious) Commodore 64 fans. The 'premium disk' version comes in lovely case and has a well printed manual.

9 / 10

Prince of Persia
Above: it may suffer from slowdown every now and then, but the Prince of Persia port to the C64 is hugely impressive
The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have deduced that Prince of Persia is not, in fact, a new game. The Commodore 64 version, however, arrived a stylish twenty two years late. As such, it is still a very new game for the good old bread bin!

In the game, you play the role of a young prince who has been captured by the grand vizier. You have to rescue the princess from his evil clutches. An extra problem is that you have no more than one hour to do so, as the grand vizier will kill the princess after that time. Your goal then, is to escape prison, overcome the guards and stop the vizier at any cost.

The game is not particularly easy. It is, in fact, quite hard. I personally struggle to complete any significant portion of it. Yet, the fluid motion of the prince (captured very well in the Commodore version), the sense of wonder and exploration and the real sense of achievement when you manage to beat a tricky section of a level all make sure you want to keep on coming back for more punishment. Errr, quality gaming!

It controls quite well for a single button joystick system. Or maybe more like a nightmare, depending how you feel about the high difficulty. There are some minor issues with controller lag, but the original versions also had this problem so I’ll give it a pass. It actually plays well, once you’re adjusted to the timing of the moves. The one weakness I find with the lack of buttons is that it’s easy to accidentally run instead of step. Which usually ends with me in a spike filled pit.

Don’t take my statements about the difficulty to mean this is a bad game or a bad port, because it’s actually a very good port and a good game. I just feel it’s better to know what you’re in for if you start playing this.

Released on the EasyFlash cartridge only (it is just too big to fit in memory otherwise), it loads instantly and -impressively enough- runs in the Commodore 64's little used multi-colour bitmap mode. As a result, it looks absolutely fantastic and comes very close to other ports of the game, graphically. There is quite a bit of slowdown in the busier sections of the game (when multiple tiles fall down the game can feel quite slow), but it tends not to detract from the experience - Prince of Persia never was about lightning speed movement.

Sounds are also reproduced faithfully (but were never the original game's high point, Prince of Persia has long stretches with very little in the way of sound and the Commodore 64 version is no different). In fact, I feel the SID track at the beginning is better than most versions of the title/introduction sequence. Some of the sound effects are also quite nice. It’s a shame there isn’t more music but that is a problem with the original and not the port.

All in all, to me this is the EasyFlash's killer app - I actually bought one to play this. Get one (or use an emulator like Vice), get the image and have a great version of Prince of Persia to play!

8 / 10

Where to get the games:

  • Edge Grinder used to be available on cartridge at RGCD and be downloaded in .CRT / .D64 format from CSDb
  • Knight & Grail can be bought on disk or as .D64 disk image from the Psytronik web store.
  • Prince of Persia can be downloaded as EasyFlash compatible .CRT format from CSDb. You can read more about the technical background of the game here.

*) In this article, I'm looking at games released -roughly- 2008 onwards. All three are available from online stores and / or for free.