This is a compilation of mini reviews of stuff I got with ‘The Commodore 64 Collectors Guide to Mastertronic’ on Kickstarter a couple of months ago. It includes the book itself, ‘Hammer Down’ C64 game, ‘Classic C64 Soundtracks’ Tape/CD and a 25th Anniversary remaster of the first edition of Commodore Zone magazine.
As you can see in the photo above I received quite a few items in the bundle. The book, a reproduction Commodore Zone magazine, Classic C64 Soundtrack CD and Cassette tape and a C64 game on cassette; Hammer Down. ‘Didn’t he do well!’ as Brucie used to say.
The hardback book itself is a weighty tome, coming in at over 500 pages complete with glossy protective jacket. The cover takes its styling cues from the Mastertronic £1.99 range of its subject matter and is visually very appealing.
Inside the Collectors Guide to Mastertronic Book
Inside there is coverage of every Mastertronic game ever released for the Commodore 64 alongside screenshots, game descriptions and mini reviews. It’s basically an encyclopaedia of everything Mastertronic for the C64. The presentation of the book is lovely with full colour box art and screenshots on glossy paper with a real premium feel to everything. The original Zzap! 64 scores for the games are also included where they exist (they may be present for every game but I certainly haven’t read every page in the book to check).
I’ve had a lot of fun just randomly browsing through the book, stopping when a particular game catches my eye. I was quite shocked to discover that one of my favourite Mastertronic titles scored a measly 37% in Zzap! 64. I’d have given it at least double that score as it entertained me for many a rainy Sunday afternoon as a kid until I finally completed it.
Although I got the Collectors Guide to Mastertronic book as part of a Kickstarter campaign, it is available to be purchased separately from the Fusion Retro Books website. If you want to pick yourself up a copy don’t forget to use my code ‘LYONSDENBLOG’ to get yourself a whopping 15% off the price.
Collectors Guide to Mastertronic – C64 Soundtracks
Also included in the bundle was a collection of excellent C64 SID soundtracks on both CD and Cassette. Each contains exactly the same tracks but I wanted both just so I could play them on both my Hi-Fi and Walkman. There are 13 tracks in total and most are native SID tracks but there are also a couple of orchestral versions at the end taken from the 8-bit Symphony album.
Just like the book, the design of the albums is based on typical Mastertronic releases from the past. This is especially true for the cassette version which would look right at home amongst my collection of classic games.
The cassette features full colour labels and a J-card complete with track listings. The recording, whilst on a standard ferric cassette, sounded terrific and has been completed to a high standard.
The CD is a thing of beauty too. The music has been recorded onto one of those vinyl record style black CD’s which makes it look like a diminutive 7″ single. It features an expanded version of the cassette artwork on the front and needless to say it also sounds fantastic.
Sadly I don’t think the soundtracks are available to buy anywhere now as they were limited edition runs.
Hammer Down Game
Also included in my Collectors Guide to Mastertronic bundle was a new original game for the C64 called ‘Hammer Down’. The game comes on cassette with a suitably Mastertronic style cover. Look carefully though and you will see that it’s actually made by Psytronik, the prolific modern day C64 game publisher.
The yellow cassette is very eye-catching and has colour artwork screen-printed directly onto it and looks fantastic.
Likewise the yellow case and full colour J card complete with screenshots looks equally great.
The game takes a few minutes to load but during that time you are entertained by a very catchy SID tune and some great game artwork.
The game itself is like a cross between ‘The Last V8’ and ‘Action Biker’ which is no bad thing. The gameplay side of things comes from ‘Action Biker’ whilst the top-down view (rather than isometric) comes from ‘The Last V8’.
Once the gamer finishes loading you are greeted with a neat ‘chequered flag’ title screen along with another great piece of SID music. This screen also displays your high score and the games credits. A really nice touch here is that the MPH and RPM dials become VU meters with needles that bounce away in sync to the music.
You play as a motorcycle courier who must ride around and collect all the packages dotted around a small town. Of course it’s never quite that simple so in time honoured tradition you have 3 lives and will lose one if you hit an object or run out of fuel. Your fuel level drops at quite an alarming rate so you need to keep a close eye on it. Thankfully a warning will sound when the level gets critically low. Fill-ups are free so it really pays to keep your tank topped up.
Like the games upon which it is based, controlling the bike in Hammer Down is quite tricky and takes some getting used to and navigating the scenery can be tough. The main problem is discerning what elements of the environment are fatal if touched and those you can get away with. For example there are thick black areas around walls and buildings which I thought would kill me. After a few minutes I realised they were shadows and I could safely drive through them. Conversely sometimes elements I thought were road markings turned out not to be resulting in a life lost. Basically a lot of trial and error is required but that’s all part of the fun.
Another skill that needs to be mastered is the U-turn! Your bike has no reverse so if you head down a dead end (which you must do to collect many of the packages) a U-turn is your only option! The bike has a pretty small turning circle but it can still be extremely tricky to turn around without hitting something!
There’s limited sound effects in the game, being mainly limited to explosions, a low-fuel warning/refuelling ‘glug’ and a parcel pickup chime. However the SID music that plays during the game more than makes up for this. It’s a terrific rendition of ‘The Return of the Los Palmas 7’ by Madness. They were one of my favourite bands back in the 80’s so this added greatly to my enjoyment of the game. Obviously your mileage may vary here!
All in all this is a terrific little game and I’m really glad I chose to add it to my Kickstarter bundle. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of either ‘The Last V8’ or ‘Action Biker’. It definitely has that ‘one more go’ appeal as you strive to collect a few extra parcels on your next round and beat your high score.
If you would like to get yourself a copy Psytronik will be selling it on their website soon.
Commodore Zone 25th Anniversary Edition
Last but by no means least I picked up a ‘remastered’ 25th Anniversary Edition of the first issue of Commodore Zone magazine. For those unfamiliar with Commodore Zone it was a fan made A5 magazine produced in the UK in the mid 1990’s and ran for 16 issues.
The original magazine was completely black and white, even down to the cover. Access to a colour printer was a luxury most of us couldn’t afford back then! The photo below shows the original magazine from September 1995 on the left for a direct comparison.
Clearly a lot of work has gone into this as you can see from the comparison photos below. It’s not just the addition of colour but also many of the pages have been completely redesigned to incorporate a more modern look and feel. The guys that did this have done a tremendous job and I really hope that they give the same treatment to the rest of the back-catalogue in the near future.
The only thing missing is the coverdisk but as I have all the original discs already that’s no great loss. Here’s a photo of the (double-sided) disk I received with issue one 27 years ago!
Sadly printed versions of Commodore Zone aren’t available to purchase anywhere today (unless you get lucky on eBay). However you can buy a CD containing scanned copies of all 16 magazines along with .d64 versions of all the coverdisks here.