For most home computer systems, a decade of commercial success is an eternity. Users typically move onto more colorful, shinier promises of pixel perfection. However, the beloved c64 was stalwart, with high profile titles being released into the early 90’s. It’s commonly agreed when looking back on the history of the ’64, that Mayhem in Monsterland was one of the machines last great releases. Was it the glorious finale that saw the c64 riding into the sunset, that issue number 38 of Commodore Format would have us believe? In this review, I’ll be revisiting the legendary 100% scoring game. Released in 1993 on a self published label, it was renowned for pushing the metal of the c64 to its limits.
I won’t lie, I have no desire to load games from a tape drive. Some things retro don’t age well and waiting five minutes to load a game is one of them. My preferable setup for gaming are d64 images, loaded from the SD2IEC disk drive emulator. Combined with an Epyx Fast Load cartridge, the gaming action is delivered in a fraction of time compared to “back-in-the-day”. Admittedly, this factor did create bias while I was reviewing the game. Once loaded, a choreographed and scored intro, sets the players expectation for a colorful, cutesy platformer. Cut scenes of parallax animation and credits, introduce the games development team upon a backdrop of up beat and bouncy melody. What the player expects from the gameplay is jarringly contrasted by the opening level. Jellyland, the first level, opens to an ominous sound track accompanied by a desaturated world punctured by lightening flashes. An impressive, unexpected and grand transition.
The goal of the game is to navigate through the platform world, jumping on monsters (sounds familiar!) to release Magic Dust. Once the quotient is complete, your super cute, yellow baby dinosaur must find it’s apprentice magician friend to once again make the world a happy place. Doing so transforms the level into a contrasting explosion of color. Again, we witness the game designers use of transitions to progress the player through the game. This design style is consistent throughout, and personally I like the concept. It prevents the gameplay from becoming stale and I appreciate how it’s usage helps circumvent the hardware limitations of the c64.
The influence from similar games released in the early 90’s, is unashamedly obvious. The Sonic like speed feature our character Mayhem exhibits, is not a subtle nod to Sega’s mascot. Likewise is the method of dispatching the monsters, this game does Mario proud! Where Mayhem in Monsterland does differentiate itself, is through the fidelity and timing of your character’s movements, in my own opinion, players require a heightened sense of timing. In this design feature, the style of play is more inherent to home micro computers as opposed to the faster action of the consoles.
Is Mayhem in Monsterland worthy of the controversial 100% afforded it by Commodore Format? Yes. The developers, Apex did push the c64 to the point where it could metaphorically catch fire. And they didn’t halt production like so many other studios did in the early 90’s, I admire their dedication to the platform. Mayhem is a title worthy of sending the venerable Commodore 64 off into the setting sun – while still possessing captivating qualities for todays audience.
Mayhem lives up to its reputed hype. However, with hindsight being what it is and what we now know the SID chip can do, the game doesn’t quite push the audio to it’s full potential.
Will Williams is writer, photographer, programmer and electronics nerd who wields a soldering iron like it’s a lightsaber. A Commodore fanboy and Amiga disciple who believes in the endurance of the Jedi order.
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