Christmas morning 2017 in Australia was a day I vividly remember. Not because I was eager to see what Santa had delivered to me under the Xmas tree but rather because I awoke to the news that Protovision had finally released Sam’s Journey, the long awaited 2D scrolling platform game for the Commodore 64 that was set to rival the best that any 8-bit (or even 16-bit for that matter) gaming console had to offer.
I was initially taken back at the initial asking price of 20 Euros for a digital edition but something at the back of my mind screamed ‘Buy it you fool!’ and so I did (I was later able to get credit when I ordered the physical Collectors Edition box…thanks Jakob). I was able to sneak in 30 minutes of exhilarating gameplay before relatives came by for the scheduled Christmas lunch at my place. Once all the festivities had taken place and our guests had left in the late afternoon, I rushed back to my Commodore 64 and spent the rest of my Christmas Day in pure bliss playing one of the best platform games ever made.
Developed by the highly talented Knights of Bytes, Sam’s Journey sees you play the role of Sam who wakes up in the middle of the night to investigate noise coming from his wardrobe when he is all of a sudden pulled in by a giant claw, waking up in a strange new world. Your task is to guide Sam through 30 levels across 3 world maps to help him find his way back home.
As I pick up to play Sam’s Journey 9 months later on, I am instantly reminded of what a technically stunning game it is. Sam’s Journey features smooth and fast free-directional scrolling that overwhelms the visual and audio senses with with spectacular colour and detail, accompanied with a bouncy soundtrack that varies based on the game setting location.
Moving Sam around his new world is a pleasure. Sam is somewhat versatile with his ability to run, jump, climb, swim and pick up large items to throw at enemies. You will need to utilise switches, trampolines, hidden passages, owls and collect keys to make progress through the various levels and figuring out how to use all of these items in the right place or right way provides the main challenge within the game.
The game levels are littered with a vast array of enemies who are all set on stopping Sam from continuing his journey across the worlds.The enemies are very well defined and all having differing movements or behaviours which means that eliminating them will often require different approaches.
Special costumes can be picked up throughout the worlds which change Sam’s appearance and give him special capabilities. Pirate Sam can attack enemies with his cutlass, Ninja Sam can cling to walls, while Disco Sam can do a spinning twist that allows him to stay in the air longer during jumps. This is a really clever feature of the game that introduces strategy element in so far as trying to determine the best costume to tackle a boss battle or a puzzle.
Costumes are also useful in that they provide a layer of protection from enemies, so that lives are not lost after just one hit (think Sir Arthur’s armour in Ghost’n’Goblins). However, Sam can only wear one costume at a time, so choices need to be made as to whether you swap your existing costume whenever you come across another.
At the earlier stages, I preferred to use Sam in ‘Pirate’ mode as the use of the cutlass is the easiest way to eliminate enemies, however, as I progressed through the later stages I found myself relying on Sam in ‘Dracula’ mode as his ability to fly meant that many shortcuts could be taken to avoid enemies and progress through the game at a faster speed.
In addition to trying to get Sam back to safety, the game also contains collectible diamonds, coins and trophies as an additional challenge to collect them all with the goal of obtaining an overall score of 100%. This is not an easy task as the games features a number secret sections that are not necessarily hard to unveil but they are not so obvious and will require you to be somewhat inquisitive.
As Sam’s Journey contains over 30 hours of challenging gameplay, I am thankful that the game features checkpoints placed throughout all the levels, which allows the game to be played and completed over multiple gaming sessions. However, I wish that checkpoints were not triggered automatically as there are times through out the game where I did not want to restart from certain points in the event that Sam ‘lost’ his life. A similar criticism can be applied with walking past costumes, I would have preferred to have been given the choice to accept a new costume rather than have it automatically applied.
Minor issues aside, Sam’s Journey is a technical marvel that delivers equally when it comes to gameplay. The Knights of Bytes have displayed their talent and passion to deliver the best C64 game in 25 years and a game that I will most likely revisit many times again.
To see my original thoughts on this AAA title for the C64, along with a look at the collectors edition, follow the video link below.
To refer to Sam’s Journey as a good game would be an understatement. The overall presentation and gameplay is nothing short of wonderful. It is not a perfect game but it does set the benchmark for all future games developed for the C64
Retro gaming journalist promoting NEW C64, Amiga, Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum games. Contributes to RetroGamerNation YouTube channel, RVG and Vintage is the New Old blog sites, Reset 64 Magazine, The 8-Bit Annual and various other publications.