Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Commodore 64 Games #1

Paradroid (1985)
By: Andrew Braybrook / Hewson Consultants Genre: Shooting / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore 64 First Day Score: 1,275
Also Available For: Atari ST, Amiga, Archimedes
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Well, I suppose it's time I got around to reviewing some Commodore 64 games here at Red Parsley. My unfamiliarity with the system makes choosing one something of a 'lucky dip' though, so how do I choose? Most of what I know about this game is a result of the coverage the remake that appeared on the 16-bit computers received in my favourite magazines of the day. This C64 version is the original though, and many fans would insist that it's still the best, so let's see what the fuss is all about. The game is apparently set on a fleet of spaceships, each of whose various decks, which are viewed from overhead, are populated by lots of droids which have been turned hostile by some malevolent asteroids. It's therefore your job to destroy them. Sounds simple enough!

I've always assumed that this is a rather complicated and puzzley game but the first few minutes I played it were spent moving my amusing-looking droid around shooting all the others I encountered. I suspect it gets more involved than this, however, and that indeed proves to be the case, but not by as much as I thought. As mentioned, the object of the game is to take out all the other droids on each deck of the ship. The humorous droid I spoke of is the very weak one you start off with and a device known as the 'Influence Device' allows you to exert control over it. You can move it around the spaceship in the eight basic joystick directions and it can fire an energy weapon in its direction of travel. The decks of the ship vary in size and all but the smallest are divided into numerous rooms. Droids occupy these rooms but you won't know how many there are until you enter.

Each game is started at a random point on the first of the never-ending ships. Each of them has lifts to facilitate your movement up and down through the decks and there's also terminals here and there which you can log onto which give information on the remaining droids. Each one you encounter is represented by a number which indicates its power (your default droid is numbered 001). The higher the number the faster it can move and the harder it is to destroy. Some droids can also shoot back, with the power of their shot also increasing with their number. There are no power-ups to collect so to contend with the ever powerful droids you'll have to employ an alternate technique. Any droid can 'link' with another and this enables you to take them over via a mini-game which involves basic circuit diagrams and logic gates.

Here, you control one side of the screen and the droid you're trying to take over controls the other side as you battle for control of the droid's circuitry. Success means you 'become' that droid but they only last for a limited time so you'll need to continually transfer to new droids. It's also wise not to try and take over a droid that is much stronger than the one you already control as you will likely lose, and losing means your current droid is destroyed and you'll revert back to the weedy default droid. If this droid is defeated in an attempted transfer, it's game over. And it's a game over screen I've seen quite a few times now! I was a bit worried about playing this game as I thought it was going to be rather complicated meaning I'd have to spend hours learning how to play it, searching the internet for guides, etc.

Fortunately, it's not as complex as I feared, but it is pretty tough. This is no console game so there's no multiple lives and continues to ease you in. If you lose the default droid, that's it! Mini-games have never really been my forte either, and it is here that I predictably have most trouble with Paradroid. It's a good concept though and, whilst probably not invented here, it does suit the game very well. Also suiting the game are the graphics. My experience with C64 games is limited but I do know that they often look quite blocky and use a distinctive colour palette and that is the case here too. It's not a bad thing though and the style used is a good one. The mostly-monochrome colour schemes change from deck to deck and they can get a little garish (green and red? groo!) and it would be helpful if some colours were altered when being used against some of the lighter background colours, but overall this is a decent looking game.

The sound is pretty minimal which was surprising to me - all this tooting C64 fans do about their beloved SID chip and there's nary a tune to be found here! There is a few ditties though, and some atmospheric sound effects too. I suppose full-on musical tracks might not really suit a slow-paced game like this either, so perhaps it was a conscious decision to not include any. In any case, it doesn't adversely affect the gameplay. I think it's safe to say I've not played anything quite like Paradroid before and playing it for the first time over 25 years after its original release makes me think about how many other unique games I missed out on. It's certainly a captivating game and pootling around these 'robo freighters' is an oddly therapeutic experience. I'll probably have to play it for years before I get really good at it but with a game as original and well-designed as this one, it's no real hardship.

RKS Score: 8/10


  1. Nice round-up, RKS!

    My only experience of Paradroid is via the Atari ST's Paradroid 90, which we played as part of STOT last year (STOT = ST offline tournament) but from your descriptions, it sounds almost identical. It's a great game, and a real rarity: a genuinely unique concept that wasn't ripped off wholesale by other developers.

    Oh, and you managed to write an article about Paradroid that didn't contain the word 'bas-relief'. Bravo.

  2. Thanks Marc! You're right, this is a totally unique game that I've never played anything else similar to. I'm really glad I did play it too! I'm not sure what you mean by your last sentence though. Am I being peculiar? :P

  3. That does look like an interesting game. I've always wanted a Commodore 64, ever since I was a kid with a Commodore Vic 20. It seemed all the good games were getting released on the C64, but not the Vic-20. This must be one of them:)

  4. Bas-relief is the art style used in the game to give the impression of 3D using only 3 colours - Most notable on the beautiful title screen. Everything I've ever read about Paradroid mentions it, so it was refreshing to read a review without it ;)

  5. Sean - I've never really had the same desire as I was always a happy Spectrum owner but playing games like this does make me realise what I missed out on! :)

    Marc - Well, now it does mention it thanks to you! ;) Just joking, I haven't read any reviews of it before so I guess that's why I haven't heard of it. It does look pretty nice though I have to say :)

  6. Paradroid is my favourite C64 game, quite closely followed by Uridium both by the amazing Andrew Braybrook! When my brother told my mum we need to upgrade from the beeb to a speccy I argued that we should get a C64 instead. Unfortunately my brother won the argument! I loved the speccy too but a few years later bought a C64 myself and Paradroid was about the first game I played.

  7. It sure is a fantastic title and one which C64 owners have rightly bragged about for many years. Mr. Braybrook was a very talented guy too - I also like Gribbley's Day Out, although it's rather difficult!