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5 best C64 games and how to play them now

While the ZX Spectrum made home computers more accessible, the Commodore 64 made them even more desirable. It also had a vast catalogue of top-notch games - here are just five of the best of the time.

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Having been editor of Your Commodore (renamed YC) and then Commodore Power in the late 80s / early 90s, I have a soft spot for the Commodore 64. I started with a ZX Spectrum as my first colour home computer, but it was the Commodore that really kickstarted my career in gaming.

That’s why it’s been particularly difficult to choose the official GamesLifer list of the five best games for the C64 – more so than the best games for the ZX Spectrum. But, after a lot of head-scratching, here are the five games that made the final selection.

We’ve also put our tips for emulators to play them on today. Plus another idea of how to get Commodore 64 games onto your modern TV screen. Enjoy.

Bruce Lee

  • Released: 1984
  • Publisher: Datasoft

Maybe a bit obvious, but no C64 games list would be complete without Bruce Lee on it. The 2D platformer was something of a revelation on its release in the mid-80s, not least because it was one of the first celebrity licences we remember. You played as the eponymous martial artist and must battle ninjas on your way to collect lanterns on each level.

Another fairly unique element for the time was the ability for a second player to enter the fray – this time playing as Bruce’s main enemy, Yamo. However, it was the single-player action that we remember being obsessed with at the time.

The Way of the Exploding Fist

  • Released: 1985
  • Publisher: Melbourne House

International Karate+ could easily have made it onto this list – it’s a later and therefore better game, after all – but it was Beam Software’s The Way of the Exploding Fist that was the most groundbreaking. It basically introduced us to 2D fighting games.

Based on karate, the aim of the game was to hit your opponent twice in order to progress to the next fight and next belt category. It was simple stuff but it (and Data East’s Karate Champ) formed the basis of every subsequent beat-em-up going forward.

Little Computer People

  • Released: 1985
  • Publisher: Activision

Without Little Computer People we wouldn’t have The Sims. It didn’t have an awful lot of gameplay, considering you just had to look after a man and his dog – a bit like a more complex Tamagotchi – but it was compelling stuff.

There were some truly innovative elements too. Not only did the Little Computer person exhibit some impressive AI for the time, but the game generated a different person per game. Your’s will have been different to your friend’s, for example.

World Games

  • Released: 1986
  • Publisher: Epyx

During the 80s, Epyx (which could also have been on the list for Impossible Mission, too) made a whole stack of multi-sport event games. Summer Games, Summer Games II and Winter Games were great fun, but for us World Games was the best.

That’s down to the events list, which includes log rolling, weightlifting, bull riding and the caber toss. However, it was the cliff diving mini-game we loved the most. It featured exceptional animation for the era and a real sense of danger as you plummet.

Last Ninja 3

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: System 3

The only game to have been awarded a maximum score in Your Commodore (under my run, anyway), Last Ninja 3 shouldn’t have been possible on the Commodore 64. It was proof positive of how developers were eking the most from the machine towards its latter days.

In all honesty, any of the Last Ninja games could have been in this round-up, but the third and final game in the trilogy is our favourite, mainly thanks to the redesigned control method. This made the navigation around the isometric action-adventure so much easier.


How to play Commodore 64 games today

The best way to play Commodore 64 games is on tape or disk loaded into an original machine, although that won’t always be an option for many.

Other than that, playing C64 games on an emulator is a great way to keep the classics alive, and there are some excellent ones out there – often available to download and use for free.

There are several around, but one of our faves is Vice. Not only will it run on Windows, but you can get a version for macOS whether you are running Intel or Apple silicon. It’ll also emulate other Commodore computers, including the earlier Vic20, which is a bonus.

We also thoroughly recommend The C64 – a modern take on the original computer that comes with a tonne of pre-installed games (including World Games) and a joystick. You can also play original C64 games stored on a USB stick.


The C64

A reproduction of the original Commodore 64, including a full-size working keyboard, The C64 can be connected to a TV via HDMI and offers a 720p resolution.


Another option is from the same company behind The C64, Retro Games Ltd. It’s a similar thing but smaller and more like a games console.

The C64 Mini comes with the same list of games pre-installed, and a joystick, but doesn’t function as a computer. You can still add your own games via USB though.


The C64 Mini

Imagine the original Commodore 64 but as a smaller games console. You get 64 games built in and can load your own classics, too.


As for the games, it’s worth remembering that you are meant to own the original before you download any classic C64 games online.

If you do, one great place to get tape and disk images that’ll work with emulation is c64.com. Here are direct links to our five best games below:

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Rik Henderson
Rik Hendersonhttp://gameslifer.com
Rik is a professional journalist with more than 35 years experience across online, magazines and television broadcasting. As well as the creator of GamesLifer, he is the News Editor of T3.com, while his previous work includes stints as editor and group editor on several monthlies and weeklies covering video games and technology. He has also been a series producer on daily and weekly TV shows, and has presented and guested on multiple TV series too, including GamesMaster, Games World, Game Over, Virtual World of Sport, Live TV, Greatest Christmas TV Ads, and The Apprentice.
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