Friday, December 7, 2007

The Commodore 64 Turns 25

As I mentioned in my Popeye post (excuse the awkward alliteration), I collect cartridge-based computers, in addition to consoles. Today, my wife sent me a link to a cool story about the Commodore 64, which turned 25 this year.

In honor of the endearingly dated computer, here is my description and review of Omega Race for the Commodore 64:


Never one to turn down a challenge, you eagerly accept the invitation to compete in a space duel against Droids, the galaxy's most powerful force. Piloting a triangular space ship that can rotate, thrust and fire missiles, your objective is to destroy the enemy ships and all the Photon Mines and Vapor Mines they've planted. You'll exchange fire with Droid Ships, Command Ships and Death Ships. After you destroy an entire Droid force that consists of four full rounds, you receive bonus points and acquire an extra ship.

The Omega Race play field is a rectangular arena with reflective walls and when you run into one, you simply bounce off. A bordered, rectangular area in the center of the play field displays your current score, the high score for the day and how many ships remain in reserve. You can choose from a number of colors for the outer space action and background. Choosing certain color schemes, however, will make some or all of the enemies invisible, increasing the challenge substantially.


Omega for the Commodore 64 is a competent port of a decent arcade game but it pales in comparison with the same title for ColecoVision. It has none of the options that make the ColecoVision version even better than its arcade counterpart. This rendition has no Astro Gates, no Tunnels and no Fast Bounce. Even worse, there is no two-player head-to-head mode which is the key feature of the ColecoVision game.

On a more positive note, there is one distinct advantage the Commodore 64 iteration of Omega Race has over both the ColecoVision and Arcade versions: color options. You can change the traditional grayish graphics to a pleasing assortment of rich color schemes. Some of my favorites include a blue background with white foreground, red on black and blue on white. Lest you think these color options are purely for aesthetic purposes, some of them render certain objects invisible. This is reminiscent of Mouse Trap for the Atari 2600, which features invisible mazes not found in the arcade or ColecoVision versions.

Comparisons aside, this is a mediocre shooter that lets you decide whether to control the game using joystick, paddle or keyboard. Since the C64 uses a one-button joystick, you must pull back on it to thrust, an aspect that makes it difficult to rotate your ship without thrusting. You can use an Atari 2600 paddle controller that simulates the feel of the Arcade game's rotary controller but, once again, you're left with only one fire button, requiring you to hold down the fire button to thrust. In terms of rotation, the ship is incredibly responsive to the paddle. However, if you spin too fast, you risk losing calibration in the middle of an intense moment, resulting in your ship sitting still until you can find the point at which the paddle will rotate the ship. Using the keyboard is your safest bet because there's a separate key for every function.

If you've never played Omega Race in any of its forms, think of it as a clumsy, hard-to-control Asteroids derivation in which you shoot ships instead of rocks and bounce off walls instead of fly off screen. Fans of the arcade game will approve of this port, but others should stick to better shooters, such as Asteroids, Centipede, and Robotron: 2084.

1 comment:

No one said...

25? Another verification I'm old.

I was one who got a Vic instead and was jealous of the C64 kids. I didn't get a 128 until '85. Still have it somewhere.