Posted on November 17th, 2009 6 comments
I know I mostly talk about Japanese games on this blog, but the Commodore 64 was actually my chief gaming system until — not making this up — 1993, when I finally managed to connive my parents into getting me a cheap used PC clone on which I could play Wolfenstein 3D at about 15 frames per second. I was happy. Not for long, however.
The result of this is that I am intensely familiar with the entirety of the C64 games library, mainly ‘cos starting around 1990 (when I was the ripe old age of 12) I discovered BBSes and began to pirate games at a level so intensive that it arguably wouldn’t be duplicated until Napster was introduced. Hopefully some imaginary statute of limitations can keep me from being prosecuted by Microprose and all the other 8-bit publishers of the past, nearly all of which are long since defunct or bought out by other, more powerful publishers who are themselves defunct.
I went through a lot of software back then (which, of course, is all available to me now at a few keystrokes thanks to the GB64 project), but even now I remember Weird Dreams for all the, er, weird dreams it gave me. Nightmares, really. Seriously, this game, alongside Uninvited on the NES, tormented my middle-school soul immensely and made me afraid of the dark long after I should’ve been. Sorry, Mom/Dad/the dog.
I think the creepiness of the game is actually enhanced by the blocky 8-bitness of the C64 version I played. The “preferred” platform for this game was obviously the Amiga, and that version is a graphical tour-de-force, but the C64 version I lovingly downloaded from “Ironfang Keep” or “Virtual Reality” or some other similarly-named BBS in the northeastern US is a bit more cryptic. The original game comes with a novella that explains the whole story (basically, Steve, the guy you control, is seduced by his satanically-controlled girlfriend to gradually go insane within his dreams), but of course I knew nothing about that, having ruthlessly pirated this thing around 1991.
This video makes Weird Dreams look easy, but imagine you just leeched this game off some BBS in 1991 and have no information on the thing outside of the name. Sure, you can beat the game in eight minutes if you know how to do everything and have robotic hand-eye coordination, but if you don’t, then you get stuck at individual sections for days. I remember it taking me a month to figure out that the soccer ball was an item that could be used for things. Ultimately I got stuck at the point where the wasp attacked you inside the hall of mirrors. I thought I needed some other item besides the fish to defeat the guy; I didn’t realize that I just needed to hit it fifteen times (30 in the Amiga original) to defeat it. Stupid, stupid pre-teen gamer nerd!
The C64 version, being a C64 game, has next-to-no real ending. The Amiga version has a bit more substantial of a closing (and one that’s downright creepy, actually), but nothing too substantial plotwise. I posted the C64 vid ‘cos, well, I never owned an Amiga. Sorry.
PS. Looking at the video again as I edit this: Jesus Christ, Barry Leitch’s rendition of Country Gardens is one of the creepiest C64 tunes I’ve ever heard. I’m gonna have nightmares all over again tonight, I’m sure of it.