Welcome to the very first entry in a brand new series of articles. I decided that the blog having retro right there in the title in all, could do with a greater amount of genuine retro content. The Commodore 64 is probably my most favourite gaming platform of all time (with the SNES and Game Boy close behind) and I would spend many an hour in my childhood playing various games on my trusting machine. There are going to be a few different types of article within this series – some will be favourite games of mine that I am extremely familiar with, some will be taking a look at games that I never played back in the day, and some will be having a nostalgic look at the contents of classic Zzap and Commodore Force cover tapes. I would eagerly await the arrival of each new issue of these magazines, and the first thing I would do when they arrived is remove the cover tape and load it up. These tapes would often include complete games or interesting utilities, often just as good or better than anything I had paid money for!
So as you can see from the title, the focus of this first edition of Commodore Classics is Dragon Breed, a horizontal shoot ‘em up that was released in arcades in 1989 and then ported to the home computers. It was originally conceived by Irem, the company most people know for the excellent R-Type series. Their knowledge of the side scrolling shooter genre helped them make Dragon Breed a really fun game, and the twist of you controlling a little man riding a dragon was genius. The dragon itself was really large on the screen, and the tail could be used both defensively to protect the vulnerable rider and offensively to destroy enemies and gun emplacements. In the transition from coin-op to C64, a few corners have had to be cut obviously, but overall it remains very faithful to the original game. One thing that is quite obvious when you first see the C64 version moving is the sprite flicker on the dragons tail. It is a little distracting to say the least, but it is unfortunately unavoidable in order to allow that many sprites to be on the screen at the same time.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the conversion though is the soundtrack. Martin Walker has done an amazing job of taking the tunes from the arcade cabinet and adapting them into SID equivalents. Because of the unique sound of the C64’s custom chip, the music is actually an improvement in my opinion. But enough of the graphics and the sound, how does the game play? I am pleased to say that despite being slightly easier than the original version aside from a lack of continues, it plays very closely indeed. All of the stages are intact, and their various set pieces including giant dragon dreadnoughts are represented. The various power ups in Dragon Breed – red for a flame attack, orange for curling into a defensive position, silver for homing rockets, and blue for lightning – are all present and correct. The most useful of these by far is the orange one though, as it can be used effectively in every situation.
Dragon Breed was a whopping £9.99 back when it was published by Activision, and the child version of myself took quite a risk with his pocket money, because he bought it solely because it looked cool, and he recognised the Irem name. Luckily the risk paid off and Dragon Breed became one of those games I would return to time and time again. I eventually became familiar enough and skilled enough to be able to complete it, though those skills have unfortunately deteriorated over the years because I only managed to get to stage 3 whilst replaying it for the purposes of this article. The companion video above contains footage of those first three stages. The next edition of Commodore Classics will be a random selection of three games that are completely new to me, chosen at random. Catch you next time!
You can download the Dragon Breed game files here, or the VICE C64 emulator here.