Hello again, everyone, I'm back with Episode 2 of "Armchair Arcade TV", this time on Datasoft's 1984 closet classic, Mancopter for the Commodore 64 (C-64). The majority of technical issues from last episode - which were mostly related to a dying hard drive - have been resolved, plus I've gained another episode's worth of experience on Adobe Premiere Elements. I have a proper HD camera coming soon, so that may make it for Episode 3 or 4, improving video quality of the host segments, and after that I'll address the audio issues. In any case, I'm much happier with this episode and look forward to future productions. The full episode transcript is below the video.
For this episode, I'll be taking a look at closet classic and one of my personal favorites, Mancopter, for the Commodore 64. Mancopter was published in 1984 by Datasoft, which was founded in 1980, and released games primarily on the Radio Shack Color Computer, Atari 8-bit, Apple II and Commodore 64, though the company survived until around 1988, releasing titles for a variety of other computer platforms along the way, including the 16-bit Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. While Datasoft was most famous for being one of the first publishers of licensed computer games, be it arcade classics like Sega's Zaxxon and Konami's Pooyan, or notable entertainment IPs like Bruce Lee, Conan, and The Goonies - and even a text and graphics adventure, The Dallas Quest, loosely based on the famous prime time soap opera - the company also had a small, but notable selection of wholly original releases, Mancopter among them. While many of their games were multi-platform, Mancopter only saw release on the Commodore 64, making it all the more special.
Mancopter, programmed by Scott Spanburg, with graphics by Kelly Day and music by John A. Fitzpatrick, is best described as a mix of a racing game and the 1982 arcade classic from Williams Electronics, Joust. Joust, which we discuss briefly in Chapter 19 of our book, Vintage Games, features a simple, but compelling, oft-copied gameplay mechanic of needing to be higher than your opponent in order to knock them down, very much like its medieval namesake.
As for Mancopter, let's refer to the ad copy on the back of the box for the set up for the game: (quote)
Staring ahead, the only thing visible is an endless sea of blue. Suddenly, the cannon thunders and you're off! Pedaling as fast as possible, you soon realize there's more than endurance involved as you thread your way through the other skillful manpowered craft. Far above the deep ocean you will meet mischievous pelicans that can supply you with the precious fish you'll need later in your journey. Pressing on through giant clouds, menacing lightning storms and mysterious mangroves, you'll see sights of unbelievable beauty and equal danger!
Along the journey you'll befriend a gentle whale who will help you when in distress, and seek the favors of friendly mermaids.
But danger lurks just below the ocean's surface where giant squid and vicious sharks roam- never take your eyes off the world below for too long!
As the skies begin to crowd with other villainous mancopters, it will be a test of your strategic flying skills to maneuver your craft into the winning position. Mancopter was co-developed by Nichibutsu, the arcade people that brought you Moon Shuttle and other fine titles. Climb aboard for a wave of surprises!
Superb Scrolling Animation
Increasing Levels of Difficulty
New and Surprising Characters at Every Turn
Much like Joust, your pressing finger will really get a workout as each press causes the mancopter's rotors to spin and lift your character higher. Pushing your joystick left will cause your copter to accelerate and move forward, while pushing right will cause it to decelerate and move backwards, though you can only move as far back as 3/4's of the current screen. The obstacles are plenty, including lightning and other racers, and it's important to collect fish along the way to give to the whale for when you fall into the sea. You can also snatch fish, which are really the game's equivalent of lives, from the beaks of passing pelicans that already have a fish, or pick one up from a friendly Mermaid. If you're out of fish - due to falling too many times or having them all captured by sneaky pelicans - when you fall into the water you'll be eaten by a shark and it's race and game over. Not only do you need to keep a supply of fish, but you're also trying to keep one step ahead of the clock. If time runs out, it's also game over.
Some of the other racers will attempt to bump your mancopter which will also cause you to fall if they do it when they're higher than you are. Naturally, you can do the same to them, but you get more points for passing them rather than knocking them out of the race. The exception are the gray mancopters, which are worth lots of points for downing them, and are very difficult to stay ahead of anyway.
Though for some reason it was mentioned for quite some time on Wikipedia that there was no finish to the race, there is, with a nice animated sequence similar to the one at the start of the race. Unfortunately, with my lack of recent playtime and likely diminished skills from my childhood, I can't show it to you. In fact, even with using two different joysticks, my hand got really, really tired, as not only is there the button pressing motion, but maneuvering the joystick is fatiguing as well. On a positive note and somewhat unique, there is an option to play with left- or right-hand controls, which is generally meant for rotating a standard Atari-style joystick's layout.
As you can see, beyond just the opening and ending sequence, the animated touches throughout the game really help seal the deal. As you can see and hear, while not necessarily stunning, the audio-visuals are particularly impressive for 1984 when most developers were still learning the ropes of the platform, with nice variety to the scenery and obstacles and lots of simultaneous animated objects. Music and sound effects play at the same time, and the rather powerful musical score can be turned off so you just have sound effects, like I did for most of this video. There's even a pause feature. All this, and amazingly, after an admittedly long load common to the platform, the game resides completely in the Commodore 64's memory, which probably explains how the game was available on cassette and disk. Again, this shows programming mastery few were able to achieve, let alone on a system that was still a year or two from its prime. This game was lavished with obvious TLC that too few others bothered with.
Why this game was never ported to any other platform or the idea taken and run with by other developers is beyond me. Luckily, it's well emulated by most Commodore 64 emulators on a wide range of platforms, so it shouldn't be too hard to play the original.
Even if you never reach the finish line, you're sure to have fun, so hop on the nearest mancopter and see what you think!
If you guys have any ideas for future episodes, let me know!