C64 Review: Blue Max

Chip Hageman's picture

Back in early 1984, when I was first exposed to the Commodore 64, one of the games that I had a chance to play a fair bit of was Blue Max by Synapse Software (SynSoft in the UK). In the game, you take on the role of a hot-shot World War I biplane pilot by the name of Max Chatsworth who is known affectionately to his friends as Blue Max.

The game is essentially a 3/4 perspective vertical shooter similar to Zaxxon in presentation. You have at your disposal a machine gun with unlimited ammo as well as a finite number of bombs which you can use to take out buildings, tanks, bridges, roads and boats. Overall control of the plane is very responsive, although (as with Zaxxon) keeping your altitude straight can be rather tricky. The shadow cast by your plane helps a lot in determining your horizontal location on the level (for bombing purposes) but you need to match your altitude to that of the enemy planes in order to shoot them down. You also need to mind your altitude to do strafing as well as estimate the time for a dropped bomb to reach its target.

When gameplay starts you must taxi down the runway until your plane reaches a speed of 100mph at which point you can push up to lift off. Once in the air you will be able to shoot down enemy planes as well as bomb enemy targets. Your goal is to take out a certain number of specially marked targets within the city to advance to the next level. These special targets can include buildings and bridges with a flashing red-white bullseye, flashing blue enemy planes and cars and red ships.

The bottom of the play screen is called the Command Bar and contains all of the status information for the game. On the left side you have your altitude and speed. There will also sometimes be an over-sized letter on the Command Bar. (P) means an enemy plane is approaching, (W) means wind is a factor, (R) means a friendly runway is approaching and (L) means you have landed on the runway. Landing will refuel and repair your plane. The right side of the screen lists your fuel, bombs, score and damage indicators. Damage is shown on the Command Bar as (F) for a fuel leak, (B) for bomb gear damaged, (M) for decreased maneuverability and (G) for machine gun damage. The Command Bar will also sometimes change color and those are RED for hit by enemy fire, BLUE for being at the same altitude as an enemy plane, BROWN for strafing altitude, Flashing YELLOW for flying too low and Flashing GREEN for mission complete (land to receive award).

When you lower your altitude to 21-25 feet, the Command Bar will turn brown and you will be at strafing altitude. At this height you can use your machine guns to attack ground targets. Just be careful of wind effects and bombing at this height.

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While the game is a fairly straight forward vertical shooter, it does contain enough elements to make it interesting- in that there are numerous scoring opportunities present on each level. The game also has a great risk-reward balance... All of this from a game that came out very early in the Commodore 64's life. It's no wonder why this game has earned a top spot on many gamers C64 games rankings.

If you'd like to check out the game I would strongly recommend playing it on actual hardware.. but failing that, you can play the game on the VICE emulator.

- Chip

** Just a quick note about the score. I do not grade all review characteristics evenly. For instance- I skew gameplay and entertainment value ahead of graphics and sound.

Comments

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Ah, Blue Max. One of my

Ah, Blue Max. One of my favorites, too. I never knew all the instructions though. At that point I was just happy to fly around a bit, drop a bomb or two, and start over. ;)

It's mentioned in the book I'm using in my videogames course, Understanding Video Games. Great book, but it still irks me that the three authors managed to avoid mentioning ANY of our work here at AA.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
yes, one of the "must have"

yes, one of the "must have" games of those days. If i wasn't playing one of the RPG's of the day it was Blue Max and Raid oN bungling bay.. We need a GOOD wwI air plane game.. I love those far more then jets.. There are none right ow are there? it was such a golden age int eh 90s.. WINGS, Red baron, knights of the sky, and all the WWII ones. SWOTL.. the me 262 attacking a b-17 formation.. pure bliss..

Chip Hageman
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Joined: 10/06/2010
Blue Max

clok1966 wrote:
We need a GOOD wwI air plane game.. I love those far more then jets.. There are none right ow are there? it was such a golden age int eh 90s.. WINGS, Red baron, knights of the sky, and all the WWII ones. SWOTL.. the me 262 attacking a b-17 formation.. pure bliss..

There was an indie game that came out a little while ago that looked to be a remake of Sopwith. Off hand, I can't remember the name of it.. but I'll post a link if I come across it.

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Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Excellent format

Chip keep these coming, thoroughly enjoy these!

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Chip Hageman
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Joined: 10/06/2010
Reviews

Mark Vasier wrote:
Chip keep these coming, thoroughly enjoy these!

Thanks Mark, I've got a few other reviews lined up. Including a few for review copies of a couple C64 games that I received from when I was writing for AA. I should probably get to those too.. It's been a while. :-)

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thedevilbunny
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Joined: 03/26/2010
A great game

I really enjoyed this game, but I played it on the Atari XL systems back in the day and only recently even found it was on the C64. I must say, having played the two, the C64 has a slight edge. That said, it's great on either platform. A fine, legendary game...one of my top two air battle games..right there with Cinemaware's Wings.

Charok (not verified)
Beat it!

My cousin and I alternated each "level" of flight until we beat Blue Max. That was tense, but I enjoyed Zaxxon more for several reasons.

It is in my top 10 favorite, but it can't beat Hardball. The best baseball game I've ever played for simple fun, controls, and POV. I don't know why future baseball games did the opposite of this game.

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Baseball games

Charok wrote:

It is in my top 10 favorite, but it can't beat Hardball. The best baseball game I've ever played for simple fun, controls, and POV. I don't know why future baseball games did the opposite of this game.

Hardball! was a huge favorite of mine (giving preference to the C-64 original), but feels comparatively restrictive going back to it now. Still, that and Star League Baseball were the two classes of action baseball games for their eras on computers.

A *few* baseball games retained Hardball!'s perspective, and even the latest 2K baseball games allow you to switch to the pitcher view (didn't check the last two newest versions to see if it still did), but, with newer games relying on physics rather than just straight timing, it's much harder to judge depth versus the behind the catcher view. I honestly think with today's technology, behind the catcher is the way to go, though I would like to see more experiments with the angle to maximize visibility. I think that could still use a little work.

By the way, my personal all-time favorite baseball game is probably High Heat Baseball 2004 on the original Xbox (it does work in the Xbox 360's compatibility mode), followed by World Series Baseball '98 on the Sega Saturn. Both those nailed that certain something special that I really haven't found since. Third place I'd probably put MLB 2005 on the PSP. Sony's MLB series is exquisite, but I've found the series get too difficult to control after the 2005 edition.

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