Hercules: Commodore 64 (C64)

Hercules: C64
Hercules: C64

Insert Disk collects Hercules for the Commodore 64 (C64).

A special 2 part episode this week as we take a look back at Hercules and it’s sequel. Notoriously difficult and rare this is a game well worth hunting down. Join the adventure in today’s retro game review.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s episode. We’re looking at games new and old to decide if they are worth adding to your collection. Sometimes games are difficult, sometimes games are easy, today’s game has a difficulty of legendary proportions. Today’s game is Hercules for the Commodore 64. Before I begin I’d like to clear up a few points, this is not Hercules: Slayer of the Damned published by Gremlin. This is just Hercules published by Interdisc in 1984.

When researching the history of this game I found so much misinformation on the internet regarding the game caused by games with similar titles. To confuse issues even more there were games of the same name on other platforms such as the Sinclair Spectrum. The game was also later re-issued by other publishers. For me, this is one of the reasons I began this channel. I see a lot of YouTube channels where gamers have just downloaded a ROM to play on an emulator and then reviewed it. I’m making it my personal mission here to only talk about games that I have in my collection. After all, the show is about collecting rather than just reviewing the gameplay itself. Don’t worry though I’ve got some great items in my collection that I hope other collectors will be pleased to see. So without further ado here’s Hercules published by Interdisc from 1984.

As far as I’ve been able to research this game was only ever published on cassette rather than the faster loading and more expensive disk system. The cassette case is fairly standard with a rather fetching design. What’s odd though is the amount of space dedicated to messages non-Hercules related. At the top of the cover there’s a suggestion of a Commodore 64 Free competition and at the bottom a “New Random Access to Frames” call out. Both of these I find strange to print on an otherwise appropriate front cover. Things get even stranger on the back. When you buy a cassette game you would expect a game synopsis, publishing year, publisher or even a screenshot. After all, these were the days when you went in to a shop and physically looked the back of the cassette to decide if this game was worth a purchase.

Instead you get one of the strangest and out of place back cover messages I’ve ever seen, it reads as follows… There is very little information regarding the Count of Mantissa online other than its mathematical function. From what I’ve been able to understand, the count seems to refer to the games developer. It’s a strange way to promote yourself but interesting to see. I believe the count to be an alias for developer “Steve Bak” but I have no definitive proof. Inside the sleeve there is a nice back story to setup the game along with the standard loading instructions. The premise is based on the twelve labours of Hercules. You must pass 11 challenging levels to unlock the final twelfth labour.

What’s also great here is the paragraph titled “Do you sincerely want to be rich?” Programmers were encouraged to send in their home-made games. For me this brings back a wave of nostalgia as this type of message was not uncommon at the time. Due to data storage size and limited memory there was every chance that a back room coder could make the next hit game. A great example of this is Matthew Smith’s legendary Manic Miner. Proof that a one-man operation could create a hit. Would Hercules be a hit though? Well, everything I’ve read and seen suggests, no. Not because of the gameplay but due to the rarity. A huge gap in the archives exists around this game and it’s thought to have had a very small production run based on the size of Interdisc at the time. Ebay also bares out that this game isn’t one that’s traded often. It took me a long time to finally track down this black box edition.

The game opens up to a rather nifty title screen and some quite decent music. The graphic designs here are reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Nothing to shout about but not a bad start. Press the start button and away you go, one of the first 11 labours of Hercules is randomly selected and explained as part of a back story. Then… 3, 2, 1, death. Well that wasn’t a good start. Perhaps unlucky. Here we go again, different labour, 3, 2, 1 death.

It suddenly dawns on you that this game is punishing in a way that seems completely unfair. Basically after a short timer expires the ground you stand on bursts in to flame causing a fiery 1 hit death. The aim of course being to try and survive by navigating your way to the exit. If this is your first time playing this is a case of 100% trial and error. After a few false starts you find yourself getting a little further, on to this rope, on to this platform and then… The platform disappears. This is a game that just ignores the rules of a learning curve and makes the player learn the level patterns and timings by heart.

If I’m honest I can see a lot of people giving up on this one fairly quickly. Imaging presenting this type of difficulty to a 10 year old nowadays. Here you go Jimmy, be the hero Hercules and fulfil your twelve labours. Poor Jimmy. Back in the day though I think generally gamers had a different perspective when it came to games. The modern idea of tutorial levels, helpful inventories and display tips just weren’t a feature of 80’s gaming. 80’s gamers saw a challenge and rose to it.

Graphically the game is quite pleasing, it’s simple but I can tell what the programmer was going for and the animations all flow nicely. Overall it’s not overdone, it’s just right. In the sound department the game is reasonably standard. It’s not the type of adventure game that needs mood music or snazzy sound effects. What’s here is good and fits the feel of the game. Obviously I have to give this game some criticism. The idea is very sound, simple platforming with a simple end goal. As mentioned though it’s the vertical learning curve that will ultimately kill interest in this game for most players. If you have no particular nostalgia linked to the game then this one is really just an oddity to explore. However, the steep learning curves also provide perhaps what is the greatest draw of the game. When playing this one for the review the first 20minutes was spent wondering if I should actually have started with another game. The next hour though was spent incrementally getting better and better at the levels.

Playing this game is a series of small wins. It’s a bit like when you play Donkey Kong for the first time. Everyone assumes that you can just jump on it and clear level one no problem. As with Donkey Kong there’s more to it than that. It’s the pattern learning, trial and error and the gamers will to replay and go further this time. I found myself saying “Just one more go” after each cheap death. It’s a clear sign that the game addictively challenging. In terms of Difficulty vs Enjoyment Hercules sits firmly in the “Addictive Challenge” quadrant. Scoring highly on both difficulty and Enjoyment. The main issues are that the game takes quite a while to become accustomed to. You will most likely find that on some levels there is little indication of where to go and on occasions where you do know what you’re doing, either the pixel perfect precision needed to avoid the enemies or the slippy control on the hanging ropes will lead to your downfall. I can only partly blame the control system though, I’m also no master of this game.

So, if you want to put Hercules in your collection how much should you pay? In many ways this one is a supply and demand question. On one hand I can certainly agree that the game is rare, it’s not readily seen often on the auction sites and the history indicates that it had a small production run. However, rarity does not automatically mean expensive. The demand for this game is relatively unknown. Considering that the game itself is reasonably unknown and that Commodore 64 collectors are probably thinning out these days it means that the collector base could be low for this item. Of the copies I have seen sell the £10 ceiling price (add $) seems about right. However, as this one gains notoriety, the demand for this game could dramatically increase as collectors look for those legendary “difficult” games of the era. In the past the Commodore 64 community have seen some games prices spiral out of control.

My final verdict on this on is that Hercules really is a game of its time. If you appreciate a real retro challenge and can track down a copy then this really is a must for your collection. For the casual gamer I think that just the footage I’ve shown here should fulfil your curiosity. If you don’t like difficult games then this one really is just a shelf filler. For the speculative collector looking to make an investment I’d say that this one is worth picking up if you can get it in a job lot or at a low auction price. If you happen to have a copy of Hercules by Interdisc please let me know in the comments section. There appears to be minimal information on this original release. So if you have any interesting information please share via the comments. For a future episode I hope to follow up on games featured on this channel.

But the legend didn’t end there…
In 1990 from the ashes of Hercules a new challenge was born… That game was… Yolanda! Steve Bak was back for the Ultimate Challenge… See part 2 of this review to find out what happened next.

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