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A Hands-On with Commodore 64 for iPhone

c64_previewWe recently reported the existence of a full-featured licensed Commodore 64 emulator, developed for the iPhone by Manomio.  Sadly, it was rejected from the App Store and may never see the light of day in its current form.

That said, we have high hopes that Apple and Manomio will reach an arrangement such that everyone can have as much retro gaming fun as I’ve had with the ad hoc build of this app that the developer was kind enough to provide for review.

Commodore 64 for iPhone is an application that, well, turns your iPhone into the most popular computer in history — more or less.  But, happily, it dispenses with all the requisite LOAD “*",8,1 command-line syntax and provides a Delicious-looking program loader to make jumping from game to game a snap.  It works like this: the emulator comes bundled with several C64 games (Artic Shipwreck, Dragon’s Den, Jack Attack, Jupiter Lander and Lemans) along with standard Commodore BASIC 2.0 interpreter.  Users can purchase separately sold program packs (early prices appear to be $0.99-$1.99 each and are determined by original IP holders) from the App Store that, when launched, install a game (or games) into the main application, adding them to the bookcase-like program launcher.  It’s a simple approach that works well but, as indicated, this arrangement may need to be changed in order for the emulator to ever find App Store acceptance.

C64 games

Manomio has already licensed the aforementioned games, as well as the titles that make up three different program packs: Bristles, Astro Chase and their Commodore Sports Pack I.  Some games seen in our demo video, such as Bruce Lee and International Karate, were provided simply as a demonstration of the emulator and have not yet been licensed, but the developer hopes to secure them, as well as many other 8-bit classics, for use with the emulator.


As can be seen in our gameplay video, Manomio has made it quite simple to jump right into a game. From the main screen, click through to the games library, scroll down the shelves of games and tap the title of your fancy.  From there, you’re whisked into the emulator where the game automatically loads and the particular keys needed to start a game are presented as simple icons, removing the need to bring up the provided full keyboard in order to begin gameplay.  Once in the game, a tap on the joystick tab brings up an on-screen 8-way digital stick and button at the bottom of the screen and it’s fire away…  Rotating the iPhone to a landscape orientation fills the screen with the game image, and invisible stick and button touch controls are used on the game screen itself.  It’s a flexible arrangement and the controls work rather well, but we do hope that the developer throws us a bone and writes in support for forthcoming control accessories to bring players that much closer to the feel of the real thing.

I have recently spent some time playing through the bundled games and, as a gamer who still enjoys many a C64 game on my actual Commodore 64 and through various emulators, I can say that Commodore 64 for the iPhone delivers solid, accurate emulation of the classic 8-bit machine and provides the nicest program loader I’ve seen on any emulator.  A particular example of the attention to detail is the simulated picture-tube glare present in two of the game’s three display modes — to play without that glare is to miss out on part of the reality that was 8-bit gaming.

[ Full HD version | Low Bandwidth version ]

Manomio’s slogan is “In Retro We Trust" — this impressive piece of work proves that to be true. We’ll be following this one closely.