Big box software compilations are often a mixed bag often offering a few choice titles coupled with a few duds. However, there are exceptions to this and one of my personal favorites is ‘The Hits’ collection from Thalamus. Containing the first (and by far the best) titles released during 1986-88, Thalamus created some truly fantastic arcade games and thanks to the wonderful talents of composers like the legendary Rob Hubbard, produced some of the best SID tunes to grace the Commodore C64. Such is their popularity, that scores of remixed tunes can be found on various fan sites and YouTube.
Sanxion was Thalamus’ first title and great little arcade shooter to boot, not to mention one hellava tough challenge to complete. The screen is split into two sections, the upper part showing a birds eye and offers a glimpse of incoming enemies and the lower part shows a typical horizontal side view. At full whack it’s a pretty intense ride, especially on the later levels where players are forced to navigate various obstacles at full speed.
My favorite Sanxion remixes
Delta is Thalamus’ second hit and is fantastic horizontal scrolling shmup similar to the likes of Gradius and R-Type. The weapons power-up system is slightly different from other shmups as destroying enemy waves can actually reduce the amount of power up points you have collected. Also unobtainable power-up points (grey shaded) can actually destroy your ship adding yet more obstacles for you to avoid and an interesting twist to the norm.
Graphically it’s top notch stuff and yet a again Thalamus included yet another fantastic music score and the wonderful Mix-E-Load system that allowed you to remix the loading music in real time.
In the same year, Thalamus released their third game, Quedex, a totally absorbing arcade puzzle game which is best described as a2d version of Marble Madness. However, this is much much more fun as you guide your steel ball around various mazes and obstacles to the exit against the clock.
Things start of nice and easy but later levels involve all manner of puzzles to solve before reaching the exit. One of my favorites is the downhill race section where nimble joystick control is required to avoid the electrical blocks – hence the games full title ‘Quest for Ultimate Dexterity’.
Graphically, it might not look much but here lies a highly playable game and one that still plays very well today
Hunters Moon (1987)
Hunter’s Moon, created by Martin Walker is a compelling mixture of puzzle and shooting game unlike any other at the time requiring a different approach to an all out shooting solution . Spanning an epic 128 levels (although you don’t have to complete them all), Hunter’s Moon see your spacecraft stranded in a universe of strange pulsating hives where the aim of the game is capture the starcells that are in centre of these regenerating hoves. Each star system contains a different set of colonies and the different approach is required to tackle each one.
It’s truly is a bizarre game that pulls you in for more. A classic C64 game and one that you should definitely check out. A modern remake has been created for the PC so even if you’re without a Commodore 64, it’s worth taking a look – http://www.ovinebydesign.com/index.php/2008/03/02/hunters-moon/
Armalyte (1988) aka Delta II
Armalyte sees the return for Thalamus to side scrolling shooter and is one, if not the best shooter on the C64. It was as stunning to looks at as it was to play with no many sprites on screen at the same time it really did show what the C64 was capable of in the right hands.
It had all the elements that make up a great shmup, including some very impressive SFX and end of level bosses coupled with a haunting soundtrack.
A modern PC remake was released by Ovine and I was lucky enough to play it and pick up a copy at last May’s RCM event. For more details, please visit http://www.ovinebydesign.com/index.php/2010/01/05/armalyte/
The 6th and final game in this collection is Hawkeye, a platform shooter that received mixed reviews when released. Personally I’ve always liked and the first time around i played it over and over again until i’d completed it – probably when i should have been doing my school work
The object of the game is simply control your cyborg around each level and collect all four puzzle pieces granting access to the next level whilst blasting away at anything that gets in your way.
Each of the themed 12 levels provides ample arcade action with great visuals and sound effects including a dash of parallax scrolling. Like most of the other Thalamus title, Hawkeye contains some great music scores which again are subject to some brilliant remixs.
So there you have it, Thalamus first compilation of hits and certainly one of the finest C64 compilation sets there is.