All good things come to an end.
By the early 1990s, the golden age of Commodore 64 games was past. The world of technology was moving on, but the system had one last surprise in store for the gaming world. It came in the form of a little dinosaur.
The dinosaur’s name was Mayhem and he lived in a world called Monsterland. His friend Theo Saurus, a magician’s apprentice, accidentally cursed five lands with bad magic. How you ask? It’s simple. He got all hopped up on cactus juice and tried out some of his master’s spells. It didn’t go well. It was up to Mayhem to set things right and restore each of the five lands (Jellyland, Pipeland, Spottyland, Cherryland, and Rockland) to their original, happy state by gathering up magic dust and stars scattered across the lands.
The game was developed, designed and published by John and Steve Rowlands, the creators of C64 games like Retrograde and Creatures. A diary, detailing the game’s development was published regularly in the magazine Commodore Format. Mayhem was created first, and then Theo Saurus, a character the two initially created for another project. Influenced by titles like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog, the game was a platformer. Mayhem could move at incredible speeds and even modern players note the how smoothly the game scrolls, even at Mayhem’s fastest. The game also made brilliant use of color with vibrantly colored settings the likes of which the C64 had never seen before.
Early in the game’s development, the Rowlands kicked around other plots for the game. According to Andy Roberts, who worked on the game’s development with the Rowlands, an early version set the story in Mayhem’s dreams. The plot took him on a quest to conquer his fears.
There was a notable bug in the finished game which involved its life counter. Shortly after the game’s launch, the game began shipping with a sheet of paper containing lines of BASIC which would solve the problem. Despite this minor glitch, the game was widely hailed by critics. The magazine Commodore Force gave it a 97% rating. It was Commodore Format, however, which would create one of the game’s most lasting and controversial legacies.
The cover of the November, 1993 issue of Commodore Format boldly proclaimed, “We’ve found the perfect game,” below a giant “100%.” The magazine’s review began by stating, “Dear ThePowersThatBe, How can Commodore Format possibly award Mayhem a perfect 100% score? Have they gone mad? Is it just a shallow bit of circulation boosting hype?” The review went on to call the game, “the single most righteous game to ever appear on an 8-bit machine.” Andy “Hutch” Hutchinson wrote the review, with Clur Hodgson and Simon Forrester offering mini-reviews. Hodgson gave the game a slightly lower rating at 96%, with Forrester concurring with Hutch’s 100% score. In addition to the praising the gameplay, Forrester cited the fact that the game was not a conversion and had a low price tag as justification for the perfect score.
Twenty five years later and the game’s supporters and detractors still argue about the score. What seems inarguable is that Mayhem in Monsterland was a perfect swan song for the world’s greatest home computer.
You can read the entire Commodore Format review here:
For an idea of gameplay, check out this longplay video on YouTube: