The Commodore C64 was a great little machine for its day, and its games were worthy successors to the Atari games which came before it. One game will always stand out for me as particularly enjoyable, due to its innovative concept, progression, style, and overall replayability: Paradroid.
Paradroid stood out due to its innovative concept, first and foremost; it managed to turn on its head a trope that usually stood for the villains in stories and movies. Have you ever seen the film where the bad guy is able to take over minds of unwitting bystanders, make them do their bidding, and then discard them? Particularly heinous is the villain who treats the innocents under his control like a series of rental cars with unlimited insurance, able to wreck them at will in pursuit of his nefarious goals.
Paradroid is that movie, except now, you’re the good guy, and the bystanders are evil robots.
So was I.
The game started with a humble little number ‘001’ wrapped in a white circle. Maybe it’s the right-brainer in me, but those two zeroes looked like a couple of sad, semi-scared eyes; this fellow was a little guy in a playground of big boys and he knew it.
Next, the controller made you feel this was a bot, swooping, slowing in a turn, and making me think this was the ultimate in levelling-up as I grabbed other bots and moved up the proverbial ladder.
Grabbing other bots was more than holding down the right button and blasting them, or crashing into them and hoping for the best. The mini-game took the form of a circuit grid, one in which you had a quickly spinning timer and finite number of ‘shots’ to make the thing into your ‘bot’s color. Success meant you’d leveled up and taken something [hopefully] more powerful than your last ‘bot. Failure meant you were demoted back to the scared little 001, a lonely floating helmet trying to clear out the ship of automatons before you got shot or ran out of juice.
Or, if you were already that scared little ‘bot, you blew up. BEWM!
And just to keep the tension on: even if you won, you couldn’t hold a robot forever. There was no ‘I’m in a locked room, so I’ma-gonna-geta-sammich-an’-be-back-later’ interlude. No pause button, no save button, you just kept going. And if you help your ‘bot too long, you started to softly ‘blink’ from dark to light as another timer limited the length you could control your unwilling host.
So, it was a constant sense of danger, always wondering what was around the corner. Or even worse: I just grabbed an 800-series ‘bot! Cool! It’s a dalek from Dr. Who! Uh-oh; I’m fade-blinking, and…crud! There’s only a 200-series garbage ‘bot to grab! Do I trade down now, or look for something even better and risk losing the 883/Dalek and dropping back to the beginning as a 001 helmet! What do I do?
The only disappointment for me: There was no ‘end screen’. I’d clean out the whole starship, and then get transferred to the ‘Metahawk’ and have to start all over again. Rumor had it there were eight or a dozen more ships, all with the same layout. You never got to ‘finish’ and you never got to save the crew who’d sent the initial distress call, a bummer.
Despite this, the game went on to win about a gazillion awards since its ‘85 release and inspire a number of reboots and clones. Paradroid is still a classic in the annals of old school gaming, and will always be my favorite C64 game.
Now, if I could just hang onto that 999 command cyborg a little longer…

See an extended playthrough:

John McNichol John McNichol (9 Posts)

John McNichol was born in Toronto, Canada at the dawn of the Swinging 70s...which explains why he's such a fan of the Big 80s! He loves reading, writing, playing his old Atari games, and hanging out with his wife and seven children when he can. Today, He is a proud U.S. citizen who lives and teaches High School in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He also loves meaty Lasagnas, loaded pizzas, and killing time for three or more hours at a stretch at the local Barnes & Noble. He's ok with pineapple on pizza, but hates broccoli. Hates it. Still.