Sunday, 6 August 2017

Single Screen Platform Games #16

Manic Miner (1983)
By: Bug-Byte Software Ltd Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 11,800
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC, C64, C16, BBC Micro, Dragon 32, MSX, Oric 1, Memotech MTX, PMD 85, Sam Coupe, Amiga, Game Boy Advance


Okay, time for another Red Parsley embarrassing confession. I am of course highly familiar with Manic Miner, the towering masterpiece of Matthew Smith, and have played it before, but I've never really played it properly on its home turf. I think I even completed one of the other versions but the Speccy original has been sadly neglected by me. Thinking about it now I genuinely have no idea how I missed it in its day, what with the game's already legendary status and all that. Its release came before I joined the ranks of the home computerers but you would still think a game this popular would find its way to me anyway, even a few years later, but no. I don't recall seeing it on sale and I'm pretty sure I never saw magazines going on about it excitedly either. It really is quite strange looking back but the end result was that I, a self-professed Speccy fan, wasn't even aware of one of its most recognised, landmark titles until many years later.

The second stage is actually easier than the first...
Not only that but, to shame myself even further, I must confess that the first version of the game I played was on my Amiga which by then sat alongside my Speccy on my desk. Eeek! Sacrilege I know! I did at least play the original soon after that though, and was finally able to see what my Speccy contemporaries has been bleating about all those years. It's also a game that has been overdue as part of my Single Screen Platform Games feature. And so, here is my long overdue look at the mighty Manic Miner, featuring the exploits of Miner Willy who is, remarkably, a miner. It is therefore fortunate that it was he and not a gangling claustrophobic cowboy who stumbled upon the 'ancient, long forgotten mine-shaft' that he did indeed stumble upon. Unable to contain his excitement, he entered said mine and found evidence of a 'lost civilisation far superior to our own'. A chance for untold riches awaits!

This was the first one to really cause me problems....
And accordingly, these riches form the basis of the gameplay: simply guide Willy (snigger) around each screen and collect every glowy object to unlock the exit to the next. In theory this shouldn't take too long either as there are only 20 stages but, as you may well have known for longer than me, this isn't the easiest game around. The platforms on each stage are meticulously positioned and most treasures are located so you can only collect them in a particular way or at a particular time. Willy's jumping ability isn't too bad, although his landing ability is less impressive - he loses a life if he falls too far, but he has nothing with which to neutralise the evil robots and creatures found pootling backwards and forwards. These include the likes of ducks, toilets, spiders, and telephones, and there are many non-sentient hazards to look out for as well such as spikes and plants.

That pesky Eugene caught me out the first time :(
Suffice to say, each screen, most of which look simple enough at first glance, has become notorious for its unforgiving nature. Most jumps must be pixel-perfect, most treasures must be collected in the correct order, and thanks to the many collapsing platforms, you'll often only get one shot per life! Like the best games before and since though, it also proves very addictive. The graphics are pretty good for their day too - colourful, varied sprites and foregrounds, occasionally colourful backgrounds, and little colour clash, and there's even a bippity rendition of Hall Of the Mountain King that plays throughout! Even all these years later it's very clear why Manic Miner was such a hit, and why it has remained so popular as well. It's not a complex game but is superbly designed and very charming. I still can't understand how I missed it back in the 80's but I know if I hadn't it would rarely have left my tape deck.

RKS Score: 9/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by one of the talented fellows at RZX Archives (check out their great channel here). Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!


 

10 comments:

  1. Played this on just about every platform of machines and I have to say the Oric was the best ;-)

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    1. Really? Wow, I've not heard that before but I'll check it out :) What made it better?

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    2. Yeah, the Oric version has more/different screens. I've played it on many platforms too but the Spectrum version is the benchmark for me.

      -B-

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  2. There was a Sam Coupe version I think that had either 20 or 40 extra screens too, and they were excellent. Although I may be misremembering a version from a different platform (I had the Coupe version which makes me think I'm correct).

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    1. I keep meaning to check that version out at some point actually. I'm not sure I like the colours but the extra stages must be played :)

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    2. This game was the definitive Spectrum game for me and really the quintessential computer game. I'd take issue with your rating "medium hard", "rock hard" would be more like it. Indeed the author Matthew Smith admitted to never having beaten all the levels himself. He said some of the levels with collapsible platforms are impossible to prove to be beatable as you can never repeat the same sequence. I got about up to level 10 I think (Kong Beast) but it certainly wasn't through lack of trying! I also remember there is a level called Endorian Forest which refers to Return of the Jedi. It's funny because I always think of ROTJ as being younger than Manic Miner, probably because ROTJ has aged better. I eventually managed to play through all the levels with an infinite lives POKE even that was tough! (but very satisfying) This game really set the scene for a whole genre of rock hard surreal platform games. You have to wonder at Smith's imagination: Amoebatrons, Mutant Telephones etc, the various puns and references were clever, funny, not like Donkey Kong etc which had no humour in them.

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    3. Hi John - Thanks for the comment :) I know what you mean and I did think about that before settling on that rating but... I'm not a particularly skilled gamer and even I can get about halfway through the game without cheating. I've played games for this blog where I can hardly even finish the first stage - I reserve the 'hard' or greater ratings for those. Manic Miner certainly is a toughie to get all the way through though, no doubt about that :)

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  3. Good points! But aside for the essential toughness of the levels there was the issue that you couldn't access levels at will. If you got killed you had to go all the way back to the beginning meaning you were severely limited as to how frequently you could practice the later levels. My son loves Geometry Dash and I'm sure many GD levels are harder than any Manic Miner level but GD never forces you all the way back to level 1! I find it hard to believe anyone ever completed Manic Miner without any cheating at all, even if only to help practice the later levels. But probably someone did, some people are just freakishly good.

    Manic Miner would have been better with a password system to allow you to access later levels. But, aside from Repton, very few games at the time had such a system.

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    1. That's true, you don't get much time to practice later levels, but that's true of most retro games. Even so, I'm sure some freakishly skilled gamers managed to finish it - I'm continually amazed by how good some players are. But then, they most likely put incredible amounts of time into the respective games and I just don't have the time for that nowadays. Probably never will again either. Sad but true :|

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