Monday, 6 November 2017

Computer Platform Games #8

Wanted: Monty Mole (1984)
By: Peter Harrap / Gremlin Graphics Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 2,555
Also Available For: C64

I'm not sure if systems having their own gaming mascot has ever really been that big a thing outside of the world of Sega/Nintendo and their rivalry but when I was young I always used to consider Monty Mole as the Speccy's unofficial mascot. Some might go for Miner Willy over Monty but the latter had more games and I was for some reason much more familiar with him at the time, so I went for him even if some of his games did appear on rival systems. He was created by Peter Harrap, at the time a 'fresh face to Spectrum programming', and Wanted: Monty Mole, sometimes just known as Monty Mole, was his first adventure. From the title I had assumed he was some sort of cat (or mole) burglar on the run but no, apparently he's just looking to snaffle some coal from the local mine for the 'bone chilling Christmas ahead'. No one wants to see him frozen solid so let's grab that coal bucket and get collecting!

The first screen where Monty begins his quest...
Monty's quest takes the form of a flick-screen platformer consisting of 25 screens which are kind of divided into three sections - the mine itself which features lots of platforms and ropes, the mine cart area which features a dangerous out-of-control cart which must be avoided by clambering across the pipes above, and lastly (for some reason) a small castle apparently belonging to Arthur Scargill (who was president of the mineworkers union in the UK at the time). It's a game that was compared a lot to Manic Miner upon its release but it does play a little differently in several ways. First of all there's no time limit which means you can afford to take a more measured approach, but it's also somewhat more forgiving. It isn't easy, don't get me wrong, but there's less emphasis on pixel-perfect jumps and disappearing platforms which, if not handled in exactly the right way, would cost you a life.

How do you get past the wall to the rope and exit?
There are a few other features to keep you on your toes though, such as opening/closing platforms, crushers, the aforementioned mine cart, and of course numerous odd enemies drifting back and forth on pretty much every screen. These include things like hammers, drills, ghosts, candles, and hairsprays (huh?), and all are unsurprisingly fatal to the touch. Monty has no means of attacking them either, so must rely the player's jumping and dodging skills, although care must also be taken here as it is pretty easy to accidentally jump into a hazard. Monty's jump is rather slow and floaty too, and the controls can be a little sticky on occasion, but generally they aren't too bad. The screens don't feel as precisely designed as those in Willy's mine, perhaps at least partially due to the flick-screen nature and the need to cater for entrances and exits, but probably for the same reason they feel 'busier' and more enclosed.

A screen from the pipe section - don't touch the floor!
Graphically it's a very nice game in most ways. Monty is an appealing creature and I like the style of the stage graphics a lot with its good use of patterns and colour, though the two longest sections of the game could've perhaps done with a bit more variety - the first screen and the castle show it's possible. They're still good fun to clamber through, although I did probably enjoy the first half more than the second - the pipework section is a bit of a pain to get through. It had to be a challenge when there are only 25 screens though, I suppose, which isn't that many for a full price game. Even with the pipe section and some cheap deaths here and there, it shouldn't take too long to finish, but despite its few flaws I still really enjoyed this. It's exactly the kind of game I associate with the Speccy and the kind I have the fondest memories of playing. A great effort for the subterranean scrabbler's first game.

RKS Score: 8/10

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!



  1. Yes, I remember this with fondness, though I rather preferred one of the sequels, Monty on the Run. It's interesting to see how nakedly political the game was, clearly Harrap was no fan of Arthur Scargill and the Miner's strike (the hairspray refers to him, btw, he was particular about his hair!). It reminds me of how we used to have a British game industry with British themes and characters (another example is Wally Weak from Pyjamarama). Now even British developers are basing their games on American and Japanese culture. Can you think of a recent game with a discernible British theme?

    1. Haha, thanks for the info regarding the hairspray, that's funny :P But yes you're right, the 'Britishness' does seem absent from British games now, they're made to appeal to the biggest markets possible. Well, I guess - I don't really play modern games except a small amount of indie stuff, but even there it's the same. I guess it makes business sense but it's a bit of a shame too.

  2. Peter didn't come up with the idea for the game, it was an idea first developed on the C64 by Tony Crowther and the Monty character and link with the NUM was an idea thought up by the then Gremlin owners Ian Stewart and Kevin Norburn.

  3. Ahhh Monty Mole!!

    Loved the C64 games.