A true classic arcade game, this title has achieved cult status over the years, and the name of the games author Matthew Smith is still held in high esteem.
This game can probably be credited for pushing the genre of the platform game into the mainstream home arcade gaming arena.
Inspired by the existing arcade game Miner 2049er , Manic Miner was released in 1983 by Bug Byte software (the game would be re-released later through another company called Software Projects).
This game established Matthew Smith as a fine games developer, and Bug Byte would go on to release some well received titles over the next few years (such as Elevator Action, The birds and the bees and the fine graphical adventure, Twin Kingdom Valley).
But I digress, Manic Miner was an instant hit, and was a must have game when it hit the high street stores.
The aim of the game was very simple: Negotiate your way through 20 levels to complete the game and collect the untold riches that will allow our hero Miner Willy to retire.
On first loading, you knew you were in for a treat when the animated loading screen appeared which was a revelation in itself.
The Blue Danube and piano playing menu screen was quality stuff, even though the rendition of The Blue Danube was, lets say, a bit pants.
In each level you must collect the keys which are placed in awkward positions by jumping over platforms, avoiding obstacles, looking out for collapsing floors and avoiding contact with various nasties which roamed around the screen.
Once all of the keys have been collected the exit portal will flash, allowing you to escape the level and move onto the next one by walking into it. All of this had to be achieved before Miner Willy's air supply ran out which was signified by the air progress bar at the bottom of the screen.
Miner Willy's movement was very simple: walk left, walk right and jump. You could jump straight up by standing still and pressing the jump key, or jump through the air left or right by pressing jump as you were walking.
Some platforms were conveyors so your character would be forced along in one direction as soon as you stepped onto it (a bit like an airport travelator) which would make negotiating certain areas of a screen quite tricky.
Some platforms would begin to collapse as soon as you put a foot onto them, and there were always static hazards to avoid such as poisonous pansies, deadly slime and so on.
Aside of all of this, falling from a great height would also kill our intrepid hero and lose on of your three lives. All of these features were quite something for an arcade game back then!
The levels got more and more tricky the further into the game you progressed, the difficulty arc of the game progressing nicely as you moved through the screens.
Matthew Smith's wacky style of humour was evident throughout the game, with the naming of the levels (such as The Endorian Forest, Amoebatrons Revenge and Eugene's Lair which was named after a co-worker of Matthew Smith who had commented that Manic Miner would probably not be a success) and the style of the nasties which ranged from roaming toilets complete with flipping toilet seats, killer birds in The Menagerie and falling space satellites in the SkyLab landing bay (satire in a computer game - check out SkyLab history).
It was possible to gain extra lives by scoring a certain amount of points (on reaching 10,000 you would get your first extra life if my memory serves me) and the more air you had left at the end of each level would give you more points also.
Manic Miner was a modern classic as soon as it was released. Word of mouth soon spread the legend of the Miner, and it sold very very well. The levels were challenging and the game was highly addictive. Touches like the animated loading screen and in game music (in the hall of the mountain king) added to the appeal of the game. Music that played 'while' you played the game was miraculous! Great stuff from Smith. He also thoughfully added the option to turn the music off if it began to grate on your nerves (which it could do after a while). The 'Foot squash' animation once all of your lives had been lost was utter brilliance and was reminicent of Monty Python. The game actually achieved more longevity through the disappearance of Matthew Smith a few years later - the mystery of his whereabouts further appeal to this already classic game(and it's excellent sequel Jet Set Willy).
It should also be noted that there were a few subtle differences between the Bug Byte release and the later Software Projects release, but essentially both releases were the same game.
The test of time:
Well we here in the land of Spectrum Games reckon this game has a certain amount of retro appeal. The playabilty is still there and the levels are challenging. It still requires a little bit of planning to negotiate your way through some of the levels. The humour surrounding the game heightens the retro charm. This is a true classic game for the ZX Spectrum - raise a toast to Matthew Smith folks!
This fine classic game for the ZX Spectrum is definately worth another look after all these years. We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download Manic Miner for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.
GENRE: Platform game Arcade Game)
RELEASE DATE: 1983
RELEASED BY: Bug Byte then later on Software Projects
DEVELOPER(S): The legendary Matthew Smith
PRICE: £5.95 - UK?
Miner Willy meets his doom and is squashed to a pulp in a Pythonesqe way in perhaps the most classic arcade game on the Spectrum:
Classic Games Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games