It has come to my attention that the majority of this blog's brilliantly smart and generally gorgeous readers are not, in fact, European, meaning that they most probably remain unaware of the classic platform game that was Manic Miner. This situation is of course unacceptable, as Manic Miner is my all-time favourite game of the genre and easily sits among my top 10 games ever. It also is a game everyone must play; preferably on the platform it was created for: the ZX Spectrum.
Manic Miner, the prequel to Jet Set Willy, in what can only be described as a really brief history lesson, was developed for the 8-bit ZX Spectrum back in 1983 by teen programmer and cult-icon Matthew Smith and published by Bug Byte, only to be later re-released by Software Projects (Smith's new company) and eventually get itself (officially) ported on almost everything that could load games, including the C64, the Amiga, the Oric-1, the Z88, the Amstrad CPC, the Dragon 32, Nintendo's GBA and even the Sam Coupe. Interestingly, most of these ports added new levels, new enemies and new ideas, which have finally been compiled into Manic Miner: In the Lost Levels; the best Nintendo DS game ever. But, as is customary, I digress.
The game itself was inspired by Bill Hogue's Miner 2049er and was a single-screen platform game, that saw Willy, Manic Miner's protagonist, jump over surreal enemies and deadly pits, collect keys and avoid a variety of traps in order to beat 20 incredibly difficult caverns (levels). And when I say difficult, I really mean it. I've been playing the Speccy version of Miner Willy (without cheats or emulator-based saves; yes, I do have my hardcore gaming fetishes too) for over 20 years and have reached the final level only twice. I can achieve the perfect playthrough of the first 10 caverns without even thinking, mind, but still can't beat the game with the meager three lives provided.
But, why do I persevere with it? Simple. The enjoyment provided is unequaled. Manic Miner, you see, is a masterfully crafted platformer; a true masterpiece in game design. It demands pixel-perfect precision and swift pattern recognition, yet is never unfair, boring or confusing. Each level is entirely unique both in mechanics and in appearance, utterly demented, has a ridiculous name ranging from Attack of the Mutant Telephones to The Menagerie, and features its very own assortment of enemies. And yes, the enemies have to be seen to be believed, as the game attacks gamers with an outrageous selection of baddies that includes mutant telephones, seals, Ewoks, Pac-Men, killer toilettes, Kong Beasts, penguins, safes and (much) more.
Then again, words can't do Manic Miner justice. You simply have to play it. Preferably with a Kempston-compatible joystick.
Find out more about Manic Miner over at Wikipedia, MobyGames, and of course World of Spectrum, where you can also download the game or even play an online emulated version. What's more, there are quite a few related Gnome's Lair posts that will definitely interest you: