Manic Miner – ZX Spectrum Review

Retro Resolution Retro Review

System: ZX Spectrum
Developer: Matthew Smith
Year: 1983
Publisher: Software Projects (original release), Bug Byte (re-release)

Manic Miner - Eugene's Lair. Image: Retro Resolution

In the early days of video games, long before production required teams numbered in the tens or the hundreds, on rare occasions certain magical titles and their authors become synonymous with the systems for which they wrote. Carmack and Romero, the IBM PC: Doom. Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo Entertainment System: Super Mario Bros. Matthew Smith, the ZX Spectrum: Manic Miner.

Indisputably iconic and absolutely legendary, Matthew Smith and his Miner Willy created a sensation in 1983 with the archetypal platform game; Manic Miner beckons you to traverse twenty single-screen caverns, each encompassing wonderfully distinctive and splendidly animated sprites, precise and cunning platform designs, and intricately crafted enemy movement patterns.

Matthew Smith - legend. Image: Jontintinjordan

By no means his first commercial release (that honour falls to the little-known TRS-80 title Delta Tower One) Smith’s pioneering magnum opus impresses from the off, presenting a cleverly animated loading screen utilising the Spectrum’s Flash command to alternately display the legend ‘Manic’ and ‘Miner’ in massive, colourful, and chunky (yet friendly) text.

Manic Miner - Spectrum animated loading screen

As was more common in the early years of Sinclair’s quintessentially British micro, Manic Miner plays to the machine’s strengths, sporting wonderfully bright, colourful, crisp and precise graphics.

Once loading has completed the player’s full attention is immediately commanded through a brilliantly off-key Les Dawson-esque rendition of The Blue Danube, presaging the insanity to be found within the game proper. Further aural invention comes in the form of continuous in-game music, Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, widely credited as a Spectrum first.

Besides a menagerie of inventive creatures, including mutant telephones, amoebatrons, and killer toilets, each cavern presents unique challenges, including the innovative and deadly refracting light-beam featured in the ‘Solar Power Generator’ level. The game-play effortlessly matches the design, a pick-up-and-play master class employing simple controls (walk left, walk right, jump) which underscore the classic ‘easy to pick up, hard to master’ nature of the Willy’s quest for riches.

Bonus fact: Manic Miner was originally published by Matthew Smith’s company Software Projects, and subsequently re-released by Bug Byte; the latter variant incorporates a few minor graphical tweaks, and substitutes ‘typewriter’ as a cheat code in place of, allegedly, Matthew Smith’s driver’s licence number (6031769)

Manic Miner is a near-definitive implementation of the single-screen platformer, a truly timeless classic as evidenced by implementations on virtually every Eighties microcomputer, along with numerous contemporary remakes and homages (including a relatively recent high resolution port to the redoubtable ZX-81).

Fire up Fuse* to experience this gaming goldmine and reacquaint yourself with your inner Willy today!

* Other ZX Spectrum emulators are available.

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