Upon playing this game, you instantly realise why the popularity of the mining profession has dipped considerably: rabid penguins, rampaging mechas, and hungry ostriches would turn away even the most determined subterranean dweller. But Miner Willy is no ordinary miner. Miner Willy is a MANIC Miner.
Miner Willy’s mission is to retrieve a varying number of objects from twenty single-screen levels (“caverns,” then), and to escape before his oxygen metre drops to zero. Simple. Simple yet DEVIOUSLY CUNNING.
The controls are hardly rocket science. It’s O to move left, P to move right, and the big fat space bar to perform a perfect arcing jump. And that’s it.
The difficulty of each cavern naturally increases as you advance further into the game. The enemies become faster and more numerous, and the gradually falling platforms more prolific and deviously placed. The enemies are restricted to either a fixed horizontal or vertical movement, with only their speed and size to differentiate them. It’s where Matthew Smith PUT them that’s the poetry… each cavern is tough without being frustrating. If you die in this game, you know it was your misjudgment, rather than a flaw with the programming, that made you die.
The sound, then. Not very much of it really, but what is there is quite apt, in a completely inappropriate sort of way. Upon loading the game (which takes a good five minutes), you are presented with a piano playing and…umm…”experimental” version of “The Blue Danube.” Hurriedly pressing Return, you enter the game itself, and your ears are bombarded with a rendition of “Peter and the Wolf,” composed entirely out of clicking noises. You jump and a squelching, prolonged bleep assaults your brain. And the music never, ever stops.
The graphics are offbeat and rather hilarious to first-timers. Penguins bob their heads back and forth, mutant toilets clack their seats at you menacingly, and the piece d’resistance, there’s a giant head. Named Eugene. What’s not to love?
The game is colourful, and you can tell Matthew wanted it to be fun. The sprites are well animated for their time, their little limbs moving from left to right. It gives them a character that no other Spectrum games at the time could match.
Flaws? There are a few. Some of the caverns are simply lacklustre repeats of the previous ones, which is inexcusable with there being only twenty on the tape. More caverns would also have been nice, but luckily the retro community has developed countless remakes and impressive fan-sequels. You can Manic Mine until the cows come home.
Once the game is beaten, however, there is no reason to come back to it—besides nostalgia. It is one of those “play it once, boast about beating it, then shelve it” kind of games.
The self-respecting Spectrum owner NEEDS to have this, as well as its sequel, the IMPOSSIBLE Jet Set Willy. For the rest of us, seek it out, just to see where modern platformers came from.