Bug-Byte - 1983
Machine: ZX Spectrum
It's easy to forget how important Manic Miner is but if you mention the ZX Spectrum to anyone under 40 in the UK the chances are they'll say either Manic Miner or its sequel Jet Set Willy. The reason for this is simple; we'd never seen anything like this before. So much of what we take for granted in games was invented in Manic Miner. All we'd had at home in the platform genre before this was Pitfall and although Mario was already in his third incarnation in the arcades he couldn't yet come close to Manic Miner.
The concept was simple but the game most definitely wasn't: Your mission was to complete 20 screens by collecting all the keys and then getting back to the exit before your air supply ran out. Each level is fiendishly designed and although at first there seem to be many different routes, trial and error proves that there is usually only one way through the screen. There aren't hordes of enemies, which is a good job because you can't attack them in any way, but each enemy is carefully placed to get in your way just at the wrong time. Add to this poisonous plants, disappearing platforms, conveyor belts, and on occasion deadly rays of light moving randomly about the screen, and you've got a real challenge on your hands. Manic Miner is fantastically difficult.
One of the most appealing aspects of the game is its wackiness. Sure a fat plumber battling it out against a giant gorilla (as he was at this time) is a bit weird but in Manic Miner you get chased by killer toilets. It could only have been born out of a very British kind of eccentricity that is sadly lacking from today's games.
Recently it seems that people turn more and more to Jet Set Willy rather than Manic Miner. It's understandable, Jet Set Willy is more like the later scrolling platformers that we are far more familiar with. JSW has tons of screens that all interconnect and you don't have to do something in every screen. I still prefer the purity of Manic Miner, every screen is its own game each more scary than the last. Despite Manic Miner being right at the start of the 8-bit computing era and the advancements that came after, Manic Miner remains the game that defines that age.
Jakey 19 Jun '03
World of Spectrum's Manic Miner page - An incredible resource, all the detail you could need and the game to download or play online to boot!
Andy Noble's Windows Remake - A perfect modern remake, you can also find remakes for Jet Set Willy and other classics here.