Every ST scener today must have heard from Steve, right? Steve Gregory? No? Atari Crypt
! Ah yes, now we are getting somewhere. Well, Steve Gregory is not only an avid ST gamer (and ace reviewer), he's also a big ZX Spectrum
fan. And that is quite a good thing, because visitors to his website must have noticed that he isn't shy of reviewing those more obscure, underground, ZX type of games released on the ST you never heard of before. This has helped me discover some true hidden gems on my favourite system. What some of you might not know is that Steve can be a really stubborn fella. You see, a while a go, the creator of the game we are discussing here, started working on an updated version of Enduro Racer
(which he sadly never finished). Steve got in touch with Peter Jørgensen, expressing his enthusiasm about this project and they became friends. Peter found out about Steve's crazy ZX passion and thought it would be a good idea to pull an April Fools joke on Steve. He created an intro picture of this ZX classic, Manic Miner
, and told him he was making an ST version. Of course, Steve went through the roof. When he found Peter was pulling his leg, Steve started whining and pushing, day in, day out, for Peter to make this game a reality. And well, the rest is history, so to speak.
How's that for a backstory and an intro to this review? (Ok, I gave my own spin to it a bit, but it is mostly accurate ;-) )
(ed : Just got a message from Peter telling me he has known Steve since 2014, while creating the awesome Project-Ymer program. Today he is his nr 1 beta tester. So again, not 100% accurate)
As you might already know, I grew up with an Atari ST, but my dad bought a ZX Spectrum himself in 1982 (I was 2 years old). In 1985 he sold the thing and went for an ST. I still have some very vague memories of the ZX, blurry images of Frogger and a Breakout game are still marked on my retina. But that is about it. I never played any other games, and had zero experience with Manic Miner... until recently, that is.
Manic Miner was quite the game so it seems. Released in 1983, it was the first Speccy game featuring an in-game tune which was thought impossible before, and it did some other nifty tricks in the loading screen. After the release on the Spectrum, the game was converted to a whole bunch of other systems and a few sequels were released called Jet Set Willy
Today, Manic Miner is considered a true classic. According to Wikipedia, it has won several awards and is even placed on #96 of Polygon
's top 500 'best games of all time'. Heck, a few years ago, even an Xbox 360 update was released on Xbox Live called Manic Miner 360, that is saying something. Now, thanks to the great Bionic Nerd, we are able to play this classic on the ST, so let's delve into this one and have a closer look.
This game is true to the original version, almost pixel by pixel. The graphics were ripped from the Speccy and updated for the ST. Luckily, the pixellated look remains. The maps were designed from the ground up on the ST but created to be as accurate as possible to the 1983 classic. In the end, this gives us a very solid and fluent conversion, programmed in pure ASM
, with an oldschool look. The character animation is nice, the colours are varied and vivid. The intro and game over screens are detailed (and the latter one pretty funny as well). Of course, this is no Bitmap Brothers
game, it doesn't really look like a 16-bit game, but that is the point.
The intro tune is a conversion of the famous 'The Blue Danube
', which was also present in the original. Music in this game has been created using Peter's own software, Project-Ymer
. A classic YM chiptune, that gets on the nerves in a while ;-) You have the ability to switch it off if it becomes to much. There are no sound effects present during gameplay (ed : these will be available in the final release)
, only the original music. Oh, and normally I don't do this, but I'm reviewing the beta version, which will be very close to the release version. It has some extra intro tunes which you can choose. One of them is the main theme from Goldrunner
by Rob Hubbard
. Amazing, and Peter promised this stays in the final version as a hidden treat.
So what is the objective of the game? You play as Miner Willy and you have to escape 20 caverns before your oxygen supply runs out. As in classic single screen platform tradition, you need to collect certain objects in each screen, while avoiding a lot of moving baddies and other static obstacles. Moving enemies always walk a certain path at a constant speed. In fact, this whole game is based on timing. If you jump too soon, you could fall to your death. Or if you leap too quickly, you might hit a spider or mining robot and lose a life. This is old school gaming in its purest form. Every level is based on a certain pattern and you must find out the best (and sometimes only) way to grab all objects whilst avoiding being killed so you can exit the level. Trial and error is the only way. And remember, there is a time limit.
Willy has 2 lives which you will lose before you know it. You can earn an extra life every 10000 points you score, but don't count on that too much. Starting from the first level, the difficulty is brutal. This is something we are not used to experiencing any more in modern gaming, but the creator assures me that it is very true to how it originally was.
The conversion process of the sequel to the orginal Manic Miner, called Jet Set Willy, was started back in the day, but eventually cancelled. So we never had the chance to play a Willy game on our precious ST, up until now. (ed : Jet Set Willy was eventually reversed engineered and unofficially released in 1998)
As a first game, Bionic Nerd has made something to be proud of. If you are not afraid of a real challenge and want to know what games were all about in the first half of the 80s, Manic Miner is a beautiful example. And even though it might feel unfair at first, and lots of perseverance is needed, it is addictive as hell. You will be playing quite a bit if you want to experience the end sequence ... Unless you cheat, of course ...
Oldschool gamers will agree with me that this a very nice (con)version and a game that deserves a spot in the AL review database!
- Graphics: 7
- Sound: 6
- Gameplay: 8
- Overall: 7
The intro screen ... Just like it was back in 1983 ;-)
Pacman makes a cameo in one of the later levels.
Is that Skippy the Bush Kangaroo??
Miner Willy meets the Kong Beast. The boss stage.
Get used to staring at this screen ;-)
The first cavern. Without exaggeration I must have tried this screen over 25 times before I eventually completed it!
Of the many traps, the disappearing platforms can be a real pain. This level is a prime example where timing needs to be absolutely perfect.
The Game Over screen. Poor Willy gets squished.