Manic Miner

Stuck in the Central Cavern of the Mountain King

Do ignore the touch controls on the HTML5 version, they're not as authentic as the rest of the image...

Manic Miner, Miner 2049er... was mining as popular a game theme as space back in the 1980s? Although there isn't so much mining in these games. More gathering. Perhaps it's a potholing/treasure hunting simulator, kinda thing. The point is, these games are awfully familiar, and with good reason - Manic Miner was inspired by Miner 2049er, and like many games to have borrowed ideas and mechanics from earlier titles, it has gone along and improved upon them so much.

You play as Miner Willy, who is stuck underground with a diminishing air supply and hopes and dreams of reaching the surface once more. Ahead of him though are twenty deadly caves lined with environmental hazards, enemies of all kinds and lots and lots of insta-death.


With only two directions of movement and a jump button, there's not much that you need to learn with the controls themselves, but I still found myself making the same silly mistakes again and again. Jumping too early or not checking your surroundings before you do so (Pro tip: don't jump into spikes from any direction) are common problems, but when they're punished by an instant loss of life, you get less attached to Miner Willy and more frustrated with him (even though it's you at the controls).

Of course there's a learning curve of finding out what you can and can't touch, how you can navigate the platforms, how far you can safely fall and so on, but struggling at the same section of a level over and over can certainly grate on you, especially when you can see what you need to do but aren't quite able to just do it.

Fun Times

Persist though, and you soon find that Manic Miner is a bit of a mad game. Enemies and objects are replaced with flying mutant telephones, wacky amoebatrons, even Pac-Men, with each level being named and themed, and none of them really making much sense.

They all play the same though - collect the keys and reach the level exit - and they'll test your patience as much as your skill, while hopefully entertaining you. It's a game, that's its job, no?

Final Word

Ported across many platforms (officially or not), Manic Miner - like all classics - takes from what came before, adapts it, evolves it, puts its own take on it and pushes the medium forward. To argue that it is a ripoff or a clone is to miss the point, especially with what Manic Miner was able to achieve. It was the first ZX Spectrum title to have in-game music (that 1876 classic, 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'), previously thought impossible. The only way to get it to work was to have choppy music playback, so choppy music is what it gives. So much better than nothing, even if it is repetitive, and it makes the game stand out even more.

It is a challenge, but it's simple. There's more to it than you might think, both in terms of what you see and what the underlying code is doing to achieve it. You might not make too much progress at first, but each level has something new to see. Usually something strange, but definitely different. Manic Miner is worth a bash, be it on any number of old home computers or freely online on fancy new ones. You won't do much mining, but you likely won't care.

Fun Facts

The Commodore 16 version took 23 minutes to load, at which point it immediately started the game whether you were ready for it or not. Don't forget, your air is slowly running out throughout each level...

Manic Miner, developed by Matthew Smith, first released in 1983.
Version played: ZX Spectrum, via HTML5 remake.
Version watched: ZX Spectrum, 1983 (RZX Archive)