Manic Miner

ZX Spectrum

Lost Retro Tapes Smash

39 years. 39 years of trying to beat maybe the greatest game ever made. And it still eludes me. Yes, I’m not the greatest at video games, but it just shows the playability of Manic Miner that I keep returning to try. Every death is your fault; there are no cheap deaths, well, apart from the Solar Power Generator, but I’ve never managed to get there without a POKE, so that is going to be a treat for another day.

But let’s go back to 1983; I can’t remember how I got a copy of Manic Miner. Games were a rare treat, I had played Thro The Wall to death on the Horizons tape that came with my 48k Speccy, had skied down some slopes after braving the busiest road in the world in Horace Goes Skiing, navigated what I now realise was a Pac Man clone in Hungry Horace (I never saw an arcade as a kid) and stomped on some spiders heads in Horace and the Spiders, why were all my first titles Horace games?

This was stuff I hadn’t seen before in a game and I loved it.

But then Manic Miner arrived in my possession, and it’s hard to explain now how revolutionary some of its features were. An animated loading screen and music during the game were things I hadn’t seen before in a game, and I loved it.

I never paid any attention to stories in the past, and I am not sure if there was any real story to Manic Miner apart from collecting stuff on the screen and getting to the exit when it starts flashing before your air runs out, signified by a depleting bar at the bottom of the screen. To be honest, it didn’t need one.

There is no gentle introduction to the game either, thrown into the first screen it does not take it easy. In an interview with Matthew Smith, he explained the first screen was his “test screen” and, as such, was much harder than a lot of the initial levels. There are tight gaps to jump into to avoid the one-hit killer plants (everything apart from the Solar Rays in the game kills you in one touch), a patrolling enemy that requires a leap over his head, keys to collect that are dangling off an instant kill spike. Brutal!

The rock-hard first screen but what on earth is that enemy

Talking of enemies I literally couldn’t tell you what the first one was in the Central Cavern, but the British humour of Matthew Smith is riddled throughout the game, you’ll encounter killer toilets, telephones, Ewoks and other killers straight out of a crazed mind.

There are only 3 controls; left, right and jump. They are perfectly responsive and predictable, which you will need as many gaps require absolute pixel precision. Some platforms will crumble away when stood on, and falling from too great a height kills you. Basically, everything wants you dead.

Killer Toilets

The graphics are colourful and smooth. There’s no scrolling here; it’s just a single screen for each level, but they are beautifully designed, and this is where Manic Miner really shines. The level design was unbelievably tight and clever, similar to the feeling you get playing World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros it has that feeling of just being perfectly crafted. A perfect playthrough of a level, at least in the early stages, will have the optimum enemy movement, and it feels so satisfying to breeze through a level.

The sound, however, is where the modern me can clash with the child me. Let’s be honest: Having sound in-game was revolutionary for the time, and as a kid, I loved it. Today, I can also be impressed by the technical way it was achieved (constantly alternating CPU time between the music and the game, which also caused the stuttering effect, if you want to know), but you will turn down the sound after just a few minutes of play.

To keep returning to a game for almost 40 years I imagine will never happen again

Playability and addictiveness, though, are off the chart. There is a reason when I fix a ZX Spectrum, Manic Miner is the first game I load up on it. As mentioned before, it’s hard but never unfair. Each level is complete with practice (I have done this with the level select), but putting them together into one playthrough has always escaped me. I will succeed.

To keep returning to a game for almost 40 years, I imagine, will never happen again. As much as I love The Last Of Us or Red Dead Redemption II, I don’t see myself playing them in 2050, but as I reside at the Sunny Meadows Care Home, I still think I’ll have a Spectrum Emulator and a copy of Manic Miner. Will I have completed it by then, probably not.

ZX Spectrum
Release Year
ROM Link

Manic Miner Score


Gameplay Video