The Good Ole Games – Manic Miner + Jet Set Willy

I love old computer games.  So much so that I often spend hours playing java conversions of truly great old games.  And I thought why not share my love of these paragons of pixellation with my loyal readers, so expect more in the future…

Typical screen from the Commodore port of Manic Miner,

Back in 1983 and then later in 1984 the ZX Spectrum would give rise to two of my favorite early home computer games, Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. These days both of these games would almost certainly be ignored by even the most dedicated player of flash games but back then they were a real eye opener to just how addictive a good computer game could be.

In addition to what were for the time wonderful graphics, both games boasted sparkling game-play. The controls were simple and responded very crisply which was quite rare for early computer games.  The graphics were of course basic 8 bit type shapes but for all that I remember how much I loved the way the programmers had used a weird mix of bright primary and muted pastel colours in both games.

As for playing the games?  Well in both cases it was all about getting  the items scattered in a given screen.  While also avoiding a truly insane number of deadly objects and creatures.  That was the whole game.  It really was that simple.  Collect everything and somehow avoid being eaten, stomped on, falling to your doom or in some other way being horribly splattered all over everything.

Manic Miner is I’m sure to no-ones surprise set in a mine.  Unfortunately air being in short supply down there you’re in a race against time before black lung or some other horrid mining affliction asphyxiates the hero Willy. And believe me this happens a lot before you would ever manage to beat this game.  So often in fact that at times the thought of finding a mining pick in reality and excavating your own brains into a pudding bowl seems to be a wonderful alternative to playing any longer.

The very first screen of Jet Set Willy, dont be fooled pain lies ahead.

Jet Set Willy on the other hand was set after his retirement from mining in his new mansion.  He’s had a huge party and the guests have left an unholy mess.  So his housekeeper, I shit you not, his actual housekeeper sends him out to clean up when all poor ole Willy wants to do is settle into bed for the night.  So instead of snoring his little hung over, pixellated head off he’s running around his deathtrap of a mansion cleaning up after his ungrateful friends.

Neither of these sound anything like rich, well written adventures and they’re not.  But do you know what?  The story was just enough.  I spent weeks playing both of these games simply because they were just so amazingly playable.  The story really meant nothing at all, it was just a really crappy little hook to get you playing and oh goddesses did you play.

But playability and lack of story aside one of the best reasons to play both Manic Miner (in later ports) and Jet Set Willy was that they both had reasonably good soundtrack’s.  Actually scratch that, for the time the soundtracks were amazing.  In an era when most games had the sort of sound that made the idea of pouring molten lead into your ears a welcome prospect here was a pair of games that had actually recognisable music playing in the background.  The start screen of Manic Miner had “Blue Danube” in the background and the play music was “In the Hall of the Mountain King”and Jet Set Willy included two easily recognised musical pieces also though I prefer Manic Miner in this.  This was a first as up until the Miner Willy games no-one believed a processor could run a game and play music at the same time.  Of course in th earlier ports it was stuttery and sounded much like an early Nokia ringtone.  But it was music damn it and wow did it make you sit up and take notice back then.  I would have to suggest to hear these games at their best though you play the Commodore 64 or Amstrad conversions.

Now for all that these were fun games they weren’t without their problems.  Manic Miner came from an era when games came on cassette tape and you can imagine the problems with that.  Jet Set Willy had those problems and a set of bugs that for the first unpatched version made the game unwinnable. These were eventually fixed though and what remained was a pair of true classics.  And guess what?  You can still download in browser versions of them both and play them on Windows in all their retro glory.

Now the admissions.  I don’t particularly like the Speccy versions of these games.  Despite the game play being identical to older ports the games are simply not as polished.  The later Commodore and Amstrad ports were a little smoother graphically and the musical accompaniment was far easier to listen to for hour after hour.  Also they will have aged really badly in the eyes of most players.  But remember these games are 26 and 27 years old.  Show me anything electronic that old that’s managed to age well.  Well?

But they’re still fun games to play.  So if you want something with a bit of humour in them that you can play on just about anything regardless of system power, try them.

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