All posts by Geekay

Manic Miner – A Retro Retrospective Part 4 – Abandoned Uranium Workings

A glowing success

It wasn’t until the Chernobyl incident that Uranium and radiation truly came into my awareness. Like many of us at that age, John Craven delivered us our current affairs knowledge in his excellent, non-condescending manner. I never really considered the title of this level too much, especially as this perilous mine had 2 cute performing seals with spinning balls upon thier noses. Why are they there. Did a poor travelling circus happen upon a sink hole created by the cavern and all perished apart from the seals? Are seals immune to radiation? Those are the silly questions I asked myself.
My good mate Scott who I share this site with said to me, “This level is a great example of a maze without walls”. He is indeed correct. There are a number of ways to go; some being easy and some being riskier. All in all, I wanted to be the most fastest person on this level and this was the show-off example. I’d have my friends round and I’d zip through the level with the precision of a well informed ballet dancer in a minefield. Never once in my entire gaming life did I come into contact with those seals. For all I know, perhaps they don’t kill you and the player is rewarded 10 extra lives for patting their balls. Another “first” I need to test out.
So, before the term speedrun was coined, I rapidly went under the spider, up on the first platform, back to the right over the spider, to the right again and get the key, then left on the higher platform next to the key I had collected, jumped up onto the next one to the left, fall down onto the lower one, leapt off the edge and collected the key during the jumping arc, done another big jump over the seals to land on the plaform nearest the converyor, jumped left, right, left onto the crumbler, quickly up and got the key. Now this is the best leap in Manic Miner coming up. Once the key was collected, I had to hang over the edge of this plaftorm to the very last animation frame before I fell off, then I would make that leap. With practice over the years, I can do this in quick succession, without tapping the right direction to position myself. I just learned when to jump at the very last second during the animation cycle. Then another leap to the right and collected the key, a hop onto the short platform, then up on the long part at the highest level to get the final key. This is the only time I needed to backtrack on the direction I came and went left to fall and land on the small platform then quickly made my way up to the exit and accurately working out my final leap to the nearest pixel required to activate the end sequence.

I’m sure there are faster and smarter ways, but I still do this level exactly the same way to this day.

Manic Miner – A Retro Retrospective Part 3 – The Menagerie

A bird in a cage


For much of my younger years, I was under the wrong impression that a menagerie was a place to keep ostriches and not some posh word for a poorly run zoo. This was compounded by the fact that it sort of rhymed with budgerigar, so I naively assumed it must have been an avian thing. You can’t blame a 10 year old for that misinterpretation, but that of the limited memory capacity on the Spectrum and that’s all Matthew Smith could afford on this memorable level 3. Even if it was the correct interpretation; this was a piss poor ostrich farm – there were only 3 of them. I’m guessing the seasonal ‘flu must’ve taken the rest.

It was a level of 2 halves. Everything on the lower levels were a piece of cake as there were no real hazards apart from the ostrich (maybe it’s a turkey). If I recall, in my delay of taking in the level before moving, the beaked baddie had approached me and I was walled against the left had side and tried a vertical jump to avoid, but died on the stupid spider above me.  Oh look, a menagerie can also have spiders in it.  So, after that dumb mistake (I should have really paused the game to take in the level, but that’s cheating), I made my way to the top without further deaths.  If you know when, the timing isn’t all that difficult when you run along the floor crumblers. Even if I did screw it up, I managed to survive by doing do a few vertical jumps, providing I hadn’t ruined precious time on the particular crumbler tile I was currently atop. Learning the pattern, like many levels that followed was the key, and when I learned them, the level is a walk in the park.  It was all too easy to manage this little bit of bird cage parkour. It was one to impress friends with – they were normally losing lives here.

Aye, a quick level to do and probably less memories around it is due to that.

Manic Miner – A Retro Retrospective Part 2 – The Cold Room

Winter is coming

In the post-war designed house I grew up in, the kitchen had a small stone shelved pantry that acted as our cold room. A remnant from days before refrigeration, it wasn’t a large posh walk-in store, but merely a reasonable sized cupboard. I remember this getting knocked down to make more room in the kitchen as I had one of those rare lucky days where I was allowed to play the Spectrum in the living room on the colour TV. It was goodbye to one cold store and hello to another.

The use of the magenta tiles against the blue background in this level, psychologically always worked well to make me feel cold when playing.  As many of us like-minded, 70’s born 8-bit fanatics, I still vividly recall what it felt like playing my Spectrum in my pre central heating era bedroom.  A dressing gown over my clothes and on my feet were the thickest of socks that probably were knitted by my grandmother from cheap, scratchy and nasty wool that could only have been acquired from the fleece area around a sheep’s anus.  Even on this rare occasion down in the living room, with the coal fire roaring away and squealing from the potato peels that had been chucked in it, I still found myself cold.  I have to say that in all of the game’s levels – this is the most aesthetically befitting one.  All that was missing was a puff of vapour from Miner Willy’s breath.

My brother who was playing the game with me this day, told me a joke I’ll always remember.  What do Polar Bears and Police Men have in common? Blue Helmets.

This level didn’t look as challenging as its predecessor. Before I knew it, I had quickly jumped from the ground, onto the crumbly platform and onto the conveyor belt to collect the ice lolly. I love how the dual direction of the conveyors work in Manic Miner.  They have a default direction, but if you land on it from the opposite direction, you can go that way until you let go of the direction key. When you do let go, you go back in the default direction.  So, with a quick key release, the conveyor hurled me back to the right and I timed my jump onto the next platform. From there I waited on the shuffling penguin to move back to the right.  I then hopped up to that level, grabbed lolly, jumped over the penguin on its return journey and collected the lolly from the crumbly floor.  This is where it got interesting.  There was a shaft full of crumblers that took me back to the bottom floor.  Timing was paramount – I needed to get back down to collect the lolly down on the ground that I hadn’t collected and there was a roving penguin down there that walked right under the shaft.  With my timing guessed, I let Willy slip down the shaft (ooer), collecting the lolly trapped within. With precision timing as always from me, I hit the bloody penguin and died.

Gurr, there’s got to be a better way, I thought.  The method in which I died relied upon too much trial and error. A quick trip to the loo and a read of Crash magazine whilst I finished my business, presented me with one of my many toilet seat epiphanies;  get the bottom lolly first and see if I can fall down the right side of the shaft. Yes indeed, after I wiped my arse, I was going to try a leap of faith (hand washing as well, I may add).

Easily leaping over the lower level penguin’s head, I got my lolly no bother and jumped back over the bird to ascend the same route as before.  Very quickly, it was time to test the leap of faith. I jumped too big and wide and hit the stalactite and died.  My expletives were masked by the sledge hammer slams from the kitchen.  I quickly returned to the same point and triumphantly plummeted into the flashing gate and I was presented with that wonderful sound of the remaining air depleting. From then on, I always played the level this way.

The one thing I never tried, was to see how well the collision detection works for the gate if the penguin is within there when you land. Does the player die, or does the gate save you from death by bird? I’ll need to try this.











Manic Miner – A Retro Retrospective Part 1 – The Central Cavern


How it all began


“Go under the first fucking hedge, not over it”, I screamed in my mind as I watched my lad attempt his first, and vocally reluctant play of Matthew Smith’s seminal platform game.  I would have been roughly the same age as  Kingy Jr  when I first experienced the delights of the Central Cavern. It was at the town church’s jumble sale for the grand total of 5p a game.  The minister, himself, was in charge of overseeing the ZX Spectrum and its wobbly wallpapering table, that acted as a precursor to a gaming station. With no joystick, I was introduced to the world of using those lovely rubber keys to control my character – Q, W and Break Space were the weapons of my choice. Like his father before him, I also mirrored the same mistake as my son. I assumed the path of least resistance was to jump up through the soft platform (a tile that allows a player to just through so he can go on top of it) and take on the first obstacle that is the jaggy hedge. It’s certainly doable, but the player runs the risk of colliding into the weird yellow wind-up automaton thingy with Miner Willy’s head. This is exactly what happened to my first life. That’s okay – I had 2 more lives left. Unlike my son, who just repeated his fate 3 times, I saw a safer route. Yes, it was so obvious – I can go under the bloody combative shrub and go up through the soft floor after it.  So, with my second life I evaded the potential repeated death only to screw up the crumbling floor and not make the level passable as the jump was too big. So, back to the bush it was, to experience my first videogame suicide. If only life gave us 3 chances at every mistake.

With only one life left, I was determined to get at least one of the collectable keys. I passed the 2 previously screwed up hazards with professional ease. I was now an expert. With a congratulatory fist of achievement in the air, I obtained the first key. I quickly leaped onto the conveyor belt and, well, died. More jaggy bush hazards!  This time there were two of them; intentionally and nastily placed as well – one above and one below.  The crushing foot came down signifying my failure at a spelunking treasure hunt. My mate Harry was edging towards the Spectrum, assuming it was his turn in his perceived world of  fairness. In my insta-addiction of this lovely and cruel game, I shoved him on the floor, scattering his thrifty accumulation of 1970’s Topper annuals that he accrued from the other stalls. Screw him, I was having another shot. I slapped 10p into the ministers hand; he was too busy scoffing a cherry scone and chatting to his wife to notice the newly diminished queue.

Right, this was my last life and I had to make it count. Under the hedge, over the crumbly floor, grab the key and now back onto the conveyor. With my tongue pressed firmly on my lips in sheer concentration I timed my jump between the hedges perfectly. I was now off the conveyor and rested on the wall just before the automaton. Its mechanical waddle defied the intertia of the conveyor belt. Back and forth it went. I done something that I still do today. Rather than drop off the wall when the  treacherous thingamabob was at a safe distance and leap over it in a timed manner, I just flung myself over its head as it approach my resting point on the wall.  I truly though this was a lemming’s leap, but I succeeded, and with a yell of delight, I made it to the triplet of platforms at the others side. I hopped through them and faced my final challenge – the top tier of the level.  Stalactites, shrubs and crumbly floors enticed me to risk life and limb for the remaining keys.  I wasted my entire 3 lives on the second of the spiky limescale formations as the key was directly under it. The player can’t simply jump directly under it as Minder Willy’s helmet won’t protect him from its lethal jab. One must judge the jump arc so that the key is collected on prior of after the peak of the parabola. That was a nasty one that still gets me on occasion, even after all these years of playing – precision and timing being paramount.

So, with my last play that my 10p earned, I managed to avoid all the hazards on the top level (losing a few silly lives en route), only to discover the gate at the bottom flashing. My triumph was short lived as I had to go back the way I came. Luckily I had enough crumbly floor left directly above the wall on the middle row, that I was able to simply fall down and time my jump over the robot for the final time.  I rolled off the conveyor and landed on the platform with the first hazardous bush.  This is where I did something stupid, really stupid. I decided that rather than fall down one more level to the left, I’d chance my luck jumping over the bush and try and avoid the clockwork denizen. Seriously, why did this thought even occur to me?  I lost my final life by doing what I did during at my very first play and hit the damn pesky thing. I was on a home run, for goodness sake. I could have easily strolled under the bush and walked into the gate and I would have felt like a pro. Instead, I walked away and had a read of one of Harry’s Topper annuals on the road back home.

Always walk under the first bush.

Avalon – The Greatest Game of All

I was young enough to be simply sold on the idea that Avalon was a 3d Adventure Movie. I was also young enough to be lured by the larger than standard cassette box with its bold front cover and fact based statements on the rear side.


Avalon – the all action 3D arcade adventure movie

Avalon – with unique stunning moving graphics

Avalon – the breakthrough that bring adventure to life

Avalon – the adventure game of the decade


I was just 10/11 years old, I held on to every word and I had money to spend. I hadn’t read a single review, but I gravitated back to this game amongst the vast (it seemed like that at the time) archive of John Menzies games section. The seed had been planted, my mind had already been made up.  This was my “take home” game -sometimes one has to trust their gut instinct.


It was a cold winter night, so it must have been within the release of November/December 1984.  I remember my dad moaning at me because he was bored waiting on me making my final purchase decision.  I had £40 to spend that night – I had sold my unused accordion (another story). That was a substantial sum of money to spend on a set of games back then, so I had to make a somewhat wise investment decision.  Up until then I just had the ZX 6-pack that came with the system. They were charming titles, but I was convinced the machine could handle better. Boy, did I hit the mother lode that evening. I glowingly walked out the shop with Manic Miner, Chuckie Egg, Pyjamarama and of course, my coveted Avalon.


I remember wolfing my tea down rapidly after my return home.  This was a Friday night and I knew I wanted to maximise my extended weekend bedtime with starting gaming as soon as humanly possible.  I loaded them up in the same order as above. And I can’t deny the impact of all of the above as they are probably still my most favourite choice of games ever. But Avalon, the staunch and well-crafted Avalon; it gave me something beyond my expectations. It gave me irrevocable suspension of disbelief as if I were reading a compelling book.  I fired it into the cassette player and read the instructions and lore contained within.




 You are now the proud owner of Avalon, the first in a new world of computer

games, the Adventure Movie.




Oh, I was able to taste the anticipation. Surely the hype cannot be bettered by the game itself.  The world map and the poem contained within the box just fuelled my desire to get playing it.


The first impact the game actually had on me wasn’t the game itself, but the intro music.  It’s a haunting melody that still sends shivers down my spine to this day yet. It sounded discordant and minor in its keys.  It contained none of the merry optimistic melody of the previous games I loaded up. It emitted malice as if it were music performed by the dark Lord of Chaos you were meant to defeat within the game.


And there I was, zapped into the cold damp dungeons of the Gatehouse level. I couldn’t move and I had completely forgotten the instructions I had just read.  Yeah, I needed to select move from the menu as you were meditating and sending out your characters astral projection. Now I became this dungeon explorer in this catacomb where few had walked.


I instantly loved the aesthetics of this game, the vector style minimalistic dungeon rooms along with the 2d models of the main sprites worked really well. I found the 3d floaty environment a treat to rove around in.  The way Maroc bounced off the doors and they swung open felt right.  The colours were bright and everything looked so detailed.


It was soon that I came across my first adversary – a goblin warrior.  I shat myself when I first came across one.  He didn’t have a fixed path, oh no – he came malevolently towards and I had no means of defence.  I tried to escape but he followed me through rooms with the creepy footstep sound effects making me panic enough to make fatal mistakes.  Rest assured, I died quite a number of times whilst getting to grips with the game. But once I got the feel of the pace of it all, I came across the spells required to Freeze such foe and later on, spells to destroy them and re-energise myself.  One of my longest lasting memories in Avalon is the artificial intelligence of the creatures of the dungeons.  It’s not enough just to escape one room – you have set a distance of 2 of them between your pursuer and yourself. Not only that, if there is only one way out of a room, then that distance increases as it was clear your foe knew where had went. So you need to escape a minimum of 2 rooms in which had multiple exits.  Many times, I thought I had escaped only to see the door swing open and those haunting footstep sounds come into play.  This was genius and my single most favourite thing of the entire game.


I’ve said this a number of times in various forums and I don’t want to sound like a Monty Python Yorkshireman trying to get one-up-man-ship on how tough life was, but I think the cold damp house with no central heating that I grew up in added to the atmosphere in Avalon.  I felt I was personally in the dungeon and I lamented warmth.  It’s the perfect winter game and it always resurrects memories with a tsunami of nostalgic fondness.


Needless to say, I played this countless times and loved the fact that I was able to save my game state onto a C15 cassette.  I got further and further into the depths of the game. From the multiple doors in The Wayroom to the varying monochromatic colour schemes of the Mines of Madness and the Chamber of Chaos, this game was a cartographers dream.  Not since Adventure on the Atari 2600 had I felt a deep love for an RPG/Dungeon Fantasy game.


It was clear that Avalon was created with love and passion and that passed onto me as the player.  I still play it today and find in no less enjoyable than when I first bought it all those years ago.  That is testament to how great I think it is.  My single best gaming investment.




Mutant Mudds

My first 15 minutes impression of Mutant Mudds was it was an Amiga game emulating a SNES style platformer. In the same way Zool was Gremlin’s answer to Sonic the Hedgehog, I didn’t expect much longevity as aesthetics over style doesn’t work for me. You can have all the lovely sprites in the world,  but if the level design sucks, there’s nothing to keep the player interested. I’m pleased that I persevered with Mudds though as it does have decent levels to battle through,  and more importantly,  it gives the player reasons to return to already completed worlds. There’s hosts of secrets,  many of which you can’t find on first visit as you lack the necessary power-ups. I’m happy to say that the worlds in which you visit do have more in common with Super Mario than they do with the aforementioned Zool, or Superfrog, to name but a few.  This game is a completionists pipe dream. It’s tough,  unforgiving and the ice levels piss me right off to the point of vowing a negative review, but it is also very rewarding.  I thoroughly enjoy games that open up extra levels when you accomplish goals.  I’ve never had a much fun like that since Yoshi’s Island on the Snes. It’ll never beat its peers in terms of level design but if I were to compare,  I’d give it a b+ for effort.  

The curse of the gaming magpie

My Steam collection is preposterous. Being filled with hundreds of games that were purchased under the “cheaper than a pint”  mantra, I’m not short of beer substitutes for a very long time to come.  In fact,  if I just played every game I own for a mere scratch the surface hour, it would take an unfeasible chunk of my already limited gaming time.

If I include my entire backlog of games which ranges from 8-bit to recent times and chuck in Mame for good measure,  then I’ve more chance of visiting every planet on No Man’s Sky. So now I stand over the ultimate 1st World problem precipice – choice.  Far too much choice. 

 I’m a videogame glutton of the highest order.  Trading in a game for the next best thing at CEX is sacrilege to me.  I bought it,  and I want to keep it.  Yes,  the grey world of emulation has certainly taken some weight off the attic joists, but the choice has only increased as a result.  Emulation allows oneself to be a completionst with a visit to and suchlike. I was happy playing the aforementioned No Man’s Sky,  then I took a notion for Windwaker,  now Chuckie Egg is calling.

 Choice gives us an overwhelming amount of variety and I can relax and enjoy a single game for the next game calling me before I’ve exhausted the current one.  Writing this has been a better example of my longevity in a single thing than my current gaming habits. Right. Chuckie Egg…..

Cave Story+


The + symbol, signifying something extra but ultimately not enough for a revisit to someone who has already traipsed through this shooting spelunker.  It’s like getting fixed at the end of the night with someone and you’ve offered each other a 2nd booty call the following weekend with a little extra cherry on the top.  Is it worth it? Can you capture the original evening and retain its essence?  Well, I don’t know – I’m a Cave Story virgin.  The original was in my “to keep and try” folder, but time escaped me and I never got round to having a go.

Metroidvania is the buzz word often used to describe Cave Story.  I personally think a tag like that can be off-putting. Cave Story is far more accessible than most of its peers within this NESesque genre. It has less backpedalling (albeit some), it has less “where the fuck to I go now?” moments, and has a perfect balance of platforming and shooting.  May other Metroidvania games are more like Turrican’s take on the genre.  Not that that’s a bad thing, I just love my platforming games.  As Scotty mentioned on the sites mission statement, I benchmark everything against Manic Miner in terms of platforming greatness.  A genre of game that I cannot get enough of.


cave story

So, is Cave Story+ any good?  Damn righting it is!. I can’t praise the game enough; its tight mechanics and lovely exploratory world and genuine ambience provided me with some of the best enjoyment that I’ve had with gaming in years.  The caveat in this game though is surviving the plot and all the needless dialogue.  I don’t mind some dialogue in games like this, but I prefer it to be much more concise. Being a family man, my gaming time is extremely limited and I don’t want any game to go Metal Gear on my ass and I’m burdened with a fucking soporific plot. We never got screeds of dialogue back in the ZX Spectrum days. There was enough to give reasonable ambiguity of a plot and my mind filled in the blanks.  I don’t want my platform gaming experience handheld by what I can only describe as downtime.


That aside, I’ve had great fun…. in fact, absolutely brilliant fun playing this.  The blend of power ups for the weapons, not too infuriating bosses and good a progressive difficulty curve make the recipe for a brilliant experience. One of which I’ll be recommending and praising for many years to come.