Retrogaming repost: Wanted: Monty Mole!

A very long time ago, I set myself a very peculiar gaming challenge. Time to revisit it, methinks, with a trip down the mines to see Monty Mole. Correction: To see Monty Mole die. A LOT.
About five years ago, I picked up the Elite ZX Emulator pack for iOS that included the Monty Mole games. Now, apparently, they may not (*I am not a lawyer) have been licensed in an entirely kosher fashion, but there you go. Anyway, at the time I thought it might be fun to play through and write up, so I started… and then I stopped.
I recently picked up the Spectaculator emulator for iOS (you can see a pattern here, right?) and guess what it’s got on board? Wanted: Monty Mole, again. So I’m tempted once again to play, but I need to get my skills up. So while I do that, enjoy these wise words from 2011, talking about a game that dates from 1984. I’ll also add a few fresher 2016 observations along the way.

The Full Monty: Episode One. I Haz A Bukkit.

Can I be beaten by a thirty year old platform game? Not likely!
(also featuring moles, miners, squirrels, vivisection, bukkits and more)
I woke up this morning, and as per Weird Al tradition, I went right back to bed. It was, to be fair, 1am when I did this, so it’s not that unusual an idea.
Except that I couldn’t sleep, and needed something to occupy my mind. Turning to the phone near my bed, I trawled recent gaming news, and noted that Elite had produced a few more gaming packs for its iOS ZX Spectrum game emulator. The big news this week had been the addition of Barbarian, a game that was always more famous for Maria Whittaker’s… ahem… glandular assets than anything else. Maria may have been a fine looking young lady back in the day, but I never found Barbarian to be that thrilling a game. Diving into the app, I also noticed a Gremlin Graphics pack featuring the Monty Mole games.
2016 Alex notes: Sorting out ownership rights for ancient games is, I’m told, tough.
And then I realised that while I know about the Monty Mole games, I’d never actually played one. I’d looked longingly at the box art as a teenager, but always with the knowledge that the wrong kind of computer sat at home for these particular games.
Indeed, outside of emulation, the closest I’ve ever come to a ZX Spectrum was when a boy at the East End school I attended in London brought one into school.
And then proceeded to smash into pieces over his own head.
There were some tough kids in that school. Tough… and kinda dumb.
2016 Alex notes: I sometimes wonder what happened to some of those kids. Then I figure that I’m probably better off not knowing.
Anyway, the Gremlin collection was only $1.19, far cheaper than the original games had been, so mere seconds later, they were mine. And there’s no better place to start than at the beginning, which means 1984’s Wanted! Monty Mole.
It is, as so many games were at the time, a flick screen collecting and platforming game, in the Manic Miner style. Which was, it’s got to be said, the style at the time.  As Wanted! Monty Mole starts off, it all looks pretty nice.

A mole, a river, a squirrel and a bucket. Should be a doddle.
A mole, a river, a squirrel and a bucket. Should be a doddle.

My first task? Jump the river, avoid the squirrel dropping nuts and get the bucket.
You know, the bucket. For the mine you’re about to go in. It’s not as though you’re some kind of subterranean mammal specifically evolved for digging in any way. Because if by some freakish chance you were, then the need for the bucket would be really stupid.
But nobody said game plots from the 80s made sense. Given this game features Arthur Scargill — yes, that Arthur Scargill — Wanted Monty Mole is even more ‘special’ in this regard.
Anyway, back to the river. Run left, hit jump and done, right? Nope. Fall in, die. Repeat.
Those who would cross the bridge of death... must die a bit. Or a lot.
Those who would cross the bridge of death… must die. A lot.

Then realise you have to jump up first onto the bridge and then across the river. At which point, it’s fairly likely you’ll mistime getting past the squirrel and get conked on the head and die. Three lives, game over and you get to read the game over poem.
I like poetry. No, really, I do, and I do have to applaud the idea, the concept of a game over poem. Nobody does them any more, and with reason. You see, while this game over poem is cute, I’m also going to see it a whole lot.
Sylvia Plath, this ain't. She was far more upbeat.
Sylvia Plath, this ain’t. She was far more upbeat.

So, I start again, refreshed in my bridge crossing skills, jump over neatly and grab the bucket. A bucket, should point out, that is gently fizzing for some reason. I know very little about mining, but I never figured that effervescent buckets were a large scale feature.
Anyway, I grabbed the fizzing burping bucket.
(2016 Alex notes: I’ve written a lot of things, but I’m confident this is the only time I’ve been able to write “the fizzing burping bucket” in context.)
At which point a miner comes out of his house right next to me. Which option do you think he takes?
A) The world’s biggest double take at seeing a bipedal mole with both the capacity and desire to steal buckets, followed by swift capture and a fortune on first the chat show circuit, then the fairground circuit and finally the lucrative medical research circuit post vivisection?
B) Scream the 80s equivalent of “Noooo! They be stealin’ my bucket!” before killing me stone dead.
2016 Alex notes: I guess back in 2011, Walrus bukkit was still a thing. Is it in itself, now old enough to be charmingly retro? I’ve got to hope it is.
The Miner Is So Enraged, He Forgets To Drop Dead When Crossing Water.
The Miner Is So Enraged, He Forgets To Drop Dead When Crossing Water.

If you chose B) then congratulations. You could have a retro future designing punishing 80s platform games.
So, once more over the bridge, grab the bucket and run right to get away from the miner. Straight into a nut that the squirrel is still dropping, dead again. Third time, jump river, grab bucket, avoid nut and jump away from miner… straight into the river.
It's game over time again. This is distinctly starting to lose the funny.
It’s game over time again. This is distinctly starting to lose the funny.

Start again, and this time, I make it there and back with only a brief half dozen dead mole corpses left behind. There are elements of social satire here, but one thing is shockingly clear: the programmers of Wanted! Monty Mole really, really hate moles.
Next time: Monty In The Mine (Not Of Terror, because that was a Dr Who game)

The Full Monty: Episode Two: Monty In The Mines

Our intrepid talpidae makes his entry to the underground lair. But will my sanity survive?
Level Two:
Death By: Falling, Miner, Light Globe, SprayCan, Crusher
Monty enters the mine, and almost immediately a few things become apparent.

Beware The Spray Can. And for that matter, pretty much everything else.
Beware The Spray Can. And for that matter, pretty much everything else.

For a start, the miner has followed Monty, but only into the initial antechamber; he’s not actually able to run any further.
Which means, logically speaking, that he’s chased and killed Monty on the previous level to get into a mine that he doesn’t even fit into. Chew on that for a while. Meanwhile, Monty will be sobbing in the corner, because there’s no way out. Run back into the miner, and he will kill you. Believe me. I tried.
Monty can only go on into the mines, and hope he doesn’t run into a Balrog. No, wait, wrong story there.
This would actually be simpler than some of the things Monty's going to have to do.
This would actually be simpler than some of the things Monty’s going to have to do.

Level Two of Wanted! Monty Mole sets the scene for the entire rest of the game. This is a title of running, jumping, avoiding and getting killed.
Mostly that last part.
There are obvious things that kill you, such as pretty much anything moving, and then there are less obvious things. Like falling. Monty can fall only a short distance; in many circumstances it’s just a tiny bit further than he can jump. And the platform layout of many levels encourages this. He’s also able to clip the purple tunnel that prohibits the miner’s entry; clipping looks like an error but it’s actually a gameplay feature… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The other thing you’ve got to do is collect things. Typically in games of this era, collectibles were stationary, and they were flashing. Like, say, that light globe right at the start of the level. Leaving aside why it’s glowing (after all, this is a level that features a killer spray can, so logic’s not a strong suit), it would seem pretty handy to have a light in a mine, especially one that’s been obviously left to crumble, given the miner can’t even enter it any more.
So I jump into it.
And it kills me. Repeatedly, because I’m sometimes stupid that way.
2016 Alex notes: Five years later, I’m still stubborn and stupid in games of this type.
Monty Is Dead. This time, it's my fault.
Monty Is Dead. This time, it’s my fault. Sorry, Monty.

Because the game wants you to learn something very early on. If it wants to kill you, it will. Repeatedly. The crusher at the top of the screen — handily labelled with CRUSH, just in case you didn’t pick that a massive piston repeatedly falling from the top of the screen might be bad news for a mole — falls in a seemingly random pattern. It’s not that risky in this case, as you can jump from the top of the left hand vine straight up into the moving platform and avoid it anyway. Three collected glowing stones — they’re presumably not the coal, unless coal in 1984 was significantly more radioactive back then — and it’s down the screen to level three…
Level Three
Death By: Falling, Falling Debris, Falling Brick, Torch, Crusher
Beware The Falling Objects. Try not to think about who's dropping them all the time.
Beware The Falling Objects. Try not to think about who’s dropping them all the time.

Level Three introduces items that fall through the screen. Naturally, they kill you if they hit you, but they’re not too hard to avoid. The Crusher at the top of the screen is much harder, because its travel time is very low, and there’s no warning it’s coming down, or indeed time to get out of its way. If you’re below it and you see it move you’re already dead.
Another little curiosity here (and, I should have noted on level two, as well) is that if Monty dies, his spirit flies up on little angel wings while a mournful beepy tune plays. But if he dies on level one… he just dies. What’s the story with that?
Speaking of stories, I suspect the authors had seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark one too many times. That’s a whip down there on the lower ledge, and while you can jump over and land on it, you can also collect it. Why does a mole need a whip?
Well, he needs a whip because if he doesn’t collect it, then running into the candle will kill him. Whips wielded by creatures noted for their poor eyesight and corresponding poor aim are apparently the natural enemy of the cave-dwelling candle. Did you know that? I didn’t know it first time, which naturally meant that the candle killed me.
By now, I’ve seen this screen about a half-dozen times
By now, I’ve seen this screen about a half-dozen times

Still, collection of everything at this point, as long as the vengeful crusher doesn’t decide to squish you, is fairly straightforward. Onto level four!
Level Four
Death By: Falling, Falling Debris, Purple Bat-Thing
There's something wrong with this level. It just doesn't seem dangerous enough.
There’s something wrong with this level. It just doesn’t seem dangerous enough.

What? A level with only three death threats? It’s almost like the game is easing up on me. The trick here, though, is that it’s a tricky juggling act to jump up and then duck down again to avoid the bat-thing, and equally a little odd trying to get down again having picked up the… gold bar? diamond? Surely those things can’t be coal, can they?
Even so, this isn’t too hard a level, although as I quickly discovered, if you have a run of bad judgement early on, you can be low on lives for the next level…
Next time: Monty gets a nasty surprise. And then another one. And… (is all out of painkillers)

The Full Monty: Episode Three: Another Brick In The Wall

Also another brick in Monty’s poor, aching cranium. Monty delves further into the depths. Or would do, were it not for all the things trying to repeatedly kill him.
2016 Alex notes: And yet, I kept on playing the game, and I’m back. Maybe the RSPCA should get involved.
When we last left Monty, he was delving into level five with a renewed sense of optimism. Level four wasn’t that tough, and presumably this means that my skills are growing and the game will get a little easier for now.
Level Five
Death by: Falling Brick, Falling Brick (again), Stopping To Look At The Level, Angry Green Face

If I ever catch whoever's actually dropping these bricks, WORDS will be exchanged.
If I ever catch whoever’s actually dropping these bricks, WORDS will be exchanged.

You know what the first thing I did when I entered level five was? I stopped to take a look at what I had to do. Seems like a good idea, right?
Nope. Monty's dead, because the game designers like it better that way.
Nope. Stop to look and Monty’s dead, because the game designers like it better that way.

Level five’s got a very nasty trick up its sleeve, one that you can see in the level screenshot. You actually start on the rope that you’d descended from level four, but within seconds, a brick hurtles down said rope straight towards Monty’s head. If you don’t move — and move right away — it will kill you stone dead. The odds are VERY high that first time players will stop to work out a plan of attack, only to lose at least one life this way.
Remember: The First Rule Of Wanted: Monty Mole is that the game designers really, truly loathe moles.
Nasty death trick aside, level five is actually surprisingly non-lethal. There’s a a hammer to collect, a lump of coal to collect and a killer green smiley face that’s not too hard to avoid. As long as you can avoid the urge to jump down the side to your death, it’s one of the rare levels that doesn’t actually have a falling death point. Mind you, the killer brick more than makes up for that.
Anyway, coal and hammer collected, and it’s on to….
Level Six
Death by: Falling debris, falling, ghost, candle, helmet that flashes NOIE for no readily apparent reason.
Descend the rope slowly, and Monty will (once again) pay the price.

Descend the rope slowly, and Monty will (once again) pay the price.

Now, the designers couldn’t possibly pull the same “falling brick straight onto Monty’s precious frontal lobes the minute you step onto the level” trick again, could they?
Of course not.
It’s a falling chunk of mine debris.
Dead again. We'd better hope the above-ground moles are in a healthy breeding mood.
Dead again. We’d better hope the above-ground moles are in a healthy breeding mood.

Sigh. I’m starting to have sympathy with the 80s Conservative government’s mine closure policy here. That’s a position that’s not normally anywhere near my normal political sympathies, but still,  if all the mines were actually this dangerous….
Years later, the only work miners could get was releasing novelty rap records.
Many years after the strike, the only work miners could get was releasing novelty rap records.

The police helmet? Subtle. Also deadly. There is a slight sop to not killing Monty in that the lower piece of coal (not the one near the candle) looks like it gets run over by the ghost, but actually doesn’t. A quick bit of coal collecting, collecting a drill (where does Monty keep it all?) and we’re on to…
Level Seven:
Level 7. Also known as the level designed to sap a mole's will to live. Not that Monty will live all that much longer.
Level 7. Also known as the level designed to sap a mole’s will to live. Not that Monty will live all that much longer.

I may as well just post this here.
Imagine, if you will, fifty of them, scrolling down the screen. But I’m getting mildly ahead of myself here…
Imagine, if you will, fifty of them, scrolling down the screen. But I’m getting mildly ahead of myself here…

Because, if you hadn’t guessed it by now, the level starts with a falling brick on Monty’s head. Move down to avoid it, because, hey, it worked on the previous level, and you’ll run straight into the Chomping Green Scooby-Doo Style Monster. Do that a couple of times, and it’s…
That poem that was funny on level one? Not so funny now.
That poem that was funny on level one? Not so funny now.

The trick, it turns out, is to shuffle slightly to the right as soon as the level starts. You can’t climb or descend the rope this way, but you’re also quite safe. Wait out the brick, and you can shuffle left, descend and then quickly jump over to the left where there’s a… spade? sledgehammer? detonator for a comedy-style-taped-together-stack-of-TNT? I’ve no idea. You can’t not collect it on the first time through, and doing so allows you to destroy the red ban-the-bomb logo and collect the glowing coal. Again, coal, moles… I just don’t know why.
Of note, if you do die after this (and you will) you don’t get the spade again. Trying to collect the ban the bomb symbol after that leads to…
You guessed this outcome, right?
You guessed this outcome, right?

Anyway, this then leads down to a jump for a single bit of coal, and a crusher. But not any crusher.
If you were around the Internet in the early(ish) 1990s, you were probably on usenet. And if you were, you were probably aware of the existence of the alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die newsgroup. To say that Wil Wheaton’s character on Star Trek:TNG didn’t go down well with geeks would be something of a understatement, even if in recent years Mr Wheaton himself has had a rather interesting career resurgence as a writer and actor of some note.
alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die. Not active since 2003, it seems.
alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die. Not active since 2003, it seems.

Anyway, the hate felt by the hundreds of thousands (remember; this was the early Internet, before the mass adoption by the public — I had access at University not on my own merits, but via my girlfriend who was studying IT. Try explaining to a student today an age where public Internet access was a severely limited thing for (primarily) educational use only and they’ll… but I’m wandering WAY off topic here…).
Ahem. Anyway, take that hate felt by the hundreds of thousands, multiply it by a complex prime number, and you’re not even close to the level of hate I have for the crusher on this level. It’s entirely arbitrary. Entirely. OK, at some level there’s some kind of randomised programming behind it, but I’m yet to spot a pattern, and this thing has crushed THOUSANDS of moles of mine.
Even Wesley’s on Monty’s side in this anti-Crusher argument.
Even Wesley’s on Monty’s side in this anti-Crusher argument.

(A quick diversion: If you ever wanted the story from the Crusher’s point of view, here it is. Enjoy.)
There’s simply no time to judge the jump to get past the crusher, and if you see it descend, then Monty’s dead.
Dead dead deaddeaddeaddeaddeaddeaddeaddeaddead. With a side order of corpse.
I can now recite this poem with my eyes shut. Even when I don't want to.
I can now recite this poem with my eyes shut. Even when I don’t want to.

This crusher has actually forced me to do something I didn’t want to do. I’ve moved off the iOS emulator onto a different emulator to complete this task. Why? Because there’s no save states on the iOS emulator, and I don’t quite have the time to do all the exploration and screen capture/upload/editing if crushers are going to kill me by the hundreds. Even if I manage to make it down the mine this far in flawless style (not guaranteed), it’s still a fair few minutes each time before I get crushed.
And then I'll be back here again a whole lot.
And then I’ll be back here again a whole lot.

A save state allows me to start each level afresh. Yes, it’s not quite in the spirit of the original, but I’m not getting any younger. I’m hopeful that when… and it will be when.. I SHALL NOT BE BEATEN THOUGH I RISK GOING INSANE… I finish the game, I might have a solid crack at a single run-through on the iOS version, just to see if it can be done.
A quick note on ethics here: I actually don’t have too much of a problem personally with the use of emulators for titles that you’ve got a clear right to use — in my case via the iOS add-on pack that gave me access in the first place. I can’t see how it’s doing active harm to the title or the IP, and in this case I’m sure I’m giving a lot more publicity to a near three decades old title in any case.
Doing so with software (or books/music/name your poison) that you don’t own? Nah, that’s dodgy as.
If anyone from Gremlin (or whoever owns the rights) feels differently, I’ll happily send you a further $1.19 for the rights to use it on my emulator of choice if you can prove your IP ownership. We now return to the regular mole-crushing action….
2016 Alex notes: Offer’s still open, Gremlin, just in case the Spectaculator folks aren’t on the level either.
Anyway, with enough crushed moles to make a carpet the size of Belgium, I finally managed to sneak a sole mole through to….
Level Eight
Death by: Genie, Ban The Bomb Symbol, Falling (if you’re really stupid)
I dream of Genie. When I'm not dreaming of all the moles that have died so far, that is.
I dream of Genie. When I’m not dreaming of all the moles that have died so far, that is.

Hey, what gives? Not only does this level only have two real threats — if you’ve got this far and you don’t know NOT to jump down to the left to your death I truly despair — but there’s a bleedin’ great big brick wall blocking the way!
Oh well. I guess Monty’s just going to have to starve to death down here.

Collecting the coal (as long as you’ve got all the other bits of coal on previous levels) causes the brick wall to collapse. Good to see that the further down the mine Monty travels, the less his sanity actually matters.
Next to the coal is a… foghorn? Axe? Thingy?
Collecting the thingy, as with many other random thingies, allows Monty to survive impact with an enemy of his choice. On this level, that’d be the Genie, or the ban the bomb symbol.
Pro Tip: Choose the Genie. Only good things will happen.
If you believed that Pro Tip, you will shortly see this bonus screen.

OK, so the Pro Tip lied. It’s still slightly more fair than this game.
Yup, it’s a timing jumping problem. Kill the genie with the axe-thingy, and the symbol WILL kill you when you try to go past. You’ve got to time you jump off the rope to dodge the genie so that you can use it to get past the symbol. Do that, don’t get killed, and it’s on to….
But that’ll have to wait for another time.
Next Time: He’s fallen in da wata!
2016 Alex notes: And that’s where I stopped. And where I now intend to expand into. With just one tiny little problem. I have to get back to a skill level where I can even get TO level eight, let alone past it. So if you’ll excuse me, I have some moles to squash… erm.. .I mean save. Yes. Save. Maybe.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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