Overall Score 63%
Once upon a time, when I was but a bairn and proud of my 486 with its 4 whole megabytes of RAM, there was a game called - I believe - 'Diggers' wherein the player was tasked to oversee the mining operation of a bunch of little gnomes utilizing all kinds of heavy machinery. I loved that game to death, and the constant desire to see what precious materials were hidden in that next mine shaft was a classic gameplay hook. 'What has that to do with today's review?' I hear you screaming incoherently? Well, Miner Madness has captured a pinch of the magic of that venerable game in an offering I can run on a modern PC.
The game essentially involves taking control of the titular underground engineer and moving him around the screen digging, excavating and blowing things up in search of treasure, artifacts and - ideally - the shaft that leads out of the level. You have approximately three minutes in which to find your way out with the mine becoming more unstable all the time.
Scoring is based on a number of factors - including how many pieces of gold, silver or coal you've managed to dig up, how quickly you escaped the mine and whether you found the larger mine exit or the smaller (and thus harder to locate) one. This balance between speed and accomplishment is quite well done, as although it may at first appear that simply hoofing it to the exit is the fastest way to more points, you will find yourself short of currency with which to later purchase items from the randomly appearing between-level shops.
Hazards include holes in the ground, bloodsucking bats flying across the screen and the ever-present possibility of hitting an oil well, which spins your miner around and sends him shooting across the screen in a random direction. It's here that the game's primary, almost unforgiveable failing comes into play: Ninety percent of your deaths in Miner Madness will be completely and totally unavoidable, as you will either a) hit an oilwell, propelling you directly into a hole or b) fall into a hole that opens up directly beneath you as the mine collapses over time. Neither death can be planned for, nothing can be done to prevent them. Although the game makes up for this somewhat in later levels by allowing you to purchase extra lives with the precious metals you unearth, this is breaking a cardinal rule of any game design.
For those who can look past that, however, Miner Madness has a lot to offer: The basic game mechanics are solid and addictive, and the addition of rare 'artifacts' that can be sought out and carried over from game to game gives a certain Diablo-esque collection aspect to things, as well as the promise of on-line high score competitions with - no doubt - fabulous prizes to be won.
Graphically, Miner Madness is solid but suffers from a lack of focus. Some screens and sprites are cartoon-y in nature, and although bright and colourful (and doubtless very appealing to the game's target audience) they could do with being a bit cleaner. This clashes, however, with other visuals that appear to be pre-rendered 3D sprites, giving the entire game a slightly disjointed feel. Aurally, the sound effects are solid, but the bloop-bleep lift music backing track sounds insipid and dated.
With forty levels to play through and ostensibly more than 170 artifacts to collect, those who appreciate Miner Madness will certainly have their hands full for a long time to come. Although the levels are very samey, Miner Madness fulfills its role as a five-minute 'coffee-break' game with aplomb.
It's not difficult to like Miner Madness, it's a solid first effort from Mercury Effects and if you're the kind of gamer who doesn't mind his high-scores being as vulnerable to the vagaries of blind chance as they are to his own skill, I heartily recommend a download. At $19.95 you're paying an average price for an above-average game, and you really can't say fairer than that.
Keywords: miner madness review, mercury effects reviews, mercury effects games, miner madness scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.