8-bit Heroes: MONTY ON THE RUN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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8-bit Heroes: MONTY ON THE RUN

Ah, but the music though...

Released in 1985, written by Peter Harrap on the ZX Spectrum, Monty On The Run soundtracked that year as much as Madonna's Into The Groove, Harold Faltermeyer's Axel F, Dire Straits' Money For Nothing and every other big pop hit of the day, thanks to its iconic in-game music provided by chiptune legend Rob Hubbard.

The third game in the Monty Mole series from Gremlin Graphics was available for the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64. It's that latter version which best provided the earworm, because ot its advanced, for the day, sound generator chip.

Monty Mole began his fugitive career in 1984's Wanted: Monty Mole. Harrap was inspired by the UK miners strike of the time, it was voted best platform game of the year by readers of Crash magazine. A follow up arrived the next year in the form of Monty Is Innocent, programmed by Chris Kerry. Unfortunately this release felt like little more than a cash-in on its predecessor's success. Especially as Monty Mole was not the character you controlled, rather a Sam Stoat is tasked with freeing our favourite mole from prison. More evidence toward the cash-in aspect came in the form of the in-game title being "Great Escape!" with no mention of Monty Mole at all. If I had to guess, Monty's character graphics may have been added late in development, as an after thought perhaps? And the packaging designed to capitlise on Monty's success.

Fortunately Harrap returned to the franchise with the third release, and it really is a spectacular 8-bit title. Monty On The Run has that sense of British surrealness, similar to Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, and classic multi-screen platform gameplay to rival the latter.

On the run from the authorities after his intervention in the Miners' strike, Monty the mole must escape from his house and head for the English Channel and freedom in Europe. In traditional platform game fashion, along the way he needs to collect various objects and solve puzzles to complete his escape.

Before the game, five objects must be chosen to form Monty's Freedom Kit. Choosing the wrong items will leave you unable to pass certain screens. This wasn't just included to make the game harder, but also as an anti-piracy measure, since the objects were only given numbers onscreen meaning the player had to refer to the accompanying manual.

Enemies patrol every screen, water is deadly to the touch and Monty runs the risk of being squashed by the many pistons. Monty On The Run was one tough game, but rarely became repetitive or frustrating, thanks to that surrealness and its sheer playability. And the music. Oh my, the music! The main game theme was, according to Hubbard, inspired by "Devil's Galop", the theme tune to the radio serial Dick Barton. It was rated #1 on Skytopia's list of The All-Time Top C64 Game Tunes  and #2 in Hardcore Gaming 101's Top 100 Western Video Game Music of all time. Rightly so too.

The final screen sees Monty boarding a ferry to France. This was then the starting point for the follow-up Monty adventure which arrived in 1987, Auf Wiedersehen Monty. That title and Moley Christmas (given away free with the December 1987 edition of Your Sinclair magazine) were both co-developed by Peter Harrap, and although neither reach the heights of Monty On The Run they were both very respectable sequels. A final Harrap-free Monty Mole game was released in 1990; Impossamole was, sadly, back to the cash-in opportunist release format, bearing very little resemblance to anything that had gone before in either design or gameplay.

But thanks to it's bizarre concept, it's well though out game design and levels, it's easy to pick up controls and playability, it's perfectly pitched skill level, and it's damn fantastic in-game and title music, Monty On The Run is easily the best game in the series. Reviewers of the day felt so too; the Commodore 64 version was given a 90% rating by Zzap!64, Crash magazine awarded the Spectrum version 94/100, and the title topped that year's UK ZX Spectrum charts. 

If you're thirsty for a bit of Mole action, then Monty On The Run is available online via many emulator sites, but be warned! You'll have that earworm going around your head for days afterward.

Did you ever play Monty On The Run? Have you had Rob Hubbard's awesome music stuck in your head for the last 35 years? Let us know your memories of this 8-bit hero in the comments below, and view all our 8-bit Heroes articles here.

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