Screenshot from the Monty Mole Collection

Review: The Monty Mole Collection (Nintendo Switch)

Sometimes retro compilations make you glad for modernity.

8 mins read

The preservation of video games is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. Not just in some kind of dusty academic sense, either. I’m a keen retro gamer, and I truly do think that there’s huge benefits for all audiences to take in the breadth of gaming history.

Not only can you find truly playable gems of games, but it also gives you a wider appreciation for game styles, development and history, so even if you do just return to more modern fare, you’ve got a better grounding of knowing where it came from – or for game developers, maybe a few ideas and concepts that could be reintegrated into modern designs, too.

Over the past few years we’ve had some excellent retro collections that fulfill both parts of that equation, showcasing classic games as well as the context around their development and release, whether you’re talking titles like Konami’s excellent collections, Capcom’s similar fare, the more recent Turtles Cowabunga collection, Trip World DX or the current gold standard, the Atari 50 collection.

Screenshot from Monty Mole Collection

As such, when I saw that a collection of Monty Mole games was also getting the “Collection” treatment, I was intrigued. Monty Mole is a classic figure of the British 8-bit computer scene, but not quite as well known as he should be, so I was intrigued to see what we might get, especially given the collection’s relatively low asking price. Turns out there’s a reason for that low asking price, because while The Monty Mole Collection is indeed a collection of Monty Mole games – mostly – it’s also rather depressingly bare-bones.

Specifically, it’s a bundle of the Spectrum and Commodore 64 versions of Wanted! Monty Mole (1984), Monty On The Run (1985) and Auf Weidersehen Monty (1987), as well as the Spectrum only version – because it was a magazine Christmas freebie covermount back in the day – of Moley Christmas (1987) and spin-off title Sam Stoat Safebreaker (1985).

Which means straight off the bat, Monty is Innocent (1985) and Impossamole (1990) aren’t included in any form, so it’s sadly not a comprehensive history of this particular talpidae and his exploits. I’m going to guess that this is a rights issue, and maybe also an included emulators one, as Impossamole was an Amiga/PC Engine game where the others were 8-bit efforts only. Even within that, however, it’s odd to see C64 and Spectrum included but the mighty Amstrad 464/6128 versions omitted.

Screenshot from Monty Mole Collection

What’s more annoying is that you get the games with basic emulator add-ons such as save states and limited rewinding, along with mediocre CRT/soft screen filters and a screen stretched mode that pushes the scores off the top of the Switch display in handheld mode, which is just shoddy coding… and that’s all you get, period.

There’s no included manuals to give you a proper idea of objectives, so good luck – for example – trying to work out what the hell you’re meant to be doing at all in Sam Stoat Safebreaker. Actually, good luck with that one at all, because it was awful back in the day, and time has not been kind to it at all. I guess if you wanted to know what really bad games from the mid 1980s were like it would be something of a crash course.

The Monty Collection also lacks any further content or detail that talks to the specific history of these games. Do you know why in Wanted! Monty Mole he’s stealing coal precisely, and why he might end up in “Arthur’s Castle” with a ballot paper? It’s actually one of the very earliest instances of political satire in a commercial video game, dealing with the UK miner’s strike. While it sits on a highly right-wing view of history (take that as you will), you’d never know that just from The Monty Mole Collection.

Screenshot from Monty Mole Collection

This isn’t hard to research, and it wouldn’t have taken them long to at least pull together a few paragraphs talking about why each game was important (with one exception), or maybe a developer interview or two? But no, you just get games and that’s it. I’m all for properly paying for games where appropriate, but if you can’t do better than a simple but illicit emulator… that’s not really good enough.

This is a huge pity, because while the other games are as predictably tough as home platform games were at the time, and the music is… challenging, especially on the Spectrum versions unless you like discordant chaos, there’s still some fun to be had here beyond the simple pangs of nostalgia. If you think that hard-as-nails games only came via From Software relatively recently, have a crack at finishing the Spectrum version of Wanted! Monty Mole on one set of lives and think again. Or discover what a totally different game it is on the Commodore 64. The later full Monty titles have greater similarity in them, but you can also see how the concepts and design ideas evolved along the way, as well as how game developers weren’t afraid to throw a few genuinely weird ideas and colour schemes into 1980s platformers.

The Monty Mole Collection isn’t extremely expensive, and that’s perhaps its saving grace, because examining its fare won’t set you back a lot. But in the shadow of far superior collections that genuinely pay homage to why retro gaming is so important to not only be preserved but played, this is definitely second-rate. Monty may or may not be innocent, but he deserved better than this.

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Alex Kidman is an award-winning Australian journalist with more than 20 years games and tech writing experience under his belt. Critics have accused him of being a heartless and relentless word-writing machine, but this is clearly false. Alex will deal with those critics once he's finished his latest software upgrade.

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