"A gamer can get tired of fighting the good fight and saving the world. After one RPG too many about some selfless youth giving his all to prevent the destruction of life as we know it, it's nice to be able to return to a title where it all comes down to a much more basic motivator: greed. The protagonist in O'Riley's mine is a rich guy who wants to be richer still, and doesn't mind risking his life for it; a concept that's a lot easier for mere mortals like us to grasp, even if it's not as much ..."
A gamer can get tired of fighting the good fight and saving the world. After one RPG too many about some selfless youth giving his all to prevent the destruction of life as we know it, it's nice to be able to return to a title where it all comes down to a much more basic motivator: greed. The protagonist in O'Riley's mine is a rich guy who wants to be richer still, and doesn't mind risking his life for it; a concept that's a lot easier for mere mortals like us to grasp, even if it's not as much of a role model. (Or is it?)
Following a nicely done splash screen with O'Riley counting his money while nearby sharks (the animal kind, not the loan kind) watch him hungrily and a nice upbeat tune plays, the game itself has a rather minimalist look. All the action takes place underground, and in a nod to Dig Dug, Oil's Well and all the other titles that do the same, the play area is composed of several layers of differently coloured sand. You're not nearly as close to the action as in both those games, though, so everything looks pretty small and graphical detail is minimal.
Initially each level has just one mine tunnel in it, going straight down from your mining shack, and you move through this tunnel and dig additional ones simply by pushing the joystick in one of four directions. Your goal in each level is to collect a variety of treasures clearly visible in the sand - gold, gems and oil for the most part and then bringing the loot back to your shack. The catch? A few seconds after the start of each level, water starts pouring in from the bottom of your first tunnel, and monsters run out ahead of it as well. Staying ahead of the monsters isn't such a big deal initially, but the water pushes on steadily, flooding your tunnels and frequently catching up with you or cutting you off, and as can be expected in a game like this, you can't swim.
Your goal, then, is to grab those treasures and get back under serious time pressure, as your tunnels fill up with water pretty quickly right from the first level. As a kid I used to think that the progress of the water was pretty random, but it behaves exactly like it physically should, filling up horizontal tunnels first before rising further. Your challenge is to dig your tunnels in such a way that it keeps the water low long enough for you to finish grabbing all the treasures and heading out. Oh, and without running into one of the monsters roaming your tunnels while you're at it. Do it right and you'll be able to grab everything in time; make a mistake and you'll find the water fills up the original tunnel all the way to the shack, and you'll be trapped and unable to finish the level.
The beauty of the game is that all this has to be done in record time. Tunnels should be planned carefully as one mistake can easily mean cutting yourself off from safe, dry exits, but you simply don't have the time for careful planning. You have to keep moving to stay ahead of the monsters, and your tunnels will have to lead to the treasures whether you like it or not. The play area is several times wider than the screen and due to the scrolling, you'll frequently lose sight of where your tunnels were and how far the rush of water has gotten along. The result is that you're always on edge, hurrying to grab your treasures and hoping that when you come back to grab those on the other side of the play area, there will still be a way for you to get there. And just to make it interesting, every time you finish a level, the next one will feature faster flooding, quicker and more numerous monsters, and treasures that randomly flip between a "safe to get" and "die if you touch" mode which can really mess up your timing.
While this core concept works and makes O'Riley's Mine a decent pick among hundreds of other Commodore action games, execution leaves a bit to be desired at some points. I mentioned minimalist graphics before, which isn't a big issue in early Commodore games (due to it being widespread) but which will make it all the more difficult for a modern day gamer to get into it. More frustratingly, some gameplay concepts just don't really work. In every level you get a few sticks of dynamite with which you can supposedly destroy monsters or cause debris to fall and block their path, but timing them correctly is hard to do. They need a couple of seconds to actually detonate, and often any monster that's already on your tail will be past it before it actually blows up. If you do manage to get it off in time, chances are the monster won't run right into the explosion, and instead be blocked behind some debris which the dynamite throws up - and which is washed away two seconds later by the flow of water (monsters swim just fine, by the way). The later levels have one red monster which is faster than you and once it's on your tail, it's basically over. It's not realistically possible to shake it.
Another problem which surfaces a lot is the fact that you cannot tunnel directly next to an existing tunnel, and if you try, O'Riley just gets stuck in place and won't move in the direction indicated. This would be fair enough, but between the high pace of the game and the relatively slow walking speed you have, you will often get stuck for a second or two before realizing what's wrong (namely, that you didn't move quite as far yet as you had to in order to dig your new tunnel), and you usually can't spare those two seconds. It's simply too easy to die because you couldn't get your character to do what you wanted to; the game is merciless and a little control mishap like that means getting to do the level over - losing a life resets the level. This gets frustrating fast.
That said, a little frustration is commonplace in early eighties games and this isn't nearly the worst example I can think of. When all is said and done, O'Riley's Mine remains above average and is among the games that are worth revisiting even today, if you can see past its poor presentation and focus on the game; something that's required to enjoy nearly any game from this era. And unlike many of its competitors, this one will require you to think before you act, and act quickly nonetheless. If that sounds like a good challenge to you, you shouldn't come away disappointed.
Community review by sashanan (April 28, 2009)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
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