This time around I thought we’d move away from the Spectrum and, indeed, the 8-bit machines for a bit and move to a 16-bit platforms for another JSW clone. This is a game I know very, very well having been playing it since 1995 when I first downloaded it from the online Amiga software resource Aminet via my college’s very slow internet connection hoping not to be spotted by our notoriously humourless IT staff. Top Hat Willy was published as a freeware indie title for the Amiga in early 1995 and was written by Tero Heikkinen. It was later ported to DOS-based PCs but it’s the Amiga version I’ll be concentrating on here (both versions are nearly identical anyway).
As you might have guessed from the name, this game breaks with earlier titles by being a straight homage to its inspiration. This was something that was becoming more common by the 1990s. Emulation existed but it was still in its early stages in most cases and wasn’t widely used, as a result a lot of programmers chose to “recreate” their favourite old 8-bit titles on their new machines. Some were straight-up remakes whilst others, like this, were more like tributes that took the basic idea of an old game and then created something new around it.
The plot is almost-identical to the original JSW – Willy has to explore his mansion, grounds and the caverns beneath it in order to collect trash which is lying around so he can go to bed. The readme file provided with the game is a bit vague why this should be – “Perhaps he had a party and the house mistress won’t let him sleep before the junk has been cleaned? Or perhaps Willy is from a cleaning company and he has been ordered to a haunted house? Well something like that.”. Basically, it doesn’t matter. Quite right too.
So, how does this measure up? Well, the graphics, as you can probably imagine, are better than we’re used to. They’re nowhere near the best that the Amiga is capable of but they are clear, detailed and very colourful and their somewhat 8-bit look is appropriate for the game. Willy himself is a bit crudely-drawn (and obviously based on his 8-bit counterpart, top hat and all) but the monsters are a varied and imaginative lot and have been drawn in primary colours in order to make them similar to those in the original game. Because the Amiga has a much bigger screen display area than the 8-bit machines the rooms are also much bigger and the extended memory means there are far more of them as well.
As for gameplay, everything moves quickly and smoothly and Willy has plenty of lives with which to help complete the game. The rooms are imaginative, well-designed and fun to play in the manner of the original game and whilst many screens and some of the map (not least the mansion and the yacht) homage the original there are dozens of additional screens and environments, including an extensive network of caves underneath Willy’s mansion.
Top Hat Willy is probably the best JSW clone I’ve ever played; in fact I’ll stick my neck out here and say that I think it’s probably better than its inspiration (ooh, get me!). It retains all of the original’s charm whilst being faster to play and having a much much larger gaming area which is so imaginative that it’s a pleasure to explore. The addition of a saveable highscore table also adds greatly to replay value (okay, unless you complete it but given that supposedly only one person has ever managed that that’s unlikely). Given that this game is free and that if you don’t own one of Commodore’s beasts then emulation is pretty easy on most modern home computers there’s not really any excuse to not download a copy of this somewhat-neglected but excellent game and see what you’ve been missing for the past thirteen years.
As I mentioned at the start, Top Hat Willy comes in Amiga and DOS flavours. The Amiga version can be downloaded from Aminet (search for “top hat willy”) and the DOS version can be downloaded from this site here. You’ll probably need to use DOSBox to run it if you have a modern Windows based PC. Both versions are nearly identical but the DOS version has differently coloured enemies and some background animation; I also find it runs a bit (actually, scratch that – a lot) sluggishly in DOSBox so I’d recommend the Amiga version via emulation if you don’t have an Amiga.