Can a glorious failure still be described as “glorious”, really? Can something which fails really be glorious and isn’t something that’s glorious incapable of being a true failure? Anyway, I don’t want to get caught-up in philosophising because “glorious failure” best sums-up Jet Set Willy 97. This Amiga indie title which was released, as you can probably guess, in 1997, positioned itself as an unofficial sequel to the official Willy titles and it definitely seems to have had the ambition to live-up to that role. However, it fails and yet it fails quite gloriously. Let’s see why.
There seems to be little plot-wise. As the instuctions say “Explore nearly 200 screens and collect the 190 items scattered around the mansion and willy’s hometown. But as always, beware of the nasty monsters!“. Simple and to-the-point. So much better than the ridiculous sub-Hollywood wank we get for game plots these days.
Looks-wise, this is a Jet Set Willy game. The main sprite has been shamelessly pilfered from the 8-bit original, he hasn’t even been coloured-in. The graphics are reasonably primitive and 8-bit in style although they make use of the superior 16-bit colour abilities of the Amiga. The sound is a weird drum & bass (remember that?) variation on “In The Hall of the Mountain King” and the few in-game sound effects are suitably retro. So far, so good.
It’s when you start moving Willy around (he starts out in the living room this time around, presumably he’s been lazing on his chaise-longue drinking champers and playing his Playstation before embarking on his adventures) that you notice the first problem. Willy walks back and forth okay – not as smooth as the original but not too bad. However, his jump is horrible; it seems to be an attempt to re-create the jump in the original but it’s too fast and jerky and looks and feels pretty horrible.
The other problem is that this game is incredibly large and (probably as a direct result of this) a huge number of the rooms are sparsely-designed and lacking in, well, anything to do. A large number of rooms have no nasties in them whatsoever, too many of the rooms have a “generic” feel whilst JSW‘s rooms mostly felt unique and some groups of rooms are cul-de-sacs meaning that Willy can only gain entrance to them via one route and, once he’s collected the objects, has to retrace his steps over numerous screens in order to get back out into the “open” gamemap (if you play the game, the nuclear bunker screens are a good example of this). This might be quite realistic but it’s sloppy game design and curtails the feeling of freedom that the original had. Lastly (and probably leastly) given that Willy lives in England what the hell is an expansive desert doing a few screens from his house?
So, Jet Set Willy 97 is a glorious failure. It has a great deal of ambition, it looks the part, and, by golly, it’s a huge game with plenty to see and if exploring’s your thing then you might well enjoy this game. For me, though, this game fails to live up to its obvious ambitions because the empty feeling of much of the game and the awful jumping mean that this cannot possibly match the game that inspired it. I’d urge you all to give it a look anyway, because it certainly doesn’t deserve to be forgotten but don’t expect Top Hat Willy.
Jet Set Willy 97 can be downloaded from Aminet – search for “jet set willy 97” and you’re there. If I can find an ADF version of the game I’ll let you know.