It looks horrible now, but wait until you see it animated. Lunch-losing time!
Okay, so we’ve got Jet Set Willy out of the way for anyone who wasn’t up to speed on that particular game; now we’re onto the clones. And the first of these out of the hat (ie the first one I chose out of the many suggested by the kind souls on the World of Spectrum forums) turns out to be a title called Stay Kool. This largely-forgotten game was published for the ZX Spectrum in 1985 (yes, I know the copyright message says 1984 but the game was published in the Spring of ’85) by Bug Byte who were, as it happens, the original publishers of Matthew Smith’s Manic Miner. In Stay Kool the player controls an astronaut with the horrible punning name of Luke Warm. Our Luke has managed to cripple his ship following an unsuccessful space battle (possibly fought with someone who objected to his stupid name) and now the ship is overheating (something like that anyway, it involves a time limit based around a thermometer) so Luke needs to make like a tree in his escape shuttle. But, of course, this being videogameland, it’s not that simple and Luke must first explore his vast ship collecting the fuel rods he needs to escape. So, essentially, we have a game with a very similar plot to Jet Set Willy: fuel rods instead of random objects and an escape shuttle instead of a bed. How does it measure up, then?
The first thing you notice about Stay Kool is that it feels slower than JSW. Alright, it’s not quite the Commodore 64 version of Driller (snicker), in fact it might well move about the same speed when placed side-by-side with JSW but it feels slower and more sluggish to play than its inspiration, and it flickers; well, the main sprite does at least. Smith’s masterpiece is apparently a bit notorious for being a horrendous mess under the bonnet but, hell, it looks and moves nice and smoothly even if the code is a dog’s dinner. This game moves a bit slow and it’s got a flickery main character; that’s not the best start when you’re trying to attract JSW fans who’ve grown fed-up with the attic bug into buying your game.
Dissolving floors. This is actually quite nicely done.
That brings me onto the look in general. JSW doesn’t have the greatest graphics in the world (although some of the monsters are rather nicely done) but Smith managed to use the various 8×8 cubes and the Speccy’s bright and cheery colour palette in an imaginative way creating a game where each room looked and felt individual. Stay Kool doesn’t really manage that. There are a few rooms that are quite well-designed and the room names provide a certain amount of atmosphere but there’s nothing here to challenge “Doctor Jones Will Never Believe This” or “The Banyan Tree” and, unlike JSW, there’s no real sense of exploring a cohesive environment. Willy’s mansion actually felt like a big house, Luke’s spaceship feels more like a bunch of rooms joined together even if many of them are given names to suggest they’re the ship’s bar or the passenger’s quaters or whatever there’s little in the design of them to add to this impression; they might as well be “the strawberry jam store” or something equally random.
Nothing like the fly and ballroom creatures from "Jet Set Willy"
And the “poor man’s JSW” stuff doesn’t end there, oh no. The monsters are largely an unimaginative lot of wibbly things and flying do-dahs some of which are a bit similar to Matthew Smith’s creations. They’re also not that hot at killing the player, there were several moments when I was playing where Luke clearly touched a nastie whilst jumping around and wasn’t penalised for it. That comes a poor second to JSW‘s rather-ace collision detection. The rooms are also rather poorly designed; there are few devious screens requiring much thought or skill and in some cases the programmer seems to have substituted an annoying amount of nasties for good room design. The main sprite also looks slightly-ridiculous, I mean I know the Speccy’s graphics were limited but what on Earth (or off-Earth in this situation) is going on with Luke’s massive goldfish-bowl helmet? I’m surprised the poor man can balance. And I know this shouldn’t matter so much in a videogame but some of the punctuation in the screen names is appalling. I mean, look at that example below-left. Just look at it!
Why not just find Shakespeare's grave and take a crap on it whilst you're at it?
So, is there anything good about Stay Kool? Well, there are some nice features that JSW didn’t have such as melting platforms (a la Manic Miner) which dissolve as Luke walks across them as well as tractor beams which suck Luke up (that’s up) and teleporters (the design of which is based on the TARDIS from Doctor Who for some reason) which transport Luke across the ship. I also quite liked the (admitted inexplicable) game over screen where Luke is dropped into a cess pit (I thought he was supposed to be… oh never mind) and the fact the game has a highscore table (something JSW notably lacked) even if it’s called the “Hall of Scum” for no discernable reason (alongside the cess pit, I can’t help but wonder if the programmer was in a mysanthropic state of mind when he wrote this game). Oh, and there’s a Loch Ness Monster somewhere in the game which can only be a good thing.
These things are nice additions but they can’t really make up for the fact that Stay Kool is a poor cousin of JSW. It’s not a terrible game, I had some fun playing it, but it’s full of flaws which hampered enjoyment too much to make me want to play it for too long. Worth looking at if you’re crazy about platform games, probably worth a miss otherwise.
And if you really want to know more, the World of Spectrum link is here.