Archive for the ‘Jet Set clones’ Category

Jet-Set “William”

18 November, 2008

I’m still tip-tapping away at my noville but I’ll try and get the next Atari ST game review up soon. Until then, why not take a look at this version of Jet-Set Willy which is basically the original game but with an “updated” graphics remix. Most of the changes make it look shinier and newer in an “early ’90s Spectrum graphics” stylee (with the exception of the new-look giant skull thing which now looks like an old man whinging about kids today or Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross or something else like that) and it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re a fan of the original game.

Normal service should be resumed in December.

Willy’s Weirdy Nightmare

8 October, 2008

I think we’ve all had nearly enough Willy (matron!) but there’s time for one more. I was hoping to do one Amstrad CPC and one Commodore 64-specific JSW clone but there wasn’t time and I didn’t have much luck finding a C64-specific title (the Amstrad one I found is called Karl’s Treasure Hunt go and look at the link if you’re interested: my quickie review is that it isn’t very good). So this last JSW clone (until I move onto something else) is going to be another Amiga one I’m afraid. This time a 1995 indie title by Richard Williams and Steven Tate with the (frankly a bit awful) title of Willy’s Weirdy Nightmare.

Isnt that Jeff Minter on the left? Best not mention the sales of Frogger on XBox Live Arcade...

Isn't that Jeff Minter on the left? Best not mention the sales of "Space Giraffe" on XBox Live Arcade...

Plot-wise, this departs a little from the usual clones; this time Willy is fast asleep in his bed having a nightmare about his mansion being invaded by weirdies and must wander around his nightmare mansion (and its grounds) in a ghostly state avoiding the weirdies and collecting magical objects in order to wake up. This is a nice twist on the plot of the original game.

Like Jet Set Willy 97 this game shamelessly partly-pinches the sprite from JSW and doesn’t really colour him in at all (although given that he’s a sort-of ghost this is excusable) but instead gives him a slightly-different body with a whole new animation, which doesn’t look that bad. But it’s the rest of the game that’s worth talking about. You see, this game looks and sounds lush and puts the other 16-bit “tribute” titles (including Top Hat Willy, which I really like as regular readers will know) to shame. The monsters are all sorts of shapes (including spinning vinyl records, snails and pints of beer) and sizes and they have been drawn and animated in beautiful 64 colour graphics. The background graphics, whlist made up of the usual small building-blocks that are typical for a JSW clone, have been well-drawn and, like the sprites, have aimed for a more 16-bit look than the bright primary-colour glow that’s typical for a tribute game like this. Willy’s Weirdy Nightmare is hardly Shadow of the Beast looks-wise, but it sure as hell looks like a 16-bit game. Soundwise, we have in-game effects

Any similarity to popular North-East English alcoholic beverages is purely co-incidental

Any similarity to popular North-East English alcoholic beverages is purely co-incidental

which whilst sparse are effective and a version of the opening music to the Peter Sellers film A Shot In The Dark as an atmospheric ingame tune, as well as separate tunes for the title and game-over screens.

Well, lovely graphics are all very well but as anyone who’s played Rise of the Robots (shudder) can tell you they can’t make up for poor gameplay (or totally shite gameplay in the case of RotR; I know, I know, it was fourteen years ago but for f@*k’s sake!). Luckily, Weirdy Nightmare shines in this department too. Everything moves quickly and smoothly and the rooms are well-designed with some thought required to collect some of the objects and avoid many of the nasties. Like Subterranean Nightmare, the entire game isn’t open from the beginning and levers need to be flipped on some screens to open secret doors to whole new sections of the game; however, given that this game has 150 screens this hardly makes it feel restrictive or episodic and rather than dampen the feeling of exploring a huge estate it feels more like a reward for actively trying things out rather than just wandering around, mouth-agape. Given that the game is so large and many people don’t have the time to settle-down in front of the monitor trying to collect objects over 150 screens in a single evening the programmer has also incorporated a save/load feature. In fact, the only thing I really found wrong with the gameplay was the pause when Willy passes from screen to screen which is slightly irritating at first; but you’ll get used to it.

Thanks to the internet, we now all know its the act of lying down in the presence of small furry animals

Thanks to the internet, we now all know it's the act of lying down in the presence of dead furry animals

So, to sum-up, this is a brilliant JSW clone and an easy match for both the original and Top Hat Willy (indeed, some will prefer it to both) and I heartily recommend it; in fact the only things I can really think of to find wrong with it are the aforementioned slight pause and the lack of a high score table. It’s actually a licenseware title and was published in both a freeware “demo” (although it featured much of the full game) version and a full version. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link to a copy of the demo version and I’ve no idea if the full version has been released as freeware yet. I’ll try and find out and amend this review appropriately.

Jet Set Willy 97

5 October, 2008
Nothing says sewers quite like a big pink face

Nothing says "sewers" quite like a big pink face

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.

Willy wanders into Resident Evil by mistake

Willy wanders into "Resident Evil" by mistake

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.

Daves Day Out – collect flashy things from around Great Britain

4 October, 2008
No, I dont remember Princes Street looking quite like this either

No, I don't remember Prince's Street looking quite like this either

Having covered a ’90s indie title for my last article I thought we’d head even closer to the present this time with a much more current homage to Jet Set Willy and its ilk. Daves Day Out (yes, I know it’s missing an apostrophe but that’s how it’s spelled in-game) is a freeware title released this decade (exactly when I’m not sure, there doesn’t seem to be any copyright message in the game) for Windows-based PCs. It describes itself as a tribute to classic platformers such as Jet Set Willy and the Monty Mole games and, like a lot of recent tribute titles, tries hard to recreate the look and feel of the era.

The title screen consists of the name of the game in huge, blocky, letters and a few scraps of information about gameplay. Starting the game, you are confronted with a deliberately primitive-looking graphical display. Dave, the monsters and the backgrounds are all drawn in a blocky Spectrum-esque way with only the status panels and text being high resolution. It’s only the movement of the characters that gives the game away visually – everything is very fast and smooth and there’s an excellent use of particles when an object is collected or when Dave collides with a nasty. The monsters themselves are a competently-designed but not especially inspiring bunch; according to the instructions they have names like “Mad Chad” but I’ve no idea who is who, they’re all “Chunky the Bucket-thingy” and “Ronald Rollerskate” as far as I’m concerned.

Sound is a mixture of the old and new. Whilst the (sparse) in-game effects sound quite 8-bit there is a tune constantly playing on loop in the background which has a distinctively modern feel being a sample-based bit of electronica. Whilst this tune isn’t too bad I’m not sure it fits the game all that well (it sounds like it belongs in something a bit more aggressive and fast-moving) and it can’t be turned off which is never, ever a good thing in games. So a big boooo to that, basically.

Dammit, Dave! Get out of that cellar or well have to change the name of the game!

Dammit, Dave! Get out of that cellar or we'll have to change the name of the game!

Gameplay itself is pretty good. Starting in Dave’s flat, the player must collect as many flashing objects as possible from around various British towns and cities. The rooms all consist of a mixture of platforms and ladders and have been quite deviously designed with some of the objects requiring a little thought to collect and since Dave only has five lives and there are 400 objects to collect, skill at avoiding the nasties is crucial. Once Dave ventures out of his flat the towns also have rooms based around real-life locations which is a nice touch and adds a feeling of exploration. Dave also travels to the towns via a train link meaning he can choose to visit the towns in any order; this creates a non-linear and open feel to the gameplay which deserves a big yay. The only real downer in gameplay terms is that, depite being a recent game, there’s no joypad support. The excellent JoyToKey utility can deal with this, thankfully, but it’s still a major omission and so also gets a big boooo. There’s also a disappointing lack of a highscore table with the programmers instead opting for a rating based on how many objects you collected; better than nothing but an inadequate replacement.

Despite the problems I mention above, Daves Day Out is still a pretty-good, if tough, retro-styled platformer and it has enough little features of its own to be worth recommending in its own right. It’s just a shame the programmers couldn’t have added a few features whose absence is much-missed.

This game is freeware and it can be downloaded from this site here

Top Hat Willy – a man in a top hat collects objects in a mansion, sounds familiar…

1 October, 2008
Maria? Maria? No Maria! Does this mean I can go to bed? Probably not.

Maria? Maria? No Maria! Does this mean I can go to bed? Probably not.

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.

Ooh, I wonder what sort of miner might want to go in there...

Ooh, I wonder what sort of miner might want to go in there...

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.

You looking at my bird?!

"You looking at my bird?!"

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.

EDIT: An ADF disk image of the Amiga version (which should be rather easier to use on emulators) can be downloaded from here. Thanks to Hanzi on the Lemon Amiga forums for finding it for me.

Subterranean Nightmare – Atomic testing creates instant-civilisation in the early ’90s

29 September, 2008
It sort of goes wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo... whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

It sort of goes "wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo..." whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

Now this is an interesting one: a game I know quite well having owned it back in the day. I got this game as part of a three-in-one-pack deal alongside Bounty Bob Strikes Back and Jonathan Smith’s Pud Pud (both of which are great, by the way). Subterranean Nightmare, published by Americana Software in 1986 and programmed by James Closs is set under the Nevada Desert in the then-future year of 1991. The fortuitiously-named Profession Fusion has been sent to the site of an underground atomic test in 1986 to investigate “unusual seismic disturbances”. When he gets there the ground collapses underneath him and he finds himself in a network of caves full of mutated beasties and must find his way out.

The first thing I should mention is the title screen and its “music”. This screen consists of the usual nice colourful display along with our bespectacled hero (who’s also a little portly, what is it with being a bit overweight and plaform game heroes?) walking back and forth ‘twix two huge yellow pillars. But the curious thing is the “tune” which plays which is a repetitive racket that sounds like some sort of siren made up of speeded-up snatches of someone scratching records (and if you’re reading this then you’re probably old enough to remember what scratching sounds like). Utterly bizarre. Anyway, never mind that, what about the game?

This huge snowman is typical of the background detail in some screens

I didn't see this screen back in the day, I was too crap to remove the wall that allows access to it. Tsk.

Well, Subterranean Nightmare is a shameless JSW clone and acquits itself well on first glance. Everything moves reasonably quickly and smoothly (although there is some flickering) and the rooms are well-designed and colourful with well-drawn nasties of numerous designs (and sizes). The “underground” theme is also consistent throughtout and the idea that the mutants have built an subterranean civilisation (bloody impressive in a mere six years, that) allows for some variation. Unusually for a game of this type, there’s also a lot of use of large scenery graphics such as gravestones, snowmen, giant candles and machinery. These add a lot to the rooms and the general feel of the game and are something JSW (or any of the clones we’ve looked at) didn’t have. That’s a big plus in Nightmare‘s favour.

The object-collecting aspect is also distinctive. Whilst in most games you simply collect the objects as you go along, exploring the rooms at will, in Nightmare some of the objects (radium crystals) affect certain rooms when collected. So, if Prof Fusion clears the crystals on a certain room it will remove a barrier in a later screen. This doesn’t make this game as open-ended from the start as most JSW clones are but there’s still a lot of freedom to explore with later areas essentially being “unlocked” as the player

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

progresses. This means there’s more incentive to collect all the crystals rather than just pass them by whilst exploring the game and since most of the fun is in trying to collect the crystals this means the game is more fun.

So, is there anything wrong with this game? Well, there’s the fact that Prof Fusion can “bounce” on many monster’s backs which isn’t really a bad thing as such but feels all wrong in a game like this – if you touch a monster you should die really. There’s also a few monsters that don’t kill you (such as the blue ball-thing in the mine shaft – play the game to see what I mean) which, again, doesn’t really feel right and can be a bit confusing. There also seem to be a few bugs, such as the “moving floor” in the mineshaft which doesn’t act as a conveyor (as I’d expected) and the way Prof Fusion can jump through some of the walls or into rooms that should be unaccessable such as bouncing across the monster on the first screen which leads to a room called “The Way Out” although I can’t seem to reach the exit.

However, these are pretty minor flaws and, overall, Subterrranean Nightmare is a worthy clone of Jet Set Willy and well-worth playing if you enjoyed that. I’ll leave the last comment to the (rather snotty) review that CRASH magazine gave this game back in its August 1986 issue (see the scan above-right). Yes, CRASH, yes it bloody well might.

The Archaeologist – Tony Robinson goes exploring for telephones

28 September, 2008
Hes not really in this game, alas.

He's not really in this game, alas.

If you say “archaeologist” most people these days will probably think of Howard Carter or Indiana Jones, people exploring Egyptian ruins and digging-up long-lost treasure. Those in the UK may even think of Tony Robinson in a pair of big grey shorts alongside that bloke in the hat saying “ooh-arr, oi be foindin’ a noice bit of Roman paaaartery” in the middle of a field somewhere near Bath. This game, The Archaeologist, doesn’t seem to feature much in the way of either representation, though, in fact I’m not sure what it’s all about.

You see, this game was published as part of a covertape compilation back in 1985 for something called “Spectrum Computing” which I’m guessing was a magazine. Apart from that, I can’t really find out much about it. There’s a very brief plot on the title screen about entering a volcano and passing through the Earth’s core collecting artifacts along the way before emerging out the other side. That’s it – no name for the character, no rational to what he’s doing – nothing. Maybe he does it for kicks. Anyway, I’m not going to talk about an anonymous character again so, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume it’s Tony Robinson having decided to do a Time Team episode after too much ale.

No wonder Bjork is so kooky if thats what Icelandic gardens look like!

No wonder Bjork is so kooky if that's what Icelandic gardens look like!

On starting, we find Tony standing on the edge of a volcano ready to enter the depths and get collecting. It all starts out well – everything is bright, colourful and moves quickly and the volcano actually looks like a volcano. There’s none of the bland look of Stay Kool here. There’s even a tune in the JSW “croaking frog” style but for some reason it defaults to “off” and you have to turn it on using the “t” key (and not just at the start – for every life) if you want to listen to it which, fortunately, you won’t.

Tony bounces around quite the thing and whilst the movement doesn’t feel as smooth and “clean” as in JSW or Fahrenheit 3000 it’s pleasant enough. Collecting the relics (which consist of such fabled antiquities as apples and 1980s telephones) and avoiding the nasties requires some skill, there’s also a nice sense of cohesion to the rooms with the underground theme being maintained throughout (well, except for the bits in Iceland at the start but we’ll forgive that) – this actually feels like exploring a network of caves and the various rooms can be quite atmospheric. There’s even a save/load feature which, whilst unusual in a game like this, is a nice idea.

Id have expected some sweltering magma, not ZX Spectrums and disembodied Sigmund Freud lookalikes

I'd have expected some sweltering magma, not ZX Spectrums and disembodied Sigmund Freud lookalikes

Unfortunately, this game doesn’t quite work. The first reason for this is that it feels untested and unfinished. Some of the screens, once you get used to them, seem poorly designed and ill thought-out. Another problem is that, instead of altering the room design, the programmer has incorporated some sort of super-jump key which, when pressed, allows Tony to jump much higher than usual. This makes the feel of the game a bit farcical since it seems designed to be played on “normal” jump with the super-jump only existing to rescue Tony from the occasional bit of bad room design (although if you hold it down too long it kills our erstwile archaeologist so you have to be careful). Having two heights of jump (and especially implemented as they are here) feels all wrong in a JSW clone and has a bad effect on the playing experience – I’d much rather one height of jump to deal with problems all the way through thankyouverymuch. And, last but not least, this game has the same “infinite death” problem as JSW except in this game it’s less predictable.

The Archaeologist seems quite good at first but the game’s flaws (especially that ridiculous jump feature) chip-away at its good features leaving it decidedly average. I suppose it should remembered that it was a covertape game and, with that in mind, it’s not too bad but there’s real promise in this game that I’d like to have seen built-upon rather better.

Next up, we should have more underground exploration fun with Subterranean Nightmare.

Fahrenheit 3000 – the temperature at which crapness burns?

27 September, 2008
cheery places to work

Nuclear power plants: cheery places to work

Having been disappointed with Luke Warm and his stupid helmet yesterday I thought today I’d try out Softstone’s Fahrenheit 3000 to see if it can do the JSW-clone thing any better. This time, the player controls some bloke who’s been sent into the nuclear reactor, the reason being that the reactor is going into meltdown and (you’ve guessed it) the only way to prevent the surrounding countryside turning into Chernobyl is to collect lots of objects over interconnected screens.

After a title screen which plays a BEEP-based version of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” (thanks to Jimmy from the World of Spectrum forums for identifying the tune for me) you enter the game and first impressions are good. The graphics are decidedly average but they’re nice and clear, even if the player character looks a bit podgy, and everything moves smoothly and at a reasonable speed (man, that’s so much better after the sluggish feel of Stay Kool). The first screen has a few obstacles to avoid and a couple of nasties; shouldn’t be too hard. Except that that’s deceptive. It actually requires near pixel-perfect positioning and timing from the player and… this is the thing, maybe it’s because he’s on the stout side but the wee man bounces! I mean he rebounds off the walls when he hits them, he doesn’t go through them or have his jump come to a standstill when he hits a solid block like in JSW he rebounds all over the place like he’s in a pinball table or (more pertinently) in the manner of Henhouse Harry in Chuckie Egg 2.

And that first screen, the game’s opening screen? It’s hard, I mean really bloody tricky. It took me about fifteen minutes just to pass it and there’s a lot of learning to do regarding timing and avoiding (or utilising) the bounce. After Stay Kool‘s rather simplistic and easy screens, being thrown into the deep-end of platforming skill like this takes some getting used to. But it’s worth it because when you get past that first screen not only does the game get a little bit easier but it’s actually not too bad.

We seemed to have moved-on from fatalistic to existential. Maybe nearby theres a screen full of joy and laughter but Im not counting on it.

We seemed to have moved-on from fatalistic to existential. Maybe nearby there's a screen full of joy and laughter but I'm not counting on it.

Okay, there’s none of the imaginative character of the JSW screens on display here but the various rooms our little chap has to negotiate are actually quite well-designed for gaming purposes and beating them feels satisfying. The bounce, which I started-off hating, actually comes into its own on some of the screens where the player needs to use it to “climb” to some areas. This gives the game a somewhat different feel to most JSW-clones which goes in its favour. You also don’t die from falling too far which, in a game designed like this one, is a Good Thing. You also get loads of lives (in the form of a radiation level which goes higher each time you get zapped – I’m not sure how many lives you have but it is loads) and given how hard this game is you’re going to need them.

But despite all these positives Fahrenheit 3000 can’t reach JSW‘s crown and knock it off its head. For a start the items that need to be collected aren’t the glowing miscellany we’re used to in this type of game, instead they’re pressure valves (that nonetheless vanish when collected) which look like sparkly-box thingies that change colour and can only be collected when red. This is rather a mean-minded aspect of the game since the colour changes apparently happen at random making collecting them slightly risky – something that is unnecessary and annoying. As I said before, the screen designs, whilst often quite devious aren’t actually all that interesting and there’s not the same desire as in JSW to get further and see more of the game. Also, the nuclear plant setting means there’s not much variation in the subject matter for rooms and they seem all have various depressingly doom-laden names like “The Pools of Certain Death” and “The Acid Bath”. There’s probably a screen called “You’re Going To Die, Arsehole” in the game somewhere but I haven’t found it yet.

Despite these problems, though, F3000 is a pretty good JSW clone, it moves nicely and the screens, whilst a bit bland, are reasonably challengingly-designed. it’s definitely worth a look if bouncing a fatty around depressingly-named but quite devious levels appeals to you and you like a challenge. It’s not as good as JSW but it’s reasonably different to be worth recommending in its own right.

The link to the game on World of Spectrum is here. There are actually two version of this game, the original release from Softstone and a re-release by Firebird Software. The re-release has the option to choose joystick control and (for no apparent reason) a pyramid on the title screen (?!).

Stay Kool – Goldfish-bowl head goes fuel-rod seeking

26 September, 2008
It looks horrible now, but wait until you see it animated. Lunch-losing time!

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.

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

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 Shakespeares grave and take a crap on it whilst youre 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.

Jet Set Willy

25 September, 2008
Imagine Moonlight Sonata but a bit bleepy and youre there

Imagine "Moonlight Sonata" but a bit bleepy and you're there

Now, I think (at least hope) that most people reading this know something about the game that’s the reason this first little batch of lookbacks is getting written in the first place – Jet Set Willy – but I have to assume that a lot of you don’t, this is something intended to be read by the big bad world, after all.

So, what is Jet Set Willy? Well, it’s a platform game that was published by a British label called Software Projects back in 1984 and it was written by a teenage coder called Matthew Smith who had previously written Manic Miner. Originally published for the British microcomputer the ZX Spectrum, it was later ported to the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC and even (several years later) the Atari ST and Amiga.

At first glance, Jet Set Willy (hereafter referred to as JSW because I can’t be arsed) is a lot like Manic Miner. The main sprite is almost the same (indeed, it’s the very same character, Miner Willy, who featured in that game) and the screens are similarly laid-out and have glowing objects to collect and imaginative nasties to avoid.

Nothing says 80s quite like a tabletop-dancing rabbit

A tabletop-dancing rabbit! Since it's 1984 it must be dancing to the Human League or something. Nice one.

But the big difference, and the one that made JSW truly influential was that Willy didn’t have to collect all the objects to leave the screen, he didn’t even have to collect a certain number of objects in order to progress beyond a certain limited number of screens. No, in JSW the whole game is open to the player from the start and the player is free to explore Willy’s mansion and its grounds at their leisure. Of course, all the objects have to be collected to complete the game but the order in which you collect them is completely up to you. This was something quite new and meant that playing the game was as much about exploring Willy’s mansion as it was about collecting the objects. Something else important was that each screen had its own name, displayed under the game window, which gave each screen a greater atmosphere and character and added to the impression that the player was exploring an actual building and its environs rather than just bouncing around some screens in a videogame.

JSW had a long shadow. As well as an official sequel, Jet Set Willy 2 (essentially the same game but with extra rooms), published in 1985 it was also followed-up by an unofficial “extended” version, Jet Set Willy 128, which took advantage of the 128K Spectrum’s greater memory and superior sound to create a much-extended game. In addition to this, numerous unofficial games were released (and continue to be released) following the publishing of Jet Set Willy editors which allowed the graphics, music and room-layouts to be changed for both the original and 128K variants of the game. Recent years have also seen the appearance of Jet Set Willy Online, an online multiplayer version of Jet Set Willy 2 where players compete to grab as many objects as possible in Willy’s mansion.

But it’s the clones and tribute games for various platforms which we’re going to focus on. Whilst many JSW clones altered certain aspects of the gameplay all of them stuck to a few basics – large, explorable, area of interlinked screens; collectable objects (or equivalent); and named screens. It’s games with these features I’ll be looking at; some worthy of Smith’s masterpiece, some not so good and some crap. Which are which we’ll find out in the coming weeks.