For our American friends that are not familiar with the game,Jet Set Willy was released on the ZX Spectrum in 1984 to immediate critical and commercial success. The fickle and fast moving mid-80s gaming scene however had it marked off as a period piece within a year, and interest turned to more sophisticated and technically advanced games such as Fairlight and Starquake. With the retro gaming revival at the turn of the century however, it was Jet Set Willy that got the most internet attention becoming, along with Manic Miner, a sort of flagship release for the Spectrum that in its quirky Britishness came to define the machine.
Jet Set Willy's enormous popularity amongst the retro gaming community is in my opinion down to its personality: I have never played a game on any 8-bit format that has as much character and life in its sprites and locations as JSW, and while the quality of the eighty plus screens can be uneven, it also happens to be a lot of fun, and it's for those reasons that twenty-three years later, people are still doing remakes and conversions of this brilliant game.
One such release is Jet Set Willy 2007 for the Atari 8-bit, which is an attempt to stay as true as possible to the original, with one exception of course being the infamous "Attic Bug" that effectively ended the game if you entered the attic room from the wrong side. It uses the Rob Hubbard tune from the Atari 8-bit Tynesoft conversion, and the graphics have the same resolution, though not the colour, as the original.
XXL seems to have got the gameplay spot on here, as all the old feelings come back to hardened veterans of the Speccy classic when you start playing. The left, right and jump movements are responsive, Miner Willy remains as cute and innocent looking as ever and the sequence of the locations is thankfully unchanged. The real test comes when visiting the more intricate rooms, and having done so, I have to give this element of JSW 2007 the thumbs up. The "East Wall Base" is a tight little room that requires Willy to be facing one way at a certain time so that his pixels don't clip the very edge of a descending enemy sprite. Any weakness in the collision detection would be exposed here, but I was delighted to find that I could get through this room using the exact same timing and rhythms as I did all these years ago on the Spectrum without any deaths resulting: impressive stuff.
It's in the graphics and sound departments that real differences emerge, and I don't think these differences are to the benefit of the Atari version. The screens are presented in various monochromatic hues with the only exceptions being the coloured pieces Willy has to collect throughout the game. The lack of colour has the side effect of making the locations look a little dull. Jet Set Willy was designed to take full advantage of the Speccy's attribute limitations, and while monochrome can look stunning in games tailored for it such as Head Over Heels and Batman, it doesn't work for the colour clash free (and empty) backgrounds of JSW which in this version now look barer than ever.
The fine background music, written by the great Rob Hubbard, recalls one of my main gripes with Jonathan Cauldwell's otherwise great Egghead Entertains which had a tune so intense it verged on death metal. It didn't suit the search and explore element of that game one little bit and, while Hubbard's tune is better, the same can be said of his music in this game as well. Jet Set Willy is not a poor man's Super Mario Land. This game is about soaking up atmosphere as you enter each new screen, trying to figure out like a chess player how to safely get through it, and the tune stifles that atmosphere big time. I'm not denying that Rob Hubbard's music can set a mood - it's just that with this game, it's the wrong one.
These two changes undermine the Atari 8-bit version of Jet Set Willy, and it isn't as good an experience as playing it on the Spectrum. Considering the limitations XXL worked round though, it's a good conversion that in many ways is faithful to the original, but one wonders why with the multitude of emulators available you wouldn't just play it on the Speccy (or even the C64) instead of this decoloured version that doesn't really do the game or the machine full justice. Jet Set Willy 2007 is best summed up as a decent, but compromised attempt to translate a well known (and well worn) milestone in gaming to the Atari. Nice job guys, but what are we supposed to do with it?