• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 8-bit
ReviewGordon and Jason

Main review

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?

Second opinion

Okay, so a quick bout of honesty to begin with; as a gamer, I really haven’t played Jet Set Willy all that much. Yes, a crime that’ll probably see me hung, drawn and quartered by Spectrum fans at some retro gaming event in the future but in my defence I have put quite a bit of time into Manic Miner although you’d probably not believe that to watch me playing it! Of course, I’m well aware of it’s place in the history of at least British game development and how it, Manic Miner and Matthew Smith are almost idolised in some quarters but, apart from some relatively cursory plays back in the day and more recently when Spectrum emulators first became popular, I hadn’t really sat down and given it a proper try. This Atari conversion then is my baptism into all things Jet Set, and during my preparation there was an excuse to spend some time with the Spectrum original and the previous Atari 8-bit port..

In Jet Set Willy 2007 we have another brave attempt by XXL to take a piece of Spectrum code and literally port it from Z80 to 6502 in order to feed the result to the Atari 8-bit, however there isn’t any attempt to change the game as there was with Jetboy. The graphics here are straight conversions of the originals from the Spectrum, but lacking most of the original colour and I did feel that to be a bit of a shame really, for a machine with such a wide range to it’s palette, to have things boiled down to two shades of one hue and a bit of highlighting for the collectable objects, but the clearness of those high resolution graphics do stand out on the machine all the same..

And unlike Gordon, for me that soundtrack, which was literally the only saving grace from Tynesoft’s conversion, doesn’t feel out of place because the entire experience feels slightly surreal but has an overall air of fun, almost Monty Python-esque in the way it looks (especially when Willy’s nightmare turns him into a “flying” pig of all things and we don’t even need to mention the foot) and this Rob Hubbard composition, which plays throughout the game from title page to game over sequence, reinforces that rather than detracts from it. Another plus is that, since Jet Set Willy 2007 is a straight port of the original game, it inherits the playability and, even for novice JSW players like myself who had their arses handed to them fairly rapidly and consistently, Willy’s mansion is a large, immersive and fun world to get thoroughly lost within.

To be honest, I can’t help but see this port as an attempt at righting a past travesty; the official port of Jet Set Willy that Tynesoft churned out was horrific on every count except for that Rob Hubbard tune and this is pushing that aside and showing that the Atari is capable of producing a far better looking and considerably more playable game. It’s always been ironic that the machine that was the host for Miner 2049’er, the game that inspired the Miner Willy series, lacked a conversion of the first game and had the Johnny-come-lately hideous port of the second. Thinking about it a little more, a similarly done conversion of Manic Miner with just a bit more colour about the place and perhaps that lovely Rob Hubbard soundtrack reused for the Atari would finally set that balance straight.