Jet Set Willy

Nothing to do with Jet Set Radio.

I know I've heard about Jet Set Willy somewhere, but couldn't tell you where, when or why - and I'm not thinking of it being written down in the 1001 entry for the first game in the series, Manic Miner. I know Jet Set Willy is of some importance to video gaming history, but I just don't know why I know that.

What I do know is that it's hard as nails before any bugs. Gamers of the 1980s were built of sterner stuff than I...

Fun Times

After getting past the surely epilepsy inducing menu, Jet Set Willy drops you, Miner Willy, in the bathroom of a monstrously large mansion. A few rooms away, beyond the floating razor blades and alien creatures, stands your wife, blocking your entrance to the bedroom. You have most definitely messed up somewhere, and it's mess that you've got to clean.

You need to platform your way through more than sixty screens of stage hazards and enemy threats, using nothing but two direction keys and a jump button in an effort to collect a variety of items that have been scattered about the place. A lot of items.

If you've played Manic Miner enough to get a feel for the controls (and you'll have to have played Manic Miner enough just to make any kind of progress in Manic Miner...), then you'll feel right at home in Jet Set Willy. If not, there's going to be a bit of a learning curve ahead of you, and then another one for how to effortlessly leap onto and swing off of ropes like Tarzan, but the gameplay is so simple that it's really just a case of trial and error, and a whole lot of practice and patience.

You'll probably die a lot, but you are given a generous amount of lives to gather up the items you need. Do so, and you'll be rewarded.


Except you won't.

Venture up to the Attic, for example, and you'll corrupt the rest of the mansion, rendering the original game impossible to complete. Luckily various fixes came out, as there were more than a few problem bugs in the game, with one dedicated player even being hired to develop a port (of the fixed version) to the MSX.

Bugs aside however, Jet Set Willy isn't for the casual player. One of the first rooms is the appropriately titled 'Nightmare Room', where you - now playing as a flying pig - need to grab a beer bottle after a rather lengthy platform hopping, enemy dodging trip across the screen and back.

Perhaps you should consider that the practice room. If you can grab that beer, then you can take on the rest of the mansion like you own the place.

The platforming challenges are already devious and difficult without the problems you may face with the controls. You can work out, or outright see, what you need to do in any given situation, but translating that verdict of yours into well timed button inputs can take time.

Final Word

If getting to grips with the controls is difficult - and with these games, getting any kind of precision requires you to get some intimate knowledge of the controls - then you're not going to have the best of times with Jet Set Willy. I sucked at it, as you might imagine, but was entertained by it nonetheless.

You should try to play it, but if you can't or you're not getting too far, track down a video, preferably with the background music - like Manic Miner before it, the game isn't complete unless it's difficult and has background music and sound effects, all blaring out of the ZX Spectrum.

I've said before that games are often about taking what exists and adding something or evolving something one way or another - to stand on the shoulders of giants and all that. Jet Set Willy isn't just cashing in on the success of Manic Miner, but making something even more ambitious with the now fully laid down foundations.

Fun Facts

Jet Set Willy was one of the first games to include some form of piracy protection, in the form of a card full of codes that would need to be looked up and entered before the game would load. One method of getting around this hassle was printed in a computer magazine of the time. Handy.

Jet Set Willy, developed by Software Projects, first released in 1984.
Version played: ZX Spectrum, 1984, via emulation (Torinak.com)
Version watched: ZX Spectrum, 1984 (RZX Archive)