Review: Jet Set Willy for iPhone - as good as you remember?

14 February 2011

With the sole exception of breast-feeding, we should never attempt to recreate the glories of our childhood because they'll invariably result in disappointment. Even attempting to recapture some giddy, dizzy episode of our teenage years can leave us feeling empty and our cherished memories sullied.

Jet Set Willy for the iPhone - released yesterday - isn't a disappointment, but it's certainly lacking. The issues, however, are nearly all down to the development and design of the iPhone version, because the game itself is still as stupidly addictive in its simplicity.

For those who missed out in the 1980s, Jet Set Willy is a straight-forward platform game that sees you control millionaire Willy, in his quest to clean up his mansion after yet another decadent party. His housekeeper won't let him go to bed until he's picked up every last empty Bolly bottle and champagne glass. You must guide Willy around his rather outlandishly-designed mansion and collect the empties before midnight.

Bitterwallet - Jet Set Willy

And that's it. There are only three controls - left, right and jump - and 60 rooms full of monsters, arrows, rope swings and swag. Released in 1984, it found a place in every kid's heart, mine included. So how does the iPhone version stand up?

What'll strike you first is the retro look to the design of the UI. Everything aside from the gameplay - instructions, menus, buttons - is a mess. It's a blurry gash of styles and mish-mashed ideas. The portrait game-screen is beyond ugly. Even the loading screen is a faded copy of the original artwork with a clutter of logos poorly overlaid. Not important to the game play, but there's no excuse for it and you hope for something better.

Bitterwallet - Jetset Willy

Bitterwallet - Jet Set Willy

Mercifully the look of the game itself hasn't changed since its release for the Spectrum (although some of us made do with 16K less memory and played on the Acorn Electron), and it's still as fun as ever. The gameplay is pixel perfect; as a kid you worked out the pattern of how the beasties in a particular room moved, and those timings are still the same. It's gorgeous to wallow in nostalgia as you recall how you can run across the Kitchen without the chefs costing you a life.

Speaking of lives, there's no need for pokes - you can choose to play with infinite lives. The one small issue is that it's impossible to immediately jump in a direction from standing still; the button response means you take a step before you jump, which can see you stray too close to something deadly instead of leaping over it.

There are some UI niggles - you've two buttons marked 'fire' on the same side of the game screen; these are the buttons to jump. OK, but the loading screen won't disappear until you hit either button (like an 80s throwback, I sat waiting for the game to load) and the original home screen tells you to press 'enter' to play the game when you have to tap 'fire'. There doesn't appear to be an option to switch the sound on either; while sound effects were sparse in the original, you recall when you should hear them and you miss them.

For a blast of nostalgia, Jet Set Willy is certainly worth £1.19 - probably less than you paid a decade and a half ago. But while you'd have kicked and screamed if they'd messed with a pixel of Willy's mansion, it's a crying shame the overall experience is tarnished by an eyesore of a design from the same era.

TOPICS:   Mobile


  • The B.
    JSW was never that great of a game, the most frustrating thing was being stuck in a "death loop" where you've been killed jumping off one screen onto another. Kudos to Matt Smith though, he cleaned up with it.
  • Brad
    It was probably popular as it had the Word 'Willy' in it.
  • klingelton
    Won't be buying it, there were better games back then, there are better games now. tosh.
  • All B.
    [...] before Jet Set Willy got a look in, the Atari 2600 was rocking the world of shaggy-haired kids at the start of the 80s. [...]
  • Oh! B.
    [...] but it sounds good as an opening line. But it’s true that there’s definitely a market for old ZX Spectrum games, ancient Atari games, a revamped Sega Megadrive and a phone that plays original Playstation [...]
  • *Beeb* A.
    From reading these comments, it appears that the people who now own an iPhone once owned a more expensive computer than the ZX Spectrum, back in the 1980's.

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