Published on March 18th, 2013 | by Simon Booth | Indie Writer0
XBL Indie Game of the Month – Jet Set Willy
Granted, Jet Set Willy isn’t an indie game as such, nor is it an original release for Microsoft’s indie service, but I couldn’t resist the urge to name it Write Trigger’s XBL Indie Game of the Month. Its 1984 release date alone justifies its place among the pantheon of revered platformers, but there are a number of reasons why the game is a timeless classic.
Let’s get one thing straight: Jet Set Willy hasn’t been awarded with our esteemed title because of its revolutionary gameplay; Miner Willy doesn’t control much better than Atari’s Pitfall Harry or even Donkey Kong’s Jumpman and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. – released only a year later – served only to magnify Willy’s shortcomings. But what the game lacked in technical prowess, it more than made up for with its moody, surreal presentation.
The reason I picked Jet Set Willy over its predecessor Manic Miner, is because its presentation and narrative is as important as its gameplay. Matthew Smith’s second outing for our now-minted miner still requires the pixel-perfect platforming of the original, but this time around all the action takes place in a rich and meaningful world. Although, finding any meaning in the game’s semiotic mash-up of religious imagery and consumerist décor poses quite a challenge.
Using the fortunes amassed in his first adventure, Willy bought himself a sizeable mansion, complete with a yacht, chapel and even its own underworld! The game itself is crammed with metaphorically loaded sprites such as razor blades, crucifixes and demonic skulls.
The surreal imagery complements the narrative too. The story takes place after a high society party hosted by Willy who is spending his new found wealth on expensive champagne and ice cream. Upon marching drunkenly to bed his maid demands that he clean up the mess before retiring (try and get past her and watch as she coldly takes one of Willy’s lives).
After that, the story is up to you. It’s the player’s choice about how to proceed. Four years prior to games like Metroid and Legend of Zelda, Matthew Smith had created an open labyrinth for players to negotiate as they saw fit and in doing so created a world in which players could form their own narrative. What you make of the unnerving series of events is up to you and this is why Jet Set Willy is so deserving of our XBL Indie Game of the Month title.
240 Microsoft points may sound steep for a game nearly thirty years old but the package comes with behind the scenes info, a wonderfully retro scan-line mode and even a cheat mode so that you can make it through to the end – a challenge that’s easier said than done.