Jet Set Willy was the first game I ever played. I have lost count of how many times I have read another person from my generation saying the same thing, but it is a lot!
The reality is though, Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum was many people’s first gaming experience or at least one of their first really memorable ones.
Designed and developed by Matthew Smith and released in 1984 by Software Projects, Jet Set Willy achieved number one status in the UK sales charts for many months.
Jet Set Willy is the sequel to the 1983’s Manic Miner, and see’s Miner Willy on a mission to tidy his mansion having hosted a rawkus party. Similar to the original game, the objective is to move from room to room, picking up objects, though in Jet Set Willy, players are now free to explore and return to previously visited rooms.
In Manic Miner each ‘room’ once completed, could not be returned. This brings a completely new dynamic to the gameplay, where players would often prefer exploring the mansion over focussing on collecting all objects before moving on to the next room.
Controlling Miner Willy is as simple as it gets. Left, Right & Jump. That’s it. You have to navigate stairs occasionally, which Miner Willy automatically navigates when you walk into them. If you want to bypass any stairs, you simply jump straight through them.
The Jet Set Willy map has 60 locations to explore and is renowned to be hellishly difficult in places. Particularly so due to some quirks with the way Miner Willy respawns back into a room having suffered a fall from a height, only to then be placed in the same position which causes Miner Willy to fall in the first place!
This then results in repeated death until it’s game over! This could be seen as a bug, but like with many games of the era, these issues were often ‘marketed’ as features within the game.
The most well-known bug has to be in ‘The Attic’, once players had entered this room, a bug then makes certain other rooms which you return to corrupt which can automatically kill Miner Willy.
To fix the issue the game needed to be reloaded to clear the issues from memory. Ultimately, to resolve the issue a patched version needs to be obtained, or back in the day, POKE code was released to help clear the issue.
Jet Set Willy is notable for its in-game music and sound effects, quite an achievement at a time when many games would offer simply either music or sound effects. This was achieved by the in-game music being composed as single notes played one after the other in quick succession, allowing all the sounds to appear to be audible simultaneously.
To try to combat the evolving piracy issues of the 1980s, Jet Set Willy favoured a code card copy protection system. This was simply a cassette inlay that when prompted by the game, you use the coordinates displayed on the screen and look up the four colours, then enter them at the on-screen prompt.
Photocopying this card was also made more difficult by the multi-colour print. One solution could have been perhaps to simply photograph the card! But this provided enough of a barrier for many users in those early days of copy protection.
Although the ZX Spectrum version is the primary version of Jet Set Willy, many conversions to other systems exist. These include conversions for many of the popular systems of the time such as the Commodore 64, BBC Micro & Amstrad CPC.
The game still has a loyal following with multiple versions and hacks of the original game being developed by fans.
A lifelong avid gamer and computing enthusiast, Matt has decades of experience in the field, so producing retro orientated content for How To Retro comes is second nature to him. Now over 40 years old, Matt now even considers himself retro, but fortunately, nobody has developed a Matt emulator (not yet at least!).