The world of video games as we know it today is, in many ways, very different from what it was when electronic entertainment was something as strange as it was new. Next to the old pixels, we find authentic experiences whose lavish audiovisual pyrotechnics with production values worthy of the film industry. The story, the narrative, has acquired a lot of consideration… An element that in the past could be fitted by summarizing any argument in a small paragraph of the instruction manual.
And let’s not forget the message, the desire of today’s videogame to be profound, sometimes in a forced way and against something as fundamental as the gameplay. In fact, those of us who have enjoyed computers and video consoles for decades look on with amazement at the excessive circumstance that there is a sector of fans who, at times, almost seem to repudiate what is undoubtedly the most basic and essential premise that defines, or should define, the concept of video games: fun.
What makes a work like Willy Jetman: Astromonkey’s Revenge is a wonderful interpretation of that primordial idea, seeking from the first minute the empathy of the user directly through the pad. Don’t be fooled by its simple, but very funny, plot or the soft pixels of its elegant graphic section; because the work of Last Chicken Games is anything but simple. You can quickly see the way in which the challenges posed by the stage have been posed, the absolute symbiosis between the handling of the protagonist and the obstacles, the forceful clarity of each and every one of the visual references… Of course, there will be those who put on their monocle and condescendingly contemplate an approach that on paper is “old”, which drinks from other times when video games measured their quality based on how much fun you had. That’s why we should ask ourselves when video games parked the most precious of their bulwarks in order to feed self-indulgent egos. For all this and more, it is most timely to celebrate the existence of a bomb like Willy Jetman.
The taste of the classics
New ideas are always welcome. And Willy Jetman brings in more than one sense a good jet of freshness in what is an unmistakably arcade mechanic, deriving the always healthy exercise of platforming and the furious shoot’em up into the real pillar of its gameplay: the control of its propellers. The inertia of flight, the management of the power that decreases with use, the calculation of its possibilities to face the great enemies… Everything in Willy Jetman: Astromonkey’s Revenge revolves around the rocket pack of our heroic intergalactic sweeper.
It’s inevitable to make links with certain myths in the history of videogames that are sure to have inspired the talented team at Last Chicken Games, and our first bet is undoubtedly Ultimate (later known as Rare). The legendary Stamper brothers’ company debuted with a title as unforgettable as Jetpac, in which they poured all their previous experience gained from their work in the arcade industry. As a result, Spectrum users were confronted with a program that challenged the limits of what the small Sinclair mic seemed to offer up to that point. The smooth movement of the sprites and their perfect control were wisely mixed with direct, seamless fun.
As one of the best launches of all times for the old 8-bit computers, Jetpac put us in the shoes of a character who answered to the name of “Jetman” (the tribute could not be clearer), and whose mission was to collect the pieces of our space rocket, which would be spread over the screen. Once done, it was time to fill the fuel tank, all while dodging and killing the many bugs that invaded the stage. Once all the steps had been completed, we’d get to the rocket and go on to the next phase.
Jetpac made a name for itself in the press, winning the “game of the year” award at the 1983 Golden Joystick Awards. In addition, it generated some formidable numbers that helped Ultimate grow enormously, and in the process led to a logical continuation that would come at the end of the same year: Lunar Jetman. Not only was its proposal complicated in the sequel (now there was a certain component of exploration, vehicles, things to transport…), but the technical requirements were elevated, being the first Ultimate videogame for Spectrum to require 48K of memory. And as it could not be otherwise, it was also acclaimed by both the critics and the public, who received it with open arms.
The adventures of this veteran “Jetman” reached a very different territory: the consoles. Specifically, to the Nintendo Entertainment System, our beloved NES. There the Stamper, already formed as Rare, published in 1990 Solar Jetman, a tremendous cartridge that took the base elements of the previous episodes to shape a sensational odyssey. In fact, apart from the fun that it was, for the occasion their developers returned to bring out that technical muscle for which they were the real kings of the Spectrum (remember Knight Lore or Gunfright), being able to contemplate details that, not much later, would explode in the best of the senses with the revolution that supposed the trilogy Donkey Kong Country in Super Nintendo.
Willy Jetman is very, very much influenced by these classics, and that’s a wonderful thing. But it is also inspired by another phenomenon of the first half of the eighties: the great H.E.R.O. that John Van Ryzin developed in 1984 for Activision. In this game, which would appear in practically all the machines of the time, we were handling a rescue specialist who had to save some trapped miners. Roderick Hero (that was the name of our “hero”) could move around the stage flying thanks to a versatile backpack helicopter. He also had the ability to place explosives that would blast their way through the intricate route. A jewel of the past whose imperishable values make it a very reasonable reference if you want to make a good video game from there.
And that’s what the five titans of Last Chicken Games have done with Willy Jetman. A very, very good video game that older fans will welcome with joy as it has a cozy, familiar smell. But beyond that, Willy Jetman: Astromonkey’s Revenge is an exercise absolutely suitable for all audiences, with the only requirement on the part of the user to have a lot, but a lot of fun. Without squeamishness, with no holds barred, and with the only and more than satisfactory knowledge that you can grab a pad again without having to prostrate yourself in the absence of ludonarrative dissonances, this indie jewel of today may well be one of the purest video games of these last years.