In its early promotional material for the ZX Spectrum, Sinclair often went to almost painful lengths to avoid using the word 'games'. Released 35 years ago this month, the microcomputer was designed by Sir Clive Sinclair with serious applications in mind, and an optimistic role as a central hub for the nation's households. Constantly reiterating its expandability, these initial adverts were all about tech, emphasising the Spectrum's 'massive' RAM of 16 or - crikey! - 48k, as well as its high resolution and accessories, including a printer and the doomed ZX Microdrive. As it turned out, the manufacturer was swimming against the tide. Programming? Hmm, might try and type in a few POKEs I suppose. Educational? Game of chess or Scrabble aside, not likely. No, what the majority of kids wanted from the Spectrum was games. And games, much to the chagrin of Clive Sinclair, were what they got - in their hundreds.
There's been something missing from the gaming landscape. Something that's been bugging me, though I haven't been able to put my finger on it. It was Spelunky, bizarrely, that knocked loose the mental blocks and made me realise what I was pining for. Though that game's nameless hero owes most of his DNA to rock-hard NES classic Spelunker, there's also a dash of Manic Miner in there. And that, I realised, is what I miss: working class heroes.
Asking a Miner Willy fan to choose between Manic Miner and its sequel, Jet Set Willy, is like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. The games, programmed by 8-bit whiz kid Matthew Smith, are both brilliant platformers that have captivated gamers ever since they debuted on the ZX Spectrum in the early eighties.
Old ZX Spectrum game Jet Set Willy flops onto the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad (HD version) next week, Elite Systems has announced.
When is a sequel not a sequel? Jet Set Willy is both the question and the answer. This is, technically and without reservation, the sequel to Manic Miner. It looks the same, it's got the same main character, the gameplay is pretty much identical and the author, Matthew Smith, says it's the sequel. And yet, it isn't.
To craft a game of this magnitude and surrealism is a historic accomplishment, regardless of its slippery heritage. But we have very specific expectations from sequels, whether they're games, films, book or whatever. It must exhibit recognisable gameplay and at the same time be different, bigger and more challenging while expanding on the main character's universe and personal history. It might have been 1984, but we still expected these elements when Miner Willy returned to our Spectrum driven screens.
The wonderfully unwell mind of Smith was more than prepared, however; attacking our expectations from the side and bowling them over, unaware and unprepared. This isn't a continuation in the life of Miner Willy, but another chapter - an alternative glance at the warped universe of an inexplicably alluring character who, in this instance, simply wants to go to bed after a particularly rampant party at his massive new 60-room mansion. His vitriolic house keeper blocks his way to convivial slumber, and Willy must do her job (clean up) before well earned retirement. As with all good literature (yes, I consider Jet Set Willy to be a form of interactive, graphic literature on a par with Gabriel Marquez and Angel Carter), Willy's story is shown, concisely and profoundly, rather than told.