With a name like Willy Jetman, developer Last Chicken Games seems to be courting a nostalgic audience who fondly recall the ZX Spectrum adventures of Matthew Smith's Jet Set Willy and Rare's (née Ultimate Play the Game) Lunar Jetman. It's a tried and tested move to attract interest in a crowded digital marketplace, and frankly, it's unbecoming of a title as polished and enjoyable as this. Willy Jetman doesn't need to stimulate gamers' nostalgia glands when it offers a tight, rewarding adventure seemingly effortlessly.
The simplistic story is laced with humour which is quite puerile at times, but in a charmingly silly way, and the dialogue never outstays its welcome. It's focused entirely on the gameplay, with limited tutorials meaning you can grasp the mechanics and just get on with it, which is refreshing. And they're fun mechanics, too, with Willy's jetpack functioning precisely as you'd expect.
Leaping into the air before firing it will cause him to propel upwards quickly, while launching from standing is slower and steadier, but burns more fuel. There's no frustrating resource management, though. The jetpack has limited fuel, but recharges quickly, meaning you should always have enough juice to pull off what you want to do. You may think this would make traversal easy, but clever level design puts enough hazards in your way to offer a meaty challenge without making the locations feel inorganic.
While Willy Jetman doesn't need to homage its influences as overtly as it does, they're definitely a consistent presence. The central mission of gathering debris and carrying it to a set point on each map is evocative of those Ultimate Play the Game classics like, well, Jetpac. Thankfully you're never far from a drop-off point so this activity doesn't feel arduous. Your back-and-forth trips across the maps give ample opportunity to check out different routes and search for secrets, too, which will reward you with "gravitonium" that can be used to upgrade and refill your weapons.
Said weapons are fairly diverse in their application, with the basic laser gun giving way to ninja-style shurikens and a vicious flamethrower, with each weapon stronger against a particular enemy type. One of the small frustrations of Willy Jetman is in your inability to carry more than two weapons – particularly in the early game when your second slot is basically always going to be taken up by the bombs, which are needed for traversal. This rather encouraged us to pick a weapon and stick with it to the bitter end, rather than adapt our approach to whatever situation – simply because it'd mean another trek to the save point to switch gear.
Save points, naturally, are as contentious as ever. While they're fairly plentiful, it's still frustrating to lose progress because you didn't save recently. This would be the player's fault, of course, but it motivated us to play far more cautiously than may be strictly necessary, which isn't much fun. Gather some gravitonium, save room. Kill a few enemies, save room. Find a little secret, save room. It makes things a little repetitive unless you have faith in your ability not to die – which is hard because Willy isn't the most resilient little guy, dying in two or three hits from pretty much every enemy in the early game, when the experience is in its formative stages.
Despite these little drawbacks, we were impressed with Willy Jetman. It rises above its derivative title and offers an attractive, intricate, very much hand-crafted Metroidvania-lite experience.