Willy Jetman: Astromonkey's Revenge Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and PC
Willy Jetman: Astromonkey's Revenge is an upcoming indie arcade shooter from Last Chicken Games, releasing on the Nintendo Switch eShop on January 31st. Heavily inspired by the console classics of the 90s, this title sports a vibrant pixelated art style, challenging gameplay, and a bouncy (albeit somewhat repetitive) soundtrack - all of which keep you engaged as you attempt to clean up the aftermath of an environmental disaster and become a local hero.
Playing as Willy, a street sweeper, you must seek out the space garbage spread throughout the orbit of the planet Gravos and deliver it to a recycling centre for processing. While being an intergalactic garbage collector might not sound all too enticing, this deceptively simple task must be carried out while also navigating complex environments, facing off against countless enemies, and avoiding obstacles and hazards that are thrown into your path. With only a pathetic blaster and an unreliable jetpack to begin with, you've certainly got your work cut out for you, and you'll need to keep on defeating enemies and earning experience if you want to level up, upgrade your weapons and tools, and save the galaxy.
While Willy's heroic journey - told through interactions and short scenes - forms an engaging narrative backdrop, without a doubt the primary appeal of Willy Jetman lies in its gameplay. Navigating through the various levels to collect garbage - whether flying using the jetpack, or exploring by foot - is challenging, but engaging, with narrow pathways, hazards (such as rolling boulders and toxic pools) and obstacles (such as pools of water and destructible walls) meaning that you need to think carefully about how to overcome them. Hidden areas and passageways are littered throughout, as well as various collectables, so it is worth investigating anything suspicious-looking if you're the sort of person who enjoys seeking out surprises.
Shooting, of course, is your primary occupation when not recycling space junk, and you'll find yourself up against shoals of space fish, rock golems, insects and a variety of other enemies as you progress. Shooting itself is easy, with Y controlling one assigned weapon and A the other, though mastering shooting while flying with ZR is a complex business. You're constantly required to split your attention between the enemies you're fighting and the fuel level of your jetpack, so while fall damage is (thankfully) not a mechanic, you're in danger of finding yourself in a vulnerable position if not taking care to land and refuel regularly. The unlockable alternative weapons (such as a flamethrower, or a mine launcher) and jetpack upgrades become invaluable in overcoming these enemies and limitations, and especially in boss battles, being able to select the most effective weapons and fly freely is integral to your success. Learning enemies' movements and behaviours takes time, but this is a game that rewards you for your time invested into it; an engaging gameplay loop is crafted through its progression systems, and you'll be inspired to load your last save at the "game over" screen much more often than quitting to the main menu.
The level map accessible with ZL allows for easy navigation to save points, in-game shops and places of interest, and helps you to stay on-track and have a clear idea of where your next objective lies. It is just as well that the save points are clearly marked, as due to the lack of autosave, you'll need to remember to save often - particularly after defeating a tricky boss, or upgrading your equipment. While some players may find this frustrating, I found it added a layer of difficulty reminiscent of classic platformers and adventure games, and with so many save points scattered around, it was never difficult to head to the closest.
Sadly, however, Willy Jetman does have a number of flaws and disappointing mechanics that make the game somewhat frustrating to play. A major one of these is the inconsistent controls, combined with the lack of control customisation options. While the left joystick is, for the most part, fully-functional throughout the core gameplay, in several menus - such as the main menu, and weapon upgrade menu - its responsiveness is delayed, requiring you to hold it in a direction to work. This is jarring and breaks your immersion. Being unable to rebind controls was also disappointing, as many controls in Willy Jetman do not correspond to modern-day expectations, and this can (and did, in my experience) lead to costly mistakes. More than once I pressed A rather than X to try and enter a building only to place a mine and blow myself up - not ideal considering the high damage inflicted by every hazard and enemy.
This high damage is another aspect of the gameplay that, though posing a welcome challenge, felt a little too extreme to be enjoyable. Especially early in the game, touching an enemy or falling into a toxic pool can mean half of your health gone, if not more, and coupled with the initial poor quality of your weapon and low jetpack fuel - nevermind the delays in the jetpack's activation and slow responsiveness - this creates a very steep difficulty curve if wanting to embrace the "shooter" aspects of the game head-on, rather than avoiding enemies entirely. This curve is made worse by inconsistent collision mechanics and frustrating item drops, where sliding from ledges or failing jumps repeatedly is common despite not moving that far or being within range, and chasing after loot becomes necessary as it rarely ever drops in place. Shooting airborne enemies is all fun and games until you're then playing hide-and-seek with your rewards.
These frustrations aside, though, Willy Jetman: Astromonkey's Revenge is chock-full of action, adventure and plenty of shooting, and is an indie title worth keeping your eye on. If you can look past its flaws and embrace its quirks instead, you'll find an engaging and enjoyable title worth investing your time into, and you'll be in that "one more try" mindset for hours on end. Just remember: save often, and don't be stingy with upgrading your equipment.