The 8-bit computers have had quite a few Christmassy-themed games as of late, and Percy Penguin In The Present Palaver is a new Spectrum 48K/128K platform jaunt in the style of Jet Set Willy. And - hey up - I know that sprite... Percy Penguin is in fact one of the patrolling nasties from that classic game, last seen (by me) whupping my ass in the Cold Store.
As you might expect, you have to wander the "rooms" collecting the presents and avoiding the patrolling nasties. There are a few elements to Percy Penguin that will also be familiar to players of the original Jet Set Willy too - the countdown of 60 minutes to find all the items, for example, and the plethora of Percys with which you must tackle your task. However, thankfully there's no irritating cyclic death loop... and the whole playing experience is significantly upgraded.
The first thing that hits you (on the 128K version) is the sound. The opening menu has some absolutely superb attract music, and you have a choice of no less than five toe-tapping tunes in the game itself. Simply tap the P key if you tire of the current tunelet. The second thing that hits you is the speed. This is like playing a Jet Set Willy clone with a 50% speed boost and there's much less time to think or react to the patrolling or bouncing bad guys. And once you start playing, well, that's was when my last thought that this was going to be anything like Jet Set Willy was torn away. There's no uncontrollable jumping arc here; instead you need pixel-perfect positioning. Indeed, you need to jump from platform to platform, releasing the directional and jump controls with the skills of an expert pianist to make any progress. And don't expect some easy screens like The Bathroom to ease you into the action. Even the very first screen isn't easy to traverse.
The good news is that this game is really good. The playing area fills the majority of the screen, Percy Penguin responds very well to game controls and the use of colour to eliminate bleed is impressive. The Christmas theme is excellent and at least the sprites throughout the game really seem to fit the flick-screen fun therein.
The bad news is that this game is really hard. It's even harder than Jet Set Willy (although not harder than Jet Set Willy: The Nightmare Edition!) and the jumps that you need to make are designed so that nothing less than almost-but-not-quite falling off the edge before leaping will result in success. Jumping onto the roof on the third screen originally seemed impossible until I realised how this was done. Plus, the music, as great as it is, doesn't actually fit the whole Christmassy theme - there's everything in-game from brand new through classical to the famous circus attract theme, but there's not a funkified Christmas carol in sight. Well, earshot.
Overall, Percy Penguin is probably just that little bit too tough for most players. I lost count of the number of swear words that tumbled out of my mouth whilst playing it... which might well ruin the festive atmos were I to load it up on Christmas Day. It's the combination of speed and timing that makes it hard; when I reduced it to about 85% using ZXSpin's speed feature I could make a lot more progress. And, truth be told, it's one of those games where, once you've learned the route through the screen, you can repeat that route at full speed and look like an arcade master!
Completely free to download, the game is apparently programmed with Arcade Game Designer, but, really, you wouldn't know it if it didn't inform you. Definitely worth a play, if only to see what Percy gets up to when he's not patrolling the Cold Store.