Designed and written by David Whittaker for the Commodore 64 in 1984.
Ported to Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Simon Cobb in 1984.
Ported to the MSX computers and Tatung Einstein by David Whittaker in 1985.
All versions published by Terminal Software.
Being the rare machine that the Tatung Einstein is, you will not be particularly surprised about the lack of any ratings and reviews for its version of Lazy Jones. For the rest of them, we have a whopping 8.2 from 141 votes at Lemon64, ranking it at #77 in the Top 100 list based on at least 100 votes. The original archived World of Spectrum score from 2018 was 7.57 from 25 votes, while the current score at Spectrum Computing is a lowly 6 out of 10 from 4 votes. The MSX version is, considering the person behind the port, understandably a bit higher rated, with four stars out of five, from 21 votes at Generation-MSX. We're off to a promising start, then!
Time for another lightweight comparison again, this time a cult classic that most C64 and Spectrum gamers seem to know, even though it could hardly be called a hit game. Lazy Jones was, however, the most successful game released by Terminal Software, and is one of the most memorable games from that time period for those who have ever had the chance to experience it - regardless of when they experienced it. With this game, FRGCB will have its first comparison featuring the rare and neglected Tatung Einstein, and with a 99% possibility, will also remain the last.
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
If the name Lazy Jones doesn't ring a bell, it's really not that much of a wonder, although it must have gained some reputation lately with it having been included in the long-awaited Commodore 64 episode of Angry Video Game Nerd in December 2021, where it was said to have been "a crowning achievement for the C64".
Well, to be honest, Lazy Jones was well ahead of its time in a way. The only games that I can think of from that year to have any mini-games at all included are Pyjamarama and Byte Bitten, neither of which have more than one. Lazy Jones was basically the WarioWare or Bishi Bashi Special of its time, with 14 mini-games included. The connecting part of the game is a platformer of sorts, in which you avoid contact with other moving things and go through doors mostly leading to the mini-games - which happens within a three-storey hotel, and you move through the three floors using an elevator. The mini-games are simplified renditions of classic arcade games, such as Breakout, Space Invaders and such. More on those in the Playability section.
What gives Lazy Jones a particular kind of historical interest, is that the man behind it, David Whittaker, didn't actually write too many games beside this one, but rather became known as one of the most prolific SID-musicians, continuing his career well into the 1990's on the Commodore Amiga. Some of his most memorable soundtracks on the home computers would probably be 180!, BMX Simulator, Gunship 2000, Lemmings 2: The Tribes, Star Wars, Street Surfer, Xenon, Xenon 2: Megablast and the Dizzy series.
Personally, I came upon Lazy Jones a bit too late, as the main part of the game felt too tedious and the mini-games themselves a bit too long compared to all the later games that had mini-games in them. On the C64, Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1985 did that with more style and had a much more interesting main game in it as well. But Lazy Jones did it first, and it has a certain sort of humour and cheapness that has the ability to draw you in. It deserves to have a good bit of time put into it every once in a while, but I suppose, whether it's a true classic or a cult classic is debatable.
As far as I'm able to tell, the Tatung Einstein version was distributed on disk only, so the tape loading times are taken for the three versions left.
C64 original: 2 minutes 55 seconds
C64 Aackosoft: 1 minute 53 seconds
MSX: 2 minutes 7 seconds
SPECTRUM: 3 minutes 33 seconds
Considering the original C64 version was written and published in 1984, the loading speed is rather remarkable. Usually, in those days, it was the Spectrum that had the faster loader, with the C64 version of a game often still using a ROM loader. Here, it's a custom loader that beats the Spectrum loader by almost 40 seconds. The MSX tape from 1985 does it even quicker, with almost 50 seconds quicker than the C64 original. However, the Dutch Aackosoft re-release for the C64 beats even the MSX loading time by 14 seconds, going under 2 minutes.
|Loading screens, left to right: Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, MSX.|
Even though Lazy Jones with all its mini-games might seem like an enormous amount of things to take into consideration, it's still very traditional in its approach to all things related to gameplay; it could even be called basic. But because there are so many mini-games in Lazy Jones, I shall only be focusing on the ones with the most notable differences.
On a more general level, though, there are a few differences well worth noting. First, it should be noted that the MSX and TATUNG EINSTEIN versions are exactly the same, apart from the release format I mentioned earlier, and the notification in the title screen that you're playing the game on MSX or Einstein, but since that's the extent of these two versions' differences, they shall henceforth be referred to simultaneously.
Second, the four versions of Lazy Jones can roughly be split in two camps, which have certain characteristics, which do not appear in the other two versions. For one, the C64 and SPECTRUM versions give you a fairly traditional title screen, in the sense that you can stay there as long as you like. In the C64 version, though, you actually get an attract mode -like sequence of control informations and a quick non-interactive view of the main area in the game. The MSX/EINSTEIN version runs through the title and control option screens as if a timer was running through them, and then you are taken automatically into the game if you wait long enough. The other characteristic concerns the actual gameplay, which gives most mini-games insta-death upon collisions.
Of course, this has to be explained more clearly. The hotel, in which Jones is supposed to be working at, has 18 rooms divided in three floors, and in the middle of it all is a lift (a.k.a. an elevator), which is your only method of moving between floors. The C64 and MSX/EINSTEIN versions are presented in a wider, push-scrolling style, in which the screen scrolls from the point where you are about 2/3 across the screen; the SPECTRUM version of the hotel in squeezed into a single screen. From the 18 rooms, three feature something other than an arcade variant (a cleaning closet, a bedroom and a toilet), and one of the rooms is a bar, which is a mini-game in itself, but is not played on a computer, like the other mini-games.
The mini-games are, in alphabetical order - and numbered for convenience later on:
1. 99 Red Balloons: One of the more unique mini-games in Lazy Jones, in which you must use balloons to alternately get up and down to kiss two ladies on the opposite sides of the screen, while being shot at with arrows by an invisible guardian with a visible bow.
2. Eggie Chuck: An overly simplified laddery platformer inspired by Chuckie Egg.
3. Jay Walk: A basic Frogger clone with a similar plot to 99 Red Balloons.
4. Laser Jones: A Space Invaders clone, in which the alien ships don't shoot at you.
5. Outland: A horizontally scrolling shoot'em-up, in which you shoot a single descending alien ship at a time, while you're push-scrolling the landscape.
6. Res Q: A mixture of H.E.R.O. and Crazy Balloon, in which you fly a man with a helicopter in his backpack (or alternatively, a jetpack) around a cave, with a mission to pick up stranded explorers without touching the cave walls.
7. Scoot: Similar to Res Q, but this time you control a scooter-like space craft in a cave, and in a Lunar Lander -like manner, your mission is to land on the platforms.
8. Star Dust: Similar to Outland, but without scrolling.
9. The Hills Are Alive: Similar to Outland, but your space craft is on the right side of the screen, with the screen scrolling to the right, and you shoot things coming from the left.
10. The Reflex: A squash-like breakout-style game, in which you move a bat at the bottom of the screen and bounce off flying bones.
11. The Turk: Another more unique mini-game here. Turkeys are delivered on a conveyor belt, and you need to shoot them with your fork, and avoid hitting the flying telephones. Reminds me strongly of games like Everyone's A Wally and some of the mini-games in a future Ocean classic, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
12. The Wall: A basic Snake-clone, in which you continuously build a wall as you control the head of the wall, and you must avoid hitting basically anything.
13. Wild Wafers: Similar to Star Dust, but here you shoot spinning wafers that bounce upon getting hit by your bullets.
14. Wipeout: A basic breakout-clone with an unnecessarily small bat.
In the MSX/EINSTEIN version, "Jay Walk" is replaced by a mini-game called "Wafers II", in which you control two ships to cross-aim and shoot the bouncing wafers with. Since the two versions are practically identical, there is no need to compare the mini-game.
Since the Bar is also a playable mini-game-type room, let's deal with that one first. The idea is to order drinks from the bartender to gain points, but there's another drunk patron walking back and forth in front of the bar, blocking your movements upon contact. The bartender is also walking back and forth, but at a different speed. In the C64 version, the Bar is almost as long as the C64 screen can take, but in all the other versions, the Bar is built into the gaming screen like the rest of the mini-games. It doesn't affect the gameplay all that much, but it does make it feel more special. The SPECTRUM version is the only one of the lot, in which you need to jump to the level of the bartender before you can order a drink from him in mid-flight.
I mentioned the insta-deaths before listing the mini-games, and now is the time to focus more on that issue. Most of the mini-games in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions are played until their time limit runs down to zero. For these two versions, the only mini-games, in which you can die prematurely (upon contact with enemy, walls or such) are 2, 3, 6 and 12. In the MSX/EINSTEIN version, the only mini-games that end only by the time running out are 5, 10, 13, 14 and Wafers II - every other mini-game can end by death. Since David Whittaker himself was responsible for the MSX/EINSTEIN version, this must have been a very conscious design altering decision; admittedly, the game does flow a bit better with less time spent on a single mini-game, but fans of the original might not be so forgiving.
Despite of all that, the mini-games in the MSX/EINSTEIN version that were present in the original Lazy Jones, play virtually the same as their C64 counterparts. In the SPECTRUM version, things are much less similar. For example, "The Turk" has an imbalance of speed between the fork and the turkey, and the telephone obstacle isn't constantly there. In "Outland", the descending alien ships cease to exist after reaching the horizon line, even though the ships are in the foreground, and in the other versions, are still possible to shoot after that point. Perhaps the most grievous fault in the SPECTRUM version is the collision detection problems in the "Scoot" and "Res Q" mini-games, which can make you hit a wall from quite far away, but also collect one of the stranded explorers in "Res Q" due to the same issue.
Smaller differences worth noting have more to do with getting used to certain kind of playability, but as we need to check differences to the original, even smaller details can become a big deal, when there's a lot of them. Controlling Jones in the hotel screen is similar in all the versions, until you try to jump over any of the enemies. In the SPECTRUM version, you jump at a very low angle and a long arch, which is a bit more difficult to get used to than the more convenient jump angle and arch in the other three versions. Also, using the lift/elevator in the SPECTRUM version is much slower, often resulting in collision with an enemy on either the floor you are leaving or the floor you are attempting to get into. The room doors were originally designed so that you could only enter them from the side the door handle was on (from the right), but it was altered for the later ports of the game so that the rooms were possible to enter from either side of the door. Not a change in gameplay mechanics as such, but the transitions through the doors were made a little bit quicker after the original C64 version, to give the game more fluidity; however, the SPECTRUM version seems almost harsh in its lack of transitions. Last, but not least, the MSX/EINSTEIN version features re-positioning enemies on the hotel hallways, as they change their position upon the screen's scrolling, without any regard as to where they were prior to the scrolling.
The thing about the MSX/EINSTEIN version of Lazy Jones is, that it feels as if it was written to be an upgrade on the C64 original - replace one of the worse mini-games with a better one, and make it cut off a couple of unnecessary corners and give most of the mini-games an insta-death feature to give the game more fluidity. On the other hand, you might not like these changes, but it's really a matter of opinion. The SPECTRUM version, unfortunately, is clearly more flawed, even if it does keep the spirit well up, and is mostly enjoyable. Whatever your feelings on the matter are, this is how the scores are given here:
1. COMMODORE 64 / MSX / EINSTEIN
2. ZX SPECTRUM
Lazy Jones is not a game that even tries to boast of great graphics, but it rather focuses on getting all the content work together well enough. Since the mini-games were originally designed in BASIC and translated to assembly code with as little adjustments as possible, it didn't really leave much of room for the graphics to be upgraded to anything completely unfitting of a BASIC-language style.
|Title screens and other text bits, left to right:|
Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, MSX/Tatung Einstein.
Now, as the MSX and EINSTEIN versions look exactly the same from this point on, only the MSX screens will be used. Also, because I would rather keep the graphics part as tight as possible in this case, I will only have screenshots of 4 different mini-games, the bar, one of the non-playable rooms and the hotel itself, starting with the last mentioned.
|The hotel, left to right: Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, MSX/Einstein.|
Other minor observations that I might mention are the more colourful enemies and info panel texts in the C64 version, the monochrome colour-clashing enemies in the SPECTRUM version, and the lift interior, which is a bit different in all three versions. The C64 and SPECTRUM lifts show some depth, while the MSX doesn't, and there's some notable difference in perspective as well. Also, the floor and ceiling patterns are very different on the SPECTRUM compared to the other two.
|Room examples from the Commodore 64 version.|
The way the game transitions between the hotel and the game rooms in the C64 version is by sliding the game screen to the left and instantly drawing the new screen. Once you have entered a game room, Jones walks his usual nonchalant speed to the computer, and having reached it, the screen flashes a "Get Ready" message for a few seconds. Once the game is over, the screen flashes a "Game Over" message for a few seconds before Jones walks his usual speed back into the hallway.
|Room examples from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum version.|
As for the actual graphical details in the game rooms, the monitors all use the same colouring, which can become rather boring on the long run, if you are already used to the C64 version. The game title texts are always in white here, whereas on the C64, there could easily be three different colours in the title, and "Star Dust" even had a small star between the two words. Another detail off is the lack of shadow for the room exit.
Now, from the four chosen games, "The Hills Are Alive" doesn't have any stars in the background, nor is there as much colour, and the aliens are animated less unpredictably. In "Res Q", the colours are a bit different, there's one less man to rescue, and you are wearing a jetpack instead of a portable helicopter thing. In "Wipe Out", the blocks look more like traditional bricks here, and the ball is actually a ball, unlike in the C64 version. In "Star Dust", all the comets are the same colour. The Bar is redesigned to fit the monitor, and the "Lazy Nightmare" screen has five wandering Joneses wandering a bit differently than the five wandering top floor boss silhuettes in the C64 version.
|Room examples from the MSX/Einstein versions.|
Like in the SPECTRUM version, the MSX monitors all look the same, but have a more realistic colouring to them. The game titles are, again, written in a single colour, with nothing interesting about them whatsoever. The exit door shadow is, at least, reinstated here.
But it's the games where all the interesting changes have been made. For example, "The Hills Are Alive" features parallax-scrolling background stars - an upgrade that was also made for "Outland". "Res Q" is modeled straight from the C64 version, as are "Star Dust" and "Wipe Out", except in the case of the last one, the star obstacles have been turned into aliens from Space Invaders instead. "Lazy Nightmare" only has four top floor bosses, but they have been choreographed to do something that looks very much like a dance routine. The Bar has been more or less modeled after the SPECTRUM version, with a few slight adjustments, and the neon "Cocktails" word is actually flashing here, which is why you cannot see it in the screenshot.
All things considered, the MSX version offers some rather good upgrades, which should have been possible to do in the C64 original as well. There are some things in the original, though, which none of the other versions were able to reproduce faithfully, such as the full size bar, the transition animations and the more colourful monitors and enemies in the hotel hallways. The upgrades in the MSX version are good enough, though, to properly challenge the original's place as the best overall choice. The SPECTRUM version does its job as well as you could expect under the hardware restrictions, but apart from a couple of exceptions in the game rooms, it just doesn't cut the mustard.
1. COMMODORE 64 / MSX / EINSTEIN
2. ZX SPECTRUM
I feel like we have already established a pattern here, but still, let's go through the Sounds section, if only for the sake of tradition. Also, it is worth noting, that since the musician of the game himself is who wrote the original C64 game and it's MSX and EINSTEIN ports, there shouldn't be too many differences worth pointing out, apart from what we hear in the SPECTRUM version.
The complete soundtrack is composed similarly, using the same octave-style bassline for one voice and melody for the other (for the most part), and also using the same tempo for all tracks, which makes the tracks all seamlessly segue into each other. Although you really cannot possibly notice it, there are 21 tunes in the game's soundtrack, from which at least one is a cover of a pop song, and one of which was sampled in 1999 by a German electro project called Zombie Nation, if you have ever happened to have heard of it.
Because of the way the music is built into the game, it never clashes with the sound effects - there is always one channel free to play any sound effect the game decides to throw at you, whether it is a melodic one or a noisy one. I will not get into too much details concerning the sound effects, because most of them are made in such a 1984 manner, that makes them indescribable as anything other than 1984 computer game sound effects. They certainly add to the cheapness of the game in a good way, and in their own strange way, are almost inseparable from Lazy Jones.
The MSX/EINSTEIN soundtrack is as close to the original as you would expect - the sound with which the music is played only sounds a bit different to the sawtooth of the C64, but it's not something you would give too much importance. The sound effects have been somewhat redesigned and given even more variety, if possible. At least, I don't think I have ever heard the stingingly high noise the player's space ship makes in the "Outland" mini-game on the C64. But at least to me, they're both on the same level. Again.
As for the SPECTRUM version, the first, and biggest disappointment is when you hear no music at all during the entire game. Not even in the title screen or Game Over. For the most part, the sound effects are limited to various kinds of crash-type noises, although there are some more melodic bleeps and bloops here and there. True to the original, though, the sound effects are very much 1984 in design, so even though they don't really sound too similar to the C64 sounds, they're definitely contemporary. If only there had been foot tapping noises, like in the other versions, I could have considered the Spectrum version good enough, at least in terms of sound effects. As it is, it feels surprisingly barren compared to the other versions.
1. COMMODORE 64 / MSX / EINSTEIN
2. ZX SPECTRUM
OVERALL + VIDEO
Well, had I bothered to trust my instincts on this one, the comparison wouldn't even have been made. But then, people should know the MSX version is just as good - if not slightly better - than the C64 original. As is the Tatung Einstein version, but that's a bit too difficult to get a hold of, as the machine was only ever sold in the UK and Taiwan, which is where Tatung were based at. Anyway, if it didn't become clear enough yet, here are the final results:
1. COMMODORE 64 / MSX / EINSTEIN: Playabilty 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
2. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3
If you cannot bother to pick up any of these versions, if it requires you to actually install an emulator, or worse yet, buy an actual retro computer, you might be interested to know, that there is also a PC Remake written by Robert Brown, and released by GyroCorp Systems in 1999, and updated with emulated SID music in 2001. It plays, looks and sounds exactly like the C64 original, so there's nothing of particular value there if you're looking for an upgrade rather than a straight port, but it helps to get the experience if you don't like emulators for some reason.
As usual, here's a video accompaniment for this comparison, as compiled by yours truly:
That's it for today, and there's more coming up later this month! Stay tuned!