Sunday, 2 February 2014

Retro Review - Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (PC)

Console gaming on your PC

In 1994, Epic MegaGames (who would later be known simply as Epic) released a cutesy, high speed platform game for DOS in an attempt to a bring console quality run & jump action to the PC. It was clear that Jazz Jackrabbit was taking its inspiration from Sega's blue hedgehog, as the game was exciting, fast paced and, above all, heaps of fun. Four years later Epic saw fit to release a sequel, this time leaving the archaic DOS format behind in favour of Windows. The plot in the original title involved, yep, you guessed it, saving your girlfriend. Eva was rescued from the nefarious clutches of your arch nemesis, Devan Shell, in a play on the classic fable The Tortoise & the Hare. Once she was safely at home she and our hero decided to get hitched, but before they get down the alter, the ring is stolen. Devan is clearly up to his old tricks again.

Joining Jazz this time around is his brother, the rather unfortunately (and very politically incorrect) named, Spazz. You can choose to play as either, before setting off on a high velocity cartoon adventure spanning multiple colourful and varied environments. The stages are split into five separate episodes and come with silly names and amusing images that parody 80's pop-culture. The graphics are a treat, with well animated cartoon sprites and vibrant backdrops awash with colour and detail. There are plenty of graphical options too, with the ability to play in lovely 640 x 480 resolution – a large improvement over the original's low resolution visuals. The only downside is some occasionally jerky scrolling, though this could be down to playing the game on a modern system it was never designed for. An amusing animated intro, quirky sound effects, and a varied and well produced soundtrack that spans techno and dance to psychedelic rock, enhances the experience and lends the game the feel of a Saturday morning kids cartoon.

Jazz 2 shines in the gameplay department, with fast and fluid movement coupled with tight and precise jumping. It’s a big step up from the DOS platformers that came before it, but you would expect this from a game released in 1998. As you explore the large stages, you use your blaster to incinerate a plethora of enemies, from the recurring turtle foes, to rats, bugs, robots and more. Fruit and coins can be collected along the way, with the currency used to purchase bonus items from the occasional market stall you stumble across. Levels contain a large number of secrets, usually behind hidden walls, rewarding exploration and maintaining your interest. Destructible crates award you with jewels or weapon upgrades such as rockets, spread fire, bouncing explosives and a flame thrower, many of which allow certain types of blocks to be destroyed (or melted), granting access to new areas. 

Holding down the run button causes Jazz (or Spazz) to run at ludicrous speed, enough to leave Sonic behind in his dust. It's impressive to see a PC platformer running at such a pace, but I found this intense velocity usually resulted in powering straight into an enemy or hazard, so I preferred to stick to the standard, more enjoyable, running speed. Jazz comes with the handy ability to spin his ears like a helicopter, allowing him to float for a short distant, while his brother has a double jump. Both offer a different way of playing, which adds some variety to proceedings. There are even a few vehicles on offer allowing you to take to the skies for short periods, most prominent of which is the Silver Surfer style flying board that the two jackrabbits can obtain. Unfortunately, the game contains several bugs that put a dampener on proceedings. Jazz often gets caught or, more annoyingly, completely stuck in the background, often requiring a level restart. The action can also get slightly repetitive after a while, so is best enjoyed in short bursts, but this complaint can be levelled at most old school platform games. At least the aforementioned hoverboard and some neat underwater sections break up the constant running and jumping.

Jazz Jackrabbit certainly isn't original - it unashamedly 'borrows' a large number of ideas from Sonic The Hedgehog - but it doesn't matter as it's an enjoyable romp. It’s certainly one of the better old school platformers on the PC, and shows that the system could hold its own in a genre usually dominated by Sega, Nintendo and Sony. As a bonus, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 also comes with the ability to load user made episodes and levels from the world select screen, meaning the game has potentially limitless entertainment value. A quick look online shows an active community, with new stages being uploaded in 2014, some 16 years after its original release. 

Title : Jazz Jackrabbit 2
Developer : Orange Games & Epic MegaGames
Year : 1998
System : PC
Genre : Platformer