Features// Replay: Jazz Jackrabbit

Posted 6 Apr 2010 15:25 by
Did you know that SPOnG is more than a news site? Oh yes! We have a huge Game Museum archiving almost every single computer game you can think of. 'Replay' is a regular feature where we play through a title in our database be it old, overlooked or simply niche and give you the impressions of today.

For this edition of Replay, we thought we'd get seasonal, with Easter just gone and all. So, what better way to celebrate the occasion with the baddest bunny in gaming? Jazz Jackrabbit! Yes, before Gears of War and Shadow Complex there was this platforming shooter that took the PC gaming world by storm.

A real product of the 1990s, Jazz was created by Cliff Bleszinski and Arjan Brussee at Epic Games - then called Epic MegaGames - and the character exuded the same kind of attitude that mascot characters were known for in the 16-bit era. Jazz Jackrabbit was the PC's answer to Sonic the Hedgehog, in more ways than one.

The story is as 'extreme' as you could get. It's almost as if it was lifted right from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Biker Mice From Mars. The game's universe channels Aesop's fable The Tortoise and the Hare, only it's the future here and mutant hares and tortoises are engaged in a colossal interstellar war.

Jazz is the commando bunny that's called into action when evil tortoise Devan Shell tries to conquer the planet of Carrotus. When that doesn't work, he kidnaps the princess, Eva Earlong, to weaken the hares' resolve. Jazz is the planet's John Rambo, armed with a multi-purpose gun and tasked with rescuing the princess at all costs.

And so you must guide the plucky hero, bandana and all, through six chapters consisting of several worlds each. It's certainly a lot to plough through, but the game's clash of colourful worlds and cartoony violence is enough to make the whole thing a blast. And unlike most platformers, each scenario can be tackled in any order, which is great if you want to see the whole thing without getting your arse kicked.

The game's mechanics work very similarly to the aforementioned Sonic the Hedgehog - even so far as to include scenery and objects inspired by the Sega game. I mean, check out Pezrock in the final chapter. That's Marble Zone right there, that is. Jazz can also use his huge green feet to run very fast throughout the levels. Running allows you to jump higher and avoid certain obstacles.

As a result, the stages are reasonably long and feature all kinds of nooks and crannies to regulate your speed. It means that you don't win by holding right and spamming the fire button the whole time. Careful platforming is required, and some precarious ledges will mean you have to really keep your feet in check so you don't run into danger.

Most of the danger involves running face-first into enemies. Normally this would be something of a hassle, but it's not like you have no self-defence to prepare for this sort of thing. Your gun can be used to destroy everything in your path before they get a chance to hit you, but some enemies are taken down easier with different weapons.

You start off with a piddly little blaster, but come across pods that contain new kinds of ammunition - including the flame-throwing 'Toaster', a multi-directional RF Missile and a bounding grenade launcher. I've certainly found the Toaster to be my favourite, as it's quite an awesome short-range weapon and can take out larger enemies.

Although the stages are of considerable length - with two 'acts' to every world - there are various pickups and tools that Jazz can use around the game's environment. You have the obligatory point-scoring items, which assume the form of different objects depending on the theme of the level. Tubelectric's digital complex will see you collecting microchips and game controllers, for example.

Collect everything in a stage, and you get sent to a special stage where you have to collect blue chips. You get an extra life that way. And beyond all of the colourful worlds and crazy platforming-shooting action are a wealth of secret levels, which is a great reason to slow down and take the scenery in - I've still not found them all.

Perhaps the biggest thing about Jazz Jackrabbit's release was the fanbase and modding community that was built around it. Even today, gamers riding on fond memories of the 1994 classic have created open source engine replications and numerous level editors.

And the game's cult following is not surprising. Amidst the other core games on the PC platform, Jazz Jackrabbit stood out from the crowd. On top of the platforming, the shooting mechanics threw some diversity into the mix.

But it was in the sheer scale and use of unique ideas that proved that this game was much more than just a homage. For a time, it was the face of PC gaming, an accolade that, looking back, was well deserved.

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