I’ve been on a bit of a DOS kick lately, playing all the games I either have forgotten about or just never got the chance to play as a kid. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was one of my absolute favourite things to play. I had the shareware version, on one of those CD’s full of other pieces of shareware. But I always wondered, what was the first one like? I think I played it at some stage, I played so many games I’ve forgotten half of them, but I can’t remember if it was good. And during Backlog Slog, that’s the big question we’re always aiming to answer.
Back in 1994, before Epic Games became the absolute monolith it is right now, it was still pretty darn big. Producing and developing a lot of innovative titles. Platformers were cementing their place in the gaming world, and naturally, Epic wanted a piece of it and so Jazz Jackrabbit was born. Hailed at the time for being ‘Sonic the Hedgehog for PC players’, it absolutely lives up to that.
But with the best kind of difference. All that speed and also? You have a gun! That makes everything a lot better!
The plot is a play on the tortoise and the hare, with there being some kind of ongoing war between the two races that’s set in a vague sci-fi kind of deal. A princess gets captured, planets are conquered, a hero is angered, etc. etc., it’s a DOS game, the plot is just there to give you some kind of vague reason to run through levels as a rabbit with a gun.
As per the style at the time, the game is split into six episodes, each having three planets with two levels to play through. The speed is about the only similarity to the Sonic series, with the game having a lot of fun mechanics of its own. Jazz gains momentum as he runs, with a basic physics setup using that to dictate the height and length of jumps, which is important to traverse the levels. They’re all brilliantly designed, full of differing paths and secrets to find.
There’s also, as mentioned, the gun. You use it to shoot turtles, mostly. There are also various firing types for the blaster, collected through the levels allowing it to do a variety of different firing types, as well as other pickups like shields and a hoverboard. It was a very 90s kind of game, full of ‘tude.
The game also offers a bonus level in pseudo-3D which, unlike the regular game, is absolutely a 1 for 1 ripoff of a Sonic mechanic, copying the style of the pseudo-3D special stages from Sonic CD. It’s not even that fun.
Along with the original two games, there were also Christmas editions. They were delightfully festively themed level packs.
I think one of my favourite things from the game was the visuals. As a kid, I thought it looked so fluid and just like a dynamic cartoon I could control. As an adult, I can appreciate the cartoony pixel art and how smoothly it all moves.
Despite not receiving the same popularity as Sonic or other platformers of the era, it still strikes me as one of the most interesting. It’s a shame the series ended as it did, with it still being in obscurity even today, but perhaps it was for the best. Other platforming mascots that go fast have not survived quite so well.