Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I was the kid with the 486 when everyone else at school had SNESes and Megadrives. I couldn’t join in with their frothing conversations about Mario and Sonic, which only added to an outcast status already granted by short stature, large spectacles and zero sporting prowess. Truth be told, I didn’t much care even then for the jump’n’fail platformer model, but I did want to be involved nonetheless. I wanted to be in with the cool games – which, as absurd as it sounds now, involved cheesily bad-boy anthropomorphised animals or infantalised racial stereotypes. Could Jazz Jackrabbit be my salvation?
Made by the company we now know as Epic, Jazz might seem a whole lot more kid-orientated than the sci-fi shooters they are now known for, but you can still draw a straight line from it to Gears of War – both chased the prevailing wind of blandly mainstream cool. Both are posturing in their own way, but in 1994 the posturing involved ‘Sonic, but like Corey Feldman’ rather than ‘Master Chief, but drawn by Rob Liefield.’
I tried really, really hard to like Jazz Jackrabbit, and I’d earnestly argue that it was better and cooler and harder and had more secrets than Sonic or Mario, that it was the animal-starring platform game for REAL MEN. But the reality was that it left me cold; there was something so anodyne about it, even though I could see it was trying to do a whole lot more and had guns in it. The charm just wasn’t there, because it was trying far too damned hard to be cool. But though I would never for a moment wish to revisit Jazz, there’s a part of me which still feels proud of it, still feels duty-bound to say that Jazz was the better, smarter game, that Mario and Sonic were just over-hyped, infantile nonsense.
(And they are, of course.)
Zool, though – Zool’s a different story. More on which soon.
Jazz Jackrabbit 2 has had a surprisingly long life, and retains an active community – you can play a vastly updated version here.