Have You Played… Jazz Jackrabbit?

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.

34 Comments

  1. welverin says:

    “Master Chief, but drawn by Rob Liefield.’

    Sorry, but he can’t have been drawn by Liefeld, he has feet.

  2. McTecman says:

    This was actually my first PC game purchase ever. I liked the shareware episode so much I ordered the full version.

    After some testing years later I found out my copy also doesn’t have an annoying bug in Orbitus stage 2, which is found in most copies floating around.

  3. MrFinnishDude says:

    Oh man I loved this as a kid. Sadly I never got to see the full version it was always advertising about.

  4. jonfitt says:

    Alec’s experiences here sound just like mine. Nearly identical except I am tall.

    I played the demo of Jazz but didn’t really get on with it (I think the demo may have been a Christmas themed special level?)

    Zool on the other hand…

    • CMaster says:

      The christmas themed level was a Christmas special, made to promote the main game but not the same as the normal demo.

      It was pretty common in those days. I remember Christmas Lemmings and Christmas Cannon Fodder too, all being distinct from the normal demo. I’m pretty sure there were others too.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah, I miss Christmas “demo” releases. Jazz 1 actually had two, and the ’94 version of Holiday Hare is a brilliant short standalone. Great music, too, same as a the main game.

        • Nekomitech says:

          I still find myself humming bits of the Holiday Hare soundtrack every year when Christmas shopping – it seems to have implanted itself in my head as my default Christmas song.

        • Kemuel says:

          I loved the fact that they were a sort of chiptune-metal medley of various carols. All the music in Jazz was fantastic.

      • LionsPhil says:

        (In fact, firing up DOSBox, there were four Christmas Lemmings I’ve manage to track down: two versions of ’91 (same levels AFAIK); ’92; and ’93.)

        • ansionnach says:

          There should be a ’94 version of Christmas Lemmings as well. It has all the ’93 levels included (Flurry and Blitz) as well as the new ’94 ones (Frost and Hail). ’94 plays regular Lemmings music instead of Christmas music, though.

  5. Troubletcat says:

    Of course I played Jazz Jackrabbit. What do you take me for, some kind of troglodyte? EVEN WORSE, A person under a certain age, or who didn’t play videogames in their childhood?

    I agree that it didn’t have quite as much charm as Mario, but I loved it and number 2 all the same.

    I don’t agree that it had less charm than Sonic. I always hated Sonic.

  6. ansionnach says:

    Only played the shareware version and didn’t even finish it, which was strange seeing as I would hardly have been swimming in games back then. I’m not a massive fan of Mario (other than Mario 3) but do acknowledge that they have a lot of fine qualities as platform games, and from a game design perspective. The original Sonic games were great (yes, even the third one). Jazz Jackrabbit isn’t a good game. Its controls are sloppy and it’s a showcase for bad platformers that were released on computers that had no idea what made the games they were copying any good. These could have their own sub-genre, one that’s singled out for derision in much the same way as the euro shooter is for space ship shooters.

    The first Jazz was a poor Sonic imitation and the second one was a rip-off of Earthworm Jim. Jazz blew people away with its speed and graphics but wasn’t much more than a tech demo. I’d take many of the crappy platformers we’d suffered with before this one. At least (the first) Duke Nukem and Crystal Caves were workmanlike efforts (although CC had terrible collision detection). The Commander Keen games were decent enough, too.

    • ansionnach says:

      I played the hell out of Zool on a friend’s Amiga and then on PC. Loved the hell out of that one, but it was and is a terrible game. I’d suspect the Amiga was the flagship system for other “Euro” platformers. Perhaps like Alec, when I was young I really wanted to get some good arcade, platform and action games on my PC as this was the kind of game I was interested in. This doesn’t mean that I have to eternally delude myself about their quality. Some of the better games of this kind I played were the ports of Golden Axe (quite a good approximation of the Mega Drive version, but with 256-colour graphics) and Outrun as well as Another World, Prince of Persia 1 & 2 and Mystic Towers. Again, some of the Apogee games are still quite a lot of fun. As a big Sega fan back then, most ports of their arcade games were pretty bad.

      At school I was tall, athletic, very good at everything (including sports), not particularly popular or unpopular. Most of the kids who were very good academically were also good at everything else.

  7. CMaster says:

    I actually really quite enjoyed Jazz, although I did think even at the time that the “bad boy” thing felt flat.

    But then I thought that even more about Sonic. I disliked the games with their slidy controls, and I never understood how Sonic “had attitude” – in the games he was just a blue hedgehog with the same “save the world” plot as any other platform protagonist. How how was “edgier” than any other character was beyond me (if it was just the impatient idle animations, well Keen had already done that).

  8. Shadow says:

    I remember playing the first game to some extent, but especially Jazz Jackrabbit 2 with a friend, since it had split-screen multiplayer. This must’ve been over 15 years ago.

    Great times.

  9. schnitzeljaeger says:

    Childhood memories… I guess it’s time to start up the emighty DosBox again :-)

  10. fuggles says:

    Yes! It was great and both jazz and the turtle appeared in the wonderful one must fall 2097.

  11. McTecman says:

    Also in case people aren’t aware: OpenJazz is a thing. Still needs work but what’s already there is pretty cool.

  12. LionsPhil says:

    They were seriously slick platformers. Always amused me how Mario and Sonic fought by just bouncing on or at things, whereas Jazz pulls out a gun and shoots them.

    And Epic Megagames had some of the best tracker artists going in mid-to-late-’90s. You can get hold of the work Alex did for the cancelled Jazz 3, too.

  13. LionsPhil says:

    They were seriously slick platformers. Always amused me how Mario and Sonic fought by just bouncing on or at things, whereas Jazz pulls out a gun and shoots them.

    And Epic Megagames had some of the best tracker artists going in mid-to-late-’90s. You can get hold of the work Alex did for the cancelled Jazz 3, too (but you’ll have to Google it, since the spam filter seems to eat posts with links to the Jazz 2 fansite it’s on for some reason).

  14. Risingson says:

    Same impressions here. It was very similar to Zool, already mentioned, but then PC had a quite high load of mediocre platformers.

    Apogee were way better in this. Secret Agent or Hocus Pocus are still very fun.

    • ansionnach says:

      I haven’t played Secret Agent in so long. I remember it being quite a hard game, something that’s hard to justify with its woeful collision detection. You definitely get better at it, though, and it was one of the Apogee games I most enjoyed. Would probably have to revisit it and re-evaluate it now, though. Could be anything from deplorable to quite a lot of fun!

  15. poisonborz says:

    But of course. Jazz Jackrabbit (2) had it all. It was like they would try to combine all the extra features platformers had ’til then, and add then some. Grappling mechanics, hoverboard, flying capability, splitscreen, you name it. It had relevant movie-spoofing levels and creative tilesets and enemies. Its graphics were top of the line and looks sharp even today. But yes, it was somehow missing a soul – it was more like an extensive tech demo, really likeable but not loveable.

    Yet it was a milestone in 2D platformers, and a forerunner of the modern titles of today like Rayman Origins.

  16. heretic says:

    Yes! I still have the shareware CD that came with a PC Gamer I think from back in the 90s, included quite a few levels.

  17. epeternally says:

    I liked it at the time but in retrospect it’s quite rubbish. The sequel remains quite solid though. Jill of the Jungle also seems just ungodly bad playing it now, apparently early Epic really weren’t all that. Commander Keen 4 and 6 were really where it was at for platformers on PC. Great gameplay and stunning visuals for being 16 color.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Yes. I enjoyed the original Jazz Jackrabbit, though I only ever got a chance to play the shareware demos. Sure mechanically it didn’t compare to its more enduring contemporaries, especially Mario, but I’d say it had plenty of charm and as a teenager in the 90s I was perfectly fine with the extremely 90s badditude.

    Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was where it was at though. I was never blown away by the level design, but the core mechanics were solid, the multiplayer was good fun and the modding scene was amazing. Made a bunch of levels and tilesets myself, including one epic Lost World-themed singleplayer level/tileset-pack (complete with cinematics) that took about four years of evenings, weekends and vacations to finish. Ah memories.

  19. E_FD says:

    I played the shareware episode of Jazz Jackrabbit back in the day, and it didn’t do much for me either. I was in the same position as you (no SNES or Genesis, gaming confined to arcades and my dad’s computer), and even at the time, it just felt all too obvious that this was a second-rate knockoff made for those of us who didn’t have access to anything better.

    Commander Keen, on the other hand, was tons of fun, and I still replay it occasionally. Unjustly forgotten, IMO.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Heh, if you really want a second-rate knock-off, there was a slightly later game out there called something like “Toxic Bunny”, which was Jazz run through a defective photocopier.

      (Yep. I ended up with a copy from confused relatives.)

  20. Cinek says:

    Oh yes, I did play that.

    Someone should make an HD remake of that game. It was an amazing fun back in a day.

  21. surethingbud says:

    kudos for use of the word ‘anodyne’

  22. Big Murray says:

    I’m surprised how nobody’s mentioned yet how much the music (by Robert Allen and Joshua Jenson) freakin’ rocks.