Have You Played… Jill Of The Jungle?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Alright, ‘leotard-wearing busty blonde’ is about as far from progressive as women video game characters get, but what 1992’s Jill of the Jungle (made by Epic, no less) did have going for it over the cutesy MarioSonic fare of the time was that the titular hero was a knife-chucking badass rather than a head-jumping fool.

I don’t remember much about the game itself, though looking at videos now creates that disconcerting swell of vague familiarity in my stomach. I can remember the person I was when I played Jill of the Jungle more than I can remember Jill of the Jungle. I can remember that I only had the shareware version, because that was the time when new releases from Epic, Apogee or iD meant hours of free fun. I can remember that I talked about Jill at school, and that I was just young enough that it was not discussed in terms of sex, but, gleefully, in terms of violence.

‘The one where you get to throw knives’, not ‘the one with the leotard-wearing busty blonde.’ I didn’t notice the icky rope-climbing animation at the time. I did notice the giant shuriken. I did profess it better than Mario.

Strange, to see Epic and Tim Sweeney’s names on the loading screens of something so lo-fi and so non-men-with-guns now. Back then, they were chasing the prevailing winds of what was most popular – the platformer. They made two more Jills. Did they believe that women characters would have less of an audience? Did they think this woman character would attract women players, or just hormonal male ones? Did they move on to the guns’n’bandana approach of Jazz Jackrabbit because they thought it more marketable?

And was third instalment Jill Saves The Prince a lost road to a brighter future?

And did they really, really think this cover art would make anyone in the world want to buy Jill of the Jungle?

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  1. Haplo says:

    What the devil is going on with that cover art…?

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      Excessive faith in CorelDRAW’s gradient fill tool, by the looks of it.

    • Dilapinated says:

      She is verymuch going for the “Don’t ask me! I’m just a girl!” look there, yes. And the art style.. Hum. The less said, the better, perhaps.

  2. mouton says:

    Haha, I did play it! That’s some ancient memories you stirred. Not that I remember anything about it, I just recognize the graphics. Got it on some floppy, even.

  3. drezworthy says:

    OMG I played this when I was like 7 years old lol

  4. Troubletcat says:

    I played it. I remember feeling that it was brutally, brutally hard. But I liked it. I think that was a time when I liked every game that I played because I was still young and I didn’t really get past VIDEO GAMES WOW I LOVE VIDEO GAMES THIS VIDEO GAME IS A VIDEO GAME I LOVE THIS VIDEO GAME until I was about 20. I wish I could go back to that rather than the more critical eye I tend to cast now. But I suppose I was more naive then.

    I was a kid and I didn’t think anything of the main character. Didn’t care that I was playing as a girl, didn’t care about what she was wearing, was just interested in the gameplay. I’m really glad I can still enjoy games in that way, it’d be tiring agonising over the perceived politics of the portrayal of every character all the time. Some would say that means I’m still a little naive. But I am enjoying it.

    And yeah, what the hell is that box art?

    • Aerothorn says:

      Oddly, I had the opposite reaction: I got through the game just fine (well, maybe – I am not sure if I had more than the shareware version). Yet to this day I am no good at platformers.

      • Foosnark says:

        I was the same — no good at platformers but thought JoJ wasn’t that hard at all. Nor Commander Keen for that matter.

    • Mr_Blastman says:

      Who the hell cares about the politics? Progressivism is ruining the world. Enjoy the game for what it is–a game.

      • Yglorba says:

        > Who the hell cares about the politics?

        Uh. Well.

        > Progressivism is ruining the world.

        …you care, I guess? Is this a trick question?

  5. Zankman says:

    That box art is so goofy, lol.

    One would expect them to go for a sex-appeal-heavy cover art, done in some serious style.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      You mean like the Jill of the Jungle: The Complete Trilogy edition, link to mobygames.com.

      Yeah, I don’t know why they chose such an odd and angular, cartoonish look and why they just one year later changed the cover art to a more alluring one.

      • Zankman says:

        That was definitely what I meant, yeah.

        Although that cover art isn’t that great (IMO, it’s lacking quality and color-wise) it is definitely what one would expect.

        But, really, regardless of the game’s content, the original cover art is just so… Odd.

      • Fnord73 says:

        Guess they were selling it to kids as primary target?

    • Jackablade says:

      It looks like it’s part of a running theme that Epic Publishing had going
      link to upload.wikimedia.org

      link to upload.wikimedia.org

    • phlebas says:

      Indeed – particularly in those days I’d be less surprised to see the bikini (ok, leotard) babe on the cover only to turn the box over and find the cartoony disastergirl in the actual game.

      (I too remember loving the shareware version)

  6. JP says:

    Jill was great! DID U KNOW: it shipped with a built-in level editor that was only discovered years later?

    link to shikadi.net

  7. angshmal says:

    Damn old memories here… Can’t remember how old I was when I was playing this game, but I do remember playing it a lot.
    Not sure if, as a kid, I’ve ever gone very far through.
    Also really can’t remember how I got it, and I never saw this cover as I had the trilogy.
    I always thought, sure i’m wrong but whatever, it was inspired from Judy of the jungle.
    link to en.wikipedia.org

  8. thaquoth says:

    I remember that the level designs and enemies in Jill felt kind of… strange, alien and surreal. Compared to the relatively straight-forward Commander Keen scenario “zap green aliens on mars/spaceships/elsewhere”. Ironically, Jill feels even way more dreamlike than the in that regard rather pedestrian Keen Dreams.

    Also you always threw your knives so that what would hit the enemies was the handle. Not the blade. And the attack key was ENTER. What. What the hell where am I what is this meta fjksdhjwui.fe….eg..

    I loved Jill of the Jungle.

    • thaquoth says:

      Jump key. I meant jump key. flblblblbl

    • Mormont says:

      There was something about this game… a kind of surreal minimalism paired with (for the time) some hyperrealistic graphics. Kind of enchanting in an odd way, much like the similar Xargon which I think came later.

      Is Jill of the Jungle the one where you could sometimes transform into a wasp?

      • E_FD says:

        Xargon’s the one where you sometimes transform into a giant bee thing.

        In spite of being an even-more-obscure flagrant rippoff of Jill, I liked Xargon. It’s a game where your starting attack is this weird lazer blast that comes out of your torso, but you can upgrade to THROWING A ROCK instead.

        • Jackablade says:

          I’d say it’s a slightly more modern reboot rather than a rip off, given it was also developed by Epic Megagames.

          I kinda wish they’d stuck with that studio name.

    • Vicho says:

      I came to post that Jill of the Jungle broke my shift key (jump)
      I must have played one the sequels

  9. int says:

    All I can remember is that beehives were annoying.

  10. Aerothorn says:

    After doing a second runthrough of a borrowed shareware copy of Jill and the Jungle, our newish IBM Windows 95 machine died. My parents blamed the game (even though, as a 9 year old, I was *pretty sure* the software couldn’t/probably didn’t do it). After that I was banned from playing shareware games :(

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Anyone who had a PC in the 90s has been through similar. I remember how difficult it was explaining the need for different configs for different games and the trouble I’d get into for accidentally leaving the wrong autoexec.bat in place so the mouse wouldn’t work or Windows wouldn’t load, etc.

    • jonfitt says:

      The prevailing wisdom from mums and dads at the time was that viruses could damage hardware.
      Logical really since the idea of hardware vs software wasn’t understood by the masses.
      Perhaps there was a virus that could infect a BIOS or floppy drive firmware?

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Software was was run much closer to the hardware so it’s probably plausible you could damage something through overheating but most malicious software before the mass-internet scammer-hackers was from trolling a-holes sharing viruses that would do at best some harmless trolling stuff, use up RAM in the background or worst-case wipe BIOS or delete system files making it unbootable.

        Although systems were incredibly volatile back then and windows 95 got a blue screen if you sneezed near the computer so 99% of all home computer failures were probably user errors or installing badly configured/incompatible software rather than computer destroying Russian shareware terror viri.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          It’s true that pre Windows 95, software was run in a much less protected environment in terms of the memory it had access to but there was a limit to what you could really do to break hardware. Wiping firmware and software isn’t really the same thing but there were all kinds of urban legends about viruses being able to set your hard drive on fire, or blind you through the screen. My favorite was from the early days of home internet when people were worried about leaving their modems plugged in, in case someone “dialed in” to their PC and uploaded a virus… While it was switched off.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      That’s a classic, when my father used my computer for his work stuff he blamed games for eveything too, especially if I forgot to uncheck “create desktop icon” when intalling them.
      I did try to explain that a bunch of 10kb desktop icons couldn’t possibly be a problem on a PC with 64mb of RAM but, hey, that weird thing called “freespahce” must be the problem, amirite?

  11. Slackar says:

    No article about the unveiled Pascal cards? I am disappoint.

  12. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Games like this are a reminder of how dreadful 2D action games were on the PC in early 90s. And of how badly I wanted a PC for the RPGs and the flight sims!

  13. Moonracer says:

    I enjoyed this game quite a bit at the time. The feature I recall the most that made this one novel was Jill’s ability to transform into various animals to traverse the maps. towards the end you get to turn into a bird and I remember that feeling quite liberating in the context of a platformer. It’s one of those games I’m surprised never got a modern rebranding.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I remember this game existing but I don’t remember anything about it.

    That box art looks like a failed attempt at appearing modern and cutting edge. Woa! Vector art is the drawing of the future!

  15. ansionnach says:

    Played it briefly a few years ago. Had heard it was very good back in the day but it was never on any magazine cover disk I got. It’s not very good. Other shareware platformers like Duke Nukem and Crystal Caves were much better. Even Captain Comic (which I finished) was better than this one.

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    Risingson says:

    What I enjoyed the most aboit Jill of the jungle was the table in epic pinball

  17. Holysheep says:

    are you fucking serious? I played that game a fuckton as a kid and couldn’t remember the name!

  18. Kaeoschassis says:

    28 comments at the time I’m typing this and not a single mention of the soundtrack? Are you serious?

    So I’ll be honest, I have a weird fascination with this game that I’ve never been able to adequately justify even to myself. It is not all that great, but somehow it’s more than the sum of its parts. The controls are jerky and weird, the level layouts are… uh, variable, let’s say. The visuals aren’t BAD, as such, but the style is kind of erratic in places, and yet…

    Like I said, it’s more than the sum of its parts. Don’t ask me why, but Jill of the Jungle is a great game. I still play it probably about once a year. Using semi-guided weapons to kill monsters in elaborate ways, trapping frogs under retractable bridges, transforming into a fish or a phoenix, the joys of jump powerups. Its world was some kind of vaguely-portrayed, drug-induced dream that doesn’t stand up to even the most casual scrutiny and yet is a lot of fun to let yourself fall into. This is where the soundtrack comes in, by the way, it’s one of the absolute best of its era. It’s great even now. Go listen to it on youtube or something. All of you. Right now.

    The game ends with you transforming into a bird and flying away into space before eventually landing in some mutant grove of giant purple mushrooms. I cannot even begin to tell you why I love it so much, but love it I do.

    Unfortunately the sequels were… less good.

    • DEspresso says:

      I used to replay this every Christmas. In Part to shorten the Time till Presents (18:00 exactly) and as my own little Tradition.

      I only remember there was a Level where you must not destroy every block with your massive shuriken or you could not climb high enough to the Finish :)

      Also the Snake Taming Sound was great, I think after the Last level you got into a Sound Mixing thingie?

      Memories :)

  19. Mr_Blastman says:

    Who the hell cares about progressive bullcrap? It is toxic to the world!

    Jill of the Jungle was fun. That’s all that matters.

  20. Jackablade says:

    Ah Jill of the Jungle. I played this along with its 2 sequels all the time when I was a young’un. Incidentally, the third game is “Jill Saves the Prince” which is at least a little bit progressive for a game from the early 90s.

    I even played the weird religious reskin, Onesimus, which was quite literally the same game with a new player sprite, the demons inexpliably replaced be men he walk through the air and still shoot fireballs and bible verses on the apple messages.

  21. mutanteggs says:

    Jeez, this game. Just…wow. I guess nostalgia really blocks out a few things huh. Something real wrong with this game, things I don’t remember at all.

  22. Spacewalk says:

    Actually no, but what I did play was totally exploitative Jill-a-like Vinyl Goddess From Mars.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Man, I had forgotten that one even existed somehow…

      I wonder if it was as bad as I’m now automatically assuming it must have been. I kind of enjoyed ANYTHING back when I played it originally…

  23. Scandalon says:

    I have – just the first level or two of the shareware, in the computer lab (Desktop Publishing Class) in High School. There were a couple a of ways to get out of the locked-down Windows 3 shell, and access the “Games” folder someone had helpfully put on the Novell Netware share…

  24. charmed23 says:

    OMG, I played this briefly in kindergarten but did not even know what it was called, and have been looking for the game ever since!
    Man, you just solved my 20-year mystery! Thanks so much haha

  25. bill says:

    I have. I imagine most pc gamers of a certain age have played the shareware version. I sometimes think that every school in the UK was passing around copies of the exact same shareware discs.

    It’s shot though. Like most PC platformers of the time.
    Prince of Persia was great, but the PC didn’t seem to get any decent platformers until about 2006.

  26. Loser says:

    I played this, shareware only. Can’t remember anything about it however, but thanks for the Nostalgia kick!

  27. Devan says:

    This was perhaps the first PC game I ever owned. My brother and I played it quite a bit back when our family got its first Packard Bell back in the day. I don’t remember it being especially hard, although I don’t remember whether or not we ever beat it.
    I particularly liked that one part where you could transform into a fire bird (a typical enemy) and fly around shooting things.
    Ahh, good times.

  28. NameUser says:

    Comment awaiting progressive censors and scrubbers.

  29. dustymedusa says:

    Well, the time is now, to tell this story I had about Jill. I played the game through a bunch of times as a kid. There’s something eerie about it, it left a lot to the imagination. That was enjoyable enough so that when I reached the ending cutscene with the magenta mushrooms in space, I used to keep pressing the arrow key to try to continue controlling Jill… and it worked ! Strange as it sounds – after pressing the key long enough, suddenly you’d take control of Jill again and be able to navigate her around the mushrooms – although in a less-animated, semi-paralysed condition. Wish you could do that in the recent cutscenes filled games.