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?