Jazz Jackrabbit and Epic Pinball bounce onto GOG

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Game preservation is a subject near and dear to my heart. Growing up with PC games (I didn’t get my first console till my teens), I lost count of how many floppy disks I’ve seen lost to the natural magnetic entropy of our world. As such, it’s always worth celebrating when someone untangles the red tape and strikes a deal in order to re-release some of the games I grew up playing.

This week, GOG raided the vaults of Epic Megagames. Back before the studio developed humility and dropped the ‘Mega’, the Unreal Engine giants were big on the PC shareware scene, and now you can experience both Jazz Jackrabbit games and Epic Pinball for yourself through the combined magics of DOS emulation and fan-patching. Just be warned that nostalgia is a fragile thing, and fond memories may crumble when exposed to the harsh light of the modern day.

In all seriousness, I’d recommend skipping the original Jazz Jackrabbit. As with so many PC ‘classics’ of its time, it’s a crude imitation of a console game design that doesn’t quite understand what it’s doing. In this case, it’s Sonic The Hedgehog, only with guns and an even more claustrophobic camera, even twitchier movement and very little warning that you’re about to collide with an obstacle or enemy, forcing you to shoot wildly into the distance every time you start running down a corridor. Still, in its favour, it did have pretty good art, plus a fantastic soundtrack.

Jazz Jackrabbit 2

If nothing else, it was ahead of its time. Sega didn’t really consider the implications of giving Sonic a gun until Shadow the Hedgehog.

Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is more interesting. While a little buggy at launch, Jazz 2 is a marked improvement over the first. Bumping up the resolution, Epic opted to pull the camera back, showing more of the level at any given time. This sacrifices a little of that sense of breakneck speed, but makes it a lot less frustrating. Jazz 2 also introduces a second playable character for more variety, along with cooperative multiplayer.

Epic Pinball

This may also be the definitive version of Jazz 2. The GOG version includes the Secret Files expansion, adding a not-too-hot new episode and a third playable character, the sporty Lori. Yeah, I’m pretty sure the developers saw Space Jam too. GOG also include the Christmas-themed promo levels and have (optionally) integrated the community-made JJ2+ fan-patch, which fixes a lot of bugs and improves online multiplayer.

The surprise treat of this bundle of re-releases is Epic Pinball. Unlike Jazz, which was a wobbly imitation of console standards of the time, Epic Pinball did the PC proud, with a broad range of highly varied tables (the space-warping Enigma in particular), a great soundtrack and good (if slightly too flat) art. While Epic Pinball pales in comparison to the likes of modern offerings like Pinball FX, for its time, it was among the best there was. While pinball fans might be better off with modern takes on the genre, it’s an excitingly nostalgic museum-piece, and might be worth a second look if you only got to play the shareware version back in the day.

You can get Jazz Jackrabbit 1 & 2 and Epic Pinball on GOG now, either separately or bundled together for a slight discount, bringing the trio down to £14.87 combined.

27 Comments

  1. Rizlar says:

    Jazz Jackrabbit <3. Just, erm, don't mention the second character.

    • Seyda Neen says:

      The highly mechanically superior second character?

      • Rizlar says:

        Yeah that one. Always picked them myself but even as a kid was aware of the cringey awkwardness in their presentation.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        More different than superior, really. I much preferred playing as Jazz. Helicopter ears… I rest my case. I believe the second character (Spaz) only has negative connotations in Britain. US, not so much. Odd they didn’t localize it, given that widely differing attitude.

  2. flojomojo says:

    “Just be warned that nostalgia is a fragile thing, and fond memories may crumble when exposed to the harsh light of the modern day.”

    WOW that might just be the understatement of the year.

    I wasn’t around for the launch of these games, but when I tried them *just a few years afterwards* (I think they were on shovelware CD-ROMs), they didn’t hold up then, more than twenty years ago.

    I’m still going to put them on my GOG wishlist, just to support the idea of preservation, and for nerdy completionist reasons, but I won’t enjoy it. :-)

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      As a PC gaming kid, I was acutely aware that the grass really was greener on the other side through most of the shareware era. Every time I got to play on a friends console it was like a revelation. Super Mario World, Cybernator, Gunstar Heroes, Super Street Fighter 2. Nothing on PC (outside of strategy and point-and-click stuff) seemed to come close.

      Nowadays, there’s very little difference between PC and console versions of anything, beyond the primary controller used and how shiny the graphics are, and I couldn’t be happier.

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        While I was acutely aware that console games could be greener than PC shareware sidescrollers, I certainly also recognized the idiosyncratic beauty of PC gaming that many other kids weren’t exposed to. Hocus Pocus; Jill of the Jungle; Monster Madness; Commander Keen especially!; Operation Neptune; the Learning Company in general. Thinking back, console-only gamers were the ones who were deprived, except for those rich kids who had money to spend on hundreds of games.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          Yeah, people in the 90s who only played console games were missing out as much as people who only played PC.

        • BooleanBob says:

          There was certainly something wild and wonderful about the shareware heyday of Apogee, Epic Megagames and the rest. What they lacked in polish and mechanical fine-tuning they made up for with free-wheeling spirit and a willingness to throw the whole bucket against the wall to see what stuck. Entire genres were brought into life this way.

          Games would often contain messages from and pictures of the creators right there in the menu. 90s shareware was sort of the second wave of indie games, after the initial home computer revolution in the 80s, and there are parallels to the third indie boom of the late 00s, what with the disruptive distribution model and the sense of intimacy between player and creator.

          Jazz isn’t much more than a mediocre game, but it has standout elements that make it worth celebrating today, such as that more-90s-than-the-90s art and a sensational soundtrack.

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        MajorLag says:

        > beyond the primary controller used

        As someone who doesn’t own an XBox controller, I assure you that many developers are convinced PCs have exactly the same primary controller as consoles.

  3. Seafoam says:

    Oh man! I hope it has the DLC and stuff!

    When I was a kid the copy I had showed these adverts for extra levels, since I didn’t know English I thought the phone number was some kind of code to unlock them. I spent a lot of time trying to unlock those cool levels in vain, but maybe now I can actually see them.
    Maybe they won’t live up to the hype at all, but I owe it to my younger self. For that diligence to unlock the secrets of a defunct phone number in the US.

  4. Doug Exeter says:

    I used to play the crap out of the shareware versions of these. I loved them. Also Wacky Wheels. God I’m gonna go download em tonight.

  5. RLacey says:

    I remember persuading my parents to download the Jazz Jackrabbit shareware version from a bulletin board, back in the day. Fun times. And the reason I owned a Gravis Ganepad…

  6. pmcollectorboy says:

    I wouldn’t know about that nostalgia being fragile. I’m playing Beyond Good and Evil, Descent, and Star Control 2 all on GOG, and they’re still fantastic games.
    Not only is Jazz Jackrabbit 2 the base game, but it also has The Secret Files, the holiday game, and a bunch of fan made levels.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Star Control 2 is one of the few games that really holds up, although ironically the best version of it was on the 3DO. The Ur-Quan Masters remake is largely patched together from other platform’s releases of the game.

      Beyond Good & Evil was very much a PS2 game, too.

      Descent holds up though. Same with the original Doom. Those are proper PC classics, and other platforms struggled to replicate them for years.

      BTW, if you like Descent, check out Overload ASAP. It’s a spiritual successor by the original lead devs, and it’s actually better than that sounds on paper.

      • pmcollectorboy says:

        I’m running Descent through DXX Rebirth because it gets kind of funny otherwise.
        Running from shortcut=Can’t use gamepad
        Mounting and running from DOSBOX=Screwy hover motion

        • Dominic Tarason says:

          Likewise with Doom – it and Descent are great games, but DOS was a nightmare OS, and emulation only makes it worse. Source-ports are definitely the way to go.

          Still, Overload. It’s damn good, and I hope to be reviewing it as soon as the campaign is complete.
          link to store.steampowered.com

      • pmcollectorboy says:

        It also looks like they’re pulling the retro Star Control games from distribution soon but leaving Origins up.

  7. death_au says:

    I played so much Epic Pinball back in the day, despite not being that great at pinball in general.
    My favorite table was Burnout (If I remember the name correctly). There was a ramp that measured the speed your ball went down it, and I managed to hit it so hard once that the ball clipped out the side of the ramp and out into the ether. Then all my remaining balls clipped out of the same spot on the ramp when they hit it.
    I’d actually broken a virtual pinball machine. I was quite proud of myself.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    I played (and modded) the hell out of Jazz Jackrabbit 2. It was grand. Also really enjoyed the first one (though I could only get my hands on the shareware version at the time). Sure, Jazz1 was mechanically not in the same league as its console counterparts but it was charming and fun.

    The soundtrack of both games is phenomenal.

    Jazz2 had much better core mechanics and the singleplayer was good fun, as was the multiplayer (splitscreen especially), but I got the most mileage out of the Jazz Creation Station level editor.

  9. TotallyUseless says:

    Oh wow Jazz Jacksrabbit! I used to play this on our old Pentium 133 PC when I was a kid! Glad to see I’ll be able to play it again. =))

    Thanks so much for writing this Article RPS!

  10. Benitoxine says:

    BTW,

    Jack Jazz is historically quite interesting xD

    It was created by Arjan Brussee and Cliff Bleszinski,
    both having recently co-founded Boss Key Productions (LawBreakers).
    Bleszinski being, of course, best Known for the Gears of Wars series when still working for Epic.
    Before Boss Key, Brussee also co-foundeds Guerrilla games (Kill Zone)

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