Games time forgot: Jazz Jackrabbit

So, you’ve played Gears of War 2, and you’ve heard the phrase “bigger, better, more badass” enough times to make you want to pop your eardrums with a knitting needle. But can you remember back to the days when the name “Cliff Bleszinski” brought to mind images of an adorable rabbit wearing a bandana, rather than a bulky douchebag slicing up aliens with a chainsaw.

Though Gears of War 2 will probably be the furthest thing from your mind if you play Jazz Jackrabbit, it’s still really damned interesting to check out CliffyB’s old side-scrolling shooter — partially because it’s the complete tonal opposite of his current stuff, and partially because it’s still a pretty fun game.

Hit the jump for more.

Story:

The year: 3000 A.D. The war between the tortoises and the hares has escalated from simple footraces into full-scale military conflict. The Turtle Terrorists, led by Devan Shell, have kidnapped Jazz Jackrabbit’s girlfriend and threatened his homeworld. It’s up to Jazz to stop Devan and win the war.

Given that the story is simultaneously goofy-yet-endearing while completely missing the point of the Tortoise and the Hare fable (a game based on the exploits of the Tortoise would presumably involve strategy and puzzles), it certainly feels like CliffyB.

Gameplay:

I only had the one-level, Shareware version of Jazz Jackrabbit as a child, but I played it to hell and back. A wonderfully satisfying combination of Mario-esque platforming, Sonic-esque speed, and Mega Man-esque shooting people in the face, Jazz Jackrabbit felt like the hybrid of every single videogame genre I loved as a child. Today, my more discerning eyes* can’t help but notice the fact that certain sprites and levle features seem to be ripped almost directly from Sonic the Hedgehog.

As a kid with only an SNES and a low-end PC, Jazz Jackrabbit was a godsend. I rarely, if ever, got to play platformers without “Mario” somewhere in the title, so to be able to dick around with a more awesomely violent version of Sonic — and to do so on my dad’s business computer, no less! — was indescribably satisfying.

Though there were five more episodes in the full game and a sequel made, I never got to experience any of those. Instead, I would just habitually replay the sole shareware episode over and over, praying to one day be rich enough to afford the full version. Thankfully, the game was generally difficult enough that this wasn’t a problem: the first episode being as hard as it was, I can’t imagine how challenging the later episodes were. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is evidently way too easy, which I imagine was a reaction to the original game being too difficult. I haven’t been able to play it recently to judge for myself, which brings us to…

Why you’re probably not playing it:

DOS games are a real pain in the ass to get working. You’ve either got to get a NOT emulator, or, in the case of Jazz Jackrabbit, you need to obtain a real copy of the game and then play around with the OpenJazz engine. Though Jazz Jackrabbit is a damned fine game, it’s not so special and original as to warrant that degree of effort just to find it again. You can NOT torrent it, of course (and something tells me neither CliffyB nor co-creator Arjan Brussee will suffer too much from your decision to do so), but that’s still something of a hassle.

Nonetheless, I’d be very interested to check Jazz Jackrabbit out again and see how it compares to the neo-retro games of today.

*By which I mean Ashley Davis’, since I don’t actually know anything about videogames

Anthony Burch