Jazz Jackrabbit 1+ Holiday Hare DLC: Green rabbit with a shotgun
Updated: Jul 21
Once upon a time dear readers the mascot platformer was the king of gaming, just about every studio was trying to compete with Nintendo and Mario ever since the inception of Donkey Kong in 1981. While there were successes like Mario, the original Rayman and even Crash Bandicoot there were also your Bubsys and your Crocs and your Gexs, the latter failing to take the jump to 3d where former kind of...did. Jazz Jackrabbit is considered to be one of the lesser mascots of the late 90s, Epic tried to provide an alternative to the console dominated genre with Jazz Jackrabbit 1 which released in 1994 for only DOS windows. For its time it was reviewed quite well (along with Jazz Jackrabbit 2 which we will get into later) and would gain a cult following despite the series failing to make the transition to 3d with a third game that would never get released. I am a self confessed fan of the games (2 more than 1....) and my attempts to play this game in the past were not successful due to problems with emulation so this will be the first time I will be able play it until story completion without unplayable lag!
Jazz Jackrabbit claims that this is a continuation of the tortoise and the hare fable (a loose interpretation with the key word being loose..) where even 3000 years in the future tortoise and hare are still at each other’s throats with the evil Devan Shell kidnapping the fair Princess Eva Earlong and letting his goons run rampant through the galaxy leaving Jazz Jackrabbit to save the galaxy. Not the most inspired or deep story in the world but it provides enough of player motivation to keep playing. The game is unashamedly 90s cheese definition of cool; which can be annoying to some people but personally I find it charmingly cute. Everything from the hoverboards to the bandana Jazz wears to the liberal use of the word kick-ass, awesome and nerd ( it’s many different iterations as well...) just to me comes across as knowingly having fun with the 90s cheese, Epic to me were indulging in a silly concept and it works (for me at least). Holiday Hare is a short bit of DLC that has Jazz explore a series of Christmas themed levels with the paper thin plot of delivering Christmas cheer to the world. It might sound cynical at first but it does end with a rather nice message out Christmas as well as thanking the player for playing the DLC, it made me warm and fuzzy at the sincerity of it all.
Jazz Jackrabbit in terms of platforming is pretty basic in terms of design, you jump and run from platform to platform and shoot anything that moves or tries to attack you, because of the decade and hardware navigation is pretty straightforward with some hidden areas and fewer alternative routes due to levels being small. That is not to say the game does not reward exploration nor that it is not fun to jump and shoot a tortoise on a hoverboard before catching a power up. However I will not say that the game is well designed per say. Much like Styx: Shards of Darkness every level comes with timer asking you to complete said level within the limit or incur punishment (in this case if you finish the level once the limit is reached you lose a Jazz (a life as it were, you use one each time you and depleting all of them will force you load a save), it does not clash as badly in this game as it does in Styx (The fact that Cyanide studios did not learn this lesson 21 years later makes this comparison even more annoying for me because history just keeps repeating itself) as the limit is pretty forgiving and there are collectables that can grant you more time if you explore. I hate when a game threatens to punish a player for doing something that it encourages the player to do. The level design itself is fine with the exception of it putting bounce pads under surfaces that can be passed through. At best it is trolling on the level of a custom mod created by a very angry person wanting to spread torment and at worst it is broken as seen rather infamously in the Orbitus level 2 where (at least without cheats) it is impossible to process due to the inhuman speed of entering a tight space with a bounce pad flow and a one way ceiling and Jazz going through the one way ceiling and having to start the process all over again. There is no skill or enjoyment to be had but rather frustration that no one at the testing stage ever called this out flaw until it was too late.
Moving back a bit, in each of the second level of each of the four planets you might find a red gem, that if you collect and end the level with said gem collected then you can enter a 3d stage (correct term would be 2.5d) where you run a race track gathering blue gems. Getting the correct number will result in you receiving another Jazz. They are not really difficult to finish or navigate but I like that it rewards exploration and a way to gain back any Jazzes lost if the player runs out of time; the race tracks themselves rewarding some form of skill. Apart from that Jazz Jackrabbit is pretty straightforward and competent in relation to the hardware of the time so I have no real qualms with any of it.
Jazz Jackrabbit is a DOS game realised in 1994 so don’t expect individually animated hair strands. Animation is stiff and sometimes static but considering the hardware limits it is fine. However the use of colours and said limitations results in something that while indeed not the most detailed is very clear, pleasant to look at and at times extremely creative in terms of creature designs and backgrounds. In short I kind of love the visuals.
Technical aspects are a bit of a mixed bag, the game itself loads and performs rather well, GOG should be congratulated for being able to port the game to modern systems with minimal issues (brief minor slowdowns during gameplay and slight freeze at the start of each level and startup) I am willing to forgive these short comings because nothing short of a complete rebuild of the game would have had to have been in order to clean up any mishaps a game that old would have on modern computers. However small things like having to put the slow motion on at every single level because playing the game without it makes the game unnecessarily difficult to play, the game’s controls have not been configured for modern keyboards so you will have remind your keys should the default be too awkward (it was for me). There are some problems like losing all the weapons and arrow if you die which can make bosses that little bit harder than needed as well as it feeling really rubbish seeing everything you collected just vanishing into the void and forcing you to fight a boss at a disadvantage or having to retrace the level while keeping to the time limit. But this is more of a nitpick and I am well aware of that Epic would have allowed you to keep the weapons after death if they had the tech.
Jazz Jackrabbit is something of a relic of a different time in the history of games, a bid to bring a mascot purely for PC into the market as well craft it’s own identity away from Mario and the growing landslide of mascot platformers while insuring that it was not so alien that it would not get an audience. And it did as it would help kick start co-creator Cliff Bleszinski’s career and put Epic on the map, a sequel would get released 4 years later which while did get good reviews resulted in a financial loss for pubisher Gathering of Developers that would in turn see Jazz Jackrabbit 3d be abandoned before the game was 50% complete (I will get to Jazz Jackrabbit 2 later mark my words ).