Jazz Jackrabbit 2 + all DLCS: Jump, run and fun origins
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
When I was a kid I was given a CD (it had Jump, run and fun written on the disk in permanent marker) that contained a number of shareware games (when up to a third of a game could be given away for free as a marketing exercise), majority of these games were bad and or not memorable in the slightest. However one of the games on the CD was one platformer called Jazz Jackrabbit 2, I became obsessed with this game. So much so that it was possibility the first time I adored a piece of media to the point of madness (not really) . After growing up a bit and moving onto different games I came back to the game and discovered that I still enjoyed it, even though the copy I had stopped working properly half way through and my attempts to download a better copy resulted in something worse trying to get onto my PC. I waited, dreaming of getting Jazz Jackrabbit legally; especially after I started Imaginative Ramblings and when I was putting together the Hall of Fame list. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 has a special place in my heart even today; it helped me form my love of platformers; helped me with social interaction and inspired me to name a category on my Steam library after that CD that introduced me to JJ2 where all platformers that prioritise fun go.
Jump, run and fun.....
Much like it’s previous entry JJ2 is light on plot, in fact I did not even I know what the premise was until I read the Wikipedia article; something about Jazz Jackrabbit and his little brother Spaz having to chase the evil tortoise Devan Shell through a number of realities in order to prevent him from removing the Jackrabbits from reality or time or something. If you did not read the Jazz wiki before entering JJ2 you would think that there was no story whatsoever and you would be right, what plot that is told is minimal and vague at best; it might not be a bad thing per say as there are other ways storytelling in games without drowning the player in text (the Soulsborne series comes to mind) however I doubt Epic and Orange games were intending to have a deep complex narrative in JJ2 (or even one at all outside the manual ) and to honest; I think it is better without one. Beauty in simplicity is the key word here, you are given the illusion of stakes in order for the player to give a damn and the gameplay carries the rest. The Secret files and Christmas Chronicles have no story either so I cannot really talk about them much.
The gameplay is what really makes Jazz Jackrabbit stand out, while the run and gun- shooting platforming fun is still there from the first time but is now smoother and fluid; the game controls so much better than it was in the past due to the inclusion of sprint function allowing you to control your speed better and makes traversing the level fun. The levels are still somewhat basic, the hidden areas are still pretty visible and easy to get to and majority of collectables are placed in plain sight, however with the very simple inclusion of a stomp attack (where you can smash the ground below) the levels to feel more interactive and opens the door for interesting level design. It also makes the levels more fun to play through as you can jump across a hill and stomp your enemies in perfect symphony while shooting down any flying creatures nearby, the levels are short and sweet, and it is fun to play, simple as that.
As mentioned previously the game has a number of collectables scattered throughout levels, some are pretty generic like carrots that restore lives, 1ups that grant you lives in order to continue playing the game and the weapons and power ups for said weapons. All of these can be found in plain sight but also in hidden secret areas, as the time limit aspect of first game is no longer there you are encouraged to explore and shoot/butt stomp everything in case there is some hidden powerup that could help you kill things faster. There are also coins found scattered in levels which act as a currency that, when enough are collected will unlock secret areas or parts of the level that would otherwise remain inaccessible thus further encouraging you to explore every part of the level. You also can collect various foods and drinks that add to your overall score, once you reach a level arbitrary score (I really don’t know what the limit) you activate what is called a sugar rush, a 20 second period of invulnerability where anything you touch instantly dies. I love the mechanic in theory as it can grant you a sudden boost of speed, letting you just crash into pools of enemies and wipe the floor with them. It feels incredibly satisfying to experience and I love it when it works (more on that later). Gameplay between the main games and the DLCs are interchangeable so I will not talk about it that much here. JJ2 gives you the opinion of 3 playerable characters to use each one having different abilities, Jazz can hover and perform a super jump (where you can break things above you) Spaz can perform a flying kick (where you can beak things in front of you) and a double jump; Lori has the hover ability of Jazz and the flying kick of Spaz. Because the game has to balance all of these different abilities these three PCs do not have that much of an effect over the level asides from some token starting areas or rewards which require the ability of one or the other
That is the main problem of the game, it is a little bit too easy even on the hardest difficulty, (I played on hard after finding medium too easy) I barely died in my playthrough and never ran out of ammo. Carrot placement (I just said that........) , while better then JJ1 carrots are still very unevenly placed with instances of no carrots or too many. Creating situations of wasted carrots or not enough to balance the game making the game either too easy for the difficulty chosen or annoying if you are trying to finish a level after losing all but your last life and you don’t want to save or go back to a checkpoint which can be a long way back. The boss fights themselves are just as uneven in difficultly as some beating me into the ground while others melted within seconds. I suspect that this lack of balance was in part to the unfinished nature of the game (more on that later), because the DLC has a much better level design and difficultly curve then the base game. The sugar rush mechanic is fun but is also random due to the arbitrary limit which lead to annoying situations where I got a sugar rush right before a level ends or during a long time where enemies are nowhere to be found resulting in it being wasted or unneeded. Please don’t get me wrong, even with these flaws in design the game is impeccably enjoyable and only becomes annoying if you look deeply.
Now onto the graphics and art style; even now Jazz Jackrabbit 2 looks great, the bright cartoonish artstyle has aged superbly well and the 2d animation has too aged well. The levels and character designs are inspired, from the Mad Hatter enemies who fire hot tea from the Dormouse hidden in the teacup to the Haunted House levels that dip kooky spooky charm. They all are great to look at and experience. The music is also fantastic totally unique to the levels and produce a ton of personality and atmosphere, as well as being intensely memorable soundtracks. I love this part of the game through and through.
On one hand the game runs perfectly fine, once again GOG have done a great making this game run well on modern systems. The problem, while not a deal breaker per say comes in the fact that it is unfinished game. There are some areas where the lack of polish can lead to some sad moments. The defining moment for this was in the Medivo levels where I discovered a bonus level that, once I entered it would not let me leave after completion, always teleporting me into the start of the bonus level until I was forced to reload a save and avoid the area. This goes against the explorative aspect of the game as well highlights the unfinished state of the game as a whole (there was a lot planned for this game that never got fully realized) as they should have either removed it or fixed it before release date .
I love Jazz Jackrabbit 2, even after replaying it for the 100th time I still love it. I love the gameplay, I love the game’s personality and visuals and just how sincere it is. I will not deny that there are flaws in the design nor do I wish that Orange and Epic had more time to put in everything they wanted. The fact that it is as outstanding as it is despite it never being the game that it could have been makes it perfect for the Hall of Fame.