It’s Easter Sunday, and what better way to celebrate this day than with Epic MegaGames’ classic platformer Jazz Jackrabbit Collection?
Jazz Jackrabbit Collection (PC)
(USA 1994/1995/2017, developer/publishers: Epic MegaGames (now defunct)/Epic Games, platform: PC)
Jazz Jackrabbit has to rescue Eva Earlong, the princess of Carrotus, who has been kidnapped by his nemesis Devan Shell.
A different kind of fable
Despite serving as a parody on classic Greek writer Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, one shouldn’t expect much witty writing or storytelling. Suffice it to say that there’s been a war going on between tortoises and hares and that Devan Shell acts as a conqueror of worlds, with only Carrotus being the one planet that stands in the way of his megalomaniac goals. What sounds a bit like Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope turns out to be just an excuse for Rambo-like character Jazz to travel to various planets in order to pursue his nemesis and save the princess, which results in lots of shooting and cartoon slapstick sequences.
Faster and cooler than a hedgehog
It’s clear to see that the bunny with an attitude is influenced by a certain fast-moving hedgehog named Sonic. There are obvious similarities in the way these characters are portrayed, but Jazz might just win because of his gung-ho way of solving problems. This doesn’t mean it’s unsuitable for kids, as the violence is simply on par with Saturday morning cartoons.
Too fast and too furious
The story and characters are over-the-top silly, which makes them a perfect fit for a game that is all about big guns and especially high speed. It feels as if it was already made for speedruns before the term was even coined. The way how Jazz runs through levels is almost too much at times, which might explain why a slowmo option is included.
While it’s impressive how fast Jazz can run, evading enemies or obstacles becomes almost impossible. If one drops down into the unknown or jumps to the top, one should make use of the hare’s ability to look in advance, as some parts of the screen can either hold baddies or spiky dangers that are otherwise difficult to avoid.
Not impossible to beat
Thankfully there are checkpoints, even if there is only one per level. Choosing between four difficulty modes also helps to avoid more frustration. Despite the need for speed, one rarely loses orientation, as arrows usually indicate in which direction to go next.
Stop and go with some special secrets
Running through the levels might not always be the best way to play the game, as there are plenty of hidden rooms to be found and looking for red gems is also recommended, as they unlock special 3D bonus stages with an extra life as a reward after completing it successfully.
These stages look like a mix of Mario Kart tracks and a 3D Sonic title, but they don’t match their quality in terms of controls and level design. Making Jazz run and collect a certain number of blue gems in a limited time isn’t a lot of fun, because one constantly runs against side borders, and rolling into a faster furry ball is a pretty bad idea, too.
Controls are very sensitive and some obstacles are a pain to avoid, e.g. one platform that makes Jazz turn in the other direction, makes him jump. Even worse are the various exit doors one can accidentally run into and successively leave the reward behind. It’s possible to play all the bonus stages in a special episode, but as one can’t select the levels individually, it’s more a test of endurance than actual fun.
The weapons are varied, even if there are not too many. Switching between them might not be essential, but it helps in some situations, e.g. explosives bouncing off walls and dropping below or missiles and fireballs that have more power and a wider radius. A few power-ups make survival even sweeter: Enclosed in glittering boxes that are reminiscent of the Sonic the Hedgehog titles, they give Jazz a parrot as a firing companion, a shield of stars, or the ability to run even faster, be invincible for a short time and jump higher than usual.
Light puzzling and big boss fighting
There are a few puzzle elements, e.g. hitting switches for water to rise and Jazz to swim through, but these are rare. The focus is clearly on platforming and shooting segments, including a boss fight at the end of each episode. Despite looking great, these aren’t very memorable or much fun, as they are either too easy or too difficult, especially the last one of the main six episodes and one of the three bonus chapters that rely too much on luck and annoying evasive maneuvers.
While learning attack and evasion patterns has always been a staple of the genre, the best platformers still manage to implement unique and fresh ideas. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case here, as one just tries to find a spot where one doesn’t get shot or run over and simply repeats the same shooting and run-away tactics until the battle is finally won.
Controlling and bugging
Controls are tight and responsive most of the time, although playing the game with modern non-analogue gamepads make it more difficult to jump on platforms and avoid certain obstacles. Precision jumps are especially annoying, e.g. spring platforms that catapult Jazz in the air and to the next one. There’s also one bug when one has to fall through a laser barrier at the right time, which is impossible if one doesn’t make use of a patched (and inofficial) version of that level.
Bonus level mayhem
The additional bonus chapters aren’t nearly as much fun as the original, as there are way too many easy deaths because of more enemies. Jumping from one fast-moving platform to the next almost becomes standard procedure, making it rather difficult to run through the levels.
The placement of baddies is also frustrating, e.g. when apes are literally falling from the sky or ghostly hands are reaching out from the ground. The checkpoints in each level are too far between, too, adding to an almost masochistic platforming experience. It’s one thing to remember spiky dangers, but it’s quite another one to survive with sheer luck.
Hare home for Christmas
However, the Holiday Hare episodes are definitely worth a try. Despite only having four levels and no bosses, it’s a lot of fun and even if the annoying grabbing hands make a return, it’s far more accessible for newcomers. It doesn’t introduce any new gameplay elements (except level warps) and some enemies have only been redesigned for the season theme. But it comes recommended simply for the amazing rock interpretations of Christmas songs.
Cartoon looks and retro sounds
The cartoon graphics and very smooth animations are still impressive today, and despite a drop in resolution for the cutscenes, these are a lot of fun to watch and nice rewards for each completed episode. The soundtrack is even better, with some very catchy and varied tunes in each stage, ranging from rock, synth pop, techno to even some jazz themes.
Classic retro goodness
Jazz Jackrabbit Collection is a relic of a time when Epic was deeply involved with action-platformers, and despite its age, it still looks and sounds very cool thanks to a killer soundtrack and timeless cartoon graphics. The console influences of Sonic are clear to see with the game’s fast-moving protagonist, even though it’s often too fast for its own good.
While the title isn’t nearly as punishing as some arcade games, there are a few annoying difficulty spikes and the boss fights are disappointing as well. Still, as far as nostalgic fun goes, it’s great to play even today, with levels usually taking not more than 10 minutes and the overall playtime clocking around 5 hours.
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