Before Cliff Bleszinski was concerned with the dynamics of curb stomps and exploding Locust skulls in Gears of War, or creating one of the best shooters of all time in Unreal Tournament, he had some humble beginnings at Epic Mega Games, the precursor to the hugely successful Epic Games.
He worked with veteran Dutch coder Arjan Brussee, a man with credits in the Killzone and Battlefield series, to design Jazz Jackrabbit 2, a light-hearted 2D side scrolling platformer about stopping an evil turtle who stole a wedding ring. Gotta start somewhere eh?
Funnily enough, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was one of the first games I ever played. Back in the days of Shareware, and before the murky days of pre-orders, DLC and DRM, free copies of games would be distributed to share around, I had a whale of a time committing turtle genocide in the short single player demo. I was even more overjoyed when I got my grubby mitts on the full game.
It functions like a fast-paced Earthworm Jim, and is a PC love-letter to Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s one of the best 2D platformers I’ve ever played, and the one I hold lovingly in my childhood memories. It’s both an homage and an amalgamation of the greatest platformers of yore, borrowing and innovating just about enough to satisfy any gamer’s needs.
Recently, I figured I’d google it after having my memory jogged by a tweet, and noticed that it’s actually available as abandonware, among other brilliant MS DOS titles.
Stranger still, it actually has an online community, going strong after 18 years. Yes, this game at launch in 1998 had co-op and online multiplayer, and you can still play it today. Pretty groovy right? It’s actually a heap of fun with a friend if you can convince them to jump through a few hoops!
Each level is designed around pop culture, and these include an episode called ‘Jazz In Time’ which sends you to an Alice-In-Wonderland themed level, with disappearing Cheshire cats and a centipede which shoots smoke rings, that reverse your controls. There’s also a level that plays a lot like Donkey Kong Country, and a level based on DOOM, descending further and further into hell and fighting demons on the way.
You can tell this game was a labour of love for the devs, and not something they initially thought would be tremendously commercial. It’s a refreshing thing to see a game that doesn’t really take itself that seriously, and is focused on fun, inviting gameplay and intriguing settings.
The animations are all incredibly well-made and the music in this game though is a real treat. It’s pretty much acid jazz. It’s so 90’s and you’ll find yourself humming along to the tune in each level, completely against your will.
I implore everyone to dive into their MS DOS back catalogue and check out all of these diamonds that are hidden in the abandonware scrap heap. Hell, you might something you enjoy and who can say no to free games!