Long before Unreal Tournament and Gears of War, Cliff Beskinski got his start at Epic Megagames working on a platformer known as Jazz Jackrabbit. What’s Jazz Jackrabbit you ask? Well, I’ll have you know, he’s the coolest Space Jackrabbit to ever be featured in a video game. Read on to see what the fuss was all about!
One of the first videogames to bring the popular console-centric genre of the platformer to home PC’s, Jazz Jackrabbit (1994) was first released via DOS, and was then quickly followed by a Windows and Mac port in the following two years. Taking place in a galaxy where Tortoises and Hares have battled for centuries, the game sees evil mastermind Devan Shell (a tortoise) hell bent on conquering all of the planets throughout the galaxy. When he sets upon the world of Carrotus, he is surprisingly fended off by the citizens of this peaceful planet. In retaliation, he captures Eva Earlong (a hare), princess of Carrotus. The king then sends Jazz Jackrabbit, hero of Carrotus, off in search of the princess in the hopes of returning her to safety.
If you’ve been listening to our weekly podcast, you’ll probably remember me criticizing many platformers. More specifically, I’ve criticized the “rescue the princess” trope so prevalent in this genre, and unfortunately it’s present again here in Jazz Jackrabbit. But you’re playing a platformer, right? There’s no need for story…right?
Using Jazz’s trusty LFG-2000 (Laser Flash Gun, a play on the BFG-9000), you set off across 18 different planets (a total of 36 levels), in an attempt to rescue the princess. Throughout each level, there’s a number of objects spread out (microchips, food, etc.), which give you points once collected. Combined with a timer that counts down each level, you can try to best your previous score each time you play. Or you could, as I did, completely ignore this feature, and just blast the hell of various turtle-themed enemies.
To achieve this, the game features a large number of available weapons, that range from flame bullets, to grenade launchers, and even TNT. Jazz Jackrabbit also has the ability to run faster the further he goes (ala Sonic), which leads to a frenetic playing experience. Jumping, gunning, and collecting is all done at high speed, which helps separate this shooter from the pack.
However, we now come to the best part. As a shareware release, this game benefited from the added bonus of the 1995 release, “Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare.” Blasting through several Christmas themed levels, you get to experience acid-jazz re-imaginings of Christmas classics, all whilst blowing the hell out of holiday-themed enemies. It truly is a holiday platforming classic.
If you have one game to play this holiday season, I believe it should be Jazz Jackrabbit. It’s as if you’ve taken a bit of Mario, a lot of Sonic, added a pinch of 90’s attitude to create a platforming gem. Go give it a download, you wont be disappointed.