Jazz Jackrabbit (1994 video game)
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Jazz Jackrabbit is a platform game developed and published by Epic MegaGames. It was released in 1994 for PCs operating DOS, with subsequent Macintosh and Microsoft Windows releases in 1995 and 1996. It was one of the first games to bring the side-scrolling platformer style—common on gaming consoles—to a PC audience. On November 30, 2017 the game was re-released on GOG.com along with Jazz Jackrabbit 2, with support for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
The game is set in a fantasy world based on Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare", in which the enmity between tortoises and hares continues even after three thousand years. An evil mastermind tortoise named Devan Shell begins conquering planets, suppressing any native confrontation. One of such planets, Carrotus, is home to a peaceful hare kingdom that, once confronted by Shell, is able to provide enough resistance to fend him off. Enraged by his loss, Devan decides to kidnap Carrotus princess Eva Earlong and hide her on a distant airbase of unknown location to weaken the hares. In response, the king chooses to send Carrotus' hero Jazz Jackrabbit, who carries a blue LFG-2000 gun, to various planets conquered by Devan that might contain clues to the location of Eva's imprisonment. As Jazz travels through different worlds, he gains new weapons and meets new enemies in his pursuit to rescue the princess and save Carrotus from Devan Shell and his army of Turtle Terrorists.
The game is divided into six episodes. Each episode has three planets (worlds), with every planet itself consisting of two levels (some planets have an additional secret level). The final level of every episode features a boss that the player must deal with in order to complete the level. Episodes are tied by a single storyline usually progressing after each episode is finished.
Gameplay mechanics in Jazz are very similar to Zool's, with the exception of not being able to destroy the enemies by simply jumping at them (which was not added until the second game). Jazz will run faster and jump higher the longer he runs, avoiding chasms that might lead to harmful objects. Unlike other platform games, however, there are no abysses and every level bifurcates into subsections that might lead to valuable items (such as weapon pick-ups, score items, etc.) while the direction of general progression is hinted at with occasional arrows. Jazz has a life bar that changes in colour based on how much health Jazz has remaining. Jazz can withstand a limited number of hits (5 on Easy mode, 4 on Medium mode, 3 on Hard or Turbo mode) from harmful objects before losing a life; one hit's worth of health can be restored by picking up a carrot. Lives can also be accumulated to the maximum number of ten. When killed, Jazz starts from the level beginning or any checkpoint sign was reached and shot before.
Items that the player can pick up usually resemble food, computer hardware components or other familiar shapes, and give 100 score points each. There are also several beneficial pick-ups in the game: a "force shield" that protects Jazz from one or four hits, a sidekick in form of a bird that shoots enemies, a hoverboard that allows flight, rapid fire/super jump bonuses, a temporary "speed-up" and invincibility, as well as extra lives. Weapons also vary in numbers and consistency and include (besides the initial blaster) bouncing launcher grenades, flame bullets, bi-missile projectiles and TNT sets. Large sets of ammunition can only be collected by being shot from their enclosure.
The first game features a timer that starts a number of minutes at the beginning of each level (9 minutes 59 seconds on Easy mode, 8 minutes on Medium, 6 minutes on Hard, and 4 minutes on Turbo) and counts down to zero; on Hard and Turbo, another countdown appears at the top of the screen when there is less than a minute left, and if time expires, Jazz loses a life. If Jazz reaches and shoots the finish sign before time runs out, the player is then provided with additional score points awarded for the remaining time and a perfect score if he picks up all items and/or deals with all enemies. If Jazz finishes the area with a big red diamond, he gets to enter the bonus stage. In these stages, animation switches to a pseudo-3D (third-person shooter) of Jazz as he runs on a speedway with the purpose of gathering as many blue diamonds as requested before time runs out, while obstacles try to stop him or slow him down. If the task is accomplished successfully, the player is provided with an extra life.
Aside from bonuses, Jazz also features secret levels that can be accessed in specific areas of other levels once in every episode. Secret level signs feature the question mark instead of Devan's head portrait that must be shot. The current level is then considered completed and the secret level embarks. Levels themselves consist of an enormous "grant" area with numerous weapons and items to pick up. One level, however, features a mini-boss, while the player assumes control of Jazz in his sidekick bird form. Secret levels also feature a count-up upon completion that provides the player with extra score points.
Jazz Jackrabbit was coded by Arjan Brussee and designed by Cliff Bleszinski for Epic MegaGames. It was greatly inspired by the Amiga game Zool and the ongoing success of video game classics (such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man) defining the platform game genre in the 1990s market, and was initially considered to be a pastiche of Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog in the computer world. The game did not manage to reach the popularity of Sonic, but did acquire a certain fan audience due to its fast-paced gameplay, advanced graphics and notorious acid jazz level soundtracks.
On November 28, 1994, a CD-ROM version was released under the title "Jazz Jackrabbit CD", containing all six original episodes, as well as 3 additional ones known as "The Lost Episodes" listed as episodes A, B, and C. In episode C, there is a secret level with Jazz in the form of a lizard. A shareware Christmas edition was released on December 15, 1994, with a special 3-level holiday-themed episode, titled "Holiday Hare". Subsequent pressings of the CD-ROM edition added Holiday Hare as episode X, bringing the total episode count to 10. Furthermore, on November 17, 1995, another shareware Christmas edition was released with a different holiday episode, titled "Holiday Hare '95", with 2 new holiday-themed worlds.
Reception and legacy
In 1995, PC Format magazine named Jazz Jackrabbit "Arcade Game of the Year". A sequel named Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was released in 1998, as well as a reboot on Game Boy Advance in 2002. The commercial success of the game kickstarted the career of its co-creator, Cliff Bleszinski, who would later go on to be a key force behind Epic Games' blockbuster hits Unreal and Gears of War, among other titles. An Open Source cross-platform re-implementation named OpenJazz was released by Alister Thomson in 2005.
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- Bissell, Tom (2011). Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. Random House Digital. p. 53. ISBN 0-307-47431-3.
- "Jazz Jackrabbit Collection". GOG.com. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
- Edwards, Benj (May 25, 2009). "From The Past To The Future: Tim Sweeney Talks (page 6)". Gamasutra. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
- About OpenJazz