Mistakes exist to learn from. I am no stranger to stupid mistakes myself, yet it’s a necessity for game reviews to point at the faults in games and disapprovingly wiggle our fingers at the developers. We might seem mean-spirited, but we do truly hope that our critique will lead to better games in the future. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is a good example of such and fixes many of the issues I had with the previous game, though I doubt my review more than a decade after its original release had any impact on that.
Jazz is back! And this time he has his whole family with him to take on the evil Devan and foil his plans.
The story is once again kept simple; following the events of the last game, Jack was set to marry princess Eva Earlong, only for Devan to crash his wedding and steal a valuable ring to power his new, evil devices. Jack gives chase, leading him to a series of levels that are themed after popular movies and pop culture, such as Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland, or a stage themed after Back to the Future.
The game is once again a run & gun 2D platformer and has now addressed many of the flaws in the original game. The camera has been zoomed out far so players have adequate oversight and can afford to go fast without bumping into enemies the moment they enter the screen. controls as a whole are more refined, with characters now having a dedicated run button, the ability to shoot up, and a camera that pans down if you kneel for a few seconds. Everything I wanted from the first game and more.
The shooting gameplay is so much better now and actually quite satisfying. Every weapon feels unique and suited to specific scenarios, and also has uses in environmental puzzles that can help you find alternate paths or lead to bonus items and secrets. It does make the game easier in places now that you have the overhand, so consider setting the game to hard for at least the first few stages. The enemies become more complex in later episodes, which also pushed me to use special weapons like the bouncing bombs, homing rockets, and freeze ray, instead of constantly relying on the basic peashooter.
While it wasn’t an issue to me, Stian remarked at the time that levels in the first game were filled with ammo and nothing else, which has also been addressed now. Levels now also contain gems that give you points, coins that are used to buy access to secret areas, and looooooooots of food. Jazz and his cohorts are certainly no advocates for healthy eating, as they guzzle up tons of greasy snack foods and candy. Gather enough and you trigger a Sugar Rush, where you move faster and resist all damage. You don’t know when this will trigger, so it was always a pleasant surprise when it did.
Levels are still sprawling and fun to explore, though a bit more linear than its predecessor. There are more nooks and crannies to uncover on the sides and the levels are larger in general, but it was a shame that you can’t always go off in whatever direction you fancy and still find the exit as paths reconverge. I also felt that the music was a lot more muted this time around and the game cuts to the next episode without any fun cutscenes to bridge the transition.
I have also neglected to talk about the different playable characters and that’s because I wasn’t too into it. Jazz and Spaz are two wacky rabbits, with Spaz being more deranged. Their weapons are a bit different and Spaz has a double-jump whereas Jack gets helicopter ears and the crouch jump from Super Mario Bros. 2. I preferred playing as Spaz, but it didn’t make much of a difference.
There is also Lori, which is a bit of an awkward point. She appears in the ending cutscene as a love interest for Spaz, but was intended to be a family member by Dust: An Elysian Tail creator Dean Dodrill. She was originally depicted in the same style as the Jackrabbit brothers, only to become playable in The Secret Files expansion with a prettier design more in line with Dean’s other work. Her playstyle mixes that of the brothers, but lacks some utility that, according to the wiki, makes several levels unfinishable if you play as her.
Jazz Jackrabbit 2 has problems of its own, but it’s the sequel PC gamers needed for their platforming hero. Whereas I only played the shareware copy of the original game as a kid, I actually had this one and it lives up to my memories of it. If you have found yourself playing some 2D indie games of late, or if you are feeling nostalgic, then it’s fun to go back to this PC classic. It’s no masterpiece and probably still a bit behind the offering on consoles at the time, but it’s loved by retro PC gamers and for good reason.