Most of us remember Jazz Jackrabbit as an icon of the DOS gaming scene. People loved the two run & gun platforming titles, maybe played the bonus episodes for kicks, after which Jazz and his brother retired as video game protagonists. Right?…
As it turns out, Jazz had one last adventure to his name and it’s a strange one. 4 years after the last game, this “new” Jazz Jackrabbit is exclusive to the GameBoy Advance of all systems. Not only has the heroic rabbit separated with his PC gaming home & audience, he’s also undergone a bit of a make-over.
This creates a strange situation where we have a visually sanitized Jazz on a Nintendo console, who is now a war criminal. Sure, he’s not as mad as before and his deranged brother is nowhere to be found, but don’t let his cutified appearance deceive you. The Jackrabbit is still packing heat and he’s dealing it out more carelessly than ever before.
He works as a space-faring mercenary with a direct line to top military officials and goes on adventures (read: massacres) to wherever his help (read: genocide) is required. Butchering his way through technologically-inferior native populations? A-okay. Raiding the home planet of a rival nation? It’s not an act of war if you send a private company to do it. Oh sure, there are excuses to be made, but those are entirely optional. So long as there is money to be made, Jazz needs merely be pointed in the right direction…
The game provides several short missions and, though the artstyle has changed, the gameplay at least attempts to recreate the experience of the past games. You got 2D platforming, you got an assortment of guns, and goofy enemies to use those guns on. On the surface it resembles the old games, but it struggles in the execution and game feel.
Already in the very first combat encounter you find yourself taking on foes that require several hits to go down while you are locked in a tight area. Every enemy soaks up bullets and hitboxes, especially your own, feel wildly inaccurate.
The zoomed-in camera perspective from the first game is back and so are the problem it caused. You are frequently making leaps of faith or running headfirst into enemies. Some stages would start and I’d make a jump that seemed to safe, only for an enemy to appear and instantly knock you back, causing fall-damage on top of taking a hit. Platforming as a whole feels horrible and almost nauseating, as the camera constantly sways backs and forth to adjust to your position and view. This is most notable in a sewer level where I lost several lives on utterly basic platforming segments, just because I couldn’t keep track of the platforms I jumped to thanks to the camera.
The controls are largely okay, but lack the crazy, high-speed action of the DOS games. Instead we got a very standard 2D shooter whose most daring mechanics are throwing grenades and being able to aim diagonally up. It’s very barebones and even then the game manages to create levels for which the controls feel inadequate. I constantly found myself having to deal with enemies at angles where you can’t hit them or awkwardly jumping & firing at beefy enemies with hitscan weapons because otherwise there’d be no way to avoid damage.
The ice world in particular shows off some of the game’s worst design, starting off with a stage that is just a copy-pasted straight line where you battle hordes of hitscan enemies without any cover whatsoever. Incidentally, this is also the level where you gain the flamethrower and get to watch enemy troops run around in agony and fear as they are quickly scorched from the earth. Jazz truly knows no mercy.
Jazz Jackrabbit for the GBA feels desolate. It doesn’t do anything special to make its 2D shooter gameplay palletable, leading to a game that feels like it drones on forever despite barely lasting more than an hour. The unavoidable damage, wonky hitboxes, overpowered enemies, and over-reliance on making you fight entire hordes of them at once also make the game feel like it’s several leagues behind the DOS titles it shares a name with.
Jazz might have been rebranded and sanitized for a new generation, but even the pesky brats of the mid-2000s (love you sis) would be better served by the much cooler DOS titles. Assuming they got a rad older brother from the 90s who knows how to install old games on the family computer.