Released at the eleventh hour of platforming genre, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 sees you controlling the titular character against Devan Shell, a mendacious tortoise who has made the critical mistake of being the villain in a platforming game.
The game takes the concept of the first game and pushes it as far as it will go. Basically, think Sonic, but not as fast. Or think Mario, but a bit more edgy. Visually the game draws heavily from drug-trip psychedelia, and the soundtrack is mostly slap-bass acid funk. JJ2 is basically the hippie era put into a computer game, more so than any other game I know (except maybe Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror). Jazz doesn’t smoke a bomber joint as part of his idle animation, but I guarantee the artists wanted him to.
You get to play as Jazz or his brother Spaz (Jazz can hover in mid-air like Mario in SMB3, while Spaz can double-jump), collecting jewels and killing enemies with guns, speed-dashes, even your ass (literally). The game simultaneously looks dated yet great. The background is an ever-morphing LSD light show of color, and the lighting effects of muzzle flashes (etc) are simple but dramatic. The hand-drawn sprites are fun and cartoony. You do stuff just to see how the characters will react.
The problem with Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is that it doesn’t seem like much of a game. The single player mode took me about three hours to beat on hard difficulty. The enemies are too easy, and the bosses are rote and predictable – crack the “code” and you can beat them blindfolded and in a body cast. The levels are not very interesting, and don’t invite another play-through.
It does, however, have an extensive multiplayer mode, as well as lavish level-editing and modding tools. Forget Mario or Sonic, this game’s true inspiration is Quake. Epic’s approach was to make a bare-bones product, and throw it over to the fans to put some meat on it. Their bet paid off. JJ2 spawned a community took this game and ran with it, producing all sorts of custom levels, mods, etc, some of which are pretty impressive (tip: download Tomb Rabbit).
The game itself isn’t much. It’s like a shitty movie that has a cult following who analyse every frame. It’s the fans that turned it into a product worth owning – JJ2 isn’t a game so much as a piece of real estate, something that’s only as good as what you’re prepared to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of cool stuff in JJ2. But it’s rushed cool stuff, thrown in without much polish or thought. What’s the point of giving the player tons of weapons if most of them are useless? I think I used the pepper spray once and then never touched it again. Even Jazz is pretty useless next to his brother, who can reach all sorts of high places thanks to his double jump. Jazz gets completely upstaged in his own game.
I had some fun with Jazz Jackrabbit 2 back in the day, but I don’t expect to ever play it again. Like the hippie era it pastiches, it came and went, leaving only memories. It still has a dedicated following, but somehow the Kool Aid wasn’t strong enough in my case.