07
Mar
15

Jazz Jackrabbit for DOS

Todays game, Jazz Jackrabbit was made by Epic Megagames back in 1994. It is an action platformer with a quirky story based on the old fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Your character, Jazz Jackrabbit, has to save the princess Eva Earlong from the bad guy, Devan Shell. Today is my first time playing Jazz, as my DOS machine back in the day was simply not powerful enough, that and I was never exposed to it. It can be exceptionally hard finding a registered copy of this game, so today I’m playing the shareware version.

The first thing I noticed was how amazingly good the artwork for this game is. The graphics are like they came straight out of a comic book. Animations are similarily also very good. In-game sprites are large and detailed with plenty of frames of animation to go wih them.

The game supports exclusively VGA graphics, which by 1994 was the norm. However I played under Dosbox and found that it would have required quite a beefy machine for the time in order to play. The minimum specifications in the documentation say about a 386@ 33Mhz, but when I set up the equivalent in Dosbox I found frequent slowdowns. You probably really need a 486 @ 33Mhz but ideally 50Mhz. In 1994 machines like this were around, but still expensive, and many wouldn’t upgrade for a while.

Jazz also suffers from an unfortunate bug if you run it on a machine that is too fast. Basically upon starting the game you will get a Runtime Error 200 when using a fast CPU (>~200Mhz). This comes from a bug in the CRT unit found in Borland Pascal. Basically when calibrating a timing loop a counter overflows and causes problems. Fortunately Dosbox makes it easy to avoid, and there is a patch online, search for borland CRT patch.

Jazz supports Sound Blaster cards mostly for sound, but there is also support for the GUS, Pro Audio Spectrum and Sound Blaster clone boards. The music sounds like MOD music and is exceptionally good. Digitised sound effects are used and are also quite effective. Jazz has a distinctive voice and will even ask the player what they are doing if he is idle for a short while. I think the sound design works quite well, the music and sound effects fit the art style well, they’d work well in a saturday morning cartoon.

Gamplay wise Jazz borrows elements from many platformers, but the most obvious is that he is fast like Sonic. However Jazz defends himself mostly with his big gun, the LFG-9000. His speed can be problematic, as I found I kept running into enemies before I had time to react. This is partly because the sprites are large you can’t see all that far ahead. I found this less of a problem once I started to learn the levels a bit and had some more practise with the controls.

The levels are split into pairs for each planet that you visit. The planets each have a different theme, the first level seems to be simpler, and the second is the more complicated and difficult of each pair. The themes for the planets are quite different from each other, each with their own enemies and artwork. Although I did think the first two planets reminded me of the early levels of Sonic the Hedgehog, this is mostly in appearance and some features like the tubes in level 3 and 4.

Of course since I only played the shareware episode I can’t comment on the other episodes, so they may be different as far as level design goes.

Interestingly my 4 year old daughter also had a go at playing, she seemed to like the colourful graphics and the cute little “bunny”. Unfortunately the game was a little bit too hard for her, mostly as she hasn’t learned how to use more than one control at a time.

I tried a few different difficulty levels and didn’t notice much change. It seems the lower difficulty levels just give you more hit points, which did mean I lasted longer before dying, but some difficult parts still killed me.

I have mixed impressions of Jazz Jackrabbit, at first I found some elements of the game difficult to deal with, such as Jazz’s imense speed and jumping controls. However as I played the game more it grew on me, I was usually able to avoid running into enemies mainly because I knew where they were. I still find some aspects of jumping a bit annoying, but it’s certainly quite fun anyway. The Guardian at the end of the first episode was a little bit of a let-down, it was too easy to beat, otherwise there is plenty of challenge.

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