Every platform for gaming had a mascot in the 1990s. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic, and Sony had Crash Bandicoot (at least in the early days). Jazz Jackrabbit sought to be the mascot for the PC and emulate the side-scrolling experience that was found on consoles.
The first game in the series came out in 1994 for MS-DOS, and received releases on the Mac and Windows in 1995 and 1996. The series revolves around the protagonist, Jazz Jackrabbit, in a fantasy world where tortoises and hares are locked in a rivalry against each other, drawing similarities to Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Jazz’s nemesis, a tortoise named Devan Shell, begins to conquer planets. One of these planets is Jazz’s home world, Carrotus. Carrotus fights the invasion off successfully, but Devan captures the princess of Carrotus, Eva Earlong. It’s up to Jazz to save her.
Jazz Jackrabbit is a typical side-scroller, but with one significant difference: there are no pits. However, one can take alternate paths to find power-ups and increase your high score. The first game received many accolades, including “Arcade Game of the Year” by PC Format in 1995. The game’s music was mostly acid jazz, in a tribute to the protagonist.
A sequel did come out for PC in 1998, Jazz Jackrabbit 2, featuring Jazz’s siblings Spaz and Lori, that allowed you to play as multiple characters with their own special abilities. The game also introduced a multiplayer mode that could support up to 32 players. There were three modes: Cooperative, Deathmatch, Race, Treasure Hunt and Capture The Flag. The game also had a Level Editor, which allowed fans to create their own levels to add to the game. The game was not as well received as the first game, but still received enough popular support to justify developing another game.
Jazz Jackrabbit 3 was announced in 1999 and, like many video game mascots of the 1990s, it was meant to be Jazz’s debut in 3D. However, the project was shelved in May 2000. A reboot was planned and released in 2002 for the Game Boy Advance, parodying Star Wars as Jazz took on a Han Solo-esque look and Devan Shell became known as Dark Shell.
As recently as 2010, Epic Games (who later on went to make Unreal Tournament and Gears of War, and are also known as the developers of the Unreal Engine) released Unreal Engine development kits for the iOS, and Jazz makes a cameo in one of these tutorials. One of the key names in Epic Games, Cliff Bleszinski, who helped develop the Jazz series, is currently developing first-person PC shooter Lawbreakers.
While Jazz Jackrabbit was intended to be the mascot for the PC, many gamers found that side-scrollers were better left up to consoles than to PCs, although the game remains a cult classic and has a small but dedicated fan base.
Images © Epic Games