Azazilisland starts strong (as shown in the screenshot), placing you in the middle of the level with a bunch of stuff going on in every direction. This is a very non-linear level, so you can go in any direction and still make progress, assuming progress is defined by gradually removing all enemies and pickups from the level. There are a handful of spots in the level that are actually necessary to visit, in order to hit certain trigger zones, but for the most part there’s not a lot distinguishing those spots from any other possible destination, so your best strategy is just to go everywhere and do everything. If there’s an enemy near you, you haven’t gone that direction yet, so give it a try.
There seems to be a bit of an intended order for you to visit the trigger zone spots, in that certain of them are initially locked off by trigger scenery blocks that get removed by others. Nothing about this order is explained anywhere in the level, and nor is the end area made very explicit, and yet somehow I found myself visiting everything in exactly the right order (and guessing where the end area was). I don’t know if this is coincidence or level design genius but either way it’s hard to complain about.
This is, then, a level all about exploration, and thankfully there’s a decent variety in areas contained within the level: you’re not just in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. The most obvious example is that the entire bottom section is a sandy beach, but the thin wooden platforms are more or less common in different parts of the level, and there are a handful of other landmarks to help you figure out where you are. Additionally, the level is very easy to explore (if you’re willing to do the occasional uppercut/double jump onto a higher wooden platform), preferring lots of small blocks over long tunnels, so it’s always possible to change direction and wander until you find somewhere genuinely new. The only real slipups on the explorability fronts are certain tiles which look like they should be vines but are in fact fully solid, therefore preventing vertical movement between areas.
Indeed, the level is so navigable that there’s even a witch enemy toward the top of the level, with Eva placed a little farther down, more in the middle. If you forget where she is, it’s possible to fall all the way down to the bottom of the level and eventually climb back up to find her again (provided you don’t die along the way). I’m not sure how I feel about the witch’s inclusion overall, but I appreciate that the level makes sure you can get back up to her as a frog… but not much farther up than that.
Besides the one witch, there’s a respectably-sized menagerie of enemies that seem appropriate to the tileset, all managing to pose the occasional, yet never outsized, thread. The level also boasts a solid, yet never excessive, number of carrots and ammo pickups to make your battles that much easier. And ultimately its success lives and dies on the question of how much you enjoy walking around and shooting normal JJ2 enemies, because it gives you a whole lot of opportunities to do that, without any obvious flaws but without any enormous innovation or variety… and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Absolutely sublime, my favourite level of 2019 by a long shot. I especially love the integration of the Oasis and Aztec2 elements, greatly enriching the Islands tileset. My only slight complaint is I find the bottom area feeling a bit lacking compared to the rest, but if anything that’s a reflection on well designed everything else is.
Design-wise, Violet’s best level to date. You can clearly tell that this was made by someone familiar with actual game design philosophies. My biggest issue is that the boss fight would be a perfect time to put players’ skills acquired during the level to the test, but none of the cool custom mechanics taught earlier are brought back for it.
I’ve recently given this level some thought and decided to write a review on it. To start off, this level does not have any glaring negatives. Everything in this level certainly works to an extent. The theming is superb. PJ shows again how good he is setting up a theme, put attention to detail and make a nice polished level around it. The combination of tile elements and colouring gives this level a new and fresh feel. From my experience this is not an easy thing to come up with and to deliver constantly, but PJ shows he can surprise us with each upload.
To me, where there is a surprise in theming and eyecandy, it somewhat lacks in gameplay. It’s certainly not bad, however i’m certain we’ve seen every gameplay element in this level before in another level. That is except for the carrot area. But i’m going to be honest that despite how clever the carrot area is, the risk going into the dead end is too short to really have a big influence on gameplay.
To give a short summary on the rest of the level: We’ve seen the triple pathfloors before, we’ve seen the scale of pathways before, the linearity & width around gap placements in paths, the typical spring on every end of a path to go up. It’s not an understatement that the pathing in this level is extremely simple and likely won’t suprise neither challenge anyones skill. There is nothing to me layout-wise that makes me think like… “Oh, that’s new and clever”.
Of course one could argue that this was the plan all along to keep it simple for players. But in my opinion this is a step down in professional levelmaking as we’ve known. The next step in JCS is also about inventing and you need to be taking some risks. This can be great if it pays off and I think we’re not done reinventing multiplayer levels to a big audience. This layout however is as risk free as it can get. I feel like PJ can be more creative to bring new and fresh gameplay elements to the table.
And even if we look at the entire JJNet mappool levels now, where does this level stand? I hate to say it but it really doesn’t feel like it brings a new choice to the table. If i want my typical open layout flatground level, with somewhat equal scorepacing and expected player skill, then there is a lot to choose from already. I could also go with Facing worlds, Byzantine Blues, Starlit CTF, All Your Base, Gauntlet, Ancient Museum, Dragon eyrie and to some extend Stronghold CTF. These levels also have very limited chokepoints and are quite easy to learn.
To put this into perspective: Right before the clanwar CC vs CDF, many of the old warteam members came back one day before it to train the entire mappool. I remember especially Vegito was hesitant at first learning the new levels, but we came to the fast conclusion that a lot of these in the current pool play the same way. Eventhough we struggled in Butrinti, we liked it a lot more cause it felt like there was room for tactical improvement. We have ideas on how to control that level more optimally and where to position ourselfs around chokepoints. I think it’s nice when a level does that. This is why i rather would have wanted something new to the mappool. This is just hard in a level that doesn’t challenge you to adapt much to the level. Galeloch works, but feels generic with what we’ve seen. To me this could have been a 9+ level if it had great gameplay to go with the theme.
Of course despite this PJ is still a very professional JCSer and this level was made very professionally. I just hope we take the next step in JCS by taking some creative risks and making them work. PJ is one those JCSers who can certainly do that.
Penguinvasion is a nice, simple level that serves to introduce a lot of HH18 mechanics (gem collection, gift boxes, enemies…) in a safe context without a lot of fanfare. All these things are easy enough to understand that the player is largely left to figure them out on their own without lengthy text signs or other explanations, which is a wise decision. The graphics are never too elaborate but definitely serve to define several different kinds of environments within the level—branch climbing, caves, even a hotel—each of which remembers to have a distinct sort of layout. Besides the trigger crate hunt at the end, nothing is ever going to be especially memorable about this level, but that’s because it has a different job to do: to be a relaxing introduction. At this it succeeds perfectly.
Tipplenborough is a rarity in any game, JJ2 included, being a level with a primarily vertical orientation. Certainly you spend a lot of time in horizontal areas, but the goal is always to find a way up, at least until a point toward the end where you have to fall down for a while before you can start going up again… that part is confusing and could be better signaled. The level looks very big and impressive and must have taken quite some time to construct, especially considering the amount of exploration that’s possible to do across the various paths. A speedy player could easily see only a fraction of this map in a single playthrough. On the other hand, the different paths all seem fairly similar in their gameplay, not deviating much from normal JJ2 fare… and there aren’t a whole lot of gems, and even the episode’s distinctive giftbox mechanic falls by the wayside here… and it’s weird having normal fire dragons right after the first level’s ice dragons… so Tipplenborough feels almost more of a standalone affair than part of the broader episode. It’s hardly objectionable as a refutation of HH98’s level design style while using the same tileset, but the ambition of the hugeness doesn’t seem 100% born out in the moment-to-moment.
Cold Paw further demonstrates the hazards of coordinating the finer details of different levels in an episode being made by different people… the little walking penguin robots are feeling quite overused by now, but the ice bats that this level introduces (and should therefore highlight) hardly seem to appear at all. But gift boxes return in full force, and the level does manage some other level-specific focuses as well, mostly springs and pepper spray. There are a couple moments here that don’t seem quite prepared for Lori’s reduced jumping powers, and the red poles as barriers never quite clicked for me as a layout concept, but this isn’t a bad level, just a kind of punishing one. After two dark ice cave levels in a row, we’re about due for something in the open air…
Under the Weather is a strong contender for the level people remember from HH18, with its heavy focus on gimmicky gameplay. The freezing temperature mechanic that hurts you when you stay outside for too long is too omnipresent to ignore and becomes a serious threat toward the end of the level as shelter becomes more sparse. The tiny jumping snowman enemies are this level’s other big threat, frequently placed where you can least afford to pay attention to them because you need to get back inside before it gets too cold. If anything they may be a little too fast, but it’s interesting to see HH18 bringing out tougher enemies, forcing you to remember your stronger weapons. The same cannot be said of the ice golem boss battle, unfortunately, who is probably perfectly interesting but always goes down in seconds. This level is also smart enough to not have the entirety of its layout revolve around the temperature mechanic, so there are a couple of fun cave areas that are also high on the gimmicky end and yet manage not to overstay their welcome. The level is fairly short and linear because it needs to be, but it’s definitely a great example of thinking about what sorts of things video games can do to evoke the deadlier side of winter.
Breaking Out unfortunately feels out of place in a pack that’s otherwise gradually increasing its complexity and scriptedness. There’s a definite difficulty to the gameplay here, as enemies shoot lots of bullets at you (even the ice bullets are nicely positioned near spikes or jumping snowmen), but not a whole lot of interest value. You bust into jails, grab coins, go to the coin warp, and then do all the exact same things again. It’s also unclear why things aren’t scripted more than they are… the prisoners are static tiles instead of animated, the “keycards” are just trigger crates, and the coins are just coins. Things get more interesting at the end with the boss battle (and its utterly unnecessary cutscene moments), which has an elaborate set of moves not common among JJ2 bosses, but unfortunately again it’s just a quick bullet sponge and the attacks can probably be ignored unless you specifically want to watch how cool they are.
Toyed Badlands is pretty interesting as a very exploration-heavy map that trusts you to eventually figure out the right way to go as you gradually hit more trigger crates. This would quickly fail in a level with only one kind of eyecandy, but fortunately that’s not the case here, and there are several distinct areas (including some buildings with actual labels) that make it much easier to tell at a glance where you are and remember where there’ve been lock blocks before. Little details like rotating lollipops or spiky Lego bricks add a lot to the atmosphere. The ice skull guys from the previous level are back but this time are much less dangerous, which is kind of a weird progression… all that’s newish on the enemy front is ice-colored versions of Tuf Turtles and Doggy Doggs, and even those are familiar from HH17. Sometimes the map is more cramped than it needs to be, which doesn’t 100% facilitate exploration, and there’s never really a standout moment, but this is still some good fun.
Pikitia Ara feels in some undefinable way like an overgrown JJ1 level, and has a lot of good old-fashioned platforming and spelunking and enemy dispatching. There are two fun new foes on display in this final level, both of them quite tough, but the player’s arsenal has evolved to the point that they feel totally fair and correctly placed. Spike bolls get a lot of really good use here. There’s an unfortunate moment of sequence breaking available to anyone willing to shoot a checkpoint with electroblaster, but everything else seems to work as intended and it’s a nice challenge (but never too challenging) that doesn’t do much out of the ordinary but doesn’t make any mistakes. It is a bit of a weird choice for the final stretch of this episode, though, wearing its winter holiday theme only very loosely.
Frigid Fortress leans heavily on traditional approaches to forbidding atmosphere but with a definite wintery flavor, a solid decision. The first boss gets around the shoot-the-cyberdemon-until-it-dies issue that other bosses in HH18 had by having invincibility frames of its own, encouraging strategic (read: high-damage) attacks mixed with a lot of dodging. The second boss has a difficult job to do because the number of hearts players could be fighting it with is potentially highly variable, but arrive at what I think is a good solution by exhibiting a range of different attacks that are interesting but never unfair, so if you don’t have the hearts to just sink bullets into it forever (and it’s got quite a lot of health), dodging is a realistic option. The dialogue and plot twist between fights are hardly novel but you wouldn’t expect them to be for a holiday pack anyway. Everything here is satisfactory for a video game boss experience.
There’s a lot to like here, but not a lot to love. It’s also hard to escape the fact that Faded Story Part 1 has essentially two halves, so let’s talk about that.
The first half (and also a little bit at the end) is all scene-setting and story. At one point you’re free to walk around a village for a while, entering buildings and talking to other rabbits, but there’s no gameplay to speak of and you get the sense it only uses standard JJ2 physics for the sake of convenience. At one point you seem to have the chance to buy some powerups or food, but as far as I can tell there’s no way to actually get money; it’s just the appearance of a shop because villages have shops.
More memorably there are a lot of cutscenes. The episode opens by gradually zooming in on a closed book, then the book opens up and you get to turn the pages by pressing right. The art isn’t amazing but it’s neat that there’s art at all—even the more technically sophisticated cutscenes from devres only ever bothered with (lots and lots of) text. Design schematics for the robot boss are the highlight here. Some non-scripted JJ2+ features also make appearances: big flickering lights and fast warps for the doorways and dialogue sequences. Oddly some conversations use standard text events instead of the custom dialogue system… perfectly serviceable but less consistent.
The other half of the episode are the three or so levels of JJ2 gameplay, specifically the kind of JJ2 gameplay that thinks trigger crates (and occasionally trigger zones) are the best thing ever. There are also still some nods to storytelling in the more gameplay-oriented portion of the pack, with transitional areas between tilesets, but at this point it’s mostly about finding ways to head to the right side of the level by hitting this or that trigger crate and then figuring out what path it opened up.
Trigger crates do make up a lot of the level design, but not in a terrible way, and really the level design in general is pretty good, even if I did seem to find a couple sequence breaking moments. It’s much more in the style of custom JJ2 levels than official JJ2 levels but still acquits itself well, even if it does lean maybe a little too heavily toward enemies that are very hard to see. Not a lot of walking enemies to be found here. There’s pickup variety, some swinging platforms, some good spike placement. Areas with different graphics use somewhat different styles of layout, contributing to the feeling of these levels taking place in real locations, which is always useful for a story-based episode. I don’t remember playing any good float-sucker-buttstomping sequences recently, and this episode delivers a couple of them.
What I don’t quite get is why the two halves—the story and the gameplay—are mostly so separate. Multiple j2l files are devoted at the start to introducing the player to the systems for entering buildings, having conversations, and so on, but the plot is actually quite minimal and all those things disappear completely the moment you start shooting enemies. Why aren’t there NPCs to talk to in the gameplay levels too? What was the point of making something so innovative (if still a bit unpolished) at the start if it doesn’t end up being important?
I’m glad to see this is only a first episode. It’s generally perfectly enjoyable to play, even if its level design does mostly fall into familiar patterns from other custom JJ2 maps, but there’s room for it to grow as well, as it becomes more comfortable with its innovations, more willing to play around with them, and more invested in art quality. There’s still room for Faded Story to become the next Demon Invasion.
The level is a bit empty of interactivity toward the start, and I don’t think Devan was necessary, but otherwise I’ve got nothing to complain about here… the eyecandy is solid and the gameplay is great. The pathways tend to be just narrow enough to invoke the feeling of being in a (jungle) cave but not so narrow that they become uncomfortable. There’s a lot of variation in stuff to do, in particular the rolling rocks that are executed incredibly well: you know they’re coming and they land where they’re supposed to land and they’re minor inconveniences in-between. You’re forever changing direction as you navigate the level and it feels very nice and organic. Sometimes there are some interesting jumps. Secret areas tend to be fairly rewarding and not very hard to find, which is a combination that leads to a good feeling of fun. A lot of mileage comes from hollow logs, often in combination with sucker tube events, and they give the level a memorable uniqueness without ever venturing into being overused. The tileset is used to pretty much its full effect and there are a number of spots where there’s a tree or a some platforms or something to make sure the level never spends too long on one thing. A fine example of pure JJ2 leveling.
I… I guess? Ultimately this is a puzzle level masquerading as a quick prank. The presentation is rather bare-bones but there’s a bit of thinking to do anyway. Sort of a very low budget somnium. Winning kills you, always a sign of a good level.
The problem with this map is that it’s thirty seconds long. It’s incredibly easy to jump over every obstacle without even noticing them, and there’s no reason not to. You did make an effort to vary things with slopes and pillars, and the start area is neat, but there’s no getting over the fact that everything can be gotten over.
This level is ambitious! Not only does it blend a bunch of sets into one, it even adds some cute details like snowy roofs, snowman portraits, giant sewer shells, and toilets(?). The palette does visibly suffer in places, but I’m willing to forgive that from someone who’s not necessarily an experienced pixeler. The warps inside the giant labrat bubbles are also pretty cute and are pure style with no concern for necessity. Places where tilesets mix together, particularly the houses, tend to be pretty interesting, and the layout makes an effort to keep you on your toes by constantly changing direction.
And yet… besides the witch at the start, there’s not really a lot going on here in terms of gameplay. There’s a long path toward the start that’s totally optional and loops back to around where it began, and you have roughly a 50-50 chance of deciding to visit it. After that the level starts resembling nothing more than someone playing Snake and desperately trying to avoid hitting themselves, with the path doing its best to take up every inch of available space, including a surprising number of flat horizontal lines. There’s very little to interact with besides vines and enemies. Despite constant attempts to vary things up a little with the eyecandy (and even those could be more psychedelic: tilesets mostly stick together and are bordered by straight lines, you don’t see a lot of stuff blending together organically) there’s just not a lot that really stands out as you play. It’s ambitious, like I said, but there’s a lack of elegance to go with that.
Reviewing tests is inherently difficult because people’s skill levels vary so dramatically, but when a test claims to be “Easy” in the title and is so clearly not, some annoyance is warranted. Individual parts are too long and have no clear theme. The prostitution reference is tasteless. There’s no single player start position. Eyecandy’s okay.
A vehemently multilinear level from Slaz… the layout is less of a path than a playground, many of the branches too short to be considered branches at all. The universal idea of Head Right To Win keeps things surprisingly understandable, though, as I never had any trouble figuring out how to advance the level after I’d finished harvesting all the items in whatever area I was in. Sometimes it takes a little work to get back to the start of another alternate path, sometimes it’s very quick, depending mostly on how much verticality is involved.
In typical Slaz fashion, the walls are packed with little alcoves covered in layer 3 containing this or that extra pickup. Sometimes, especially toward the start of the map, the pickups advertise their presence by being in bigger and visible areas that you need to find the right tunnel into, but there are also plenty of times you just have to know to check every wall (and sometimes ceiling). In my experience, the openings to the more visible secrets tended to be exactly where I’d expect them to be, so I didn’t have to come at the same area from three different walls before finally getting in. None of this is especially innovative, of course—it’s sort of the most basic possible type of secret—but it’s so plentiful that it’s hard not to have a good time exploring absolutely everywhere.
The level distinguishes itself more by its frequent use of scenery blocks… all the main types are present, even speed blocks, though Slaz wisely (or possibly due to the limitations of the tileset) chooses not to bother with any weapon-specific blocks. Sometimes there are blocks for blocks’ sake, because shooting blocks is simple fun, and other times they play a more significant role in the level’s layout. Here the level stumbles a little bit… a trick used frequently is to put a crate or two on top of some destruct blocks, with the idea being that the player will shoot the blocks in order to open the crates. However, usually (unless maybe if playing as Lori) it’s easy to get to the crate without bothering with the blocks at all, which is particularly odd if the crate contains a green spring. This may be partially a result of the layout seeming a little more open and less claustrophobic than some of Slaz’s previous maps, though I also wonder if the crates may have been originally planned to be the gift boxes from the HH17/HH18 packs, which open only upon falling.
Other elements are pretty ordinary for a JJ2 level. Ammo is plentiful, powerups are easy to get, and enemies are not generally placed to poise any real threat. There’s a bit at the end that looks like a house with a chimney, but otherwise eyecandy is more or less what you’d expect from a basic tileset like this one, with no issues but nothing memorable/innovative. Most praiseworthy are the hand obstacles… the level is unscripted, so they can’t be shot, but the delay in their animations between appearances is so short that they’re nearly impossible to miss, When I did get hit by one, it felt like my own fault, not the inevitable consequence of a nasty design.
No I did NOT enjoy. It was a good test but damn it tested my patience and my anger management. I’d play this if each jump had a checkpoint lol XD
Also it’s missing music :(
It’s horrible. I can see Ðx was very lazy here, but I believe his intention was to make a challenging level instead of a good-looking one.
Wicked! Very bad! This level is somehow not intuïtively to play, because you get stuck in random spots and the invisible floors/walls and the sucker tubes are annoying as well. It’s not fun.
The flow is stupendous!
The music choice is very good, I love the music so I give you +2 points for that.
Overall: Not recommended.
This level manages to stay relatively true to a traditional JJ2 single player level while introducing plenty of new twists on top of it. There are the usual enemies (with a black coat of paint), coins and gems (ehh skulls) to collect, and crates to stomp in order to progress. On the other hand there are sticky swinging platforms on rails, black blobs a.k.a. void that hurts you, rewarding praying spots, bombs that make the ground act like a springcord, and more.
Overall the level design is linear with some secrets and small detours here and there. Not very difficult but enough challenge to keep you alert at all times. The environmental hazards are definitely going to hit you more than the enemies. Especially those blobs placed right above springs were tedious to avoid with proper timing.
The aesthetics stand out with visual props everywhere. The repetitive music is not really a problem since this level took me just a bit longer to complete than the original JJ2 levels.
I did experience some FPS drops to around 15 – 20 in a few places when a lot of void blobs were on the screen at once. Different computers and OSes perform better or worse, but it shows that scripted levels can be CPU heavy at times!
And at last, the boss is original in that it doesn’t have it’s head as the weak spot. Video games quickly make you learn that heads are what you’d hit for the biggest damage. Not here! It’s innovative and makes you use different parts of your brain to beat it. Also, it’s weak spot is also it’s safe spot at times.
Thanks for reading this drunk nighttime review, now go and play this!
Good level design, good mechanics, good aesthetics (if you like pastel goth, that is), good final boss. If you’re into JJ2 Single Player levels, this is a must-play.
That’s a really cool edit of my sets. Really, I absolutely love how you used the mountain from my roller coaster set as a way to add a more rich and detailed background, making it look like you progressed further into the island. And the sunset is gorgeous. Thumbs up.
I wish I could download and try the level but my new computer doesn’t even have a slot for the good old Jazz 2 disc. So I can only comment on the screenshots unfortunately.
Also I don’t know the official site policy on editing sets, but anyone reading this comment has my full permission to update and change my sets as they please.
Really fantastic use of one of my favourite tilesets!
Also, pretty fun layout, particularly a fan of the right-hand side.
Definitely suited for higher numbers of players.
+ Visually decent in the night version
+ Good selection of weapons and powerups
- Fairly quirky flow, hard to move in smoothly – The vines at the top of the level are mostly on the way, rather than adding more gameplay depth – The buffer tubes and spawn positions are quite evil, it takes a long time to attack the enemy base after dying – The lower levels feel too cramped and it’s easy to hit the ceiling while moving – Some things are a bit unintuitive, such as the floor below the bases which is not one way
/ Seems to be playable in 2v2 and 3v3, but 3v3 might get a bit cramped
/ The day version might be a bit harsh to the eye, the night version works better
From contest feedback:
+ Fairly original and inspiring level theme
+ Original choice of weapons
+ Generally solid layout with lots of potential if some improvements were made
- The big white blinking clock in the middle of the level is quite harsh to the eye, even if visually original, it could be less distractive – Some things like the vines blend too much with the level primary colors, makes them hard to see – Powered up roller weapon seems a bit overpowered in this map, it’s flying around literally everywhere – The tiles could be used better in the sprite layer, looks a bit dull visually
/ Playable only in 3v3 apparently
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.