So I thought I’d return Slaz the favor and do a quick review of his level in return.
This level offers very enjoyable vanilla experience. It has a good pace and balanced gameplay with slight difficulty spike towards the end. I managed to get through on Normal with 1 life lost and no saving. Tileset was well used (especially for such a limited one) and overall it was pretty to look at. Additional falling lava tiles gave it the right eyecandy polish it needed. Also well placed and just right amount of goodies and enemies. There are no scripts obviously, but it still manages to do quite a few original things, like when you have to shoot the block by bouncer through tight crevice for metal crate on top of it to fall down and get destroyed by generating TNT event. Also plus points for humor.
Now to few things I didn’t like. One of them was a long lava section on the bottom right of the map, which was kinda hard. I got lucky and got a sugar rush right before it on my second life, but otherwise it could’ve been a bit annoying. I understand it’s important for pacing to mix easy and fast sections with difficult ones that require more careful approach, but I think at least one more carrot along the way (on normal) wouldn’t hurt.
Also the final “boss”. What was the point of that? I mean, even in vanilla, we have ways how to make him work in a way of chase challege, like EvilMike did. If you want to provide a classic boss room fight, wouldn’t it be better to pick one of the working bosses instead? I kinda imagined he was there for story reasons, like, to steal the ring again from you after you went through all that trouble to bring it back, but there wasn’t any text before, nor after, the fight to confirm this.
To conclude, as I didn’t really find anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t mind giving this a full rating, but I’ll substract a point for a boss, lack of originality and for maybe being a little too short. If you want to play something new and unique that would stand to today’s plussified standards, you should probably look somewhere else. But if you’re looking for a quick SP vanilla fix, this is just perfect.
Because this level pack is quite lengthy and levels vary in quality, I’ve decided to review each level separately. On the other hand, I didn’t separate it further into gameplay/eyecandy etc. categories as I wouldn’t have all that much to say about each of them in every level. Let’s get to it.
Down the Rabbit-Hole
By far the least enjoyable level of the pack, at least for me. I admit I’m not huge fan of puzzle games or mods, however I can appreciate them if they’re done right. Making puzzle game requires more effort than any other type of game, level and puzzle design have many rules a level designer has to adhere to to make level enjoyable, not confusing and not too much or too little difficult.
This level feels more like a maze then a puzzle, there are series of switches throughout the level, but in 90% of cases no indication whatsoever what they switched. This may not be a problem with smaller scale puzzles but in levels this big, it gets very confusing very soon. There are also many hidden places, again with no clue for the player. This is ok if you’re making a secret but not if the hidden path is imperative for progressing further.
There is very little eyecandy here but that is rather tileset’s fault, otherwise it’s quite pretty and I like that author tried to distinguish certain areas by color so they wouldn’t blend so much.
I have to admit I didn’t have the patience to finish this level in the end, and that even with frequent consulting the source map in jcs (due to high amount of switches and warps I still couldn’t figure out what to do next). However you’re given warning at the start that it’s only for patient people and also you’re given an option to skip it entirely at the start of the pack, so I won’t include it into final verdict.
This is where the fun starts. This level is very cramped place with some really tight spaces to go through. Sometimes you’ll block your way with a box or something and have to go around and also your maneuvering is limited so you have to be more careful in fights. Fencer and bat enemies are well chosen for this. Bats are very annoying as they are blending completely with purple background but I guess that was the point. Graphics are a bit boring sometimes with nothing in foreground or background layers and repetitive tiles but that’s more because of tileset’s limitations than anything else.
One of the better ones. Very nice looking level, despite ever present pink goo. Author makes a good use of tileset’s assets in all layers considering how limited it is.
The level is kind of mazey, you have to collect coins and destroy bunch of crates spread throughout the level to progress further. As with DtRH, there’s little indication about what crate opens what and navigation here may get confusing due to little variability in graphics but the level is not that large, so backtracking isn’t such a big issue. Also I think that due to some bug a few enemies reappeared in my playthrough at certain points, which made backtracking much less dull than it would otherwise be (they were not generating events, I checked in jcs).
This level is kind of forgettable due to being one of the few with classic tilesets. The best thing here is pacing, there’s lot of enemies, goodies and weapons everywhere, so it plays good even if it drags for a bit longer than necessary.
Carrot walls at the end are annoying, I missed one crate and had to backtrack good half of the level to open the wall and get to the boss (and of course there are no clues about crates locations).
The boss is well done, Schwarzenguards are usually a good way how to make easier bosses more challenging and requiring more maneuvering without making them super tough.
Not very long and very well paced level. There are some puzzle elements here and there but less than in previous levels. It is more linear and more centered on combat, there’s little backtracking here. Also music works well in combination with ambient lighting and chosen tileset, the final result is quite atmospheric and it makes the level feel somewhat epic. Definitely one my most favorite levels here.
Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen
This is a strange one. My first reaction was it’s downright ugly, but that is again because of limited tileset.
This is very linear and short left-to-right flying level. When I think about it, the tileset is actually well chosen with this concept in mind (or other way around). It feels more like a quick intermission bonus area. Also the checker pattern on walls in combination with flying and forest and mountains in background kind of reminded me of Harry Potter quidditch scenes, which is a neat touch.
The only problem I had with this is the animated mountains background which just looks weird, I think the tileset wasn’t designed with this in mind.
Very nice looking level, author makes a good use of all layers here. The music is well chosen, together with foxes and cottages it gives the level kind of laidback atmosphere, like a sleepy winter refuge deep in the mountains. There is a bit backtracking and sometimes I wasn’t sure where to go due to many branching paths, but nothing really difficult.
One notable thing here are reappearing smoke ring events which could get quite annoying as they are pretty much invisible with white/blue everywhere. But they make the level a bit more interesting so it’s not all bad.
The Boss here depends on whether you’re using fireball kick trick or not, I can imagine it could be quite difficult without it, especially with smoke rings flying around. At this point I was already packed with weapons and fast fires and spammed him with RF missiles, so I can’t really tell.
It was my first time seeing this tileset used in a level and I think it is utilized quite well despite its limitations. It can get quite boring (the tileset) after a while but there’s lot of pipes in all direction and enemies in them, some of them hidden, to keep your attention. Otherwise nothing much to say about this one.
The boss is well made here with a low ceiling and some reappearing rats at the back. It could have provided a good challenge haven’t I spammed him like the previous one.
Again a very good use of tileset here, especially the sand. The platforming sections with disappearing blocks, elevators and moving spikes provide for a nice change of pace, even though they can get quite frustrating. I liked the fact that there is always one stable block you can stand on and calm down before continuing further (or save you game). The bad thing is that there isn’t any pattern in these disappearing blocks so jumping around them is kind of a guessing game. In my opinion it’s better when all blocks have animation of same length so you can learn their pattern while retrying.
Not very memorable level. Diamondus gets old fast and bees and turtles are as annoying as ever. Inclusion of crabs and Uterus boss and those magic mushrooms is a nice touch though, it kind of give it this feeling of ‘something isn’t right here’, like in Dreamscape. But otherwise quite forgettable level.
Definitely one of the most original levels here. As if drowned castle and frog morph wasn’t enough, there’re also pinball bumps and paddles thrown into the mix, which allow for some interesting platforming when you jump from below the paddle to get some speed. As you cannot fight it’s quite short and linear, you’ll run past most enemies (mostly fish) as fast as you can before they’ll even notice you.
The only problem I had here is with the last two consecutive paddles, which seemed impossible to me and I had to resort to cheats in the end to get past them.
Quite memorable level, for good and bad reasons alike. On one hand there are some unique ideas here like shafts where you have to look for a draft wind to go up, on the other end there are problems like hidden crates in the sand you have no chance of noticing unless you pay super attention. I also didn’t like the use of a tileset very much, it could use a little bit more variety, especially with yellow bricks in layer 4. I’m not talking about foreground/background eyecandy here, as I know Egypt Cave tileset doesn’t really have any.
What I like on the other hand is the boss here which was pretty much the most challenging for me. The good thing about Queen is that you can’t spam her, so you have to beat her in a traditional way. Reappearing dragonflies in the walls proved to be quite a challenge, you have to shoot the queen and be prepared to move away each time she stomps or you’ll see a sparkle in the darkness indicating a dragonfly generation. Also they dragonflies are placed in a way that you can kill them with ricocheting bullets from the shield with the right timing. Great work on this one.
This is a linear rocket turtle chase level. The idea here is that you’ll chase him towards the end where he gets stuck in the wall and you finish the level by Area End Level event. This is a neat idea though the problem is, you don’t have to do anything to trap him in the wall, he’ll always go there. So at my first playthrough I didn’t even know I’m supposed to chase him, I just let him go and played through the level at my own leisure. I still enjoyed the level even then though. The level is beautiful and together with calm music it gives pleasantly serene atmosphere. Normally there’s supposed to be boss music playing but due to some loading error it skipped back to standard level music so I kinda enjoyed the level in a way I wasn’t supposed to.
I guess to make one play this level in a way it was intended, some angelscript would be needed to kill the player or close the path for him should he stray too far from the boss. Or have a metal crate at the end of the level that would trigger the wall to entrap the boss, otherwise he would get away – something like that.
Still a neat idea though, also plus points for using blue ghost enemies, they actually kind of fit in here.
Christmas themed Candion level. Good work with the tileset, nothing in background/foregroung layer but it still looks nice due to good looking textured background in layer 8 and solid wall tiles in layer 4. Also pink snow is a nice touch and I liked that candies match the level theme. Otherwise pretty standart level, it is quite linear with no puzzles, but has a good pace.
There’s Xmas Bilsy as a boss but nothing unusual about him either, except one generating floating lizard in a wall in a top right corner. The arena is maybe a little too cramped and complicated for a boss like this, but you can always rush him or use a fireball trick. So nothing too bad.
A really unique hotel level, it’s all just one big house, or several interconnected houses. You’re party crushing a club full of lizards, monkeys, and several tileset characters and your goal is to get to the largest party at the end. There are MANY enemies on the dancefloors and picking them one by one can be quite tiresome. You can just disregard them and go on, or if you absolutely need to kill them, dynamite works great here. The problem is, you have to get quite close and the explosion will probably throw you right at them, hurting you in the process. It would be great to be able to use some bomb weapon you could throw right in the middle of the crowd without risking getting hurt, something like what was used in Tweedle Wheedle level by Bloody_Body.
Still fun though, even as it is. Only issue here was an atrocious red/yellow/blue tapestry backgroung in some rooms which just burns my eyes, but that’s the tileset’s fault, not creator’s.
A really cool train level made in dark industrial WTF – Deadly tileset. It’s very linear with no puzzles and little platforming due to no verticality, you’re just traversing a train from left to the right. At the start you’ll get a Chuck bird who’s gonna be great help in a cramped train car corridors if you’re careful and won’t lose him.
It’s just pity the creator didn’t feel need to make a real wheels for train cars which would make it look even cooler, but I understand that making tileset adjustments can be quite time consuming.
I always liked rainforest tileset in JJ1 and its JJ2 conversion is absolutely gorgeous. It’s good that creator realizes this and have tries to utilize it to its full extent. There’s lush jungle in the background, leaves and vines in the foregroung and even raindrops in layer 1 which finalize the deal. Monkey and Dragonfly enemies feel of course right at home here. Just beautiful.
The whole level is very vertical, you’re moving up all the time and it feels like one big treehouse with interconnected bridges and platforms. It all looks very complicated, what with all those overlapping vines and leaves, but it’s in fact quite linear for most part.
There is a Schwarzenguard boss at the end with one additional one at bottom as a support. He’s standing on top of a tree and you have to jump on the spring to ba able to shoot him while evading attacks from both of them. Fun stuff.
The only bad thing here is Diamondus music. I’m sick of that stuff.
Very cool, even if a bit too long level. Good work with the tileset, there’s nothing in foreground but it still looks pretty well. There’s giant ground mass slowly moving through the air in a background layer and rocks with structures and toxic waste pouring machinery sticking from them here and there in layer 4, together with well picked music it all gives a feeling of this dangerous alien planet in a post apocalyptic state with mutants (in form of Tuff Turtles and Fat Chicks) and monkeys all over the place.
There’s a lot of platforming here based around the idea that you cannot fall down as there is sludge lake at the bottom. Thankfully it doesn’t instakill you but instead warps you back to the start or the last checkpoint. Later half of the level is all about making it across big gaps on lizard copters while evading enemies along the way. It may be quite hard, though definitely not impossible. You also get as many tries as you need as long as you don’t bump into enemies too often. It’s a nice challenge well befitting the endgame towards which you’re getting close.
The last level, and damn, it sure feels like it. This level got the most attention in terms of atmosphere. JJ2 Hell levels look like a friggin’ paradise compared to this hellhole. There’s lava everywhere, hooks, pentagrams, your copies on hover boards confusing you when you touch them, everything bubbling and flashing and exploding and ominous sound playing in the background… It’s a mess and you have to get through somehow.
The level is very short though, it’s basically just prolonged boss room. The idea here is that you have to go to these pentagram blocks which open a way further and warp you at the beginning at the same time. Then you have to repeat the level towards the next block until you get to the boss (all enemies are of course reappearing). It feels like you’re opening these seals one after another and slowly working your way towards the master of hell itself.
The final arena with Devil Devan is well made, it’s big and you have a lot of room to maneuver around. You can get to the top parts on hooks but it can be quite difficult while fighting him and you may just want to stay on the ground instead and fight him there, which means the whole potential of the arena is kind of wasted. There’s also lot of reappearing ravens everywhere which can often kill you more efficiently than Devan himself. Maybe redoing the arena so there would be less of careful jumping and platforming and removing some of these Ravens (or setting them on hard) would make final fight slightly more enjoyable. Being as it is, spamming Devan with RF Missiles seemed like the best solution.
I really enjoyed this pack. Most of its flaws are lack of eyecandy, especially in foreground and background layers and sometimes maybe sticking too close to traditional gameplay – a little angelscript here and there would be nice, even if copied from other levels. However I have to give a credit to creator for having a courage to work with custom assets, many of which are not very easy to use in big single player levels.
Most of the levels play very fluently and it seems the author has a good understanding of balanced level design and pacing in traditional JJ2 platforming. Placement of enemies and goodies is usually spot on and there are plenty of weapons and carrots all around so you don’t have to play extra carefully for fear of getting hurt. The author doesn’t experiment too much but for what he’s trying to accomplish, he’s doing well. Now if only he’d understand puzzle design so well…
Final verdict: 7.5
I’m not much for full reviews, so just shortly – I really enjoyed playing this, even though it’s so much different from other levels. It’s a testimony to what can be done with jcs. If you’ll play this with open mind and appreciate what it’s trying to accomplish (more realistic story and level design), you’ll enjoy this a lot!
Pretty much must have. Well done.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.