Any new Single Player levels 20 years after the release of Jazz Jackrabbit 2 are great news. Even more unique is when you get a release so big, it ranks among the biggest Single Player mission packs ever.
However, big is rarely equal to better, and this release is a great example of that. Mystery of the Four Artifacts contains more than 28 missions, and 50 different levels, but the vast majority of it is repetitive and cliched.
The story hits the same old tropes—Jazz and Eva are married, but Devan has escaped, and now Jazz must once again go back in time to serve justice. This time Jazz and Eva’s daughter has been murdered by the turtleous goon, but this element is just a poor hare’s McGuffin. Anyway, the story is rarely the reason why one plays JJ2, so cliche doesn’t bring down the quality of the levels—but it doesn’t help either. Still, the character of Bonus, Merlin’s ward, is quite original and refreshing.
Most of the missions revolve around finding numerous trigger crates/areas/coins, and unlocking subsequent sections of the level. Unfortunately, this gets tedious over that many levels, and has been overdone to death even before the release of this mission pack.
The same old enemies have been used, with adequate placement that doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The gameplay is way too easy, except when it is not—and when it is not, it provides no challenge but plenty of frustration. Some of the enemies respawn far too quickly, some of the choke points require pixel hunting, and some of the obstacles are way too annoying. Every time I finished one of those difficult sections, I didn’t feel satisfaction but relief—relief that the boring part of the level is over.
There isn’t any proper direction in most of the levels, feeling more like an aimless maze than a puzzle or a platformer. I spent more time trying to find my way than actually playing this level pack.
The boss fights don’t seem to have any resemblance of a pattern. The perfect example is the final boss fight against Devan Shell, in which you battle the evil turtle in a really small room, with no platforms or hiding spots. To make it worse, Tuff Turtles randomly spawn on top of you, and no Carrots appear, even on Easy.
Still, there are some nice moments that feel original and inspired. 12 years later, chandie hasn’t lost his touch for Frog-centric levels, and the small section where you get to play as the Frog feels just right.
There aren’t any awful or unplayable sections in those levels either, so don’t expect any glaring shifts in level design that just don’t make sense. There’s plenty of jump and gunning to do, the problem is that it is too much and too repetitive.
EYECANDY AND MUSIC
Where the gameplay falters, the eyecandy glaringly succeeds. The main advantage of Mystery of the Four Artifacts is its custom-made tileset conversions, each of which blends several classic tilesets with new and edited tiles, as well as an edited Palette, to provide for environments that simultaneously feel completely new and pleasantly familiar. Tibet, the Arabic world, the Aztec Empire, and more are beautifully represented in a true-to-Jazz-Jackrabbit style. I hope those tilesets get used in the future for new Single and Multiplayer levels.
What chandie did with those tilesets is impressive as well. The eyecandy isn’t too obvious and doesn’t distract from the gameplay, but feels natural. The music included in the pack has also been properly picked to complement the atmosphere without distracting.
While the gameplay is repetitive and uninspired, the new environments provide great eyecandy that is worth experiencing. There are no strictly awful sections in this mission pack, but one can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be far more enjoyable if it was 70% smaller.
Woah! Three single-player levels in a row! As one of the last few rabbits who play single player elusively, I am thrilled to see there is somebody who’s still willing to make levels for us. Although Apple Surprise is far of the quality of some of the single-player packs on J20, the sheer fact that it exists means it deserves a review.
Apple Surprise is based on a quite simple but interesting premise—every time you encounter an apple in the level, something dangerous lurks near. Most of the times the ground beneath your feet is about to collapse, although sometimes the apple warns you the next few steps you make might inevitably hurt you. Since this is a single level only, I cannot judge it like an episode; still, the apple-danger theme runs consistent throughout the level, and makes the experience coherent.
EYECANDY & TILESET CHOICE:
It is 2016 and there are plenty of great tilesets and tileset conversions on J2O. Of all the original tilesets, Carrotus is the one I feel most overused to the point where it’s boring to play it. This might be a personal preference of mine, but I still feel it is best to encourage the use of other tilesets. There were also quite a lot tilebugs throughout the level, although nothing experience-breaking. Most of the times, the eyecandy felt dull and repetitive; in my book this is unavoidable due to the use of classic Carrotus tileset.
Using a tileset conversion of Carrotus would raise the score in this category.
LEVEL DESIGN & FLOW:
The level utilises a lot of warp points, and uses them well, even better than some of the great levels on J2O. However, at times I felt lost and disoriented, and simple instructions might have improved my experience. If the author intended those moments to be like “puzzles” of sort, the implementation wasn’t great—those moments didn’t make me think, but jump around rapidly, trying to find the secret “hidden passage” to the next part of the level.
I also had to replay the level once for what I assume was a triggering mistake; I might’ve missed a required step to which I couldn’t go back, and thus I couldn’t move forward as well. However, this might have been due to a mistake on my end, so I won’t take points for this.
Hanif went for a strictly vanilla gameplay, which still has unexpected twists and turns. The difficulty isn’t too high and the level is suitable for somebody who hasn’t played in years, or with very little experience in the game. Still, the game play is quite enjoyable, even when accounting for all the flaws. Might be the fact that there are not many new single-player levels, yet still I found myself entertained at the end, and even glad I downloaded this level.
There is no AS for this level. It’s not required for every level to implement JJ2+ functionality, but I believe this level can greatly benefit from some scripting, even if it is used only for eyecandy enhancement.
Every new single player level deserves at least +1 point for just existing, and this level is good enough to get a second one! So here it goes, 2 bonus points for still making levels for us, single player rabbits! Thank you!
While Apple Surprise is far from perfect, if you enjoy playing single-player levels, I suggest you download it and try it out. It might disappoint you, but it is far from awful, and it presents some new thematic ideas which I haven’t seen in another single-player level.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.