Over the years JJ2 has seen an explosion of multiplayer gamemodes. Sch wizards as BlurredD and EvilMike wove together arcane contraptions of sucker tubes and trigger scenery to create levels that, even when played in vanilla JJ2, still followed the scoring rules of Team Battle or Last Rabbit Standing or the like. JJ2+ canonized these, and others with more complicated rulesets, from Pestilence to Headhunters. Mutators expanded the playing field still further. But somewhat lost in all this was the idea of single player gamemodes.
In general there have only ever been two goals in single player levels: either get to the exit (which may involve a boss battle), or collect all items (usually coins). Within collecting levels there are two subtypes, one where collecting everything makes you win immediately and one where you have to go to a specific place afterwards, but they’re largely the same thing.
But there’s a third mode that’s lurked around the edges, only making an appearance every once in a while: horde mode. The level design stays constant, but enemies keep appearing, and either they die or you do. A major example is TDI_07.j2l from Moonblaze’s “The Demon Invasion,” where a regenerating coin and an invisible coin warp serve as a countdown timer. hgfDiamondusColosseum.j2l from happygreenfrog’s “Operation Cleanup: Turtle Terror Revisited” uses scripting to implement an enemy quota, so the level will not end until you’ve killed enough (regenerating) enemies. Both make the assumption there must be some sort of measurable goal that the game itself keeps track of for you, or else why would you bother?
The Lapidarian Chaparral says screw that noise.
The Lapidarian Chaparral decides that you, the player, are in charge of keeping track of how well you’ve done and whether you’ve accomplished whatever goal you might choose to set for yourself. It demands you make up your own emergent gameplay. It puts itself in your hands as clay to be molded into whatever experience you prefer. It is single player by way of sandbox. It is, in a way, a metaphor for JJ2 and JCS as a whole.
Sure, with some work Lark could probably piece together a complicated system of a generating coin, an electro-blaster SCE, and various belts, animated tiles, bridges, and so on, that periodically dropped a coin into a pseudo-random spot in the level, so that you have to keep moving around to find the next coin. It would be pretty cool. But there’s a boldness to giving up on that altogether as irrelevant.
Sure, the concept still has some limitations as implemented. In the current version of JJ2+, regenerating enemies and pickups don’t give points, but pickups spawned from regenerating barrels do, so if score is your goal, you should focus there. Sure, certain areas are purely safe, so if your goal is actually to set a stopwatch and see how long you can last, you’re just gonna hang out next to a carrot and walk away from your computer. But does Lark really want you to do that? More importantly, do you really want to do that? Or do you want to blast turtles?
Anyway. Cool to see Jungrock. Level looks nice. Didn’t notice any bugs.
Gosh. Lark. Long time, kid. Thanks for dropping by. Happy new year.
Ah, I missed this one when I was doing my Psych3-edits tour the other day! This has some good moments with warps but doesn’t always do a great job of trying to impose layout edits. I miss the fly carrot but reluctantly accept the float sucker stomp sequence is also neat. Definitely on the more interesting side of the genre, though imperfect.
A decently lengthy pack with highs and lows. The highs show up more toward the end, so you leave with a good memory, but it takes some work to get there. I like the original, memorable sequences like the airboard level, the frog level, the fun and colorful rainforest level—I’m less into the trigger crate chasing, and there’s a lot of it.
I think Turtemple sounds good with these instruments, very ominous. The others fall into the standard remix trap: a bunch of random noises but every once in a while you get to hear the melody of the original song and think “oh yeah I like that original song!”
A bunch of duel-sized, high-concept CTF levels of varying quality. The pack starts off strong with krcage, which has some interesting gameplay around the carrots, with vines and electroblasters. The bottom area is a bit too simple, though, and the double vine rows could probably be reduced to single vines to make the level play a little faster. krdeep also has a focus on two +1 carrots instead of one full energy, this time paired with copters, but the rest of the level is too difficult to parse visually, and Spaz can get up the central castle much faster than the other characters. krlz I’m not a fan of, only Spaz can get up the central column in any reasonable timeframe and the rest of the level is blocky and hard to see in. There are other CTF maps that do this diamond layout more gracefully. krnj is a bold attempt to make a vertical CTF level, but I’m not convinced it’s any more successful than most others, since there’s nothing to keep you from falling down from one base to the other. Also I asked my brother, who lives in New Jersey, about its accuracy, and he says “Seems a little desolate for the most densely populated state!” krsand seems fine to me, I could imagine giving it a little more polish in certain spots but the basic layout is totally functional and enjoyable. krvolc is a letdown though, the bases are so incredibly close together I don’t see how this ends up playing well.
In conclusion, some of these levels are better than others, but it’s not a bad effort, and I like getting more bite-sized maps out there for quicker games.
Ah, 2015! A heady time full of promise. Let’s look at the angelscript API and see what it can do for a single player level. Different palettes at different stages of the level? Absolutely! Enemies with more health, other sprites used as enemies, other sprites used as (unremarkable) weapons. Sure! Totally sick fire-breathing platforms moving in all directions! Anything seemed possible. People were building on JJ2 gameplay to add exciting new elements to dazzle and amaze and entertain.
Tweedle Wheedle is not without bugs, I suppose, and the eponymous boss battle is frustrating as all Tweedle fights seem to be, and the layout occasionally gets confusing, but it’s unrelentingly cool. And even without all the scripting stuff the layout is still really good, doing interesting things with the psych3 base, then adding lots of really distinctive design elements to the rest of the level. Just a fun time throughout.
This is a good glow-up! It’s striking how much of a difference the fade color and the foreground layers make, and the intro area from psych3 has a lot of cool edits with pickups off to the side and stuff. Using a Cheshire2 is very smart—surprisingly few psych3 edits seem to do this—though I don’t understand why the fly carrot was removed here, as it was the original’s most distinctive feature. The spring section that replaces it is pretty cool, though. The rest of the layout is also generally good and fun with some fun takes on Psych wall shapes, albeit with the occasional dud moment (everything relating to TNT, some alcoves it’s easy to get stuck in). This isn’t a transformational take on JJ2 gameplay but there’s a lot of aww yeah neat. A great take on psych3.
Pretty much the most bare bones Psych3 edit you can imagine. A handful of enemies, almost no pickups, no layout changes. Functional but uninteresting.
I’m not thrilled with the secret level entrances, particularly the Tubelectric one, but I guess they’re not horribly out of line with existing JJ2 secrets… if this were really part of the game, eventually players would have found them over a period of months or whatever. Still, more visual cues would have been nice I think. But whatever that’s not the focus here.
Far Out is actually pretty good in terms of new event placement while sticking to the existing psych3 level. There’s a decent variety of pickups and enemies, and the little pipe organs on the platforms after the warp target are a good touch that make that area much more interesting to navigate. The new parts of the layout kind of lose me, though. The idea of warping through a bunch of little rooms (kind of like in Medivo1) is nice but eventually I got tired of hunting for trigger crates, and there are too many invisible warps and weird blocks that need to be destroyed or removed in unpredictable ways.
The other, all-new level here, though, Pinball Land, I actually really liked. Toward the end it gets annoying in the part when you track down four trigger crates behind lots of layer3 and stuff, but the rest of the level is I think a really good take on a Tubelectric secret level. There are clever pinball tables, and crucially, they’re not all at once, they appear from time to time within the level so they don’t get stale. There are spike platforms, one of Tubelectric’s other main unique features. Goodies feel fairly plentiful and the graphics are nice and varied. This is a nice one.
The way to access Far Out is a neat idea… if you find a secret earlier in the level, you get an alternate ending at the end of the level. It’s an understandable way to attempt to get the mid-level secret level experience while not knowing how to fix vanilla JJ2’s treatment of secret level area (it’s possible but takes some setup). The implementation has issues, though: the tiling at the end is pretty dubious, and more importantly, nobody’s going to find the trigger crate without knowing to look for it. If you find an area totally covered in layer 3 with no goodies in it, you’re not going to think “oh, I should stomp everywhere in case there’s a trigger crate.” And even if you do stomp it, there are no nearby effects, so there’s no way for the player to know what happened or why the secret level entrance is/isn’t open. Finally, this is a level with a bouncer powerup, and it’s trivial to shoot those bouncers through the trigger scenery events and hit the secret level signpost that way.
I couldn’t actually figure out how to get to the Tubelectric and Labrat secret levels in these edited versions. :?
Anyway, the main attractions here are the secret levels themselves, and they’re not great. “Shocking Experience” is just an extra (non-thematic) boss fight—is that really a good reward for finding a secret? And while this version of Far Out makes a good decision by using a unique palette, like Return of Birdland does, there’s not much to recommend it past that. It’s ‘finished’ to a pretty minimum extent, with strings of pickups and no other edits, and the foreground layers are a mess that you can barely see through.
The basic idea here is good, but I don’t actually want to play these secret levels, so I don’t want to apply the patch to my official labrat2 and tube1.
There’s not a lot of level design flow here. You kind of wander around, maybe collecting a bunch of goodies, maybe jumping over some enemies, not sure if you’re going the right direction, and suddenly there’s an exit. But what’s interesting about this pack is how much Talec is (already, in 1999) pushing up against the limits of what the game is supposed to support. Frogs, invisible enemies, secret levels, next level settings. (You’re asked repeatedly to use the JJNXT cheat code in order not to break the secret level bool, though in 2022, we know that using other events could have avoided this issue.) And there’s something thematically fitting about the pack’s focus on secret levels in light of how some of those features are kind of secrets within JJ2. The first level is an edit of psych3, an unfinished secret level, if not the most interesting one. There are more pickups, the warp target doesn’t go where I’d expect it go, but nothing truly remarkable. In general the disappointing factor in this pack is that secret levels are never really treated as a reward. Talec learns from Labrat3 that secret levels are supposed to involve turning into a bird, but there aren’t the profusion of goodies you’d expect from a JJ1 secret level. And you need a secret level to have some kind of desirable experience or else the player is actually working to their advantage to skip it, because they save time that way.
I don’t have much to add to Stijn’s solid review. These are good levels for sitting back, tuning out, and playing some JJ2 with nothing else to worry about. I think the Carrotus levels are the weakest, feeling too rectangular and not very organic, but it’s nice to see the float lizard copters getting some use, even if not to the same extent as in The Big Rescue. It’s great that the layouts give you a lot of choices of which directions to go in and have lots of extra goodies just off the main road. There are a lot of uses of buttstomp blocks to mark out goodies just for Jazz or just for Spaz(/Lori), which mostly works well until the level with TNT, at which point they all start to be accessible to either character, and it’s not clear if the pack realizes this. Likewise, powerups and shields frequently appear behind thin walls that can be shot through with electroblasters or bouncers. But the variety of goodies and powerups is a welcome one (even birds and invincibility carrots make appearances), and they help against the enemies, which are fairly numerous but never feel particularly difficult when faced with so much ammo. It’s a good time to play.
abgrenv: this tileset is expected for use in JJ2+, which lets you put traditional skyboxes in any level, so there is no need to include them in the tileset:
jjPIXELMAP skybox(TEXTURE::NORMAL); for (uint x = 0; x < 256; ++x) for (uint y = 0; y < 256; ++y) skybox[x,y] = (skybox[x,y] - 176) / 2 + 192; skybox.makeTexture(); jjTexturedBGUsed = true; jjSetFadeColors();
What I particularly enjoy about this level is the degree to which it has distinct areas. Instead of being constants, elements like giant carrots or snaking vines or wooden platforms will appear in clusters, making those areas memorable and giving the player a feeling of progression. More such focuses keep turning up throughout the experience, including progressively larger cave areas, bigger uses of wooden platforms, and a lategame forest and underwater section. Besides that, there’s a good healthy amount of pickups all through the level, on the main path and in alcoves and in secrets, and enemies are varied even if never particularly dangerous. The layout and graphics do a lot to avoid becoming boring: the floor is constantly rising and falling as you move along, you change directions a lot, there’s some variety in wall thickness (although it would feel more Carrotus-y with some thinner platforms), various bridges and wooden things appear to keep things fresh.
Other than the rock pushing section, at the bottom, though, nothing in the course of the level ever feels unique… which, of course, is totally fine, it just means that the level isn’t transcendent. But I’d like to see more attention paid to how the level can feel distinctly Carrotus/Easter, particularly when using events instead of just stuff the tileset provides. Bird cages would feel at home here, for example. The wooden platforms and floors didn’t always feel great, due to a combination of how thin they are drawn and how inconsistently solidly they were placed (layer 3 vs 4). One area is covered in thorns that don’t hurt you, followed immediately by a small pit of thorns that does hurt you. Speed blocks are used in place of lock blocks. Diagonal carrots only ever sprout from the ceiling. Both(?) powerups can be obtained by shooting bouncers at them instead of using the intended warps.
It’s a good level with good, if never particularly challenging, gameplay, but it lacks a certain identity.
The aurora in layer 8 is quite lovely, but the rest of the level doesn’t charm me as much. The layers of mountains and trees in front of it are dull gray, neither silhouettes in front of the green glow nor illuminated by it. Frosted Peaks does a better job of blending these background colors. The darkest color in the blue grass gradient is still too bright, distractingly so. Electroblaster pickups are common but the layout does not seem designed for them. Barrels and masked trees appear because the tileset has them but mostly don’t seem to contribute to gameplay, instead getting in the way of easy movement. Multiple top right corners of walls can’t be jumped up against because of improper masking (and no One Way events). Most egregiously, innumerable platforms are simply too high up to reach unless playing with a double jump. Several in particular are placed ever so slightly higher than the highest point reached by a spring that appears to be intended to take you there, but, only if you are Spaz. Other springs bump you into ceilings or are hard to find, set not quite flush against the nearest walls. The design process seems to have prioritized graphics (though with some questionable palette choices) above gameplay flow, but both are important. The areas with bridges or vines are generally nice and interesting, but it’s frustrating to get around the rest of the level.
Really liking the continued commitment to tiny level layouts! The visuals are genuinely innovative, and the powerups seemgood. Maybe meteor shouldn’t have so many little rocks? The middle left is interesting for being super defensible (very hard to shoot at) but also containing no carrots or powerups, so the areas of interest get spread around.
Full of dead ends and hard to navigate. Too many pointless crevices. The powerup is hidden behind TWO secret passages, PLUS a coin warp…. or you can shoot it with electroblaster. The level does do a good job of visually distinguishing different areas, though, and the houses look nice even though there’s little incentive to be aboveground.
You have to appreciate a level that knows exactly what it wants to do, and then does it. Lori Fortress has you climbing up from the bottom of the level to the top, sometimes on thin platforms and sometimes in tight caves, optionally collecting a bunch of gems, but mostly dodging the bullets of enemy Loris who move in predictable patterns. That’s it. You couldn’t build an incredibly long level on this formula but it sure works at this length.
I do appreciate that Primpy has followed my lead in how to make a level: grab a bunch of art and/or gameplay mechanics from a totally different video game, stick them into JJ2, and call it art. And as long as something within those grabbed details is somewhat related to a contest theme, that counts. Here, charged with making something Lori-related, Primpy has placed a bunch of enemies using Lori graphics, because Cave Story(+) had a level where you fight some enemies based on its own blonde girl character. You play as Lori too, for extra measure… there are blink-and-you-miss-it dead bodies of Jazz and Spaz at the start of the level, which is kind of morbid, but hey they’re video game characters: they die all the dang time.
Although the level art is ripped directly from Cave Story(+) (and very cleanly done), and the boss behaves somewhat similarly, the level layout is thankfully all original. Gone is the (more memorable) initial part of Wind Fortress, where you try to navigate the bottom of the floating island using brief boost charges, which is very hard as a tiny robot but would probably be very easy as a copter-eared rabbit. Instead you’re climbing and dodging. The level goes back and forth between multilinear bits and bottlenecks, most notably toward the end when you have to find a trigger crate. The actual area with the trigger crate itself is very well done, a tiny loop that avoids excess backtracking and also clearly shows you what trigger crates do (open doors that look just like this). If you’re trying to explore to collect 100 gems you may get a little turned around, sometimes falling down and having to retrace some steps, but if you’re just focused on heading upwards at all times, you should have no trouble navigating.
The Lori enemies originated in my level “Fooball Field,” where they were but one obstacle among many, sparsely placed and usually quite easy to shoot without getting shot by. Here they become of a main event and, appropriately, are much harder to deal with, though rarely in a way that feels unfair. Lori’s kick becomes a good tool against the walking enemies to quickly take them down before they can turn around again. Bullet trajectories are more likely to get in your way instead of being warnings that you maybe shouldn’t go somewhere until killing the enemy. The ammo types provided are also well chosen, including ice: if you can freeze an enemy, the next hit does just enough damage to kill it outright. The boss is kind of a letdown, most of its difficulty coming from enemies sometimes being drawn behind it instead of in front of it, but hey, bosses are hard to make.
This is a level that cares a lot about (a very specific flavor of) gameplay and executes it well, with bonus Lori theming, and eyecandy that never gets in the way. Some of the gem locations are maybe a little too out of the way, but the gem system is entirely optional, so whatever. Nicely done.
Tomatoe (sic) Garden plays as a series of distinct challenges, mostly separated by warps, yet curiously without any checkpoints. There’s a gravity puzzle, a search for the hat with the right colors, some trigger sceneries to go back and forth between, and a hunt for an invisible fast warp event. The hat challenge I’m kind of sour about, because it meant that for the rest of the level, I stopped being able to trust warps as unambiguously sending me forwards. For all the level’s visual decadence, it can be hard to tell different areas apart, so I wasn’t always sure whether I’d completed the latest challenge or taken the wrong warp somehow. Checkpoints or some other good marker of success (such as NOT warping directly onto an enemy) could make a difference here.
The other challenge that bothers me is the trigger scenery one, which uses both trigger crates (okay) and invisible/unmarked trigger zones (not okay). There’s just no indication I could find that says what door has opened when or why, other than a general feeling of alternating between going left and right. But the gravity puzzle felt fine, the block pushing felt fine, other stuff felt fine, it’s just I didn’t take so well to the stuff that seemed to revolve around the player guessing.
And yeah there are some enemies, mostly hatters, but they never strike me as a main focus so much as a general feeling of “single player levels are supposed to have enemies.” (Probably a good thing, though, because, again: no checkpoints.) There’s even a caterpillar toward the end, probably just because Psych levels tend to have caterpillars. The enemies do (all?) seem to regenerate after a while, which is a clever choice in a level where the player can be expected to wander through the same areas a lot, trying to guess where to go next.
It must be said this level looks really good, both before and after the palette swap that inexplicably uses a separate .j2l. There’s something of beta psych in the blue&purple sky, but the broader green&burgundy (and later green&purple) palette feels original and also well executed, especially in combination with all the mountainy background layers, the vines, the waterfalls, and so on. This is a lush and vibrant take on Psych, which is no surprise from an author with a known talent for visuals in general and visuals in Psych in particular.
Although the speed with which this level was made doesn’t really show up in the graphics, there are some moments it’s harder to forget in the gameplay. Zone events are simply not as easy to find and touch as they should be, even in cases where it seems pretty clear that this is unintentional. Text signs can only be read while jumping, the fast warp is easy to miss, and of course trigger zones are total mysteries. There’s a hat with no layer 3. You can get stuck in spikes, or at the top of the level if you don’t guess the right way through the gravity puzzle. All these little glitches could be corrected quickly, but as Primpy says, they’re reminders that this wasn’t thoroughly tested.
I haven’t mentioned Lori at all in this review, even though this level was ostensibly made for a contest about Lori-related levels, and… well, yeah, “ostensibly” is the right word. You’re intended to guess you’re intended to play as Lori, and that’s the most connection there is here. Playing as Spaz does let you double jump straight to the end of the level, so there’s some gameplay justification there, but not in a way that would have been hard to patch out. Even without scripting it would have been easy enough to enforce playing as Lori using start positions and morph monitors, but that didn’t happen here either. Even the second level, which introduces purple to the palette, doesn’t take the opportunity to introduce yellow as well. No matter its other merits, this level’s Lori theming feels no more than an afterthought.
It’s nice to see a level that knows so clearly what it wants to focus on: in this case, gravity flipping. Once the player gets out of the outdoor tree area, they embark on a gravity flipping adventure, navigating the same large space from two different perspectives in search of a trigger crate to remove a column of buttstomp scenery blocks. (Why the lock block graphic was unavailable is unclear.) It’s complex and puts a lot of faith in the player’s navigation skills, though there are a few places where the layout doesn’t seem to fully anticipate how much wandering the player might do… the top left has a rogue sucker tube in the ceiling, which is bad if your gravity is flipped, and it takes too long to flip your gravity upwards if you flipped it back downwards at the wrong spot.
Once you get past this first big section, the level becomes more linear, although a few more trigger crates do turn up, and likewise another (much shorter) gravity flip sequence. I almost wonder if the level’s order of events might have been better reversed, so the player could encounter the simpler stuff in the latter half of the level first, learning the level’s vocabulary in a more linear environment, before having to navigate the more complicated puzzle at the start. A similar questionable order of presentation occurs with the beer pickups, which temporarily reverse the player’s controls. They’re a neat idea and manage to avoid being used too frequently, but the very first one is directly above a pit of spikes. A softer introduction in a no-danger environment would probably have been better.
The last main non-vanilla piece of the level, besides the gravity and the beer, are snowflake pickups, which serve as a basic collect-‘em-all goal and use nice seasonally appropriate graphics. It’s a little confusing having both snowflakes and coins in the same level, but otherwise these are a fun addition to the JJ2 formula, and it’s good that the HUD lets you know how close you are to completion. They’re mostly placed fairly, except for a few in a vertical area that I tended to shoot down while aiming at ravens, which wouldn’t have been so bad if my gravity hadn’t been reversed at the time. The pickup sound effect kept making me think there were demon enemies nearby, though. The intro level also does good work on the snowflake front, showing the player (in a low-stress environment) that there’s no gameplay effect to collecting them, only some green HUD text and a sense of completion.
I haven’t mentioned the intro level before but yeah, this isn’t actually a single level, there’s also an intro and a boss and an outro and a silly bonus level. They all do their respective jobs admirably well and so it’s harder to find things to say about them, but here are some random thoughts: Drawing an entire alternate graphics set for an existing JJ2 boss is impressively ambitious. The steam events in the intro were kind of annoying. The sucker-tube-based dialogue (a holdover from Faded Story) still feels weird, especially immediately after a clearly scripted explosion sequence. The sciency base area from the intro/outro is a bit quaint but quite nicely put together. The bonus level is good and it makes sense it’s not trying to develop itself into a full map with a detailed layout and stuff.
Graphically everything in this upload is quite solid, as you’d expect from someone with a background in multiplayer levels. The palette and tileset choice are distinctive, leading to memorability, and everything has enough detail to be attractive but not overwhelming. A few of the spikes do cross the line into nearly invisible, though, but mostly it’s hard to know what to say about the visuals other than that they’re good. Same goes for some of the more linear gameplay sections I didn’t really dwell on above… yeah, they work fine, there’s a good mix of enemies and layout styles, platforming and vines and open spaces and caves and all that stuff.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.