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.
This is a nice romp through familiar territory. The tileset merger is used to generally good effect: not only are there are a variety of graphical details used at different points in the level, the Castle and Carrotus components get to intermingle throughout, instead of being bizarrely segmented and missing the whole point of a mashup. It’s nice to see vines hanging off of bricks, or one kind of wall giving away to another. The combination palette leaves the Carrotus caves visibly blacker than usual, but it’s dramatic and works surprisingly well. Generally there’s a lot of interesting stuff to look at, at least in layers 3 and 4. Where the graphics do fall down a bit are the parallax background layers… there are a couple Carrotus layers against the sky, looking pretty static, but the background is mostly pretty empty, which is more noticeable considering much graphical detail there is moving at the same x/y speeds as layer 4. Tiles that traditionally appear in the far background are here much closer to the camera and it eventually gets noticeable.
As for the gameplay, it’s all reasonable stuff, with appropriate enemies that match their surroundings in both layout and visuals. There could probably stand to be more non-toaster ammo, perhaps replacing some of the many gems. About halfway through the level, finding trigger crates becomes the main focus… in general, the player gets to see the thing the trigger crate will be opening before finding the crate itself, which is a good principle, although the tile use doesn’t always make it clear at first glance what’s going to be trigger scenery. It’s a pity the tileset didn’t include JJ2’s standard lock block, because the alternatives this level employs—1×1 Carrotus blocks, and a Castle door that looks like it should be completely open—aren’t so obvious. As a result, it’s good to know when you hit a trigger crate that you should go back somewhere, but you won’t always know where to go back to.
The main issue I have with the layout is that it’s all kind of consistent and cramped. All passages seem to be about the same size, not very open, often bounded by very straight lines, no matter whether they use the Castle or Carrotus side of the graphics… and some more variety would be appreciated. Look at something like Rux0riffic for how much variety in layout element size it can get out of just a single tileset, not to mention the way it plays with things like springs and spikes. Changing things up from time to time within the level helps keep the player engaged and makes it more likely that one or another area will stand out and be memorable. There’s good stuff here, but it’s too tightly clustered and thus becomes hard to notice in isolation.
Still, I enjoyed playing this. It does have some nice tricks with less common tile usage, and some interesting bits with vines and destruct scenery and such, and the combat is all generally fine. But there’s still some room for it to grow in terms of visual clarity and distinct gameplay sections.
Playing levels like this makes it clear the vocabulary we have for describing pieces of single player levels is incomplete. We say a level is linear, meaning there’s only one path from start to finish, or it has branching paths or is nonlinear/multilinear, if there’s at least one time when the path splits in two or more directions and one playthrough will see different areas than another playthrough. We talk about secrets, little hidden optional areas on the side of one path or another, which are usually dead-ends but occasionally loop back onto the path, maybe at the same spot, maybe not. But what about when they’re not hidden? What if those optional areas are not secrets but rather in plain sight, containing a few goodies just off the beaten road, maybe cordoned off by no more than a few destructible blocks?
Because, clearly, that’s the defining feature of this pack. Such alcoves(?) are everywhere here, to the point that the actual main path of each level can feel like little more a ride to get you to the next set of optional bits. Often the destructible blocks guarding the goodies are bound to specific weapons, such as RFs, but I never found myself hurting for ammo, so this read like theming, not like a potential punishment for attacking enemies too much. Other times there’s no such explicit marker that something is not the main path, so you try a few directions and eventually make some progress, if that’s the right word. Or there are places that do feel closer to traditional Secrets too, novel interpretations of windows or springs or whatever else for you to explore.
Regardless of how you find and enter them, though, the theme is clear: going directly from Point A to Point B is neither simple nor desirable, because there’s so much to see along the way.
Now, goodies in JJ2 always run the risk of not being entirely useful… gems in particular do absolutely nothing besides give you points, and ammo eventually stops making a difference if you’ve been hoarding it. With such a vast number of pickup hideaways, inevitably some of them are better than others, and oddly the reward does not always seem correlated with the difficulty of getting there. I remember a lengthy detour to reach a single blue gem, compared to a much quicker discovery of many blue gems at once. So perhaps in some cases the player needs to value the experience more than the actual reward.
I’m pleased to report that despite the vast range of direction options at almost every turn, I was usually able to find the exit without difficulty. The only time I had a real problem was toward the end of the lengthy Beach level, which requires you to fall down a random pit to find a trigger crate, then another pit to find what the crate did. That wasn’t great. But otherwise things kept seeming to work out, for me at least. I could imagine a version of these levels with more explicit transitions between stages, like in Rayman Origins or something, to make it clear when you’ve entered a new stage and can’t go back and get lost in the old one anymore, but I suppose (vanilla) JJ2’s tools are somewhat limited in that regard. Anyway, there are some neat tricks along the way, especially in the second Colon level, with its columns of manhole covers to be stomped.
In terms of traditional difficulty, this pack is not hard. There are not a whole lot of enemies and there’s plenty of ammo. Graphics too are plain and honestly sometimes kind of empty. Layout seems to have received by far the bulk of attention in designing this pack, resulting in a very unique experience, but if you’re mostly just looking for any other component of JJ2 levels here instead, you may be disappointed. But if you want to keep having more and more stuff thrown at you, from all angles, with lots of attention given to all the appropriate layout features for each tileset (sewers, water, vines, caterpillars, cheshires…) this is worth your download.
I played through this pack a number of times while testing it, as it gradually shed the details I found most onerous, so it kind of made sense to wait a while and give myself a comparatively fresh perspective before reviewing it. However, six months was perhaps too long. Oh well.
Reviewing big packs like this always forces the choice between writing separate minireviews for every level in a row vs. writing one big review that tries to encompass everything, and I am going to try to compromise a bit by listing the highlight of each level and letting that mostly stand in for a bigger picture review:
If it’s not clear, I like this episode. It’s not perfect—there are times it’s a little too obvious the level layouts are just filling available space, often with straight lines, rather than obeying any higher principles, for example, and the switch between small platforms and indoor tunnels is a little too repetitive across multiple levels—but there’s a lot of good stuff here across multiple tilesets, and the difficulty is always kept reasonable and moderated by generous supplies of pickups. All levels feel like they’re of similar length and don’t drag on for too long. New gimmicks and challenges keep being presented throughout. The graphics are always functional and appropriate and rarely obscure the player’s vision. It’s a good time.
Refuges from that familiar school of level design that places a new thing every few tiles and doesn’t worry about petty things like “overall layout” or “dead ends.” Raven Pride is comparatively normal, despite managing to be both incredibly platformy and also incredibly cramped, but the other three go wild with tubes, vines, weird shapes, and everything else. It’s a style that can only possibly work in battle but can be a lot of fun to mess around in. Sometimes it’s a little hard to see what’s going on, and the layouts aren’t always quite as conducive to exploring as you might expect, but in general sometimes it’s just nice to play around in something where you can’t predict the rest of the layout based on sound level design principles. Get a lot of players together and chase each other around the weirdly shaped blocks.
The visuals and music make unforgettable a map that would still be a welcome moment of gameplay innovation even without their help. Some of the dark pink is a little too bright though, and the bomb could respawn a bit faster imo?? but like overall this is good, good job, get punched.
The density of cool tricks per square inch of level here is out of control! Deeply copter-ear-phobic, of course, but a cool ride. The QoB theming is cute but not enough to derail the gameplay (although the underscore is bad for typing the filename in the server menu), and Mez01 gets to look good and not empty. Platform above RFs maybe unnecessary.
It’s hard to find things to say about single-screen levels! This looks like it has the right sorts of layout opportunities for melee attacks. The fruit are slow enough I don’t know anyone will get 100 of them before everyone is dead, with so few ways to hide. The colors aren’t too common and they look very nice together. Hooray for waterfalls.
For the most part, these are less full-fledged test levels and more ideas, suggestions, hey what if test levels tried doing this too? And viewed that way they’re pretty interesting. The timing required can be incredibly finnicky to the point of feeling random—I could never climb the fencer tower without setting off two at once—and there are lots of moments that would work much better with some scripting, e.g. to keep me from dying, or to restore Uterus’ spike balls, or to get around the need for all those smoke rings. But if you abstract away from the implementation, with its bare-bones graphics and its empty win areas, and think about the ideas being presented, then sure. Maybe some test levels could benefit from things to stomp (that don’t lock up the camera after a while), or some of the other funny tricks that are presented here, albeit preferably with a little more forgiveness.
I’m always wary of WBRG levels because they run the risk of being brightly colored monstrosities where I can’t tell my rabbit from the sky, but the simple measures of diminished lighting and a translucent black background layer work wonders here. This does, though, reduce the number of available layers to the point that all the chains move at 1/1 speed, and frequently confuse me into thinking they’re vines. Oh well.
CTF levels tend to be pretty horizontal, what with there being one base on the left and one on the right and all that, so it’s neat to see such a vertical focus here. Lots of chimneys break up the larger platforms, mostly with blue or green springs at the bottoms, so you spend a lot of time bouncing or falling around. That provides a lot of opportunities for taking opponents by surprise as you suddenly enter their field of vision from above or below. It might be nice if there were a toaster powerup for spraying wildly around you as you bounce. The very-hard-to-reach seeker powerup in the middle is seemingly the only use for the electroblaster ammo—nothing else in the layout obviously invites its use—but this doesn’t actually strike me as the most seeker-encouraging level.
Sadly, a lot of little bits do kind of bother me. There’s an unfortunate masking issue at 106,42 that messes with the usefulness of the nearby spring. Some sucker tubes and alcoves don’t make obvious layout sense to me. There’s some weird layer 3 usage near the right base. But there’s a fair bit to like here as a CTF level that doesn’t just paint by numbers.
While the tileset use is, as ever, detailed and competent, I don’t really see the reason for making almost the same layout so many different times from scratch. I suppose I encourage the gameplay experimentation—give flagholders much less room to hide in—but worry the recommended maximum of 10 players is probably much too high.
One thing the official JJ2 releases did that didn’t catch on too much in fanmade levels is creating multiplayer levels to accompany single player levels. All the different commercial JJ2 releases included multiplayer levels, some of them better remembered than others, but only a handful of fanmade single player packs—e.g. Rabbit Honor Guard, Lost World—have done the same.
So, it’s nice to see a CTF version of Snowball Valley.
CandionV, which this is ostensibly based on, has always been an incredibly garish tileset, but Frosted Peaks plunges deep into the soft blues and grays area of the color spectrum and never leaves, with just enough contrast between ground and background to make clear what is solid. A lovely static aurora in the background adds a little bit of green but is rarely very visible, as layers upon layers of trees and mountains fill the distance lower down. This should serve to make it easy for the player to know where they are (at least vertically), though the different layers all look similar enough in their color distribution that this effect is somewhat muted.
What’s especially interesting about the gameplay is the focus on weapons that shoot downwards, with both bouncer (powerup)s and rollers included. The layout also goes out of its way to support them: not only are there lots of platforms hanging above the main structures of the level, the CTF base areas also invite downward weapons through the bridges that otherwise serve as ways for flagholders to escape. But these guns, which have perhaps the most utility when fired from the top of the level, are found mostly at the bottom. So a player who takes the time to explore and gather resources from multiple areas in the level should have the advantage over a player who spawns and immediately runs back into battle around the bases or carrots.
In general there are a lot of clever details here, both visual and mechanical. Waterfalls are frozen in place and don’t use animated tiles. The thin Stonar platforms are everywhere and make navigation more interesting, and the constant poles surrounding them make them feel that much more integral to the level as a whole. The slide events will probably have minimal effects on competitive gameplay but they’re nice to have anyway. It’s good.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.