Every so often a title comes along that, for whatever reason, you really want to like. A game that you think could've been something special. But there are things that keep it from being just that. Little nagging things, big itches that just refuse to be scratched. Eventually the title that held such promise leaves you feeling exasperated, not because it was so far from its goal, but because it was so close. Jersey Devil is one of those games. In Jersey Devil you're waging war against Dr. Knarf and his legion of mutant vegetables as they attempt to take over Jersey City. It's your job, naturally, to put a stop to the Doctor's plans and return the city to its former glory.
Originally previewed at 1997's E3, Jersey Devil was a game that held a great deal of potential for the action-platforming genre. The main character looks something like a rabbit in a Batman suit, with a little Green Hornet thrown in for good measure. He wears a purple mask and suit, complete with double-breasted jacket, cravat, and elbow-high black gloves. The Jersey Devil is not only stylin', but is less contrived a mascot than Sony's main man Crash Bandicoot. In fact, there was a sufficient buzz surrounding the character to prompt a small-scale bidding war over the publishing rights to Jersey Devil. Eventually Sony itself picked up the contract and delayed the release so that it wouldn't compete with Crash 2. Not that it would have mattered, because in the end, while certainly a substantial effort, Jersey Devil pales in direct contrast to Crash's superior graphics and playability. While it seems almost unfair to continually refer to the mighty marsupial's track record for comparison, the similarities between the two games practically necessitate it. Here's why.
Over the course of six large levels you must collect five tokens that spell out the letters K-N-A-R-F. These letters are strewn about the levels, sometimes requiring you to perform certain objectives in order to reach letters seemingly out of range. Once collected, you receive a golden "K" that lets you access secret areas. Along the way you're also required to smash green nitro boxes, illogically marked "K," in order to increase your nitro power. Fortunately for you, Jersey Devil is a scrappy kind of guy. Practically an amalgamation of console mascots everywhere, JD can punch (Mario 64), do a tail-spin (Crash), jump (everyone), duck (Yoshi), and glide (umm...). Surprisingly, there is no butt-bounce. As is a staple of platform games everywhere, there are lots of boxes lying around just waiting to be smashed open. Inside these boxes are pumpkins; if you collect 100 pumpkins you get an extra (surprise!) Jersey Devil. Also scattered around the game are Devil's tails that award you with an extra try should you happen to find one.
During the game, JD is required to perform all sorts of feats, such as climbing up flagpoles, pushing boxes, throwing switches, and swinging from ropes. While you're attempting to do your chores, there are dozens of Knarf's minions attempting to put a dent in your day. Maniacal mutated pumpkins chase you around throwing bombs in your direction. Irradiated carrots, ill-tempered cavemen, and bad-mannered pterodactyls, among others, populate the stages with the single intent of putting you out of business. Additionally, each of the six huge levels has three subsections that must be completed, with bosses to meet along the way. While some of the bosses are nothing more than a nuisance, others can be extremely difficult, with unpredictable patterns and a fairly crafty AI.
This wouldn't be so bad if the controls were up to snuff, but they're not. This makes performing even the most rudimentary tasks a tiresome exercise in frustration. Digital control is way too touchy to navigate some of the precarious environments you'll find yourself in, while analog control (think Gex: Enter the Gecko) is often too loose for those very same situations. Granted, analog has a much better feel, especially when coupled with dual-shock vibrations, but it still doesn't help too much considering the collision-detection is just plain bad. Enemies will come from all over, and you'd be lucky to land a solid punch while they have no problems landing theirs. Timing the spinning tail-whip is no easy feat either, since you must first jump in order to execute it. Maybe the developers did it to differentiate it from Crash.
Another problem that seems to plague just about every 3D platformer is the camera. While the camera is, for the most part, adjusted by the gamer, it can only be done on a horizontal axis. You cannot look up or down, and the problem with this is that the fixed perspective is situated at a slightly overhead angle, which limits how far ahead you can see. It also makes it difficult to see any items that may be above ground level (and there are many). Also, whenever Jersey Devil gets too close to a wall, the camera moves to a complete overhead position, which, at the wrong times (like in a fight) makes for some severely disorienting moments.
Other problems include a complete disregard for Z-buffering. What this means is that things pop up from behind closed doors, solid objects disappear even if JD is standing behind them, walls pop out, etc. Even little things that shouldn't happen, happen. For example, there are fountains everywhere in Jersey City, if JD runs into the fountain it will shoot him up so that he can reach the objects usually "hidden" at the top of the stream. The interesting thing to watch is his shadow floating right along with him; even when he jumps the shadow floats right in the middle of the streamPolygon draw-in is apparent but not horrible. In fact the environments are fairly well designed, which serves to disguise some of that pop-up. Which leads us to Jersey Devil's strong points.
Jersey City and all of its dungeons, cityscapes, and palatial vistas are surprisingly well designed. It seems as if the designers were inspired by the old Tex Avery cartoons. It's actually a shame that the camera and control don't do the rest of the game justice, because otherwise it might have been an enjoyable platform experience. The environments really require you to do a fair amount of exploring, and, often, you will return to previously explored areas to find secret paths that weren't available before. The frame rate never drops from a respectable 25-30fps, which is fairly impressive considering the size of the environments. Most of the characters, JD included, are nicely animated and make you feel like you're watching some sick, twisted cartoon. Speaking of cartoons, the opening movie is a poorly animated introduction depicting the origin of the Jersey Devil. Once you've seen it you'll never need to watch it again. The last thing worth mentioning is the music. While the sound effects are all perfectly suited to a Looney Tunes game of this kind, the music is almost too good for the game. It's a dramatic score that wouldn't be out of place in an Indiana Jones movie. It's so good it could almost pass for a John Barry soundtrack. Unfortunately, that isn't enough to save the game.
While Jersey Devil had all the right elements in place, it didn't have the proper tuning to make the whole thing work. What remains is a game with an irrefutable charm that at the same time is just plain exasperating to play. With a few minor adjustments, despite its derivative nature, Jersey Devil could have carved a respectable place for itself in the hearts of gamers everywhere. Instead, it's just a glimpse of what could have been. It's not as if the developers didn't have the time. Hopefully the Devil will be back, though, because for all the Bubsys and Blastos, this time we had a mascot worth latching on to. Too bad we didn't have the game.