A handful of years ago, Epic MegaGames (now just Epic Games) redefined the platform action genre on the PC with Jazz Jackrabbit--a knockoff of Sonic the Hedgehog, albeit with one very important difference: Jazz carried weapons. A sequel, as well as a Christmas patch, soon followed. Nowadays, Jazz Jackrabbit is fairly well known among PC gamers, many of whom otherwise aren't familiar with platformers. Seeing the potential to revive this well-liked series, Jaleco has brought Jazz out of retirement for an outing on the Game Boy Advance. And while Jazz Jackrabbit for the GBA has a lot in common with its predecessors on the PC, it flaunts a number of changes and improvements as well.
The gameplay in Jazz Jackrabbit for the GBA retains the basic design from the PC games. Armed with a pistol, you have to make your way through stages full of enemies in order to reach the boss. There are cash prizes, weapons, and health items strewn all around, and amid all of the fighting you have to navigate complex levels that will require you to run in every direction, ride floating platforms, and trigger all manner of switches and keys. Jazz also has a nifty helicopter move that he can perform with his ears, much like Earthworm Jim or Rayman, and this helps him float to distant platforms. As you play through the game, you'll also acquire five additional weapons to add to Jazz's arsenal. There really isn't too much strategy to using them, but a flamethrower will certainly cut through a turtle faster than a machine gun will.
Unfortunately, Jazz Jackrabbit doesn't quite achieve the same level of diversity as similar games, namely Yoshi's Island or Metroid Fusion. The 24 single-player levels all start to feel the same as you proceed through them, and you really won't feel as though you're doing much other than ducking and shooting reptiles. The helicopter technique augments the standard run-and-jump gameplay pretty well, but the six included weapons don't offer nearly enough variation. As it stands, Jazz Jackrabbit is very well executed, but it's not as ambitious as many of the other games available for the Game Boy Advance. If Jazz could crawl, dangle from ledges, or acquire other special abilities, it would be a different story. But he can't, and as a result, you may lose interest even though you can blow through the game in approximately three hours.
In addition to the single-player mode, the game includes a multiplayer mode that offers both single- and multicartridge play options, which make for decent diversions. With multiple cartridges, you and three friends can play deathmatch or capture-the-flag contests on any of 11 different maps. On a single cartridge, however, you're limited to plain old deathmatch.
Even in light of its humble design, there are plenty of good things to say about Jazz Jackrabbit. First, the game is teeming with humorous situations and pop-culture references that will amuse anyone who understands them. For example, there's an early scene where a chameleon attempts to capture Jazz, who in turn calls the chameleon's bluff. "Yeah, you and what army?" asks Jazz. Just then, a dozen other chameleons armed to the teeth fall in behind the leader. Later on, there are turtles in Star Wars stormtrooper outfits and lizards that quote General George S. Patton before scurrying off in fright. There are dozens of these crazy events, and they give the game a rather distinct sense of humor.
Another positive aspect is that the game looks gorgeous. The graphics in Jazz Jackrabbit prove that you don't have to abuse the use of digitized images or fill the screen with every color in the rainbow in order to create a great-looking game. The backgrounds emphasize a less-is-more attitude. Terrain features are simple, and there are only a few solid colors used in each environment. While this would be a drawback for many games, it gives Jazz Jackrabbit a look similar to that of animated cartoons. Further, the abundance of scrolling backgrounds and use of overlays for weather effects, such as snow and rain, offer the kind of visual sophistication you've come to expect from great GBA action games. In keeping with the cartoon atmosphere, Jazz moves like a green-tinted version of Bugs Bunny, with his ears constantly flapping and his body contorting in dozens of different positions as you move him throughout a level. His enemies don't exhibit quite the same amount of grace, but they're so large that you hardly notice. As it is, the interactions between Jazz and his reptilian foes are extremely entertaining. You can watch Jazz catch fire or get flattened like a pancake and just shrug it off like nothing happened.
As is typical of most GBA games, the audio in Jazz Jackrabbit isn't as ambitious as the game's visuals. There are plenty of sound effects for weapons and the various reptile calls, but none of them stand out for any particular reason. The music is upbeat and usually fits the scenery, but again, there's nothing about it that begs for your attention.
Overall, Jazz Jackrabbit plays just as well as any of the better-known action games that are available for the GBA. The gameplay comes up short in terms of variety, however, so it doesn't have the same kind of staying power as games like Yoshi's Island or Sonic Advance. Still, it's a fun ride while it lasts, and it can be very entertaining.