Jill of the Jungle’s Creative Aesthetic Won’t Disappoint
Before Epic Games made it big off of Gears of War and its sequels, they were called Epic MegaGames, and they made shareware games. Shareware was a distribution model for games in which companies gave away a portion of their game for free and encouraged people to share it with each other via online bulletin boards that served as precursors to today’s Internet forums.
If they liked it, they could mail a check to the developer, who would send back a 5.25-inch floppy disk containing the full game. Epic MegaGame’s Jill of Jungle followed such a shareware model; the first episode was distributed for free, but the second and third episodes, Jill Goes Underground and Jill Saves The Prince, respectively, were $15 a piece.
Today, of course, the entirety of the Jill series can be downloaded online, and since the Gears of War franchise has grossed over a billion dollars since 2011, one can do so guiltlessly, safe in the knowledge that any monetary injustice done to Epic Games is outweighed by the prerogative of the connoisseur to save works of real character from the ever-encroaching schlock of the cultural zeitgeist.
And make no mistake — Jill of the Jungle has character. The year was 1992, and Super Mario World had left an indelible mark on the minds of those disposed to digital entertainment. Recreating the run-and-jump gameplay of the console blockbuster on the personal computer was on the minds of many, and Epic MegaGames’ attempt with Jill was by no means the first. But instead of simply copying Nintendo’s flagship franchise, Jill attempted to make a new type of game — one that borrowed from the basic formula of Mario and his console brethren, but made it the PC’s own.
What the result of this creative impulse lacks in Nintendo’s professionalism and polish, it makes up for in its enthusiasm; the design of Jill of the Jungle is a product of an exuberant creativity that’s impossible to resist. Jill, the eponymous hero of the game, is guided by the player through vividly colored forests, caves and castles, collecting keys and gems with aplomb as she fends off crocodiles, frogs and rainbow-hued phoenixes. Your primary weapon is a dagger that returns to you in a boomerang-like fashion after being thrown, creating tricky scenarios in which Jill must throw the dagger past an enemy, then quickly align herself so as to hit them on its return. Levels are huge, sprawling affairs that take plenty of exploration and backtracking to complete; some even feature massive labyrinths that can only be traversed by transforming Jill into an enemy creature. It’s evident that the designers had a lot of fun making this game, and because of that, it’s hard not to have fun when you play it. This may seem like an obvious point, but consider that nowadays most creative decisions for big-name titles (such as Gears of War) are made on the basis of marketability, not for the designer’s pleasure.
This increased reliance on commercial interests is what’s resulted in the superabundance of games that follow “tried-and-true” formulas for gameplay: the greyish-brown, “gritty” first-person shooter; the pay-to-win Farmville clone; Angry Birds Star Wars 2. Jill of the Jungle has an effervescence that is all its own, and it’s an important, much-needed reminder of value of novelty to the creative process. If you’re tired of the video game industry treating you like a predictable dope, check out Jill of the Jungle. You won’t be disappointed.
Jill of the Jungle is available for download at dosgamesarchive.com/download/jill-of-the-jungle. It requires DOSBox to run, which can be downloaded for Windows and Mac at dosbox.com.
Filed under: Opinion