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Jest Preview

Publisher - Ocean
Developer - Curved Logic
Platform - N64
Release Date - June 1999
Type - Adventure

On the face of it, Jest could quite easily be misconstrued as another run-of-the-mill Mario clone -- albeit one possessing graphics which make Nintendo's own game look distinctly less than average. However, looks can be deceptive, which is probably just as well, given that since 1996, "Mario clone" has become a euphemism for "shoddily designed, uninspiring, and unplayable 3D platformers" in the wake of Nintendo's redefinition of the genre.

But hold on, we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's fill you in on some of the details. As you may have gathered, Jest is set in a 3D world, where you take control Jax, the Joker of the title, battling through somewhere between 9-12 different worlds, split into 4 distinctive "Themes", of which we'll come to in more detail a little later. The story behind Jest can be described as original, bordering on the slightly cranky. This isn't your typical princess-gets-kidnapped affair. Oh no. In the magical world of Jest, the status of Jester is the holy grail of all budding Jokers. To achieve such accolade, Jokers must enter into the Humourous (sic) where the spectre of its evil designer, the Jester Tarot, looms large.

Not too many games can claim to have level design so diverse that one world is set in the smoggy streets and alleys of Tommy-Gun Chicago, while another is set in the deepest pits of Hell. Other worlds are themed around a haunted fairground, a middle-east aladdin's world, and a trip to Mars (keep reading, it gets even weirder). The finished game may have even more worlds, if it can be crammed onto the game's intentional 12Mb cartridge. The levels in Jest are non-linear, more so than even in Mario. The several stages in each different world are connected by easy and difficult paths. This allows novice gamers to zip through the levels on the easiest route, while hardened gamers can choose the more difficult routes, which will require them to explore deeper, find more secrets, and score more points. They will be rewarded with seeing each of the world's bosses, which don't appear on the eaiser paths.

Having a good 3D engine is one thing, but to make the most of it requires attention to detail -- and Jest has attention to every concievable detail imaginable. As he moves from world to world, not only does Jax encounter brand new enemies and monsters, but also unique powerups and special effects. The powerups can be used instantly, or can be stored for later use. The powerups have a distinctly comical flavour, in harmony with the game's graphics and themes. Karate gives Jax souped-up fighting and jumping ability; Mallet allows him to smash enemies on the head with a great big, er, mallet; Crazy Marine will kit him out in full S.E.A.L. gear and firepower; Boxer gives him a pair of boxing gloves to increase his brawling abilities, and Beer will (for some strange reason) give Jax super running speed, although control becomes distorted and imprecise... Chris knows that feeling. The finished game will feature tons more similar powerups.

Not content with unique powerups for each of the different worlds, Curved Logic have also kitted out Jax in a completely different outfits for each of the worlds; a 1920s costume for the Windy City, a vampire disguise for the haunted house, and normal joker skintights for other levels. The result of these different costumes is a level of immersion that goes beyond anything else yet seen on the N64, allowing completely different textures to be used in each world, without anything jarring or looking out of place. It's such a simple idea, yet one which remains criminally under-exploited.