by Matt Porter, reviewed on
I have had the pleasure of reviewing a good number of games from this year’s Independent Games Festival nominations over the past twelve months. The latest is Jazzpunk, a comedic adventure developed by Necrophone Games and published by Adult Swim. It has been nominated for the Grand Prize at the IGF, and it is easy to see why. The blend of comedy, striking art style and surrealism is a winning formula, and it is definitely worthy of its place alongside great games such as Papers, Please and The Stanley Parable.
Explore till you drop
It is a hard game to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it first-hand. You play as Polyblank, a sort of corporate spy in an alternate reality Cold War era world. The story takes a great number of cues from 80s spy fiction, along with a lot of other places, and while referential humour is rarely done well, I was laughing out loud the whole way through. From the very first scene where your boss gives you your mission and then steps downwards behind his desk into “the wine cellar”, only to be found simply lying in a drunken stupor with no staircase in sight, I was hooked. The Warcraft exploding sheep reference was simply icing on the cake.
The actual gameplay is essentially a first person adventure game, where you explore a somewhat open ended level and perform tasks. Whether or not they are cohesive to the story or not it doesn’t matter, you will find yourself drawn to every nook and cranny just to see if there’s an interesting activity, or simply a character to give you a quick gag. Indeed, the core objectives themselves are secondary to the experience, and will often be accomplished simply by doing everything the level has to offer. It is definitely in your interests to explore everywhere possible, I certainly did, but despite that, from looking at the achievements I’m missing, I passed up a good few opportunities for humour along the way.
Weird and ridiculous
Jazzpunk is weird, but in a wonderful way. The activities, such as flicking crumbs off a man’s face with your crudely drawn hand, or playing mini golf with a snooker cue, are random, but seem somehow cohesive with the overall feel of the game. Of course you can turn a Jacuzzi up to such a violent state that it liquefies the people inside, and then can serve the bloody mess as a cocktail to a nearby sunbathing beauty. Of course you can smack Geishas with a fly swatter and they will turn into insects and fly away. Of course you can open up a wedding cake and then play a budget version of Quake where the weapons are champagne bottles and rose cannons. Why? Because it’s Jazzpunk, that’s why.
I’m not sure if it’s even possible to fail a mission. At times you feel as if you are just along for the ride, and let the ridiculousness rush over you. Falling a great distance simply leads to you bouncing slightly when you reach the ground, accompanied by a loud “BOING” sound effect. The couple of times I did have to restart a level came from annoying bugs. You will have to take my word for it, but when I turned into a horse and tried to look through some binoculars, I couldn’t move anymore. Another time I was unable to cycle through my inventory when I needed a certain item to proceed. There were a few more glitches than I would have wanted, however having to restart some of the levels actually revealed that some characters had different lines when you talked to them again, each as funny as the original. The game is a little glitchy, and had some severe screen tearing in places, but it was easy for me to forgive and forget.
Short but engaging
I really enjoyed the art style and soundtrack. The characters look like they could be blocky children’s toys, and at one point someone cracks “You look like a toilet sign”, and they are spot on. Everyone speaks in muffled or slightly electronic voices, and captions appear in front of them and around the environments in a really slick way. The world is colourful and exciting and filled with all sorts of references. Some are better than others, and I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to have a broad enough taste to actually understand them all, but I appreciated the effort put in.
Those wanting a serious challenge should look elsewhere. The game is easy to the point of being trivial, but that’s not the point. The point is to look around and be amused by what you see. If surreal, slightly adult humour is what you are looking for, Jazzpunk is wonderful. It is short, almost disappointingly so, and once you have seen everything there is no real point in going back, unless you want to hear every single line of dialogue. Short as it is, I was engaged for every moment, and it’s a testament to the writing that I didn’t want it to end. Whether you are a fan of jazz or punk, Jazzpunk is certainly something you need in your life.
Referential humour done well. Wonderfully surreal.
A few glitches, and fairly short.