It seems the first-person adventure has become the indie scene’s vehicle for breaking the conventions of traditional game mechanics. Last year brought us the chilling and immersive Gone Home, as well as The Stanley Parable, one of the best examples of the deconstruction of game design and narrative. Now we have Jazzpunk, developed by Necrophone Games and published on Steam by Adult Swim Games.
Adult Swim Games are the same group that has released games such as Robot Unicorn Attack, Viva Caligula!, and 5 Minutes to Kill Yourself. These releases have the mentality of a typical Adult Swim original program – crude, bizarre humor mixed with a healthy dose of irreverence. It goes without saying that Jazzpunk takes a decidedly different approach to the FPA genre by infusing it with this signature comedy style.
Does that add up to genius or disaster? Read on to find out.
Jazzpunk takes place in a world where the Japanese have won the Second World War, and the Cold War with the Russians has ensued. The game invokes the atmosphere of classic spy capers as well as 1960s era Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
You play as a spy who seems to be the only human in a world of robots, and you work to unravel some sort of plot against your own organization perpetuated by the Soviets – or something. In truth, the plot is insubstantial. It’s apparent from the opening scenes that this game is all about the comedic gags.
You enter each level by taking a drug called “Missionoyl” (“Take one capsule every mission, or until reality is sufficiently augmented.”). The gameplay is mostly made up of optional mini-games and irrelevant gags. Controls are standard fare for a first-person mouse and keyboard-based game. Jazzpunk also supports gamepads.
If you want to stick to the main storyline objectives, you can easily beat the game in about 30 minutes. However, each of the game’s five levels comes with optional NPCs to talk to who give you a smattering of side quests.
Most of the diversions are quite fun and a few of them could eat up a fair amount of your free time, such as controlling a frog as he attempts to cross a busy road (sound familiar?) to retrieve his Wi-Fi hotspot (oh…) or the wedding-themed simulation of multiplayer Quake (which should totally be Quake mod if it isn’t already).
All of these things serve no real purpose other than to generate a laugh, and many of the minor interactions with NPCs are directly inspired by cartoon logic. You’ll encounter animation staples such as pies to the face, people stepping on rakes, and so forth. If you don’t like referential humor, then you’re going to be left out in the cold.
Even if you’re a fan of this type of comedy, all of the game’s fourth-wall breaking jokes fall flat. We’ve seen this before in recent games, and there are only so many ways to remind the player with a coy wink and sly elbow nudge that they’re in fact playing a game before it gets tiresome.
But that’s just one layer of the humor. The other is its unrelenting pursuit of the absurd. Cold War paranoia permeates the entire story, and things grow increasingly bizarre and unsettling as it progresses. Despite its strangeness, Jazzpunk never forgets that it’s trying to make you laugh, so the swings in mood are cushioned by comedy.
Graphics & Audio
The first thing that’s striking about Jazzpunk is the art direction. All of the characters look like the universal representations of the men and women found on restroom signs – a trait that is made blatant by one of the game’s NPCs. Things are bright and colorful with plenty of ’60s era cartoon inspiration.
The music is similarly inspired by ’50s and ’60s spy and cartoon themes. Music fades in and out to different styles and tracks as you traverse each level. It provides a subtle change of tone when you’re just exploring as opposed to when you’re ready to tackle the main objective of the current stage.
Overall, the visuals and the music gel quite nicely, creating a solid experience that helps to foster a space where the gags and absurdist humor feel organic and believable. Even the most far-out stuff feels like it’s at home thanks to these elements.
Buy It, Try It, or Skip It?
Try It – Jazzpunk is a short game, and you can see everything it has to offer in just over three hours. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experience it at least once, though.
The humor requires a certain mentality to appreciate, and not everything sticks. But, hey! That’s the nature of comedy. Jazzpunk should be applauded for sticking so closely to its comedic guns and walking out with an enjoyable experience.
If anything, it’s yet another demonstration of the ways in which the indie scene and first-person adventure genre are pushing game design in unique ways. Now, don’t forget to take your Missionoyl. This review will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3…