This game has been sitting in my backlog since around the time of its release after I experienced technical difficulties for reasons I could not determine. So after roughly two years of tempered anticipation, I finally had the chance to go through this eccentric little game. Although, that three word description exemplifies it all too well.
Platform: PC(Reviewed), OS X, Linux, PS4
Developer: Necrophone Games
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Specifications: Intel i7-4790, 16GB of RAM, R9 390, Windows 10
Jazzpunk is an off-kilter and bizarre take on a cold war era espionage fiction, where the world is borderline nonsensical as is just about everything in the game. It is effectively a quirky modern take on old adventure games with a focus on humor above all else, and condensing as many gags and guffaws in its short run time as it possibly can. A goal I would easily say it succeeds in, as I was regularly surprised and amused by whatever brand of distinctive humor was thrown out by the developers, from genuine humor, jabs at other media, or simple absurdity done because the absurd is inherently amusing.
Oh, but very little can simply be dubbed a compilation of jokes, and while I have very little to say about Jazzpunk other than it made me laugh in that regard, it’s proper structure is a bit lacking. While I initially assumed it would be grounded in the ‘cold war era espionage fiction’ that I mentioned earlier, with enough leeway provided to explore other genres of similar eras, the setting of Jazzpunk is not treated with much care. While it is chuckle worthy to click on a sheep using the cursor from the original Warcraft, why would you include this in a game that ideally should be based in the 1950s and 60s that is supported by the general aesthetic? What purpose does a short simplistic version of Space Invaders serve to the story other than a wink and nudge to the audience while acknowledging that you yourself are a video game, Jazzpunk? The flying toaster joke was really cute, but what does it have to do with this world you created?
The story itself is pretty weak when the humor is removed. Go get two things for your boss, go on vacation, find a smarmy man who eventually kidnaps you and challenges you to some minigames, beat him, and then enjoy an ending that’s in line with the rest of the game. There are plenty of interesting ideas going on about a meta-narrative, spirituality, and the mental breakdown of the main character and the question of what is and is not actually happening in this game, and it’s a shame that Jazzpunk never really addresses them. Instead, the games makes a disconnected Street Fighter reference that probably took weeks to create.
The world in general is very low poly with abstractions of human beings in the place of people themselves, and when combined with the distinctive retro-futuristic look, a pleasing color palette for every area, and generally appealing world design, it looks quite wonderful. It’s one of the few art styles seen in games that I can wholeheartedly call unique at this point, and it both builds up the already well designed world to a new level, and makes the experience all the more surreal. This is effect is enhanced by the distorted voices of all other characters, the oddities littered around the world, and abrasive and very appropriate soundtrack that regularly shifts with where you are in any given level.
Or to summarize about five hundred words into a sentence, Jazzpunk is an unusual game whose comedy is often unfocused, story is ultimately lacking, but its visual design and general aesthetics are nothing short of fantastic. I would love to be singing this game’s praises as much as I could, but it’s two hours of chortle conjuring capers are continuously crumpled ‘cos context is key when it comes to comedy.