Genre: First Person Comedy Adventure
Developer: Necrophone Games
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Release Date: 2/7/14
I remember growing up and being a fan of the quirky Canadian comedy skit show The Kids In The Hall. Once I brought a friend over all excited to show them what I felt was comedy gold, with the expectation that it would rock their world. Instead the humor didn’t connect with them in the same way it did for me. They didn’t see what was so funny about 40 Helens agreeing on anything, or why a person had a cabbage on their head, while I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see the humor in it.
I mention all of that because Jazzpunk is very much like taking a field trip through a different person’s sense of humor. In many ways it’s a very unique way of utilizing an interactive medium like a video game in order to try to communicate and share with a player things you find funny and then try to tie those things together in a comedic adventure. It’s rare to play a game that feels so much like one person’s artistic endeavor to play on a player’s emotions, and often games that attempt that are trying to prey on emotions other than the funny bone.
Even though I respect the effort involved with creating something like Jazzpunk, I also sort of feel like the person who I was showing Kids in the Hall to. I’m seeing stuff play out that’s meant to be funny and I don’t see what’s amusing in it.
I’ll try to explain the game as best I can.
Jazzpunk features a very deliberate art style to it. The game takes place in an alternate reality Cold War world where everyone is a robot whose bodies look like 3D representations of the icons on bathroom sign. You know, that dude with a dot for a head? That’s what the people floating around this game look like. In this weird retro techno Cold War world you play as Polyblank, an agent for an espionage bureau who undertakes missions for unknown people for reasons that are never explained.
If that sounds weird, well that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Missions in the game are started by chugging down some Missionoyl pills which start you off in the mission area. From there the game is a first person adventure title, you wander around and collect items which are used to solve puzzles to progress in the mission. However that is sort of selling the game short because even though that’s the basic structure and how to progress in the game, those parts are fairly simple and straight forward. The first ‘mission’ can be beaten very quickly however if you play it that way you end up missing out on all of the other stuff stuff to do within that first area. Usually the missions take place in open areas that you can explore and play around in. Doing so unlocks a wide variety of mini-games based on classic titles, along with all sorts of jokes that require the player to activate them. I spent at least three times as long just exploring the first area just clicking on everything to see what would happen versus actually progressing in the mission I was playing.
Graphically the game has a very simplistic look, though that fits with the art style used within the game. I played the game on my laptop, which isn’t a gaming rig at all, and it played well. There is some screen tearing which can be fixed by enabling V-sync in the options menu, though when I did there were some occasions when the framerate dipped. Personally I find screen tearing worse than the occasional mid-twenties frame rate so I played through to the end with the V-Sync turned on.
The game can be played with the mouse and keyboard, and it also features controller support. I played through the game with a wired Xbox 360 controller with no issues. It controlled with a gamepad as well as you’d expect, the left stick moves the character and the right one moves the camera, the triggers use items that are held. The A button is context sensitive and the Y button swaps items in the inventory.
Maybe it is because I didn’t connect with the humor used but I felt that as both a game and a comedic adventure Jazzpunk did not work for me. A lot of the jokes are technical puns that I didn’t care for. For example a female bot in a kimono asked if the kimono she wore made her look Fat32. A musician in game says that he has some upcoming gigs, almost a terabyte. There are jokes that are meant to be ironically indifferent that reference the player or characters that just say ‘video game joke’. There are a number of hidden references to various generational pop-culture items, like clicking on a turtle at the beach and a pizza, two sai and a red headband will drop onto it. Some of the best ones as far as I am concerned are the strange little mini-games that are hidden everywhere. Like Wedding Qake, where you suddenly play Quake knock off in a wedding chapel against a bride, groom and priest and all the weapons are similarly themed.
On the official website for the game it says that it is inspired by spoof comedy movies like Airplane! and Hot Shots Part Deux, though it seems like what it took from those movies was that it is a good idea to throw a lot of jokes at the wall and see what sticks. I mean Airplane! is a goofy movie with corny jokes, but a lot of the reason that movie is so well remembered is the timing and delivery of the jokes in that film. Jazzpunk doesn’t have that timing, the delivery is too tongue in cheek and the references and jokes are tossed around in a haphazard way instead of built upon so that the humor in the game ends up closer being like the Wayans brothers Scary Movie series than being a good spoof of any one thing.
Of course if my sense of humor was more in tune with what is in the video game than I might have enjoyed it more and felt differently. Because I didn’t, I may also have been more annoyed by the technical aspects of the game than had I found those jokes amusing. The game is structured around a couple of missions and as mentioned those are easily solved adventure puzzles that feel like maybe more effort could’ve gone into them. Some of the hidden parody games felt like they had more time invested into them than these main missions. Which isn’t saying a lot as those mini-games are awkward and very simplistic in execution and often just playable enough to get across the idea of what they’re parodying. Though there’s one where you get to play as a cat just fucking up furniture that if someone made larger scale game out of I think I’d play it all the time.
On top of that the game feels short. Even if you explore every nook and cranny of the game it might take you three hours. There are many games that three hours feels like a perfect fit for, but Jazzpunk only lets you explore a few areas and then it follows with a couple of not very fun mini-games in a row before being over. I was left thinking ‘well that was weird, was that it?’ at the end.
Jazzpunk is an artistic comedic adventure game and when I finished my playthrough of the game I found that I liked the art style, I didn’t find it very funny, and I thought that the game underneath it all was not interesting or well-developed enough to help make the experience enjoyable for when the jokes failed to land. I’m glad I had the opportunity to play it because it was certainly different and there was some enjoyment to just see what weird thing would happen next. But like any unique form of comedy or art I’m not sure who I would be able to recommend this to anyone more than I could try and explain why the ‘I’m squishing your head’ skit from Kids in the Hall was funny. If the jokes I mentioned earlier got you to crack a smile, then check the game out, it’s likely that you will get more out of the game than I did.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Jazzpunk was not the game for me, but it was still interesting to feel as though I was being given a summarized and digitized perspective of one man’s sense of humor. Take a look at some videos to see if it’s for you, but don’t look at too many otherwise you’ll spoil the sense of discovery which is the best thing the game has going for it.