Jazzpunk (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, November 30, 2014

When was the last time you laughed on a regular basis while playing a video game? Humor isn’t that uncommon in gaming, but it’s rare to find a title that uses it as the primary focus in a similar fashion as films. Jazzpunk does exactly that, and while it’s a fairly short experience where you can see everything in a handful of hours, chances are that players won’t forget the absurd scenarios or off the wall comedy any time soon.

Players take on the role of Polyblank, a secret agent in an alternate-reality Cold War. After a visually captivating opening cinematic, you are thrust into a train station which also serves as the home base of operations. Polyblank is your typical silent protagonist, but he takes missions from the chief of the agency by popping pills that transport him to different locations. The first order of business is to infiltrate a Soviet Consulate and steal a data cartridge, but once you begin the mission it becomes clear that there is complete freedom to explore. Everything is viewed in first person, and is handled through a point and click interface with movement being handled by the standard WASD key configuration. If you simply want to breeze through each mission and complete the objectives that the chief gives to you, Jazzpunk could be beaten within 20-30 minutes, but that would be missing the majority of the in-game content and the point of the experience.

There aren’t any challenging action sections or extremely complex puzzles in the game (and it also isn’t possible to fail or die throughout the missions), as Necrophone Games has designed a title that is meant to entertain rather than test your reflexes or brain power. And that’s exactly what it does, as every mission presents you with an open level where you can interact with almost every single object and person/robot in the environment (as well as get some silly gadgets to play around with). There are references everywhere, and minigames that spoof classic arcade games. It helps that the developers have been able to write a script that offers one laugh after the next, particularly because of how unexpected and off the wall many of the reactions are. Almost every single bit of dialogue is a pun or humorous reference of some kind, and even if you don’t get all of them there are still likely to be plenty that have you laughing as you explore. This sense of unpredictability works in the game’s favor, as even once you’ve gotten through a couple of missions in every interaction still results in something different than you might expect.

When you aren’t wandering the environments and using items in your inventory to solve puzzles or simply seeing what happens when you click on things, the minigames will take up the rest of the game time. As I mentioned earlier, all of these spoof other arcade titles or movies. When a title resorts to this it can be fairly hit or miss depending on whether the parodies are actually fun to play, and this is where Jazzpunk passes with flying colors. I’m not going to spoil all of the different minigames that the player either has to play to progress with the mission or can randomly stumble upon, but a few that stood out to me as being really fun and humorous were a wedding themed Quake parody and a hidden level that I can only describe as a cross between Evil Dead and Deadly Premonition with pizza monsters. Not only has Necrophone Games been able to replicate the gameplay of what they are parodying, but many of these diversions are fun to play and you may just find yourself triggering them a second time to go through all over again.

The art style is what initially attracted me to Jazzpunk, and it looks even better in action. Characters have a very abstract, blocky look to them and don’t have faces, instead letting their clothes and accessories display the type of character they are. Environments are bright and colorful, with the overall look and feel coming off as a cross between old-school comic book and movie sets from the 50s/60s. It’s visually enticing, and there are just as many visual gags that fit the locations the developers have built. I did notice some occasional glitches, as there are still some moments where interactions with objects will cause you to clip through them or fly across the screen, along with a strange glitch where I left a movie theater to an environment where the textures weren’t loading properly and there was constant fog. But what’s interesting is that even when Jazzpunk glitches like this, it can be difficult to tell if it’s actually a glitch or just another intentional element on the part of the developers. The framerate is consistent throughout, even during all of the action oriented minigames, which ensures a seamless experience from one gameplay element to the next.

Luis Hernandez composed the game’s soundtrack, and the official website says that he used “a myriad of vintage tape machines and homemade analog synthesizers.” This sounds accurate, as the background music has an older feel to it that reminds me of television and film from the 50s. It’s an approach that works well and another element that gives Jazzpunk a very distinctive vibe when compared to many of the other indie PC games on the market. Every bit of dialogue is voiced, and the deadpan delivery from the actors helps to make the punch lines that much more amusing. Necrophone has not only packed pop culture references in its dialogue and graphics, but if you pay attention to some of the sound effects and music you’ll catch some as well. One of the best examples of this is the death sound effects during Wedding Quake, which are comprised entirely of goat screams. It’s great to see the game really sell its comedy through every aspect, and the humorous elements of the sound design were not something I was expecting. And yes, there are some jazz elements to some of the background tunes.

If you’re looking for a new game that will be challenging and take quite a few hours to complete, Jazzpunk’s not going to be able to provide that. But if you want a quirky title that offers exploration and secrets for those that go off the beaten path and will make you laugh on a regular basis, it’s a must play. I know that a lot of gamers tend to equate price with the time it takes to finish a title these days, so the $14.99 price tag may seem steep to some, but it has been on sale several times since releasing back in February (and as of the time of this review is at $7.49 as part of the Steam Discovery Sale). And considering that many of you probably see films and other entertainment for just as much money that don’t offer as much comedy per minute as Jazzpunk does, you may just find it worth it to dive into Necrophone’s bizarre slice of comedic gaming. I’ve already been through the game twice now and still find some new references and jokes each time, and this is likely to become something worth playing through at least once a year for a breath of fresh air from what much of the industry is currently focused on.



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