Review of Jazzpunk (PC) - A First-Person Absurdist Cyberpunk Spy Fiction Adventure Comedy
Packing all those genres into one headline is an appropriate way to represent the insanity that is Jazzpunk. How else can you describe a secret agent venturing into resort towns to chase down QR coded pigs and spray Cheez Whiz into the mouth of a verbose and eccentric rich guy, right before jumping into a wedding cake for an intensely visceral exchange of marriage vows? If I included more specific context to that chain of events, it honestly wouldn’t make any more sense, but you just have to roll with it, because Jazzpunk has a lot more where that came from. The constant weirdness makes for a highly entertaining jaunt through an incredibly bizarre world.
After a fantastic graphical title sequence, you find yourself in the body of secret agent Polyblank. Your first mission briefing with The Director starts with a whoopee cushion that sets the strange tone for the rest of the game. He instructs you to take a bottle of pills labeled “Missionyol” to begin your mission to steal some technology from the Russian Consulate. Upon downing the pills, you’re immediately teleported to a park inhabited by magnetized pigeons and all sorts of shady characters. Any semblance of plot ends there. An antagonist known as The Editor shows up at some point in the story, but he’ll take a back seat to the robotic saxophone players, arachnophobic sushi chefs and cyborg elevator attendants that inhabit the world of Jazzpunk.
Jazzpunk is framed in the familiar first-person perspective, but it doesn’t play like your usual first-person game. Jazzpunk is less of a game and more of a spastic interactive comedy.
The game is split up into four main missions, with a few interludes in between. Each one takes place in its own level, in an environment unique to each mission, such as the aforementioned park and city area, a Japan Town alley and a resort hotel. Each mission has one main goal to achieve, but there’s also a variety of sidequests and minigames sprinkled throughout for players who wish to explore the levels to their fullest. For instance, on your way to infiltrate the consulate, you might assist a frog in stealing Wi-Fi from a “Starbux” buying playing a crude facsimile of Frogger. The rewards for these quests are very minor, netting you an achievement at the most, but the absolutely insane situations and their outcomes are a reward in itself.
To accomplish your main objective and move on to the next level, you’ll have to tackle a few simple puzzles, like getting a cowboy to eat some bad sushi so you can steal his kidney. There is some freedom, as there’s usually more than one way to go about solving a puzzle, and nearly all of them are sure to extract at least a giggle from you. I burst out laughing when I discovered you could fool an ID scanner by placing your naked rear on a copy machine and presenting the end product to the camera, only to be identified as “Dr. Buttly” as you’re granted access to the restricted area. The “employee of the month” portrait on the wall would’ve sufficed as well, which was probably the more obvious solution, which made the moment all the funnier. None of the puzzles are much more complex than that. Jazzpunk is not a difficult game, as its meat is in the wackiness rather than the gameplay. If you somehow do get stuck, the game offers a hint system for the first couple of levels.
There are a ton of interactive objects strewn about the levels, making for lots of side content. Most of them involve numerous sight gags or absurd dialogue from AI characters. Interacting with these objects is entirely optional, but going out of your way to find them all will stretch out the game quite a bit, as the game itself isn’t very long. If you play through the game without intent to discover these extra events, gunning only for the mainline missions, the game will not last very long. With a fair bit of exploring, I was about to finish the entire game in 3 only hours, though I’m fairly sure I’m still missing some content as I still have a few Achievements left to acquire.
Jazzpunk features a charming unique art style. It’s a mishmash of a 50s cartoon aesthetic, restroom signage, circuit diagrams and a retro spy theme. Think “Ren and Stimpy” in terms of atmosphere, rather than animation. It’s not an extremely detailed look, as most characters look like they were ripped straight from a bathroom sign, and they slide along the ground without so much as a walking animation. The inoffensive, minimalist design of these characters really just adds to the absurdity of the world.
The jazzy soundtrack (as implied from the game’s title) also adds to the goofy and frantic mood. The boisterous brass and saxophones are reminiscent of spy movie soundtracks and 1960s Batman scenarios. It’s fitting for the comedic spy thriller.
The highlights of the game are the train of gags and jokes that never seems to slow down. You’ll find that Polyblank, like the other inhabitants of Jazzpunk, lacks arms, so whenever he has to interact with an object, he pulls out a paper arm on a stick to act as his appendage, then quickly discards it by throwing it to the ground. Multiple interactions will result in a pile of paper hands at Pollyblank’s feet. No one seems to treat this as odd. It’s just considered the norm in Jazzpunk.
If you’re a tech geek, you’ll have a lot of fun with Jazzpunk’s constant technical puns, as the game has an obsession with math and programming humor. You’ll also find multiple jokes and references to other video games. If you’re a fan of Street Fighter in particular, you’re in for a real treat.
Jazzpunk is very entertaining from start to finish, but unfortunately it’s an experience that lasts little more than a couple of hours. The game contains a ridiculous amount of content in its numerous surreal jokes and gags, but it’s consumed rather quickly.
The $15 price tag for such a short game might scare away a few potential players. If you’re looking for a game with a little more substance and replay value, Jazzpunk probably isn’t for you. However, comedy is rarely done well in video games, so Jazzpunk is pretty unique in that regard. If you want something a little different from the norm, and you aren’t afraid of a few (or a bunch, in this game’s case) dumb jokes, I encourage you to step into the insane reality that is Jazzpunk.
I give Jazzpunk a 4 out of 5.
Jazzpunk is currently available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms and will be on sale for $11.99 until February 14.
By Alfredo Dizon, eParisExtra