Developer: Necrophone Games
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Played on: PC
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Time Played (Steam): 4.0 hours
Played With: Mouse & Keyboard
Paid: $14.55 (Multi-game bundle)
Absurdist humour is something that can be very difficult to pull off. If you push things too far, you risk alienating your audience, with the potential exception of the “lol, so random” crowd. If you don’t go far enough, most, if not all of the jokes will just fall flat, since (as the name implies), their humour comes from how utterly absurd they are. Add into the mix the complexity inherent in interactive media, and you have the delicate balancing act that is Jazzpunk.
So, what’s the story of Jazzpunk, exactly? Well, I think that you play a robot. I think you pop pills that make you take on various missions for a mustachioed boss. However, given the outrageous shenanigans you can get up to and the garish colour palette, I wouldn’t be surprised if some hidden narrative explained that the entire game is just one big acid trip. See, Jazzpunk leaves a lot to the imagination. Suppose that a game’s narrative is a waterslide. Lots of games will tell you to take a seat at the top of the waterslide, gently push you down, and have you sit up for most of the way so that you don’t miss anything important. Jazzpunk jumps up behind you, tazes you, and dropkicks your paralyzed body down the slide. You catch whatever you can as the world blurs past you in a Technicolour haze, and by the time you get to the bottom, you’re still not totally sure what happened. Without ruining too many surprises, this is a game that includes pigeon abductions, Communist breakfast cereal, and startlingly fast homeless people. None of this is ever really explained or given proper context beyond, “The world is crazy. Deal with it.” As a result, getting left behind by the game’s manic sense of humour or getting swept up in the chaos are both equally easy. However, I did feel that the game’s reliance on computer-related puns (especially early on) and pop-culture references could leave some feeling like they’re not quite “in the loop”.While much of Jazzpunk involves simply walking around in the first person and interacting with various objects, it nonetheless manages to cram in a ton of variety. A lot of this is due to its ridiculous setting, which means that basically anything goes. One minute you might be flinging popcorn at pissed-off moviegoers, and the next, you’re evicting innocent critters from a fish tank. All of it is executed with controls that feel just loose enough to be comical without crossing over into being frustrating.
In general, that’s a line that Jazzpunk walks through much of the experience. For the most part, I’d say that it succeeds in being silly without pushing things too far. There weren’t any points in the game where I felt like it was giving me emotional whiplash or anything of the sort. However, the charm did start to wear off after a while. I actually first started playing the game about a year ago, and I remember being absolutely enthralled by it at the time. I thought that it was one of the funniest games I had ever played! However, despite not touching it since then, I still found myself remembering bits and pieces of it as I played through this time. In some respects, that’s good; it means that the game is memorable. However, it also meant that a lot of the game’s jokes fell flat; I found that most of the things I was laughing at were things that I hadn’t done or seen the first time around. This is a problem with lots of comedy; if you know the punchline’s coming and what it is, a lot of the magic is lost. Further compounding this is the fact that Jazzpunk seems to rely on the unknown for its humour. It relies on the fact that the player should get to a point where they expect anything to happen, yet are still surprised with the results. Unfortunately, once the results are actually known, suddenly there’s a lot less there to entertain. Because of this, the game’s short running time is both a blessing and a curse. It begs to be played again, even having a number of collectibles to find and hidden objects to interact with. Yet I have little desire to replay it, knowing that so much of the content will just be things that I’ve already seen before with relatively unremarkable gameplay tying it all together.At least the presentation keeps things interesting. The game uses a bright, vibrant colour palette over some simplistic models to create environments that are both cluttered and easy to read. Everything begs to be interacted with, and many secrets are hidden in plain sight. It’s quite impressive just how much is stuffed into each level; there are very few things that don’t have something to say or do in this game. And again, the game’s aesthetic keeps things light and fun, letting you know from its opening moments that this is going to be a wild ride.
The music works, despite being quite repetitive. It consists mostly of some simple audio loops that serve more as a background to the mayhem on-screen than as an entertaining standalone experience. I do think that this is a bit of a shame, as at times the audio really stuck out and actually took me out of the experience. It would have been nice to have something a bit more listenable.
I also ran into a few technical issues: one hard crash that locked up my entire computer, and a number of performance drops when downsampling (running the game at a higher resolution than my monitor’s resolution to increase the perceived quality).Jazzpunk is an odd experience, in that I feel like it’s a game for just about anyone, yet I could easily see where many people would be turned off by it. Certainly, I think that the asking price of $16.99 is far too steep; there just isn’t enough meaningful content here to make it worthwhile. However, for those that are willing to indulge in its quirky, ludicrous scenarios, there’s at least a solid couple of hours of entertainment here. Just don’t expect to be too jazzed at the thought of future retreads.