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Feb 11 2014

Review of Jazzpunk

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There are few games that cause me to smile in the giddily insane way that Jazzpunk makes me grin. It’s a game that both bends nostalgia to its own purposes and at the same time revels in its dedication to the cultural perceived memory. Not to make the game sound overly esoteric or anything; like all the best humor it’s not afraid to fart and laugh while telling a more complex joke. It’s an experience saturated throughout with comedy and it blends its humor so well with its gameplay that my only complaint with Jazzpunk by the end, was that it was over.

The game does a fantastic job of combining 50's and 80's Sci-Fi.

The game does a fantastic job of mixing 50’s and 80’s Sci-Fi.

The premise is that you are a secret agent, named Polyblank, working in an alternate universe cold war cyberworld called the “Netrix” and you regularly get sent out by your supervisor to subvert the various communist and corporate menaces that plague this data-based plane. Each mission generally has a single goal that can be completed without too much trouble via a little first person adventuring, but if you just strictly go from goal to goal, you’re going to miss 99% of the content. The real fun and magic of Jazzpunk is in thoroughly inspecting every inch of a level and unearthing all the mini-games, side quests, and gags that it holds. Every NPC has a decent set of funny lines to spit at you (which hit far more often than they miss) and seemingly every random object has some comedic function up its sleeve. The game is happily willing to break pace and pull random mini-games out for even the most innocuous things. Inspect a pizza box and a pizza zombie mini-game could be waiting inside, inspect a microscope and suddenly you’re playing a round of bacterial Space Invaders which is only there in service of an awesomely bad pun. This is a game for those who love to comb through every inch of a game’s world and the truly curious will find themselves rewarded time and time again with fantastic jokes and fun little mini-games.

Nothing says covert like spy tools that textured in a sky-blue wood grain.

Nothing says covert like spy tools that textured in a sky-blue wood grain.

I’ve talked a lot about this game being funny but I haven’t really described its sense or style of humor and the best way to sum it up would be to call it Kricfalusian. For those who don’t now what I’m talking about, I’m referencing the style of John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy. as this game and him share the same sensibility of twisted nostalgia. It pokes fun at the optimistic Leave-it-to-Beaver image we have of the 1950’s with an especially manic charm. Lots of jokes are made in the game focusing on the cold war espionage antics of another era and it makes innumerable references to the attitudes of the time. Be it signs encouraging smoking, atomic powered xerox machines, or jokes about chlorinating the ocean, Jazzpunk takes the attitude of the early cold war era and the reckless optimism we associate with it and perfectly mixes that with more modern references that fit the cyberpunk theme. It’s also just purely witty, I mentioned earlier that NPCs will pepper you with dialogue if you let them and oftentimes those lines can be some of the funniest jokes in the game, especially because each joke is essentially made twice at the same time. Whenever an NPC talks, a subtitle appears in the world in front of them, but oftentimes the subtitle will say something slightly different than the spoken dialogue and the game manages to put a lot of humor in that space of incongruity. Jazzpunk never lingers on its jokes though, waiting for you to congratulate it for being funny, instead it just keeps moving which makes its rapid fire style of comedy even funnier.

The game even slips in some Tiki resort fun because what would a nostalgia trip be without going somewhere vaguely exotic.

The game even slips in some Tiki resort fun because what would a nostalgia trip be without going somewhere vaguely exotic.

Jazzpunk’s style of humor also deeply informs its presentation and it’s just steeped in visual references and a neo-retro style. Every person in the Netrix is represented by a chunky character model that’s reminiscent of the little man symbol on a public bathroom door. Similarly computers and simulations are represented by giant machines and unwieldy circuit patterns that scream 1950’s techno-ignorance. That very specific visual style is wonderfully supported by a lot of really well used classic cartoon music, and by that I don’t mean cartoony music, but rather the kinds of actual music you would hear used in classic cartoons, things like “Flight of the Bumblebee” or any of the cheerfully odd swatches you’d hear in an episode of Ren & Stimpy. Pair that with some downright goofy voice acting and you have a manically upbeat presentation that suits the silly yet witty rapid fire humor to a tee.

I really only have one complaint with Jazzpunk, which is that it’s fairly short. Even if you take the time to really scrounge around and dig up every humor nugget the game has to offer, you’ll at most get four hours or so out of the game. That said, it’s a damn good four hours and it’s the sort of humor I can see coming back to in a few months and enjoying all over again, just like a good rerun of an old cartoon. Regardless of length, Jazzpunk just has such a unique style and sense of humor that is 100% worth experiencing.  I can happily give Jazzpunk my full recommendation and a 5 out of 5 stars. I’ll admit it appeals to a very specific set of things I personally adore such as the works of John Kricfalusi and 1950’s Cold War comedy, but its innate humor and fun go even beyond that, now go play it or else we can’t be friends.

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