Review: Jazzpunk

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I’m constantly reminded by my wife that I have the mind of a 13-year-old boy. Of course, having a son at that age probably helps to bring that youthful glee out more often. I find myself wanting to view video games with an air of maturity and find the meaning behind challenging titles. Games that explore subjects without resorting solely to shooting dudes in the face tend to be something I gravitate more towards. And then along comes a game that is wacky, unpredictable, offbeat and throws out a million jokes and sight gags knowing something is going to stick even if many fall flat. Juvenile humor can strike at the funny bone like nothing else when framed in the right context.

Necrophone Games’ Jazzpunk found my 13-year-old funny bone and gleefully hit me with it.

In musical terms, jazz is an improvisational exploration of rhythm and themes, while punk is quick, raw, and played with a minimal instrument set. Jazzpunk the game takes both ideas and lets players explore some weird and raw themes while wandering about a stylized yet sparse setting. Front a first-person view, you will control Agent Polyblank on a series of missions to rescue superiors or retrieve top secret tapes and experimental kidneys, and these missions always begin with the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs. Each level is a pun or sight gag just waiting to be unlocked. Plenty is there for the taking, as long as you spend a few minutes exploring and poking at everything in the world.

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In one level, a side mission asks Polyblank to use a gun to degauss three pigeons. Doing that alone rewards players with the chance to then see the pigeons put into a microwave whole, and once cooked, taken out as a pie to then smear into the face of the mission giver. Having the gun also allows additional side activities. When a pigeon is degaussed it drops a bottle of perfume — Eau De Pigeon — which can then be sprayed on a random citizen on the street. A flock of pigeons will attack once the perfume is spritzed. Additionally, the gun can be used to immobilize hidden agents peeking out from behind trees in a park. Each mission in each level has a stated goal, but allows for experimentation, usually with off kilter results. Jazz and punk together.

Often times the experimentation has no direct relation to the goal of a level. For instance a penthouse suite has partiers enjoying the cozy warmth of a Jacuzzi. The typical Jacuzzi jet-bubble switch and heat settings are replaced by the front panel of a blender. Add Ice, press liquefy, and watch the partiers turn into a red mess. Take a glass, dip into the Jacuzzi, and serve to another pool side partier as a refreshing Bloody Mary cocktail.

Grotesque as the game can be, the art style adds charm to such downright horrendousness scenes by presenting everything in barely passible blocky human shapes. As the in-game version of Hunter S. Thompson puts it, characters resemble “the symbol on a bathroom door” more than an actual human being. It’s hard to be sickened by a slightly more rounded version of a Minecraft character being blended in a pool, or hit with a fly swatter, or shot with a wedding cake.

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Yes, a wedding cake. In each level a random mini-game can be loaded up that changes the pace for a few minutes. One such diversion is a nod to the id classic Quake, set in a wedding chapel, called ‘Wedding Qake.’ The first player to get 10 kills using weapons like a champagne bottle or a mini-gun wedding cake wins the mini-game. Of course, the game is all AI bot driven, but it is still a fun, dumb diversion. Another mini-game that I found along the way launches from a pizza box and basically is a short zombie survival spoof. A wooden pizza paddle and rolling cutting wheel are weapons against slow pizza-textured zombies that break into various ingredients found on a pizza while attempting to get to a Pizza Hut-shaped Pizza Cabin.

Bizarre describes the majority of the Jazzpunk experience, and yet there is a cohesion to the madness as you embark on a zany series of Bond-esque spy missions set in a Cold War world offering plenty of experimentation and dark humor. The game isn’t overly long, but that is a good thing. Jazzpunk pushes boundaries while not over staying it’s welcome. Jokes and sight gags aren’t limitless, meaning after spending a brief time interacting with a character, the responses circle back to their first reaction. Although I have to say, squirting Fugu poison into a person’s face and watching them reply, “I’m blind!” is darkly satisfying even on the fourth or fifth go.

Jazzpunk‘s humor probably is not for everyone, but the game as a whole has a dark charm and wonderful visual presentation that makes the experience worth one playthrough minimally. For completionists wanting all of the achievements, loading up each chapter as necessary is a quick way to go back without having to replay everything a second time. Necrophone and Adult Swim really have out done themselves with this quirky gem of a game. You owe it to yourself to find all of the pop culture references and visual wonders that Jazzpunk contains. 

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Zany interactions
+ Tons of hidden pop culture references
+ Trippy visuals
+ Jazzy (naturally) music

Cons:
– Not a lot of replay value
– Some folks may find the humor in poor taste

Game Info:
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Developer: Necrophone Games
Release Date: 2/7/2014
Genre: Comedy Adventure
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.