Developers: Necrophone Games
Publishers: Adult Swim Games
A game built around consistent comedy is a rare thing to find in this medium of ours, so subjective is the art of making people chuckle. But Jazzpunk presents one of the most singular visions of interactive humour that we've seen in some time, delivering an absurdist tour-de-force that presents a Pythonic cartoon of sorts, sending up everything from James Bond to Space Invaders.
Jazzpunk is set in an alternative, Cold War-era world where robots appear to have infiltrated the service industries -- the year 1959b to be exact -- and you step into the shoes of agent Polyblank, who is tasked by his sozzled, shifty, Cockney director, operating out of an abandoned Tube carriage in an airport, to undertake several spots of espionage. Each operation begins with Polyblank popping the cap off of some prescription medicine named Missionoyl, which carries instructions telling the player to "take one capsule every mission, or until reality is sufficiently augmented".
If you think that sounds weird, it's nothing compared to the bonkers stuff that greets you when you wake from your pill-induced reverie at your destination.
The thriller parody provides something of a narrative throughline, but that's not what holds the game together. Instead, Necrophone throw out barrages of non-sequiturs, pun-laden quips, references to classic games from yesteryear, and slapstick setups. It's all performed in rapid-fire fashion by mannequins that resemble the gender designations found on toilet doors, with the characters of this weird and wonderful world going about their business as if everything were normal, reacting to pretty much every bizarre twist in hilariously deadpan fashion.
Splinter Cell-esque mission objectives plaster themselves across the scenery, occasionally shattering into jagged shards if you walk into them. A mohawked amphibian having trouble with stealing wi-fi from Starbux implores you to help him retrieve his AR visor from across the street via a quick Frogger-spoofing mini-game, before settling in to watch a spot of frog porn in perfectly blasé fashion. Later on, you find yourself enjoying a spot of R&R at an Antipodean resort, only to find that every other person is dressed as Hunter S. Thompson, and mumbling garbled vignettes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Jazzpunk is a game that sets you loose in its world and points the way to the door at the end, but fills the journey with little, curious distractions. It never chooses to be heavy-handed in its abstract humour, preferring to allow players to uncover (or indeed miss) jokes for themselves, and that simple openness affords us a certain feeling of complicity. The humour is often pretty scattershot, and some jokes land better than others, but what proves refreshing is that sometimes we're left to land the punchline ourselves. We're not just being told jokes, we become part of them, and that proves to be enormously amusing indeed.
If there is a disappointment here, it's that it's all over so very quickly, and there would seem to be so many more locales and scenarios that would present rich veins of comedy gold for more absurdist mining. A couple of playthroughs took around five and a half hours, with the second used to scour the game for jokes and asides that I'd missed (there were many). But even with that replayability, the game feels a little short. There's little by way of challenge, so you're really just rooting out cascades of easter eggs. The jokes therefore never have the chance to become stale due to repetition, but it certainly feels like the game could have gone on a while longer and still not outstayed its welcome, particularly with an RRP up above the £10 mark.
As a game based around exploration, too, it has to be said that there comes a point when you're just dashing about an area, spamming the "E" button in the hopes of interacting with something or someone in a new and interesting way just to see if there's a joke that you've missed, and even using a blowfish as a poisonous super soaker can lose its charm once you begin to realise that the spectrum of reactions as smaller than you first thought.
Ultimately, though, if the worst that can be said of Jazzpunk is that it makes you want more, that's pretty good going for a comedy game. For some that price point may be too much to stomach stright away, but if the thought of a Pythonesque adventure packed to the gills with puns, one-liners, and spy-tinged humour that would make Leslie Nielsen howl with laughter were he still with us, if that interests you (and it should), then you really ought to give it a go. It's the consistently perfect aesthetics, the Saul Bass framing, and the excellent soundwork that give the jokes space to breathe, and the fact that they involve the player right from the start that makes this game so special. Titles like this are enormously rare and ever so precious.
To say any more would frankly be to ruin it for you.
- Wonderfully focused presentation and consistent style
- Some outstanding one liners
- Brilliantly funny
- Hugely referential
- Even when you factor in replayability for missed jokes, it's still an all-too-brief experience
The Short Version: Jazzpunk is a wonderful blend of spy-spoof, exploratory adventure game that actively involves you in the jokes it tells. Inventive, stylish, and downright hilarious in places, it's basically the lovechild of a three-way between The Meaning of Life, The Naked Gun, and Thirty Flights of Loving. An utterly absurd treat.