Jazzpunk is a difficult game to describe, especially without giving away massive spoilers. A simple way to put it would be if Spy vs Spy, Thirty Flights of Loving and McPixel were put in a blender.
In a way, Jazzpunk goes into that school of “Wander around game” like Gone Home and its ilk. You walk around an environment, investigating and poking things until they continue the story. Unlike Gone Home, there’s busker theft, a flocks of robot pigeons, a fruit genie, and several minigames which include car fights and a wedding FPS. As I said, it’s a difficult game to describe.
In the simple and stylistically-gorgeous game world, you play a spy for a paranoid and drunk director of operations who sends you on some theoretically short, simple missions. The environment you’re sent to is filled with a ton of people who look like the signs on toilet doors. Some of them have quirky appearances and a lot of strange dialogue when you interact with them, much of which changes with each click. The NPCs’ voices are strange semi-intelligible mumbles, but then text appears in front of them as a simplified translation. Sometimes they’re chattering weirdly, other times they provide distractions from your main mission.
In fact, probably 90% of the game content is distractions. You may simply have to enter a building, but before doing so you pop gum, wipe up the face of a mucky eater, steal from a busker, fry pigeons… There’s a wide array of activities to take part in. Some provide simple minigames where you move a hand which looks nothing like any part of the NPC sprite over targets. Some provide interactions with objects as you run around like you’re in a point-and-click adventure game. Others provide little slices of other games; you’re still in the same world but you might be playing an arena shooter or a Frogger clone.
Much like The Stanley Parable, this game provides discourse about games and the world that game characters would inhabit. Personally, one of the things I love is the problem of trying to reconcile how a game world like Frogger or Street Fighter could exist in the real world. Compared to the interesting-but-defeatist view The Stanley Parable had, Jazzpunk revels in the disconnect, stacking different types of games in with each other and with the spy story itself.
There’s a lot to look at and experience in the worlds of the game even with a certain amount of necessary ring-fencing. As each mission is in a different area, the worlds aren’t big, but they are packed. Jazzpunk encourages scouring the world for things to do and is generous with what you can interact with. The sound effects and music help encourage the quirky, light-hearted mindset of the game. The effects are all exactly like cartoon characters, when someone runs away behind your back, or the pizzicato plinking noises. The music helps keep you in the mindset that this is at least claiming to be a spy game.
Some levels outstay their welcome though, both in the main worlds you play in and a couple of the minigames. The “Wedding Qake” level is an entertaining joke but not good enough to want to play as many rounds as you have to, for instance. There’s a level involving a lot of strange floaty lift tubes which looks great at first but is nearly twice as long as was necessary. There are also bugs all over the place. Standing on a bin makes you spin around like crazy, and certain areas of the map make you stick in place temporarily. They aren’t game-breaking, but waiting for an update to iron out these teething problems is encouraged.
As an experience, I’d definitely recommend Jazzpunk. It still fits in the, “Wandering Around Game” style, however its comedic sensibilities are great and its treatment of other video game styles are a love letter to gaming in the most fun, madcap way that Necrophone Games could have thought of.
Reviewed on PC; game was purchased by the reviewer
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