Jazzpunk is sketch comedy in videogame form. It has more fun throwing ideas at a dartboard, and seeing what sticks, than working on any singular vision. It feels like Monty Python’s Flying Circus or Portlandia as produced by a highfalutin Comic Book Guy who secretly just wanted to talk about his favourite post-war movies, but ended up making this crazy alternate-reality Cold War game instead. There’s a clear vision here, and that vision seems to have been freeform design. For everything.
Jazzpunk completely ignores traditional game and narrative structure — I can only imagine that’s why the word ‘jazz’ fits so snugly at the top of this page. It wildly switches between set pieces and mechanics, seemingly at the point when its developers decided they were tired of working with them. Allegedly it’s a story of espionage, but describing it as an acid flashback embedded with pop culture and subterfuge wouldn’t be far off. The direct nods to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas suggest a keen awareness of all this.
It’s a game with it’s own brand of humour, which you might find hilarious, or bafflingly stupid; I lean towards the former. Its packed full of gags meant for 2% of the audience (because now is as good a time as any to make a WaveRace 64 joke). There are so many one-offs that it’s easy to ignore it when something flies right over your head. It’s commendable how much work the developer was willing to put into inconsequential knee-slappers.
As endearing as Jazzpunk’s aesthetic and witticisms can be, it’s easy to be disappointed by how limited the player is inside the universe. It’s not a deal a breaker — and great games have gotten away with less interaction— but Jazzpunk’s world is so lively it would have been nice to have more opportunities to engage with it. I’d equate it with an open-world version of The Stanley Parable where you’re constantly poking things hoping for a reaction. The game’s side material —which is secretly it’s main course— does include a handful of mini-games, but they exist for as abstract a reason as anything else in the game: because why the hell not.
At the end of the day your enjoyment of Jazzpunk is going to depend on your sense of humour. It has laugh out loud funny moments mixed in with wonderfully stupid humour that may or may not click with you. Just like Jazz or sketch comedy, Jazzpunk has a stylistic wrapper that unifies the whole thing, but it’s still hard to know what you’re in for.
- There are so many jokes happening I wonder how often the game’s developers were surprised when they stumbled over stuff.
- If you want to see what authorship in games looks like this is a great place to start.
- Don’t ask me why, but I found myself constantly reminded of Mario Paint while playing this.
- This is not a game for everyone.
- I want more Jim Sterling voice acting.
- I want to play more games that exist for the creators as much as the audience.
- Some of these jokes, oh gawd my gut.