Level Up: “Jazzpunk”

By The Elm - Feb 22,2014@1:21 pm

By Harris Allgeier
Staff Columnist

You’ve got to enter the Soviet consulate to retrieve the classified, top-secret documents, but security’s heavier than you thought. After milling around outside, helping to demagnetize some pigeons, and playing a survival horror pizza, you discover a way in. But there’s a security door with a facial recognition scanner blocking your entrance. Fortunately, a nearby copier allows you to quickly manufacture a personal ID via scanning your posterior. As the door slides open, the scanner shouts a hearty “Welcome Dr. Butts!” This is about as normal as it gets in the wonderful wild world of “Jazzpunk.”

Developed by Necrophone Games, “Jazzpunk” is thoroughly and immensely weird. To try to even classify it is a herculean task. If pressed, I’d try to put it under the umbrella of “Adventure/ Comedy,” but even that’s a bit misleading. Usually adventure games rely on solving some sort of puzzles through applied logic, and conventional logic holds no sway in the bizarre Cold War-future-dystopia of “Jazzpunk.” You play as Agent Polyblanc, an employee of…some secret organization, who is trying to do… something. It’s never really clear, and surprisingly never a concern. The story serves merely as a vehicle to drop you into increasingly surreal environments.  The levels in “Jazzpunk” all dump you into a sandbox, rendered in a colorful and simplified polygon style, crammed full of strange characters, pop-culture references, and hilarious jokes.

The gameplay consists mostly of just clicking around on things and finding out what they do. There are tons of hidden secrets for the curious and thorough player, and the game’s surreal sense of humor only gets stranger the further in you go.

If there’s any criticism to be leveled, it’s at the length of the game. Clocking in at about three hours (more if you include replaying it to discover what you’ve missed) “Jazzpunk” is very short. It’s still enough time to make its point, and I’m not sure a full length game could keep up Jazzpunk’s breakneck comedy speed for much longer, but the end feels a little clipped and anticlimactic.

Overall, “Jazzpunk” is witheringly clever, and while a few jokes may fall flat, there’s never an overreliance on any particular gag, so nothing wears thin. It’s a testament to the notion that videogames can be art while still being fun to play. (Developers of “Dear Esther” could take a few pointers from Necrophone). There’s a lot jammed into the game’s short run time and while nothing would please me more than to describe some of these oddities, to do so would be telling, and “Jazzpunk” is an experience eminently worth playing.

The Elm

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