Let’s not beat around the bush; Jazzpunk is a wildly inventive, laugh-out-loud romp, and you absolutely ought to play it before reading another word. From cover to cover, it’s all too easy to compare the sheer bravado and off-kilter sense of humor with greats like Monty Python and Terry Gilliam. It loves to surprise and toy with your expectations, and like most comedies, it’s better entered unspoilt. I’ll undoubtedly give away a few of the gags in order to illustrate my point, but if that’s what it takes to make you realize what you’re missing, then so be it.
As secret agent Polyblank, your missions (should you choose to accept them) involve the typical subterfuge and espionage you’ve come to expect from your average spy film. While most of your assigned objectives have their own clever punchlines, you’ll want to faff about the environment, prodding everything in sight and marveling at the unexpected results. Stealing that microfilm from the Russian embassy can wait; a talking frog needs help stealing wi-fi, and you finally have the chance to be the most obnoxious person in a theater without putting your seat (or health) in danger! It’s one of the few games where straying from the beaten path is rewarded with something far more substantial than a throwaway easter egg or a few extra lines of dialogue.
Borrowing from wildly different sources like Dr. Strangelove and Blade Runner, Jazzpunk’s style is almost as enigmatic as its madcap sense of humor. Cold War deco, dystopian cyberpunk and modern pop culture are all rolled into one irresistible package, assaulting ears with a cacophony of drums and trumpets. The flat, cardboard humanoids that roam the world are all cut from the same cloth, but the discordant robotic voices and clever use of props give each new character a lovably unsettling personality.
There’s little rhyme or reason for Jazzpunk’s antics, but instead of feeling scattered and inconsistent, there’s a sense of order to its chaos. It effortlessly transitions from degaussing pigeons to fighting off zombies made from pizza, and still finds time to wedge in a conspiratorial hobo with magical powers. It eschews traditional, design-by-committee humor from the likes of Duke Nukem and Matt Hazard for a razor-sharp, singular vision where everyone involved was clearly working on the same wavelength. Its unapologetic zaniness and penchant for puns will likely agitate a few, but that’s a small price to pay for a parodic game that stands amongst the likes of Airplane! and The Naked Gun.
Jazzpunk has the charismatic confidence of a seasoned stand-up comedian. It never nudges the player and whispers “Did you get that?” or delivers jokes at a cautious pace. It fires its gags at a rapid pace, leaving scant time for breathing before the next pun rolls around. This isn’t a game attempting to be funny; it KNOWS it’s funny, and it’s enthusiastically going all in with a royal flush. Though it all comes to an end by the second or third hour, something tells me I’ll be eagerly replaying Jazzpunk before the month is through, once again soaking up the misadventures of Polyblank.
I am in your debt, Jazzpunk. I am in massive debt.
The thing that blows me away about Jazzpunk is not even how funny it is- though it is absolutely hysterical- it’s how funny other games aren’t. To be certain, there are some gems of humor in our industry. Portal 2 and Grim Fandango stood out to me as games that were just funny, no strings attached. But usually, when games tell jokes… they suck at it. Persona 4’s moments of “humor” are more enduring than laugh-enducing, Metal Gear’s poop jokes make me want to wince, and last year’s frequent GotY nominee The Stanley Parable, which so many lifted up for its jokes, left me pretty cool. Certainly, humor wasn’t the only tool in the Parable’s arsenal, but it was the reason I so often heard it called great. Compared to most games, it is mildly amusing. Compared to, say, a Marx Brothers’ film, it is rather sad.
You could say “that’s not a fair comparison,” but I think it is. They have different aims, different methods, and very different mediums, but at the end of the day I laughed more in the runtime of Duck Soup than the full playtime of The Stanley Parable. And the reason I know that games can match that level of humor is because Jazzpunk absolutely did. It, just like the Parable, ended up being around a two hour experience , and for me it contained about three hundred percent more laughs- no hyperbole. Jazzpunk is a funny, funny game. It is colorful, it is unexpected and it is goddamn wonderful.
It would be so easy for me to sit here just listing off moments in the game that made burst out laughing, but the surprise of the completely unexpected is so much of Jazzpunk’s appeal. The deadpan delivery of all the voicework, the references perfectly balanced to be strange enough to make you laugh, but not so obscure that most geeks won’t recognize them… it’s always weird getting games at the beginning of the year that you suspect will make your Game of the Year list, but it’s hard to imagine how this won’t end up on mine, and probably Ben’s as well. You owe it to yourself to experience Jazzpunk.