It’s so hard to know where to start with this game, so I’ll jump right in with a little background. Jazzpunk was created by a DUO, Luis Hernandez and Jess Brouse, who established Necrophone games in 2008. They have created some games at Game Jams previously, and have since had one release preceding Jazzpunk: Beetlenaut (which I have not played).
Anyway, they certainly got some help making Jazzpunk, as is made clear in the credits, but this is an indie game that I felt 100% obligated to rave about after playing it because it left me with that rare feeling; the one that makes me want to shout its name from mountain tops in the hopes that other gamers are listening and have the same exceptional experience I had playing their game.
Jazzpunk wastes no time throwing you right into the experience that is… JAZZPUNK. It starts off with this busy, exciting, loud intro with music that makes me want to reference Archer somehow in that it’s very spy-like and glamorous. You are presented with a lot of patterns, loud colors, and imagery that set you up for the attitude and setting of the game before being hurled into the intro scene: a quiet train station where you exit from a very peculiar shaped suitcase. The mechanics of the game itself are so simple that the player requires to explicit instruction to proceed. There is only one way to go, it just all depends on what you want to look at and how long you want to take to get there.
The next thing you know, you’re invited into an office because it turns out you’re a very important person with a very important mission. This is presented all very tongue-in-cheek and the laughs begin from the second you walk into the secretary’s office.
Jazzpunk plays very much like other indies I’m very fond of: Gone Home, Thirty Flights of Loving, and Dear Esther; the first person, exploratory point-and-click mechanics with a “figure it out yourself” feeling. Jazzpunk expects you to be the type of player who wants to look at everything, click on everything, and relish every detail. If you don’t, you are simply robbing yourself of the full experience. If this sounds like a chore for you, it may not be your type of game. If you’re like me, you embrace games like this that give you a setting and set you free to perform actions in a world full of things just waiting for you to discover.
Jazzpunk is like this: you could either read a comic book, or read a transcript of the comic book without the imagery, characters, expressions, and little details. Just like the Mass Effect series or recent Fallout games, you could do exactly as you are instructed to in each level, do your mission, and miss tons of little things all around you. The Stanley Parable makes perfect example of this game design principle: taking advantage of the idea that the player will want to deviate from the “main course” and push the boundaries of what the game can afford before doing what must be done to continue. I really appreciate this type of design because it just feels so rewarding when you dig up piece after piece of comedy gold.
Even though the jokes are absolutely ridiculous sometimes and really random, something about the formula just did it for me. The humor was all paced very well in between ambient activities and small side quests. The jokes are spread throughout player conversation with the NPCs, who sure have a lot to say, the environment design (e.g. signs, buildings, sentient boxes), and interactive objects. Just like old RPGs, I found myself clicking on every NPC until they had nothing left to say to me… or disappeared. I just couldn’t move on with the main storyline until I had explored every nook and cranny of each level to be satisfied.
There are a lot of computer and programming-related jokes that I could appreciate. Some of them may go over the heads of gamers who don’t have a lot of experience with code or game development, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a detractor from the game. On the contrary, it could be incentive for players to Google things in order to understand the joke and learn from it. I find myself doing that sort of thing all of the time with normal TV shows if I don’t understand a reference. That said, I think it’s brilliant, to elaborate on this again, that the designers made this game keeping in mind that their target audience is primarily smart, savvy, mature players.
One of my favorite aspects of Jazzpunk was the number of mini activities there were strewn throughout the game. Even though the game is primarily walking and clicking on stuff, every now and then you find yourself thrown into a specially scripted mini-game that managed to hold my attention for more than 5 minutes. Pictured is the players’ artfully drawn man-hand which pops up when necessary to participate in particular activities. In this particular activity, the hand dons a jeweled ring as the game allows you to scratch records of dated voice recordings related to science and technology with a phat beat playing. I found this activity to be bewilderingly enjoyable and must have “DJ’d” for about 5 minutes before resuming. It’s moments like this that really make the game memorable. I don’t want to spoil too much by mentioning other mini-games but I wanted to emphasize the fact that this is much more than just a “walking simulator” as some may call it.
To end on a positive note, I uploaded this photograph I took of Game Informer magazine after reading the “review” they did of Jazzpunk that was crammed into their, I don’t know, “last minute” section of the magazine? Someone named ‘Jeff’ who is proudly well-versed in B-movies and games thought that Jazzpunk got bad and bad again. I don’t know who Jeff is or what games and movies he watches, but I was infuriated after seeing this lousy “review” in the back of the magazine and, as you can see, tore the magazine in outrage (especially after that Octodad review, too). I feel this is injustice to indie games.
If I spent months or years developing an indie game as brilliant as Jazzpunk with a best friend or colleague, I would be outraged at this kind of lazy journalism. Heck, I was outraged for them I suppose. I took almost 200 screenshots while I played Jazzpunk because I felt so compelled to document each thing that brought me a good laugh. I highly recommend this game to the casual and experienced gamer. I recommend it to anyone who wants to just boot up a game and enjoy explorings worlds at a relaxed pace with the desire to get some great laughs. Have you played Jazzpunk yet? What did you think? And if not, check it out on Steam here. I spent $5.50 on the game during a Steam sale for about 5 hours of unforgettable gameplay, so wait until the next sale if $14.99 is too far beyond your budget.