Despite it's blatant absurdity Barkley, shut up and Jam: Gaiden is a funny and thoroughly entertaining experience.

User Rating: 8.5 | Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa PC
After reading Wootex's enigmatic and provocative blog post, entitled "Free thrills on the streets of Proto-Neo New York", I was compelled to give Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley Saga a go. Can you really blame me? With a name like that and the promise of an epic basketball story set in the post-cyberpocalyptic ruins of Neo New York I was surely bound for some form of entertainment no matter how bad the game turned out to be. Imagine my pleasure when I found that the games greatness extended so far beyond the absurd premise of its story.

Lets make one thing clear right off the bat, BSUJG (as I have shortened the title down to) is not merely a novelty. The story isn't just a farce, it's actually very well written and clever. The gameplay isn't just an excuse to let you fight Kratos and Master Chief, it's immersive and entertaining in it's own right. And the music, it's just plain old awesome. In fact it's the music which foreshadows the epicness of this game as soon as you start it up and hear the Space Jam theme playing.

Starting the game you find yourself in the shoes of Charles Barkley, an ex-b-ball player with a dark and troubled past. You are responsible for performing a chaos dunk in the year 2041, a move so powerful that it destroyed a stadium full of people and with it the glory of b-ball. 12 years later b-ball is outlawed, the world is a dystopian hell hole where sports enthusiasts are criminals and worst of all Michael Jordan is constantly harassing you and your son Hoopz. The story quickly escalates as Barkley discovers that another chaos dunk has been performed in Manhattan, killing millions of people. From here your efforts to clear your name and save Hoopz, who has been taken by Michael Jordan, will take you on an odyssey-like adventure involving all your favourite zombie/cyborg basketballers, ancient tombs, a town full of surgically altered animal lovers and the b-ball dimension.

The story itself is great but the game really shines in the small details put into the dialogue and gameplay. If you're a fan of RPG's (Final Fantasy in particular), basketball or videogames in general you will find many clever references hidden throughout the seven or so hours that it will take you to complete the game. Battle sprites are blatantly stolen from other games (Michael Jordan for example is Michael Jackson from "Moonwalker"), rpg cliches are exaggerated and mocked (poison and blindness status effects are replaced with diabetes and glaucoma) and gamers themselves are poked fun at via the ranting truck pumps which serve as the games save points.

At first glance the gameplay is just a Final Fantasy styled turn based system. However upon closer inspection it turns out to be a little more complex and immersive. Like Final Fantasy 12 your enemies are visible onscreen but if you get too close they will attack and you will enter into a battle screen. Unlike a normal rpg where you would simply select an attack for the character to perform, choose an enemy and then watch him do it BSUJG attempts to involve the player a little more. For example if you choose to do Barkley's free throw move you must time your shots according to a meter which pops up. Each characters attack employs a combination of keys that imitates it much like swinging the wii-mote to kill a person in manhunt 2. It's a minor tweak but it really contributes towards immersing you in the game.

On top of the battles there are one or two quick time events spread out across the game. Much like God of War you are required to press keys according to on-screen prompts in order to make it alive from a tough situation. The time that you have to press each button is rather short and if you mess up more than once you're dead so getting through these scenes can be initially quite difficult. However you are allowed to start over again and the game also uses the exact same prompts each time so if you're having difficulty you can just memorize which keys you have to press.

I mentioned earlier that BSUJG is not a novelty game, or even a purely comedic game. The story absurd as it may be can also be absolutely hilarious, emotionally moving and just flat out epic and this is mostly attributable to the music. The streets of Neo New York are depressing, the Spalding basketball factory is zany and futuristic and the scene near the end when you fight Michael Jordan to the Harlem Globetrotters theme is undeniably one of the greatest moments in the game.

Considering that BSUJG is a free rpg-maker game it seems unfair to point out it's flaws. It's much like a kindergarten teacher complaining about incorrect syntax in a letter written by a four year old. However this particular game is so good that I will judge it as harshly as any other. For a starters the graphics are understandably poor. Anything that is not stolen from a different game tends to look like a doodle drawn on microsoft paint. Furthermore each time you exit a battle your characters will be transparent for a few seconds. This isn't necessarily a big deal as the text more than makes up for the shortcomings of the graphics, but a few ugly things here and there may put off a few people.

The music, while undeniably fantastic, tends to be a little short meaning that it will repeat itself after a while. Unfortunately the songs do not blend into themselves particularly well in places which makes for a jarring transition as they stop and then start.

Lastly the story cuts off very suddenly. After a huge twist and a great confrontation the story peters out leaving you wanting something more conclusive. The best we can hope for is that the makers do chapter 2 and pick up from where they left.

Overall this game is very easy to recommend to almost any gamer. If you have a sharp wit and a love for either basketball or rpgs then it's all the more reason to download it right now.