Jazzpunk Review

  • First Released Feb 7, 2014
  • PC

Strange daze.

The promise of getting deluged by weirdness awaits your every move in Jazzpunk, a cartoony cyberpunk first-person adventure that attempts to shoehorn as many perplexing and hilarious moments as possible into its meager two-hour length. This off-the-wall journey is far from a straight line from start to finish, however, since every retro-futurist setting you explore is riddled with secrets. The many comedic oddities you uncover multiple trips into this goofy indie odyssey worthwhile.

Jazzpunk's warped version of the special-agent life begins with its silent protagonist, Polyblank, being mailed through customs in a human-shaped suitcase and deposited on the doorstep of a top-secret espionage agency that's based out of an abandoned subway car. If the brain-warping neon psychedelic intro doesn't make you feel like you've been drugged, the ebb and flow of the many humorous absurdities layered thick throughout the peculiar opening moments certainly will. From there, the wild ride takes a more overt turn toward the bizarre when your director hands you a prescription bottle of mysterious pills to take in order to be "transported" to your first mission. Yeah. That's all just in the first minute or so.

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The surreal missions that follow have you degaussing and smuggling pigeons, extracting mechanical organs from sushi-loving cowboys, cross-dressing for a vacation rendezvous briefcase swap, murdering a bionic pig with a six-string guitar, and even photocopying your backside to gain access to a secret facility. It's all excessively bizarre, which is a huge part of the fun. You never know what crazy thing you'll encounter next, and being diligent about investigating every nook and cranny rewards you with a slew of hilarious secrets and gags.

It's hard not to chuckle a bit when you're spraying liquid cheese into the mouth of a bespectacled gentleman or beheading pepperoni and cheese zombies with a giant pizza cutter.

Overcoming obstacles in your way and sniffing out the path ahead isn't particularly challenging, though the often unusual nature of the many tasks you have to complete to progress makes them highly entertaining. Experimenting to see what happens when you interact with an object or trying out some new gizmo you've acquired on an unwitting test subject is often rewarding on its own. Like the moment I decided to spray pigeon juice on a hobo, spurring a swarm of the birds to affix themselves to the poor fellow. He stood there, birds flapping away at his face wildly, and informed me that I had to get my own peanut butter. What? Indeed, Jazzpunk's light puzzle play takes a backseat to its quest to make you laugh.

Humor is the heart of this demented adventure, and it's hard not to chuckle a bit when you're spraying liquid cheese into the mouth of a bespectacled gentleman or beheading pepperoni and cheese zombies with a giant pizza cutter. The situations you find yourself in from one moment to the next grow increasingly outrageous as you progress. References to Evil Dead 2, kids' cereal of the 1980s, old-school video games, and goofy nostalgia for the technology of days gone by are sprinkled in for good measure. It's a funny game to be sure, and I had more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. Not all of the gags hit the mark, though, and the laugh-worthy mileage you get depends in part on your amusement over scatological wisecracks.

And you thought toasters were just for making toast.
And you thought toasters were just for making toast.

Retro-themed minigames modeled after classics from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras throw added variety into this crazy concoction. They're entertaining asides that break up the gag-heavy exploration and minor puzzle elements, though Jazzpunk leans on these diversions too heavily at times. It's fine when earlier minigames pop up as amusing Easter eggs as a reward for your meticulous tinkering and searching. But these interruptions wear thin when the final stretch of the adventure forces you to motor through a gauntlet of rather dull minigames. Sure, the mini-games tie in to the story progression in an amusing way. But by the time you're playing minigolf and racing gravy boats, it becomes painfully obvious that the substance and humor have waned considerably. It's an odd shift, considering the overall level of ingenious creativity thrown in elsewhere. The bonus multiplayer mode, Wedding Qake, is one big exception, however. Having a "let's get married" deathmatch where you "engage" opponents and blast them with champagne corks? Good times.

Even if the humor doesn't always click and the depth is lacking at moments, Jazzpunk's stylish presentation and great backing soundtrack set a slick atmosphere and cool vibe that inspire the need to stick around in its peculiar world a bit longer. Unless you're very diligent in your travels, revisiting past stages undoubtedly reveals additional jokes, secrets, and silly character encounters you missed the first time around.

Quirky humor and an abundance of outrageous antics keep things buoyant through much of the short but flawed journey. Jazzpunk is an enthusiastic attempt to answer the question of just how much weirdness you can possibly cram into a few hours of gaming. In that endeavor, at least, it's a great achievement.

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The Good

  • Absolutely bizarre world is fascinating to explore
  • Humor at every turn encourages experimentation
  • Awesome atmosphere and art direction

The Bad

  • Some of the gags fall short
  • Minigames wear out their welcome by the end

About the Author

A connoisseur of peculiar indie gaming offerings, Nathan dove into Jazzpunk and got a kick out of being blasted by wave after wave of craziness. After beating the game, and then diving back in for more, he was still left craving another helping.