Review: JazzPunk

Jazzpunk is a comedy adventure set in an alternate reality Cold War World, plagued with corporate espionage, CyberCrime, and sentient martinis. Gameplay is inspired by spoof comedy films and cartoons of yesteryear, with a focus on weird gadgets, exotic locales, and open-world style exploration.

Although everything and anything is subjective when it comes to art, be it film, literature, music, theatre or games, it always seems doubly so when labelled as ‘comedy’. Set in a strange polygonial cold war world of spies and subtefuge, Jazzpunk is essentially a walkabout or explorathon, but with a focus on being very silly and making you laugh, its comedy inspiration clearly derived from the Zucker brothers’ Airplane! and Police Squad/Naked Gun.

Each mission takes place in a ring fenced area, and although your objective is always clear, you’ll want to have a good poke around in every corner first to squeeze out every gag and daft set-piece contained within. And if you do so, the gags, and often odd little mini-games, will come thick and fast. So there’s no way round this: your enjoyment of Jazzpunk will entirely come down to whether its humour is your thang or not. Perhaps then the best advice for the curious is to seek out some video footage, ideally as un-spoilerific as possible, to see if Jazzpunk’s humour is going to tickle your pickle.

The presentation throughout is excellent and ties what could just be considered a string of jokes, albeit ones with a technological slant, together. From the Saul Bass titles to the soundtrack’s pleasingly crusty analog bleeps and bloops it’s all very cohesive and dripping with style and charm.
There were a few minor control issues: if you’re using a pad, the right stick seemed to lack any deadzone at all, which on particularly well used pads may cause unwanted drifting of your viewpoint. A late mini-game also became slightly baffling until I realised the angle of your view effects a certain mechanic. These issues may of course get patched out in the future.

Sure, I probably didn’t laugh out loud as much as the designers hoped, often eliciting wry smiles, groans, and plenty of “oh-very-clever”s rather than huge guffaws, but it all worked for me. Some will question its length – only three hours to do absolutely everything – but that’s certainly not without precedent for this sort of thing. I also suspect younger players aren’t going to get certain references, or will be slightly baffled at old rotary dial phones and the like, but screw them because, well, they probably won’t be dead in 30-40 years.
Regardless Jazzpunk deserves to stand alongside games like Gone Home & The Last of Us in succesfully bringing emotions & narratives to gaming that other media has long taken for granted. It’s ironic then that as daft and as silly as Jazzpunk undoubtedly is, it is also another important step in the maturation of games overall.

Jazzpunk is out on Steam for PC, Mac & Linux.

Jim Smale

Gaming since the Atari 2600, I enjoy the weirdness in games counting Densha De Go and RC De Go as my favourite titles of all time. I prefer gaming of old where buying games from a shop was a thing, Being social in person was a thing. Join me as I attempt to adapt to this new digital age!