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Jazzpunk

(Adult Swim Games; US: 7 Feb 2014)

Jazzpunk is not a game. Jazzpunk is a style. It’s not just cyberpunk with jazz, though it kind of is cyberpunk with jazz. It’s also a conglomeration of toys from throughout one’s life, with an extravagant 60’s soundtrack that emphasizes your every action. It’s a retro-future world of wetware, cybernetics, frog porn, and smoking pies with sunglasses, and it’s a techie sense of humor that feels both random and perfectly logical. To play Jazzpunk is to jump headfirst and blindfolded into the mind of its developer.


It’s a weirdly personal game, filled with jokes, references, callbacks, and parodies that feel utterly disconnected and random but that actually represent a very specific life. It’s the life of someone who grew up with Power Rangers, Warcraft, Blockbuster Video, Naked Gun, with some Thunderbirds thrown in, and who really, really loves puns. It’s as if the pair at Necrophone Games threw the entirety of their geeky lives into a blender, made cookies from it, and then used those cookies as action figures in a spy game.


Jazzpunk the style is super weird in very special way.


Jazzpunk the game isn’t anything special. It’s billed as a “first-person slapstick comedy,” and that’s as good as any way to describe it in gaming terms. Honestly, though, things like genre, mechanics, controls, objectives, and story are meaningless to Jazzpunk. As such, it’s best compared to games like Gravity Bone or Thirty Flights of Loving. It’s got that Duplo-block aesthetic and a spy story that provides little to no context for your actions.


Jazzpunk is more about exploration than interactivity. It’s filled with references to movies and games, but it’s not just about those references. It doesn’t think that a reference is funny all on its own, that reference usually leads into some other slapstick joke. Jazzpunk is a game of unbridled free association, which means it’s so packed with stuff that it can be overwhelming and exhausting if played for long periods of time. You could easily finish the game in a single sitting, but after 30 minutes, you owe your mind a break. There’s no challenge to the game, but that’s one of the best things about it. Jazzpunk is the game equivalent of a stand-up comedian: You’ll come in, sit back, relax, and he’ll pelt you with jokes for a couple hours, And you’ll hopefully laugh and have a good time.


Jazzpunk defies categorization. You could call it an adventure game or a spy game and you’d be partly right, but what it really is, when you get right down to it, is a celebration of a life of geekery, and it’s hard not to enjoy that.

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Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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