Jazzpunk Review

The funniest game you’ll play all year

Jazzpunk is different.  When its mother says it’s a special and unique snowflake, that the other games only make fun of it because they have gout, that deformed ducklings are actually beautiful pigeons, she’s right. 

If we had to categorize Jazzpunk in a “normal” genre so it can go to regular school instead of one with crocodile grades, it would be a first-person adventure.  But that’s just a disguise.  Jazzpunk doesn’t fit neatly into any classification, except something like “joke sandbox,” of which it is the pioneering and only one of its kind.  


And yet, it is still very much a game.  It looks like a game, it feels like a game, and it rewards its players like a game.  In fact, it’s actually a lot of games: a yard sale assortment of almost-recognizable titles with strangers’ names scrawled across them in black Sharpie, dropped in a one-price-for-all box someone decided to round out with whoopee cushions and books of Russian brain teasers.  This box is familiar and foreign, and while you can’t possibly appreciate everything that’s inside, you take it home and sort through the spoils, giggling at nostalgic discoveries of sticky hands and foam dinosaur pills.

So what’s actually in the box labeled “Jazzpunk“?  There’s a 1950s spy motif, splashed across an alternate Cold War era reality where technology has evolved to the point of robot butlers but not past the point of banana phones.  This world is painted by a colorful, cartoonish brush that elicits memories of everything from Team Fortress 2 to Viewtiful Joe.  The characters that populate this 3D-but-at-times-2D land fit the strange anti-dimensionality well, as armless creatures that acknowledge they—or at least you, the player—look like bathroom symbols.


And who are you, Mr. Men’s Room Signage?  You are Polyblank, an accomplished spy whose missions are handed down by a director with an office in a subway car.  In the parallel universe of Jazzpunk, accepting an assignment is as easy as popping a “Missionoyl” pill and tackling it in your technologically-enhanced mind.  Or is it in reality?  It’s hard to say, and not really important.

That’s the beauty of Jazzpunk and the reality it has created: nothing is clear-cut, anything is possible, and the absurd is the standard.  Ridiculous moments range from never-ending technology puns to 1950s smoking commentaries to chatting with a Spanish crab.  Everything is presented as a matter-of-fact part of the world, with jokes left in plain sight only enhanced by the developers’ winking eye, and others hidden so far off the beaten path that you can’t help but wonder what else you might be missing.

And this is really the point.  Yes, there are missions and objectives to complete which are deliciously surreal themselves, like collecting a modified kidney from its still-breathing owner.  But these are just tickets to their respective environments, a reason to explore everything developer Necrophone Games has stashed in and around the “main storyline.”  The Russian Consulate is the site of a hilarious mission, but the nearby park features a pigeon degaussing side quest and Frogger-like mini-game.  Wandering the park, speaking to its NPCs—many of which are easily recognizable spies “in disguise”—and looking at or interacting with its dozens of objects is the true reward.


With its inspiration drawn from classic cartoons and spoof films like The Naked Gun, this buffet-style fun should be no surprise.  Jazzpunk‘s only goal is to entertain you.  Not just as a whole or at the end when the story finally “clicks,” but at every step and turn throughout the game.  And it succeeds.  It’s unlikely that any player will enjoy every joke they come across, but Jazzpunk is so jam-packed with puns, gags, jokes, and references that even if one falls flat, another is never far away.

Since discovery of these jokes and their inevitable surprise is the best part of the Jazzpunk experience, I’ve tried to keep specific examples to a minimum.  If you want a more concrete idea of what to expect, here are a few of my must-share favorites.  (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want any jokes spoiled.)  A vacation resort full of Hunter S. Thompson tourists mumbling incoherently.  A subtle but perfect Demolition Man reference.  A playable Quake-like hidden in a wedding cake, called Wedding Qake, complete with players complaining about ping in the “chat.”  Tossing coins on the corpse of not one, but two bellhops that you accidentally murdered.  The line “You have poor fugu technique.”  Blurry frog porn.  Everything that happens to pigeons in the first mission.


Jazzpunk is so stuffed with humor that I imagine writing even one more mission into the game would have made Necrophone’s heads explode.  This means that unfortunately, even searching every nook and cranny to find as many jokes and interactions as possible will still only take about three hours’ playtime. 

But I would have played that extra, brain-splattered mission and loved it.  And then someone in Jazzpunk would have microwaved it, sold it on the organ black market, or sprayed it into a trillionaire’s quivering jowls.

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