Jazzpunk is a game that solely focuses on great style. From the bombastic use of music, the high gag-per-second speed, and its use of warped-reality visuals very easily transport the player into developer Necrophones’ world.
Set in 1959.B, Jazzpunk sees the player character, dubbed Polybank, sent on missions that truly have no real consequence and are just good excuses to participate actively in the nonsense on display. There is sort of a Cold War backdrop to Jazzpunk, although most of North America is known as the Prefecture of Japanada. You are sent to retrieve objects and along the way interact with people, items, and sometimes even enter smaller levels within the one you are in yourself.
It is very hard to give specific examples of what makes Jazzpunk so special because I don’t want to spoil the jokes or diminish the charm of this short game. A small joke, and one that you will most likely encounter when first beginning the game, is a cardboard box on a bench. Approaching it and pressing X yields some mumbling and text dialogue that states, “I’m just a box, leave me alone.” The absurdity of a usually inanimate object being able to speak and request you to not interact with it establishes what to expect from this game. It also undermines the player in that the developer knows that you are most likely going to try to interact with anything that sticks out, so why not have the first thing you can interact with tell you to politely buzz off.
There are so many other small jokes like this scattered throughout the game that it would take quite some time to list them all. Sometimes the game seems to be doling them out way too quickly — you may feel overwhelmed. This is also true when exploring the relatively open areas you are placed in, as you search every scrap of land for a joke. After wrapping the game up, I was worried about the jokes I probably missed — a unique problem within this game.
Many of these jokes are visual or conversational gags, most of which I attribute to the love of movies such as The Naked Gun. Frequently you will face a monitor of some sort, revealed as part of some machine or popping up from a random object, and be placed into a smaller outcropping of a level. These will, for a short time, distract you from the main goal, but then again pretty much everything in the game is specifically to keep you from doing whatever objective you were given beforehand.
The music is at both times tinges with a Cold War aesthetic and completely removed from that era altogether. Much like the humor, the music can move along at a breakneck pace, playing track after track as you quickly move through everything Jazzpunk has to offer. Sound effects are utilized at the right time, and pop-culture references in both visuals and familiar tunes will pop up if you look for them. The spoken word also has great range, from barely audible mumbles to intentionally stereotypical cowboy, Asian girl, and businessman voices.
Visually Jazzpunk is very simple. The world is occupied by simple character avatars that resemble slightly more detailed stick figures; or, as one in-game character put it, a lot like the sign on a bathroom door. People you cannot interact with are simple black and white icons, whereas those you can talk to range from ambiguous men in suits to cyborg teens. The variety of characters extends to the locations as well. Beginning in an airport you are transported to a Russian consulate, dense urban city, cyberpunk future, tropical hotel, wireframe innards of a simulation, and rooftops of skyscrapers.
Humor is not only in scenarios and text, but also in visuals. Playing with the character’s perspective happens frequently. It is a recurring theme that (since you have no hands) a detailed, hairy arm appendage is used in close-ups of objects you can interact with. Those appendages are then left on the floor or in the item of question as discarded props. You will sometimes pick up objects for later or immediate use, such as a metal detector for the beach, or a fly swatter to kill flies in an antique vase store. While there isn’t much to do, and no consistent thread until near the end, Jazzpunk keeps things moving along at a good enough pace that you aren’t left bored for very long, if at all.
There is also a multiplayer mode called Wedding Cake, a small outcropping in the main game accessible from the main menu of Director’s Cut. In this mini-game up to four players can participate in a fast-moving first person shooter in which you use various wedding-related objects to kill the opposition. A wedding cake chain gun, cork-popping champagne bottle, and rose firing bazooka that throws you backwards when fired are some of the weapons available to you. If you don’t have buddies to play with locally, as its the only mode available, you can also participate in the free-for-all with bots. There are unlockable levels and character skins as well.
I very much enjoyed all of my time with Jazzpunk. Slowly understanding that a character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had made its way into the tropical resort level was one of my favorite realizations while playing. Jazzpunk knows its all about the joke and never spends too much time on one singular scenario. Due to the speed of which these are thrown at you though, you may lose your place or forget what exactly you were supposed to do and how to do it. Despite that I still find it recommendable to almost anyone who can appreciate absurdist humor and a irreverence for logic when it comes to comedy.