Jazzpunk as an Object of Unfathomable Density and Consummate Silliness

Jazzpunk is a brief, bizarre spy pastiche (kind of), structured around a few loose, goofy puzzles and packed to an unfathomable density with glorious little jokes. The game’s been published under the rapidly expanding purview of Adult Swim Games, and Jazzpunk does indeed fit in well with the Adult Swim legacy—rapid-fire absurdism, gloriously shameless punning, and assorted nigh-inexplicable hallucinogenic weirdness.

It’s been compared to Airplane!-era Leslie Nielsen movies as well. I buy that. Or imagine if Davey Wreden and thecatamites collaborated on an adventure game adaptation of Get Smart. Or if Gravity Bone took place in the same universe (but had none of the same characters) as Cowboy Bebop. That’s what Jazzpunk is like.

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The game is divided into four missions, each with a single central goal and bouquet of wonderfully pointless detours (which generally contain even stranger and even more pointless achievements, Matryoshka dolls of bizarre in-game actions, silliness for its own sake nested in other silliness, equally for its own sake). Affectionate parodies of other games and other styles of games abound, but always in service of the game’s primary goal, namely making it more or less impossible to know what’s going to happen next.

Few if any of the jokes in Jazzpunk are about ludonarrative dissonance or the strangeness of doing game stuff in the midst of a story. Rather, they’re about taking the strangeness of games and running with it. The game revels in the odd and the artificial and the awkward. The dialogue manages to be both clipped and rambling. The often limbless, peg-like characters rub up against things and each other in order to interact—tangled up in ambiguous verbs, frobbing forever.

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It’s the funniest game I’ve played since The Stanley Parable (though it’s funny in an entirely different way), and it’s probably yet another one of those games where you’ll get more out of it if you go in cold. (See also: Antichamber, Papers, Please, and every other game ever).

I feel like I’m beating that drum a lot lately, the give-yourself-a-chance-to-have-a-fresh-reaction drum. But that’s only because we’re at this critical, confounding, spectacular moment for games—this moment when there’s all sorts of stuff out there that’s ready and able to really and truly surprise you.

Jazzpunk will surprise you in all manner of silly-as-fuck ways. Go let it.

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