Over the last two years or so, we’ve seen developers truly embrace the notion of exploration. Rather than have the player blast enemies with their rifle and tell the story in shoehorned cutscenes, you now have the power – moreso than ever before. You want to make a B-line for the finish line and see the credits roll? Go ahead. But, if you want to dive into the world that is in front of you, and take your time with it? You’re more than welcome to. This is how to experience Jazzpunk.
Like a weird James Bond movie set in a warped 1950s where robots roam the Earth with humans, you are Polyblank: a secret agent that is at first sent on a mission to infiltrate the Russian consulate. Your boss has given you direct orders, so you can be efficient, if you wish. To do so, would be to cheat yourself of everything that happens in the background, though. For instance, in that first mission, you can approach a shady-looking character in an alleyway who will present you with a futuristic weapon that will allow you to shoot down pigeons from the sky. None of that is compulsory, nor is it that relevant to the over-arching story, but by Christ, is it fun!
You travel to many different, very stereotypical corners of the Earth for a secret agent to peruse such as a tropical island resort and a cramped Japanese city. In every outlandish setting there are so many things to see that to pass them up would be doing a disservice to the developer – and you, of course. Most characters you come across will have a few ditties that will tickle your funny bone, or give you the opportunity to partake in one of the many mini-games within.
That’s what the gameplay boils down to, basically. Whether you’re trying to swat flies in a vase shop, or play a round of crazy golf, you’ll constantly be surprised with what’s put in front of you. There’s very little challenge, and there’s no question that these puzzles (for lack of a better term) are less than taxing, only acting as set-ups to the climax of a goof. Some are less than stimulating in their simplicity and lack a certain punch. Another important note is that there is no fail state in Jazzpunk. You can begin one of the many activities and decide to abandon it half-way through, if you so desire – and in a number of cases you might be glad of this. The stripped-back nature leads to a few mini-games teetering on the verge of being mundane, but the absurdity still invokes an element of intrigue.
The dead-pan delivery of the peculiar crop of misfits in Jazzpunk strangely fits with the innocent art style. The characters appear to be plucked straight from a child’s play set with a bold outline to only emphasise that point and there’s a vivid look to every building and object. Couple that with a spy story where you are dealing with life-threatening events and Necrophone has achieved what they wanted; a delightful hodge-podge that somehow works.
In all likelihood, you won’t see everything that Jazzpunk has to offer the first time around. There are zingers tucked away in every nook-and-cranny that will only reveal themselves to you if you want them to. In so many cases, you are the key to the punchline. Without you, the clever quips stay hidden and will remain unearthed until you say so. Jazzpunk invites you to get involved in the comedy and, in many ways, become the butt of the joke. Funnily enough, there actually is a butt joke in there.
VERDICT: Surrealist humour can be so hit-or-miss. There are plenty of examples where the zaniness is often jarring, but Jazzpunk rarely falls into that category. Around every corner, there’s a crab that’s fluent in Spanish, or a Pizza Box that laughs at you maniacally. Sure, there are a few duds and it doesn’t always hit the mark, but developer Necrophone Games bang out the gags at a rate befitting of a Python. The destination isn’t the key for Polyblank, it’s all about enjoying the ride, opening every door possible and relishing the fact that there is a mini-game here called Wedding Quake. Fantastic.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.