Punk as symbiotic suffix of specific speculative fiction has enjoyed a profound proliferation and patterned progression. There’s something immortally cool about mixing civil dissent and rebellious heroism with the retro or futuristic take on a scientifically gifted and/or deficient society. Cyberpunk begat steampunk and biopunk and, skipping down a few generations, clockpunk and elfpunk. Jazzpunk, coined and created by the folks at Necrophone games, projects exactly what its eccentric name implies; a hilarious adventure with an unwieldy rhythm and paradoxically predictable narrative-uncertainty all fueled by a seemingly endless source of energy. Jazzpunk may share its mission with the likes of Incredible Crisis or LSD: Dream Emulator, but as the titular flag bearer for its invented style, it’s now the standard. Jazzpunk is so jazzpunk.
Players assume the role of Polyblank, a physical non-entity presumably working for some sort of international espionage operation. Cut and dry, Polyblank accepts objectives from his boss and is sent away on operations. As Jazzpunk prefers to tell it, Polyblank stumbles into his boss’s office, receives some vague direction from a chalkboard, observes his boss pass out on the floor, and then downs a bottle of pills only to wake up somewhere else and haphazardly tackle a mission. Jazzpunk absolutely provides an A-to-B goal every step of the way, but the audience is meant to indulge in every eccentric detail surrounding its absurd circumstance.
The witless playgrounds Jazzpunk lays out aren’t geographically impressive, but they’re practically exploding with gags and idiotic happenstance. Even at its most basic level, without obliging any of the jokes therein, there’s something inherently funny about a mass conglomerate of functioning automatons operating under the explicit premise of, either vaguely or directly, entertaining the player. One of the smartest facets of Jazzpunk is its reluctance to abuse its treasure chest of references. I, for example, greatly appreciated smart references to both Street Fighter II and a certain viral animal-screaming video, but I’m equally sure I missed out on a few others. In this way Jazzpunk always feel inclusive, as the sheer volume of jokes ensures practically any exposure to modern culture qualifies as requisite experience.
As an interactive experience, Jazzpunk closely resembles first-person adventures Gone Home or The Stanley Parable with a side-helping of Incredible Crisis. Roughly translated, Jazzpunk places a premium on exploration and absorption, but also makes plenty of room to segue into overdressed minigames. With context being key to the experience I’m reluctant to cite any specific examples from Jazzpunk’s wackadoodle bag of tricks, other than to say that, at times, I couldn’t believe what the game had me doing. While a small fraction of that amiable confusion regarded how Necrophone was going to avoid some sort of hysterical lawsuit, the rest was spent marveling at the density of content and weird elegance of the execution. Though its construction may be crude, when Jazzpunk commits to an idea, it goes all in.
Jazzpunk also manages this weird feedback loop divergent from modern gaming trends. Every environment is surrounded with side quests or otherworldly option objectives, but few are ever spelled out. Furthermore, you’re barely, if ever, objectively rewarded in completing any of them. Not only does this buck the current trend of explaining every last detail, but it allows the functioning game to exist as its own reward. You poke it with a stick because you want to see what happens, not to apply any sort of bonus criteria. Jazzpunk leaves its glut of hyper-colored threads dangling in the wind, and by default they’re more interesting than any neatly assembled piece of clothing. Instead of contrivance and coherence, Jazzpunk exudes character and charm.
The particular flavor of Jazzpunk’s humor is difficult to critique properly; especially considering one person’s avant-garde comedy Louie is another’s Two and a Half Men. Much like its rapid-fire references, its one-liners cover a wide swath of territory. It’s not simply that a supposed cohort has a secret lair in a hotel’s below-ground pool, but rather than when you get there he gives you a guitar to assault a mechanical pig to open a trans-dimensional – Look, I’ll stop there but the point is Jazzpunk never turns itself off. Jazzpunk is a mountain of spoofs constantly in search of one-upping itself, and because it’s interactive the player chooses whether or not to participate in any of it. If there are any regrets it might be that portions of the game are so abstracted or concealed that it may be easy to miss its best bits.
If there are any sour moments, it might be when Jazzpunk elects to roll its credits. Not the actual credit sequence, mind you, because that part is hilarious, but rather the penultimate sequence leading up to the finale. Jazzpunk’s strength seemed to be the player’s authorship over exploration, and, while the last act performs this feat in pockets, it’s mostly a fast track toward the finish. It’s not bad, and the gag-per-second ratio is about the same, but at that point it didn’t feel like the game I was playing earlier. Still, that’s a relatively minor complaint – like going to a funhouse and finding a mirror absent of any distortion. Maybe that’s part of the joke and maybe it’s a little busted, but either way it’s definitely Jazzpunk.