Archive | February 2014

Summary Judgment: Jazzpunk

Comedy is a difficult beast to wrangle. Done too lightly and it misses the mark. Done too heavily, and it oversaturates itself and alienates the audience. In games especially comedy is rarely executed on a consistent level in a way that is unique and works.

So when something like Jazzpunk comes around, I pay attention.

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UNABASHEDLY BIZARRE

            Jazzpunk is sort of like being clubbed over the head with amusement. The density of it all, the sheer jokes per second value of the entire game is almost overwhelming at times, and it’s all wrapped up in the most unbelievably, shamelessly strange things in a game this side of Earthbound.

It’s a disorienting level of amusement at times. Each of Jazzpunk’s levels is packed with so many little jokes and so many more things that are just plain odd that it can feel overwhelming despite the game’s relatively short length. Like The Stanley Parable before it, Jazzpunk is a game that begs to be poked, prodded, and turned upside down at every turn.

In Jazzpunk, you’re set in the role of a questionably robotic spy named Polyblank, who is sent around the world to accomplish a series of increasingly absurd tasks of espionage. It’s a fairly simple first person adventure game at heart, and most of the action takes place in terms of the player walking around from point to point interacting with objects.

What makes it stand out, though is that all of this is wrapped up in a larger overarching sendup of noir and spy fiction that works fantastically well despite being mixed in with so much complete insanity.  I do sort of wish that the game got a little more into its own main story; the characters and events of the levels where the story gets center focus are well executed and hilarious, and I’d have liked for there to be more time for the main cast to breathe and grow a little.

In many ways, though, it’s a miracle Jazzpunk works so well. Comedy of this nature is so easy to screw up colossally. Wacky, zany, over the top randomness is so often ruined and run into the ground that it’s nothing short of incredible that Jazzpunk manages not to overstay its welcome. It’s a testament to the strength of the writing that almost all of the jokes stick their landing, and there are only very few instances of jokes seeming too off the wall or falling flat.  Everything is tied together just enough for things to feel slightly cohesive, and it helps the game feel like a unified creation instead of a simple stream of random non sequiturs.

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That’s not to say that the game doesn’t go all over the place for a laugh when it needs to.  The reward for doing the side quests is almost always just a laugh, but in my experience, that was all the reward I needed. From attacking pizza zombies with a pizza cutter to playing a first person wedding shooter named “Wedding Qake,” Jazzpunk never let me get too comfortable with a situation or a gameplay type.

Everything in the world has the very intentional feeling of being just barely held together, and things have a habit of simply breaking when touched, just as people tend to just fall over when attacked in any way rather than having any kind of death animation.  Jazzpunk feels hyper-aware of what it is and what you’re doing in it without ever really directly confronting you about it in the manner of The Stanley Parable.  It knows what it is, it knows you know what it is, and it just dispenses with all of the pleasantries to get right down to the weirdness and hilarity.

Jazzpunk doesn’t have any grand statements to make or points to emphasize.  It doesn’t try to shake up the medium or ask any important questions about what it’s trying to accomplish.  Jazzpunk is a game that knows exactly what it’s doing: making you laugh, making you amused, and bewildering the hell out of you. And on that note, it succeeds spectacularly.

Hero Worship: Dazzle

            I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 lately. In accordance with what I think is the most important thing to learn in a MOBA, I’m trying to go through one game as each hero as practice. Here, I’m going to write some noobish thoughts and impressions on some of the heroes I play, many of which will undoubtedly be comically misguided and we can all look back and have a laugh at them when I eventually actually know what the hell I’m doing in this game.

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DAZZLE (Dire, Intelligence)

            A support after my own heart, Dazzle has a wonderful array of disables and abilities that increase sustainability in lane while giving him good harassing options. As my Feeding Logs from LoL show, I tend to be a support player in MOBAs in general, and as such I’m pretty happy with what Dazzle has to offer.  He’s a bit squishy and lacks escape options per se, but the combination of the heal, his slow/mini-stun, and Shallow Grave makes him more tricky to get rid of than he first appeared.

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Q – Poison TouchCasts a poisonous spell on an enemy unit, causing damage and slowness over time, and eventual paralysis. Poison Touch mini-stuns on impact. Slow increases per level.

            This is a nasty little bit of harassing CC that starts off a little unimpressive but slowly grows into a really useful tool as it gains ranks. The damage is also physical, unlike a lot of similar abilities, which means it can synergize well with Dazzle’s armor reduction ultimate. The long duration requires a little bit of careful planning in terms of timing on the ability; it takes a bit of time for the full stun to set in at higher ranks, so it can’t be used as an immediate interrupt, but rather as a long term roadblock for anyone trying to get anywhere.

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W – Shallow GraveAn ally blessed with Shallow Grave, no matter how close to death, cannot die while under its protection.

            I laughed when I read this ability description for the first time. The ultimate in fixing other people’s (and your own) mistakes, the ability to make someone unkillable for a short period of time is a pretty hugely useful way to bail someone out of a tricky situation or enable a clutch tower dive.  Granted, it doesn’t prevent any damage except for that last lethal touch, but it can still be a literal life saver if used correctly. As it gains ranks it gets a hell of a lot of range, too, so in a late game situation you can give people a stay of execution from pretty far away. A fun ability with a lot of tactical potential, but requires some thought before use as the duration isn’t THAT long.

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E – Shadow Wave: Shadow Wave heals several allies, which in turn cause damage equal to their healing in a small area around them. Dazzle is always healed by Shadow Wave, and it does not count toward the number of targets.

            Well, that ability description is a mouthful. This one was a little tricky to use effectively, I think. I pretty much used it as  a fire and forget group heal in teamfights, but like Poison Touch, it’s worth noting that the AoE damage on the healed target is physical, not magical.  Putting down Weave and then detonating a bunch of these in the enemy’s face is a pretty decent bit of group damage that I was probably far too stupid to use properly.  I think being a really good Dazzle player probably means being someone who can effectively get the full healing and damage mileage out of this thing every time it’s used, but it’s a little tricky to get a sense for that without much expertise.

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R – Weave: Applies a buff that increases allied hero armor or decreases enemy hero armor in the target area over time.

            This is a really important spell with an impact that isn’t incredibly apparent upon use. At its best level, it reduces a huge amount of armor off of the enemy and grants it to allies, so on a physically heavy team this thing can really turn the tide of a fight. It’s a pretty decently sized AoE with a huge casting range, so it seems like it’s meant to be a sort of soft initiate that you put down to weaken the enemy and bolster your allies before a real fight breaks out. A lot of supports in Dota seem to have big HOLY CRAP ultimates that cause some kind of huge, immediate impact, but I like the subtle nature of Dazzle’s ult. It’s flashy, but the effect is more a muted, enabling effect that a straight up initiation bomb or huge amount of damage.