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.
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.
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.