A hilarious and slightly demented trip through exotic environments, 60s spy jokes, and spectacular art.
It was somewhere around the time we were having a microtrip through technicolour tunnels that made us levitate that my friend said, "WE SHOULDN'T HAVE EATEN THAT PIG." My character bouncing around off fluorescent triangles, mangling my hand on WASD, I said "I'M GETTING NAUSEOUS," and she pointed to some microchips on a floor made of formulae and greek symbols and I put the chips in the computer's head. The next sick-making tunnel opened before me.
We were a long way from the twee game we thought we were playing. We'd scanned the barcode printed on the pig-on-wheels into her phone, her real-life phone, before our character ate it, and it gave us a message that suggested that Agent Polyblank shouldn't eat the electric pig. So, we made Polyblank eat the electric pig. A hole opened in the grass verge and we descended into the darkly comedic belly of Jazzpunk.
Initially, you think Jazzpunk is some sort of kitsch hat-tip to Cold War politics, a beautifully stylish Man From UNCLE pastiche. It's sort of like being in the opening credits to Cowboy Bebop at first. Jazzpunk describes itself as a 'comedy adventure', but it's as much a classic affirmation of the great wide imagination of the human mind and all the ridiculous things it can make happen squeezed into the skin of a first-person adventure game. It's a homage to those 3AM stints you played when you were younger, when you thought the colours were frazzling your brain and you put your hand to your eyes to stave off the brightness of digital colours.
There are four or five exotic, pop culture-interpreted environments to trigger gags in; Hawaii turns up, and Japan is in there. They say that games just ask players to clean up a mess the designer made on purpose, but there's no cleaning up Jazzpunk. It's a sprawling mess of outrageous jokes, mini-games that reference other classic games, and tasks you somehow bumble into completing, causing your 'mission' to end abruptly.
And you are sent on missions. At least, at first. You are Agent Polyblank, a curiously Naked Gun-style protagonist in a world Naked Gun would have inhabited had it been designed by the German artist Gerd Arntz. You trundle along to your boss' office where you press E to sit on a whoopee cushion and he gives you some Missionoyl pills which you take to start your... 'mission' to infiltrate the Soviet Embassy, or assassinate a cowboy, or retrieve your boss from being pickled in a tank of whiskey. Some overly earnest bongo drums, the kind that 60s spies prefer, play whilst you forward roll into the Soviet Embassy's filing room. This is where you have to make the decision to either 'hack' the system by dialling a particular frequency, a porn line, or Satan (who, it turns out, is busy).
The missions slowly disintegrate into madness. You use WASD for movement, space to jump, and can press E to interact with things that have a dotted white line around them; sometimes this triggers an absurdly funny outcome, sometimes just purely weird. The pig-on-wheels I described Polyblank eating earlier is something a paranoid hacker who had been surveilling our hotel room told us to catch and eat. At this point it wasn't even clear what the mission was. I looked in the menu at my objectives and it said there were none. The creators, Necrophone Games, were purposefully messing with me. I felt myself and my companion, who was watching me play, stare in bewilderment as I roasted an electronic pig on a spit and then woke up in a platformer where the platforms were just made of hundreds of terrifying symbols.
"This game made me laugh - not gently or under duress of slow realisation, but in staccato outbursts which alarmed and unsettled passers-by."
The game's about two to three hours long, fairly linear, and the ending is exactly as silly as you would imagine. Most of it is like playing through an absurd cyberpunk nightmare written by Leslie Nielsen and made by Thirty Flights of Loving's Brandon Chung; by the end of the game, you have been subject to countless in-jokes for the game-savvy. There are at least two jokes about E.Honda, one of them being a mini-game in which you can punch a car (labelled Some Honda) until it is totalled. You can also earn the mini-game Wedding Qake, which is just a very basic Quake clone with AI players, but instead of guns you get wedding-themed items and instead of dying you get married. I am sure the game at one point said I'd picked up an item called 'Prenuptial Agreement' and then someone shot me with a cork. The announcer said, "SUDDEN MARRIAGE."
Perhaps I don't need to tell you that this game made me laugh - not gently or under duress of slow realisation, but in staccato outbursts which alarmed and unsettled passers-by.
This is also a game of anecdotes you tell other people. A friend messaged me: "I accidentally had sex with a cyborg on the street." "I accidentally pushed a guy into traffic," I replied. "I recreated Cape Fear in a movie theatre, and I used a picture of a butt on an identity scanner," he said. "Me too," I said. Later I would click a sheep until it exploded and take some pills I found outside my hotel room and then see a pie with a beret on, smoking a cigarette. Once I took some bubblegum from a bystander, blew a giant bubble from it, and it popped on his face. "MY EYES!" he exclaimed, before standing on a rake, which hit him, and he fell into oncoming traffic.
I am not even sure how the review code for this beautiful, absurd, glorious mess got in my inbox, to tell you the truth. I must be on A List; Some List, Somewhere. I must have activated it on Steam and forgotten. I can't remember installing it. And one day I just clicked on it and I've never stopped being confused and amazed at it. It's a spectacle, a gonzo dream where I am sure, quite sure, I met Hunter S Thompson three times. Or was it three Hunter S Thompsons? Who can be sure? Who can really be sure of anything these days? Don't make me give a score. Don't make me give a sc--
9 / 10