Jazzpunk: Fun in Games

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I’ve recently wrapped up Jazzpunk, a new Adult Swim release for PC. Adult Swim Games is probably best known for their iOS and Android releases, but starting with the release of Super House of Dead Ninjas last year, they’ve been quickly building an exciting library of PC releases as well. Jazzpunk is their fifth game, and probably the most Adult Swim-like of their releases so far. For a late-night network focused on comedy and cartoons, most of their PC games have not really been focused on humor. Instead, their catalog mostly consists of skill and challenge focused titles like Super House of Dead Ninjas and Volgarr the Viking.

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Jazzpunk, however, is quite the opposite. A first person game mostly focused on exploration and light puzzle solving, humor definitely dominates over challenge. The setting and characters are ultra-bizarre, in grand Adult Swim style, taking place in a strange retrofuturistic alternate timeline 1960s. You play as Polyblank, a super spy representing the interests of some sort of…ummm….. private …..intelligence…. ring? The setup is super weird and the particulars still baffle me, but that adds the absurdist, sometimes nonsequitir, comedy. The game is mostly a series of short missions that are completed with point-and-click adventure style problem solving. And the puzzles are really simple. I don’t think I ever got stuck once in the game, it was always super obvious how to progress.

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But if you’re just completing the main mission objectives, you’re missing out on a lot of what the game has to offer. Each area is packed with tons of little stuff to interact with on the side. For instance, while on a mission to an exotic beachside resort, you can wander away from the mission and hunt for buried treasure on the beach with a metal detector. The buried ”treasures” you’ll find are all utterly absurd joke items. And the laughs are all you’ll get for doing these “side missions” (for lack of a better word). Going out of your way in this game won’t net you any experience points or any high-class equipment or items to make the game easier. Your reward is simply the enjoyment of the experience.

That is, I think, unfortunately maybe a very strange concept for some. Both game designers and gamers are obsessed with rewards. Some feel completing a side quest or going out of your way to do something off the critical path should result in some sort of reward being dispensed. And by reward, I mean something to make the player a little bit more powerful or advantaged. It’s somewhat of a bad point of view in my opinion. Enjoying the experience of a game is a far better reason to be playing than simply jumping through arbitrary hoops to make some arbitrary character trait go up. The primary reward of playing should be the fun or stimulation the gaming experience provides. This is as it is with Jazzpunk. Rooting around in the corners of the game won’t make the ending come any easier. The reason for going off the beaten path is to see the fun and goofs you’ll find hidden everywhere.

In the end I liked Jazzpunk, but it’s a little difficult to recommend the game. It feels like a good game to look up during a Steam sale, because the $15 asking price is a little much for this package. My main problem is the game is very short. Even exploring as much as I did, it still only took a few hours to reach the credits, which appeared as a complete surprise to me during an “Is that it?” moment. Recently there has been an aggressively expressed sentiment by haughty professional game reviewers that the length of a game has no impact on its quality, but I feel this is a somewhat simplistic view. For Jazzpunk, the moment the game started getting really interesting for me (when the main villain is introduced) was the moment the game began to wind down. When I was ambushed by credits, I couldn’t help but feel a little unfulfilled, still hungry for more. If a good game is so short that it leaves the player pining for so much more, then that is definitely a bad thing.

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Posted on April 4, 2014, in Essays and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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