Explaining the game Jazzpunk to someone is liable to leave them more confused than informed. The basics aren’t difficult. Jazzpunk is an indie PC game set in an alternate dimension where the Cold War is still going strong. Players take up the mantle of Polyblank, a spy who must complete spy missions. See, simple.
Where the game gets confusing are the details. In any given level, Polyblank is likely to encounter frogs with mohawks, robot prostitutes, hot tub blenders and angry deities who chuck fruit. Nothing makes sense in Polyblank’s world and everyone he meets is a likely candidate for a mental institution. Jazzpunk is every spy parody movie rolled into one with a healthy dose of hallucinogenics and a pinch of crazy for flavor.
Remember the Fisher Price police station set with it’s little policeman and plastic police car? Jazzpunk looks like that playset got busy with the cast of Mad Men and had little espionage babies. The design and style of the game is simple with clean lines and bright colors. Women wear cat-eye glasses, pencil skirts and sensible pumps. Men wear fedoras, three-button suits and carry briefcases. Everyone smokes, Tiki is not tacky, and all of it is infused with nods to the tomorrowland trappings of yesteryear.
No spy movie or show is complete without high-tech gadgets. What would James Bond be if his car couldn’t spit explosive caltrops from the exhaust pipe? Each of the gadgets Polyblank receives are lovingly detailed and delightfully retro. No GPS or touchscreen gizmos here. One side mission involves shooting pigeons via magnet attached to a handheld meter. Who knows what that meter is gauging or why it is necessary to degauss pigeons but it is fun to look at and the wavy magnetic fields that are issued forth from it are straight from a 1960s sci-fi D movie.
Other levels in Jazzpunk recall the way technology used to be. On a mission to steal enemy intel, Polyblank infiltrates an enemy base to discover a room filled with computer. No plural necessary because once upon a time, it took a massive bank of blinking lights and beeps and boops to fire a laser death ray. The nostalgic stylings of this game do justice to its many pop culture espionage references but it’s the simplicity that enables gamers to focus on what’s important – and that is having fun.
Jazzpunk fits somewhere between first-person shooter and point-and-click. Missions are assigned by The Director, who looks like a Lego Wilfred Brimley after he settled down in a Floridian retirement community. The main storyline involves a series of missions The Director explains from the comfort of a retrofitted subway car. Missions entail stealing intel, exchanging briefcases and retrieving an artificial kidney from a robot cowboy.
Polyblank is encouraged to explore his alternate reality, and explore gamers should. The bulk of the gameplay involves talking to citizens that populate each level. Though most of the people, robots and creatures Polyblank encounters do little but spew random nonsense, some require his help in side missions. One such side mission involves a punk rock frog and virtual reality. Other side missions can be found by picking up random objects like a metal detector on the sandy beach of a Tiki-themed resort.
Most of what Polyblank encounters throughout each level serves no real function in completing missions. One such example is a movie theater playing an old black and white summer fun flick or some such. Once seated, a cigar is immediately noticeable between Polyblank’s lips along with clouds of obnoxious smoke. Gamers can blow smoke at other theater patrons who will eventually turn around and cast angry glares or make irate comments. After a few puffs, Polyblank throws his cigar (player aimed of course) at a fellow theater goer and is rewarded with a full box of popcorn. Said popcorn serves much the same purpose as the cigar. Namely, to annoy other theater attendees. Did any of this further Polyblank’s international espionage efforts? Hell no. Was it perversely fun and entertaining? Absofrigginlutely!
There are no tricky boss battles and no challenging timing sequences. Polyblank doesn’t die and have to restart at the beginning of the level if he fails to carry out his mission. One mission requires dumping a packet of gravy into an infinity pond and racing gravy boats. The Director won’t reprimand Polyblank if he fails to complete a mission on schedule because there is no schedule. Jazzpunk was designed sheerly for entertainment purposes and it achieves that purpose splendidly.
The two-man team at Necrophone Games who designed Jazzpunk and composed the music for it had Leslie Nielsen not Matt Damon in mind when Polyblank dressed like a woman for the stereotypical briefcase exchange. That much is apparent when players must apply poorly-controlled lipstick which remains smeared on the screen for the remainder of the mission.
Polyblank must kill pigs on wheels, find a prize in a cereal box and contaminate sushi in order to complete his missions. Urinals that look like torpedo bays lay on the floor instead of the wall, vases have intricate circuit patterns, a pizza box transports Polyblank to a dystopian pizza landscape to kill pizza zombies and all of it is such a good time that it doesn’t matter if anything makes sense.
Sadly, Jazzpunk is too short to be worth its $14.99 price tag. Total play time was only around four hours with extra time for exploration factored in. This game doesn’t have any real replay value unless one is looking for a few hours of mindless escape as there are no collectibles or side missions to complete after the main storyline has ended. That is, unless players don’t take enough time to explore during the first go-round. Still, it is ridiculously fun, entertaining and stylish to boot. It’s worth a play on a lazy Sunday or at the end of a long and stressful work week and is sure to provide at least a few laughs.