One of the first things Jazzpunk asks you to do is to sit down; you press E, and your character obliges. Shortly afterwards you’re asked to do the same in a different chair, only this time you can clearly see a Whoopee Cushion placed where you’re about to park your backside. You can’t proceed without sitting, and you know exactly what’s going to happen when you do, yet the result – and yes, you really will hear it emit an authentic Bronx cheer – is funny all the same. It’s here you first begin to realise that not only is Jazzpunk not like most other games, but that Necrophone Games has a rare understanding of how to make interactive comedy that really works.
The trick, it seems, is to blend telegraphed punchlines, where you’re laughing in anticipation, up to and including the moment they’re delivered, and moments of spontaneity, where the surprising result of a simple interaction is what tickles your funny bone. You’ll attempt to speak to an NPC and knock them from a gantry, their fall accompanied by the Wilhelm scream. You’ll attempt to enter a room through an open window, only to perform a stylish forward roll. You’ll aim a pointed finger to adjust the hands of a clock, only to realise your arm was a wooden prop as it collapses to the floor. And then you’re given a swatter to rid a vase shop of its fly infestation and you know what’s coming before you even step through the door.
It’s an unpredictable blend of the witty and the base, where puns meet slapstick, and highbrow and lowbrow humour rub shoulders with alarming frequency. It’s gleefully unhinged, its narrative taking shape across a surreal series of vignettes involving spies and robots, giggling geishas, trenchcoat-wearing henchmen and so much more. All of the above happens within an hour of starting the game, and the game only gets stranger and more daring from there. Pop culture references abound, but they’re employed skilfully, avoiding the easiest gags, while drawing from some unlikely subjects – including Demolition Man and Adam West’s Batman.
In many respects, Jazzpunk’s systems are unremarkable. Its puzzles are rudimentary, its interactions mostly basic and its tasks are often wilfully mundane. At times, it attempts jokes that miss their target, sometimes by a distance. And yet such is its fearless, relentless commitment to amusing you and surprising you that you’ll know something better – or perhaps just something weirder – is just around the corner. Anarchic, baffling, sometimes downright silly, and often inspired, Jazzpunk works tirelessly to make you laugh and gasp. The frequency with which you’ll do both is a testament to a bold new talent, and Necrophone Games deserves all the plaudits that will be thrown its way in the coming weeks.