Jazzpunk is a difficult game to describe. Set in a surreal, Cold War-esque universe, this is a place where spies and sentient cigarette-smoking surveillance cameras are watching your every move. It's also a place that's punctuated with eye-popping neon signs and over the top trumpet fanfares that wouldn't be out of place in a 1960s episode of Batman. It's an unlikely mash-up to say the least, but you don't have to look very far to see there's a strange kind of genius to be found lurking just below the surface.
You play as Polyblank, an undercover agent whose employer is simply known as The Director. As you emerge from what can only be described as a human-shaped cello case after being caught out on an airport baggage-handler (you were expecting an ordinary entrance for our hero?), you're tasked with obtaining various dubious-looking devices to help further your cause against the mysterious Editor. It's never quite explained what the ultimate purpose of each mission is, but that's not really the point.
The real joy of Jazzpunk comes from its unique sense of humour and strange, achievement-driven sidequests. The first mission, for instance, requires you to steal top secret information from the Russian consulate, replete with gloriously incongruous onion domes in an otherwise downtown American city.
Simply choosing to follow your objectives, however, means you might miss out on the chance to brainwash a few of pigeons, for example, and use their bottled pigeon pheromone to swarm innocent bystanders with a Legend of Zelda-style cucco flurry. You might also miss an oddly touching homage to Frogger, a Tetris-themed holding tone as you prank call the Kremlin and a conversation with Satan himself as he kindly informs you that actually he can't talk now as he's got a pie in the oven.
It's in the disobedience of traditional game design that Jazzpunk shines brightest, and you'll find yourself doing everything you can to prolong the inevitable moment when the plot must eventually move forward.
There are also several full-blown mini games to be found hidden inside the game's various pieces of background furniture that hark back to classic games of yesteryear. We won't spoil them here, but our favourite was undoubtedly Jazzpunk's homage to Street Fighter's special Honda stage, which now takes place from a first person perspective and features full-blown Hurricane Kicks and sound effects from the original game. A wedding-themed spoof of Quake was also another one that tickled our funny bone. Sadly, there's no reward to be gained from completing these mini games, but retro fans should get a kick out of how Necrophone Games has repurposed these moments into their own loving pastiches.
And that's what Jazzpunk is at heart: a pastiche of all things video games. In a two hour tour de force, its witty and knowing script celebrates their silliness, their whimsical machinations and completely nonsensical logic in all its glory. You might not be sure what you've just played by the time you reach the end, but you'll definitely know that what you just experienced was something rare and unique.
This style of play won't be to everyone's tastes, of course. You can't technically fail at Jazzpunk as you're either herded through each objective by its rigidly linear objectives or you'll eventually run out of places to stick your nose in. We also feel the game is a little expensive for its brevity, but for those looking for something a little bit different to the usual indie fare, Jazzpunk certainly won't disappoint.