One of my least favorite things about gaming is that when a new smash hit game comes out, other games try really hard to emulate it for years to come. This cycle repeats itself over and over again, and thus, the most popular games in certain genres are the ones that best reflect the current trends. This is true for all genres, but I notice it most in RPGs; until a few years ago, the trend was to make the most ‘epic’ storylines possible, a la Final Fantasy 7. These days, the trend seems to be more about making really complicated, allegedly original combat systems.
Thankfully, we have people interested in game development who love their genres enough to poke fun at them, and that’s what Tales of Game’s Studios (bad grammar intentional) did with their RPG, Barkley: Shut Up and Jam! Gaiden: Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa. This is an RPG that looks at the recently receded trend of epic RPGs and roasts it mercilessly.
In 2041, b-ball player Charles Barkley performed the Chaos Dunk, a jam so powerful could level an entire city. And it did – As a result of the Chaos Dunk, New York was completely destroyed. The nationwide response was a genocide of almost every b-ball player, and a national outlawing of b-ball. The event went down in history as ‘The Great B-Ball Purge of 2041.”
Fast forward to twelve years later, Charles Barkley lives in the post-cyberpocalyptic ruins of Neo New York City with his son, Hoopz. A Chaos Dunk destroys the city of Manhattan, and the B-Ball Removal Department (think like a B-Ball Gestapo) immediately comes after Barkley, the only human being capable of performing a Chaos Dunk. While on the run from the B-Ball Removal Department, he meets the Ultimate Hellbane, a mysterious ‘criminal’ who hunts down members of the terrorist organization, B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S. Hellbane believes that B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S was behind the Chaos Dunk, and urges Barkley to take help from him. He then goes on an adventure to find out the truth about the Chaos Dunk – one that forces him to confront his past.
Unless English isn’t your first language (not that that’s a bad thing!), you’ve probably realized that the story is a huge satire on epic-style RPGs. The game’s save points even take it further by spouting hilariously ironic rhetoric about how much greater Japanese games are than American games. The game uses corny b-ball slang very liberally, and even treats words like ‘slam’ and ‘jam’ like they have real, tangible meaning.
The game also boasts a heavy use of long dialogue sequences and dramatic pauses to drive home the satire. The way in which the characters say completely ridiculous things like “We may need to slam and jam at a moment’s notice”, and “The test subject’s internal Gatorade levels have risen dramatically” never gets old; in fact, it gets funnier as you go.
The game also cleverly uses a cast of fictional and non-fictional characters, both of which have a variety of characters that have nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with basketball. From Micheal Jordan to the grandson of Lebron James to Wilford Brimley… this game uses them all, in ways that are both clever and absurd, but always funny. Ironically, this is appropriate and in line with the story, which treats certain fictional events – such as the events of the movie ‘Space Jam’ – as if they actually happened!
There’s a lot more to this game’s story and humor, but to tell anymore would be pushing it; after all, the game is unfortunately only about six hours long. I admit that being any longer might have made the game drag on, but it’s always bittersweet for me to finish a game that I really like.
It wasn’t perfect, naturally. The game had a few inside jokes that apparently spawned from the original message boards where they discussed the game. Most of them are funny whether or not you know the joke; but there are a few that just leave you scratching your head. I suppose it doesn’t detract from the experience much, though. Charles Barkley’s excessive swearing is a bit ridiculous and not really that funny. It’s definitely not that I’m offended by it – I cuss like a pirate in colloquial situations – but it was just kind of stupid and didn’t add anything to the game’s humour.
The battle system is pretty sweet, too, taking a number from the Paper Mario series of having ‘timed hits’ to power up attacks. Every character also has a variety of different attacks for different situations. My one big gripe about combat is that every character has one ‘obviously-best-in-every-situation’ attack. A lot of the higher-damaging attacks have too low of accuracy to really use, and a lot of attacks are useful in situations that are too uncommon to be very useful. As a result, you’ll probably find one attack with every character that is simply best to use every time.
The dungeons are really well-made, too. The game boasts a variety of different things to make dungeons interesting, from having puzzles, multiple paths, and even fun sidequests and diversions. This game has even more; but, as before, I shouldn’t ruin it.
Barkley, Shut Up Jam: Gaiden gets right in your face with its sharp sattire and makes no apologies for it. If you don’t get it, too bad. If it offends you, too bad. The game was definitely made for the kind of people who feel jaded about the oversaturation of RPGs who think they can pass off as Final Fantasy 7. It’s incredibly short, but still manages to be a thoroughly fun experience for those who appreciate what this game has to offer. And for those who can’t…well, as they say, “If you can’t slam with the best, then jam with the rest.”
(To download this game and get started on the most Epic RPG ever, go here!)