|Title: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden
Developer: Tales of Game’s Studios
Console: PC, Mac OSX
Release Date: January 22, 2008
Official Web site
Everyone knows that RPGs have stories that tend to lean towards the melodramatic, often with some mature themes. But every now and then, you’ll find an RPG like Earthbound, Paper Mario, or Cthulu Saves the World, which will manage to tickle your funny bone and inject some humor into an otherwise serious genre. Then you get a game like Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, which throws slams and jams at you the likes you’ve never seen before.
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is an RPG/parody in the same vein as early Final Fantasy games. It was developed in RPGMaker as a freeware game for PC, though it was recently ported to Mac OSX as well. It’s billed as being ‘canon’ to Barkley, Shut Up and Jam! for the Genesis (which was basically a knock-off of NBA Jam) and the movie Space Jam. Yes, that Space Jam. If you think that’s bizarre, wait until you read the premise.
You play as Charles Barkley, who slam dunked so hard during a basketball game that he inadvertently caused an apocalypse, killed his wife, and had basketball outlawed in the process. After another person pulled the same maneuver Barkley pulled all those year’s ago, he’s blamed for the incident. After his son is put in danger, he has to go find the person who blamed him and save his son, being accompanied by his magic-wielding friend and a dwarf whose skin is made of basketball leather. Seriously.
With a premise as bonkers as that, you might be thinking that the game is just a roller coaster of random silliness. There’s definitely no small amount of absurdities in the game, even though it parodies many tropes of quite a few game genres besides RPGs. However, the game pretty much treats it like it’s Serious Business and plays it straight. Well, as straight as anyone can in a world populated by monsters made of sugar, people who go through plastic surgery to turn themselves into anthropomorphic animals, and magical genies that force dwarfs into slave labor and strip away their ethnicity. Seriously.
Usually, games that are parodies don’t really have the kind of gameplay to back it up, or usually have gameplay that sacrifices the fun in order to make a statement. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. The game mechanics start out similar to the Paper Mario series, where attacks have specific mini-games to effectively use them. Each character in your party has a completely different set of attacks and skills. For example, Barkley uses a basketball-based system that’s completely dependent on timing. Meanwhile, the Cyberdwarf uses a fighting system not unlike Sabin from Final Fantasy VI. Even if the story and gameplay wasn’t completely hilarious (like renaming status ailments like Poison and Paralysis to Diabetes and Parkinson’s, for example) I could absolutely see myself enjoying the battle system in a completely serious RPG.
The graphics and music for Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden aren’t exactly top notch. I mean, this is RPGMaker we’re talking about. It also isn’t going to take you that long, clocking in at about five hours. But it’s really hard for me to criticize the game for that since it’s free. Extremely low standards are what allow freeware games for PC and Mac to get a free pass. I went in expecting a functional RPG with some humor in it and that’s exactly what I got. What I didn’t expect was some of the most hilarious writing I’ve seen in RPGs.
While this game doesn’t exactly have the same quality as the original PC version of Cave Story, it’s a great game in its own right. If you like RPGs, play this game. If you don’t like RPGs, play this game. If you like basketball, play this game. If you don’t like basketball, play this game. Just play this game. ‘Cause if you can’t slam with the best, then jam with the rest.
Review copy obtained by author