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Indie Nation #4: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden

1:10 PM on 02.01.2008 // Anthony Burch

Before you get irritated, just give me a moment. I know we recently did a story on the game's release, and that there have been a few Cblogs about it.

I don't care. 

I don't care because Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is better than anyone could have imagined. I don't care because if I can't gush about how hilariously clever, how goddamned brilliant this game is right this second, I'll explode or something. I don't care because if you haven't played Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, you are not a complete human being.

Firstly, go here and download the game from Tales of Game's temporary website. While you're waiting for it to finish, hit the jump and understand why your gaming expectations will be both slammed and jammed.

The first thing you need to know about Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is that, while it is a comedy game first and foremost, it plays everything absolutely straight. While it's really just an epic RPG parody/spinoff of the (not very good) SNES game Barkley, Shut Up and Jam, at no point does the game's writing wink at the audience, or indeed treat the story or gameplay as anything other than completely Serious Business. From the pre-launch "This game made with DirectX 10" window, to the game's opening disclaimer ("Warning: this game is canon"), to literally every single aspect of the plot and gameplay, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is the most hilarious game you've ever played which steadfastly refuses to admit its own hilarity. Which is, of course, why the game works.

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If you're going to set an RPG in the year 2053 in a postcyberapocalyptic universe where a Chaos Dunk destroys Manhattan Island and it's up to Charles Barkley and the octaroon great-grandson of LeBron james to save the world, you can't treat it as a joke. With a premise as ridiculous as this, to start making self-aware gags or goofy jokes would be an act of comedic suicide. No, the only real way to make the joke work -- and Tales of Game had the intelligence to realize this, thank God -- is to treat it as seriously as possible.

Charles Barkley has lost his wife, his friends, and his hope in the human race. He's jaded and cynical, and cares only about himself. Since the Great B-Ball Purge of 2041, he hasn't picked up a basketball under threat of death at the hands of the fascist B-Ball Removal Department (headed by Michael Jordan). If you took away all the basketball references, you'd still have a perfectly serviceable (if obviously cliched) RPG storyline. The familiarity of such a "been there, done that" RPG is offset by the sheer insanity of watching Charles Barkley use basketball shots to vanquish the reanimated corpses of NBA referees. 

What makes BSU&J:G even funnier is that it's an actual game. It's a lengthy, relatively deep RPG with sidequests and multiple characters which would, quite honestly, feel right at home on an SNES cartridge were it not completely f*cking ridiculous. Each character has numerous physical and magical attacks, enemies can deal out or receive nuemrous status ailments (except instead of being called Poison or Confusion they're Glaucoma or Diabetes), and, as you would in any other RPG, you'll want to fight enemies, level up, and buy the latest equipment. The seriously fun gameplay works as an extension of the "don't admit it's a joke" design ethos -- even if the setting wasn't the funniest goddamn thing I'd ever experienced in my life, BSU&J:G would still be a perfectly enjoyable RPG. Every new character to be introduced, every new and legitimately enjoyable gameplay mechanic to appear simply makes the game's understated, brilliant premise that much funnier.

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Hell, there are even Dragon's Lair-esque QTE events sprinkled throughout the storyline. Just when you think Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is only out to make you laugh, it actually starts being fun.

In this respect, the fighting system deserves special recognition. It works as a hybrid of strict turn-based, classic Final Fantasy combat and more action-oriented, reflex and timing-based physical attacks. For instance, let's say you're attacking an enemy as Charles Barkley. Once you decide which enemy to attack, you can perform one of any number of B-Ball attacks, each with different accuracy and damage statistics, each requiring a different button combination or specific use of timing to activate. If you wanna do a jump shot, hold the up button and release it the apex of your jump to do maximum damage. If you wanna lob the ball directly at an enemy's face, hold the X button until the b-ball icon overlaps with a red circle.

Additionally, every single character has a set of physical attacks completely dissimilar from anyone else's; Barkley uses basketball shots, but Balthios uses button-mashing sword combinations and Cyberdwarf uses a surprisingly complex and clever melee combo system. I would have never thought that one of the most intuitive and clever RPG fighting systems I've ever seen would come from what is essentially a large-scale parody game, but I was more than glad to be proven wrong.

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I don't wanna say too much more, except to say that if you -- like me -- initially assumed Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden would be a mere exercise in style over substance, that it would only serve as one large, wacky joke which would quickly grow unfunny thanks to a complete lack of gameplay, then rest assured that you have nothing to fear.

Not only is Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden -- independently developed or not --  one of the single funniest games I have ever played, but it's also a fun RPG in its own right. The story is far too surreal to take seriously, but the constant barrage of imaginative, "I can't believe they're really taking it this far" moments and hilarious cameos make this one of the most fun indie titles I've yet encountered. When even the goddamn save points (animated as, for some reason or another, sentient fuel pumps) deliver seemingly endless, hilariously nerdy monologues to the player about videogames and anime, you know you've got a winner on your hands.

Download it, and eagerly await part 2 in the Hoopz Barkley SaGa (assuming the idea of this game being the first of a trilogy isn't just another brilliant videogaming joke).




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