There’s plenty of soul in this music game, that’s not a music game…
Don’t let the title fool you. While the game is all about Jazz, this is not a music game… well not the kind of music game you would expect. A Guitar Hero wanna be this is not, and has far more in common with Mario. Jazz: Trump’s Journey is a platformer through-and-through.
You play as Trump, a black muso with high aspirations to becoming a famous jazz star in the roaring 20′s. The story is told through the memories of an old and already well established Trump, as he takes us through his early and humble beginnings of getting noticed in the New Orleans Jazz scene, getting a band together and more importantly impressing a girl.
The first thing that you’ll notice is the ye’olde art style. It successfully caricatures the 20s era though cartoon artwork and animation that reminds me of the Steamboat Willy, Disney era, complete with old film noise and aged screen edges. There is no voice acting in the game, and instead, much like the excellent (new) silent film ‘The Artist’ it bookends each cutscene with authentic subtitle cards.
As well as presenting the sights and sounds of the music and artistic styles of the 20s – which oozes from every pixel of this game – it also attempts to convey a message about African-American culture, and in particular its struggles during that period in US history. It is clear that this topic is as close to the heart of the developers as is their passion for jazz and gaming. This is an important subject to be sure, and it’s subtly implemented into the gameplay and storyline without coming across as overly preachy… afterall this is a video game, not a textbook.
Whatever you take from the story is up to you, but if there is one thing that you’ll take away from this experience then it is the excellent platforming. The story and presentation is just the glue that ties it altogether, but underneath that layer of art and music is a love letter to platforming.
All the elements for a classic 2D platforming experience are here. Moving Platforms? Check! Death Defying Wall Jumps? You got it! Spiked Pits of death? Of course! Block and Switch puzzles? Yup! Despatching enemies by jumping on their heads? Silly question! Rope swinging?… well, you get the idea. I really didn’t expect this much depth in the levels of the game. But it really delivers, with each room you enter ramping up with more intricate and challenging obstacles in your way.
While the music is mainly used as the scene setter for the game, there is one area where it crosses into the gameplay too. No, there are no rhythm-based mini game… thank god. Trump, as you can guess, is a trumpet player, and it’s his trumpet that becomes a useful tool as you tackle the many challenges on your way. For when Trump puts his trumpet to his lips, he can manipulate time.
It doesn’t affect everything in the game world however, because the trumpet’s power is through its sound, any object or character that is immune to sound will not be affected. For example, a policeman with earplugs will carry on on his merry way, but with out them you can stop him dead in his tracks with a blow of your horn. This gameplay mechanic comes in very handy. With the policeman you can use their helmets as jump pads, and so you can wait for them to get into the best position and then freeze them with your jazz. Other objects such as floating platforms, or falling crates, can literally be suspended in time, allowing you to access unreachable areas with ease.
The use of the trumpet increases with every level. Levels become almost machine like in their makeup, requiring you to study their layouts before setting things in motion… or in this case stopping that motion with your horn.
The game is made up of chapters, each comprising of many rooms for you to complete. At the start of the story, Trump is laughed away from attending a carnival by an evil (white) trumpeter, and so decides to find other musicians and form a band so he can return stronger, defeat the baddy and get the girl and the prize. It’s these other muso’s that form the main objective of each chapter.
Every so often you’ll face-off with the trumpet man in a head to head boss battle. Again, it’s not a music inspired dual of the horns, and instead feels more like classic boss encounters like those seen in Sonic or Mario. That is, learn the attack patterns to defeat them. Like Dr Eggman, the trumpet man gets away, with only the final boss level allowing you to dispatch him once and for all.
The creators of the game told me that if you know what your doing, then you should be able to beat the game on a speed-like run in 2 hours. It took me the best part of 4 hours to complete it, due to some thumb-achingly hard levels. And that is without collecting all the coin-like music notes and the bonus objective picture-puzzle pieces.
Jazz: Trump’s Journey surprised me. I knew the game was going to look and sound good, based on details from early in the game’s development. And look good it does, from the menu’s to the end credits it’s a highly polished affair. (Only the writing let’s it down slightly, with some serious grammatical errors in the wording. Nothing a good proofread couldn’t fix). However, many arty game projects can come across as all fluff and no substance. This is simply not the case here.
Whether the Jazz, the history, or the story interests you or not, the platforming gameplay stands out. We all know that virtual controls for platformers on iOS are not ideal, and can easily kill the experience stone dead. And while Trump’s controls are not the best example, you soon forget they are even there, and instead concentrating solely on the challenge ahead. Even after repeat failed attempts on a puzzle, I was never so frustrated as to give up. And that’s fundamentally the strength of any successful platformer… that ‘one more go’ ethic!
Jazz: Trump’s Journey is out now for £1.99. Get it on the