13/08/2013

FUNKY JET (ARCADE)

Another terribly misleading title, as today's game features no slap-bass, brass hits or body-moving drumlines. Disappointing, yes, but if the lack of funk is getting you down then at least you can relieve your frustration by punching everything and anything that happens across your path. It's Mitchell's 1992 arcade novelty-oversized-boxing-gloves-em-up Funky Jet!


While the title screen makes damn sure you won't miss the fact that this game is indeed called Funky Jet, it doesn't offer much insight into what being a funky jet entails. There's certainly no story offered up to the player, so get your thinking caps on and prepare to spin your own yarn to explain what this nonsense is all about.


The attract mode gives some clues as to what you'll be doing, and that is knocking 'em out. Punching is the order of the day. I have no idea who you are, who your enemies are and why you're knocking them out, but if the hero's relaxed smirk is anything to go by punching people brings him a sense of deep satisfaction.


Ah yes, the serenity that can only be found through inflatable novelty pugilism. That's how the Dalai Lama does it, he appeared on It's a Knockout once in the Seventies and he's never looked back.


The attract mode also reveals that the player character is wearing a jetpack, which is presumably where the "Jet" in Funky Jet comes from. This shot also gives us our first clear look at the hero of the game, and it's clear that his love of knocking 'em out is matched only by his commitment to sartorial glamour. The World War II flying helmet and goggles are a choice borne out of practicality, but the oversized Kevin Smith shorts and shoes stolen from a militaristic clown mark him out as a man of real style and panache.


You get to choose which stage to enter, and as always it's a nice gesture but as my brain is wired in such a way that I'm physically incapable of tackling them in any order but the obvious easy-to-hard progression, I'll be starting with the first stage.


Okay, here we go - a swarm of Troll dolls have occupied this chain-link fence, and only you, the player, has the skills required to send them back to their woodland home (preferably in an ambulance). Get out there and start punching!


Yeah, like that. Funky Jet is a single-screen action game with a simple premise that I'm sure you've already deduced, but I'll state it outright just so we're clear: punch everyone. Clear the screen of enemies through the judicious application of your oversized fists, move on to the next screen, repeat.
The primary tool at your disposal is your basic punch, a quick jab that's unleashed by tapping a button. Repeated tappings allow you to perform the kind of combo so often found in beat-em-ups such as Final Fight.


The other button makes you spin around with your arms outstretched. At first this may seem an inferior option to the standard punch, because you can't perform combos using it and it's not quite as fast, but it has a secret power. No, wait, I've oversold that a little (plus it tells you what that "power" is during the attract mode,) so let's say it's got an added effect. That effect is that it moves any enemies you hit with it to the opposite side of your character: that is, if an enemy is on your left and you hit them with the spinning punch they'll be moved around so they're on your right. This lets you juggle enemies into positions that allow for chain reaction kills, because when you knock an enemy out they go flying across the screen, taking out any goons that happen to be standing in their path. It's not quite the same level of enemies-as-dominoes that you'd find in something like Snow Bros. or Nightmare in the Dark, but Funky Jet is closer to that type of single screen platformer than any other genre.


Did I mention that you can fly? Because that's how you get around. You've got a jetpack, remember? No jump button here, just move the joystick in whichever of the eight directions you'd like to fly in. Those bad guys might think they're safe atop their chicken-wire tower, but not only can I jet up there and smack them like I was the Rocketeer and they were Nazis, but I've also picked up a boxing-glove icon that's made me more powerful. You can tell this because I'm purple now.


That's really all that Funky Jet has to offer in the gameplay stakes. There aren't any new mechanics to learn or much scope for fancy tactics beyond the basic "punch enemies into other enemies," but it's nicely paced and even ends up working contrary to your expectations a little - for example, there seems to be much more emphasis on positioning yourself correctly via your jetpack that I thought there would be, like hovering just underneath an enemy's attack range so you can punch them in the feet.


This encounter is at least a bit different from the rest, because this American Football player and his red-clad minions have their own jetpacks and attack by lazily drifting into you head-first, a graceful aerial ballet crossed with a Saturday night bar fight in Glasgow. This mid-boss loses some of his uniqueness when you realise that you have to fight him in every stage, but at least it's something different.


The very next screen introduces the first real boss, and suddenly my confidence in my punching abilities has faded because his arms are twice as big as my entire body and he's wearing a sleeveless leather jacket, the most macho item of clothing there is. The odds may seem overwhelming, but this guy has his own issues with self-doubt and as such he constantly summons smaller goon to help him fight. This proves to be his downfall, because I can use these weaker enemies as impromptu projectiles, allowing me to punch them towards the big guy and thus defeat him without ever engaging in close combat. There's a lesson to be learned here about self-reliance and trusting your own abilities, but this large man is now too dead to take it in.


We're just going to have to assume that our hero's shorts are made of asbestos, or that his arse is somehow unaffected by heat.
Right, stage one down and so far Funky Jet is the videogame equivalent of a ham-and-cheese sandwich - perfectly acceptable, enjoyable even, but it's never going to set the world ablaze. There's nothing to complain about on a technical level, the graphics are pleasingly goofy and the gameplay is simple and unimaginative - unimaginative enough that the prospect of five more levels of exactly the same thing isn't exactly filling me with a sense of unbridled excitement. My excitement remains firmly bridled. I feel confident in saying that there will be no bolting and running amok from my excitement.


Stage two is rainy, which is pretty much all that's changed. If I was writing the arcade flyer, I'd describe them as SENSATIONAL REAL-TIME WEATHER EFFECTS. It's going to take all my willpower, but I'll overcome my innate British desire to talk about the weather and instead I'll introduce you to the enemies.


The Troll dolls occupy the lowest position on the Funky Jet totem pole and exist solely to be used as ammunition, their short lives ending when they're punched into one of the larger enemies. I'm not sure if that thing on their head is supposed to be a boxing headguard or some sort of scaffolding erected to keep their mighty pompadours aloft.


Like a JoJo's Bizarre Adventure character who became a mechanic instead of developing wacky martial arts powers, these guys are only elevated above the trolls by their ability to smack you with a wrench. It's simple, but effective. Also, Marty McFly called to say he'd like his puffy body warmer back.


A large man with a mechanical limb sniffs his armpit, self-conscious that his Lynx Voodoo body spray his not doing much to counteract the mingled scent of his body odour and the oil from his prosthetic arm. He can stretch out his arm to hit you from far away, but on the plus side he is at least wearing some sensible footwear.


Beyond stage one, Funky Jet quickly ramps up the difficulty by filling the screen with enemies, arranged in such a way that you feel like there should be some kind of puzzle element to the proceedings - that is, if you can figure out the best order in which to take them out, you should be able to start some kind of chain reaction. In practise, this never really happens, which is a bit of a shame and means most of the gameplay revolves around the repeated tapping of the punch button.


One way to even the odds is to collect five of the flute-looking items (you can see them in the top-left of some of these screenshots) that defeated enemies will sometimes spill. Once you've collected five, a powered-up jetpack will appear which turns your character into a whirling tornado of death who can defeat foes simply by flying into them. It is merely a pleasant bonus that while doing so he rotates his arms like that bit in The Simpsons when Bart spins his arms around and if you walk into them it's your fault. Honestly, though, it's fun to look at, as is a lot of Funky Jet, with a solid, cartoony style that fits nicely with the gameplay.


Stage two's boss is a man who defies description, unless you're willing to accept "prancing luchador ninja" in which case cool, we'll go with that. Actually, on closer inspection this boss appears to a) be wearing pink eyeshadow and b) have breasts, so maybe it's a woman. As long as they're comfortable with who they are, that's the main thing.
The more observant amongst you may have noticed that the background for stage two is the same as for stage one only with a different palette. Lazy, yes, but at least it was a good background to start with.


So good, in fact, that Mitchell reused it for stage three. It's pink now, but I'm starting to see a pattern emerging. Gameplay remains the same as ever, but the sunset-pink background gives proceeding as wistful, melancholy air, full of bittersweet memories of high-school days spent punching people in the head.


A new enemy joins the fray, wielding a classic beat-em-up weapon: the steel pipe. He had to trade all his teeth to get that pipe, the poor bastard.


The "boss" is a pair of flying enemy dispensers accompanied by two gun-toting hoverjerks. Never mind the smiley faces on their helmet, they're bad people who will only learn the error of their ways through a bout of punching therapy. This fight represents something of a nadir in Funky Jet's otherwise perfectly acceptable gameplay - the dispensers hurt you if you fly into them, so don't fly into them. Just float nearby until they spit out an enemy and then punch said enemy right back into them. Also, don't get shot. It's not rocket science.


Stage four- Land of the Barrels. Barrels are enemies that don't move. Sometime enemies that do move can pop out of them, but not in a fun Pop-Up Pirate kinda way. Just, you know, punch them.


Sometimes these Fraggle-looking sons of bitches will leap out of the barrels. They like sliding kicks, making weird noises and spectacles stolen from Elton John's private collection. Turn-offs include brushing their hair and getting smacked in the mouth.


Stage four has the best boss battle in the game, an encounter with two mohawk-slinging punks that put me in mind of God Hand. Anything that makes me think of God Hand is okay in my book, and this is just a fun, simple fight built around avoiding the boomeranging haircuts being thrown at you. What's not to like?


There are no new enemies introduced in stage five, but the game tries to compensate for this by cramming as many opponents into each screen as it can. While this does naturally make the game more difficult it also means that, like being trapped at a BNP rally, you can't swing your arms without hitting some prick who definitely deserves it. Enemies fly across the screen, often taking several of their compatriots with them, health is lost and power-ups are gained at a breakneck pace and the whole thing gets a bit hectic but in an enjoyable way. It's certainly preferably to the difficulty being increased by the addition of enemies that you take longer to kill but in smaller numbers.


The latest boss is somewhat on the dull side, which is a shame. All they do is travel up and down the edges of the screen, occasionally shooting at you. They also look disappointingly normal compared to the rest of the enemies, especially the boss on the right. I've seen people dressed almost identically to that on the streets of my home town. Well, without the blue-tinted safety goggles, at any rate.


The final stage has a wintry ambience and more post-apocalyptic thugs than a Fist of the North Star box set, but by now it's all become business as usual and our hero glides around the stage as though on autopilot. But what's this? A new enemy?


A rocket-powered Tamagotchi displaying a close-up picture of some sort of horrible infected cyst. Well, it's something new, I suppose. It doesn't even really fight, it just sort of bobs about the place, acting as a rapid-delivery system for images picked up by an endoscope inserted into a really ill person.


Oh, I see, it all makes sense now. It was part of the boss all along and that was actually supposed to be a picture of a large bald man who reminds me of Boy George. Well, nothing else in this game has made much sense so why the hell not? I mean, it's just going to get punched anyway and as this is stage six out of six that must make the Levitating Boy George Television Configuration my final opponent.


Looks like that fight really took it out of our hero. Well, it was the final boss so now he can jet his way to some hard-earned rest.


Except, surprise surprise, that wasn't the final stage. There's one left, and you might have deduced its gimmick from the picture above. Yup, for each screen you fight a whole bunch of one type of enemy. It's definitely A Thing That Happens and not much besides that. By now you should know the best way to deal with each category of chump and inflating their numbers tenfold doesn't have much impact.


Okay, so the room full of the stretchy-arm guys was fairly challenging, the main challenge being to get somewhere where they can't reach you and then try to tediously chip away at them one by one. My current working theory is that this stage represents the factory where they make all these enemies and I'm destroying my way through the stock rooms until nothing is left. An impressive commitment to thoroughness, but it doesn't do much to improve on a game that was already feeling somewhat stretched three stages ago.


The television boss returns, only larger and with fewer satellites. He looks less like Boy George now and more like Telly Savalas. Holy crap, television, Telly, I've figured out the secret message behind Funky Jet. Telly Savalas has an evil plan that can somehow only be foiled through jetpack punching. It's a good job that Mitchell didn't bother to provide Funky Jet with a story because nothing you could dream up is going to make these disparate elements come together.


For the actual, honest-to-god final battle, Telly Savalas ditches his flying CRT Fortress and engages our hero in a good old-fashioned punch-up. Look at him, he's like the most depressing version of Marvel Comics' Kingpin ever created. I think it's the ridiculous boxing gloves that do it. Or maybe I'm wrong, and Butterbean was behind everything. This is all his fiendish plan to get out of the fight game and secure a monopoly on the wire fence and scaffolding industries through fear and intimidation.


Each time you catch the boss with a punch combo, he launches into his deadliest move - flying across the screen with his hand out. It's very difficult to take an opponent seriously when their gut is hanging out of their shirt, but getting hit by this move a few times taught me some respect. If you lure him down to the bottom of the screen and hit him, most of the time his torpedo attack will fly right over your head, and as it also has the effect of clearing out any of the lesser enemies he hits, that's definitely the preferred tactic.
It doesn't take long to settling into a groove suitable for defeating the boss, and soon enough Funky Jet has been completed and the world is once again safe for anyone in the building trade to buy their materials at a competitive price.


There's the ending. All of it. No credits, no explanation of what the bloody hell was going on, just this one picture. The flying kids celebrate a job well done by cracking open a few beers. Are you going to lecture them about the perils of underage drinking? Because you know they just punched Boy George / Telly Savalas / Butterbean to death, right? Yeah, I thought so. Jog on, pal.


Funky Jet's not a good game, but it's somehow captured my imagination. Obscure, incomprehensible but basically competent arcade games are probably my favourite kind of games to subject to the VGJunk treatment - this explains why I'm so fascinated by Jaleco's output - and that's certainly a category into which Funky Jet falls. The gameplay is simple, too simple to hold your attention for long, but it's unusual enough to be interesting and with a bit of polish, like more focus on strategy and chaining attacks, I think it could have been pretty great.


As it stands, you've got an slightly daft arcade fun-burst with charming cartoony graphics that features two punks who use their mohawks like boomerangs. If that interests you then give Funky Jet a try, but always remember the VGJunk maxim - if you're not having fun, then stop playing. Who's going to tell you off, Telly Savalas?

3 comments:

  1. Another great review! This looks amazingly ridiculous, so I'm definitely going to have to try at some point. I assume Funky Barn was the long-awaited sequel. http://www.amazon.com/Funky-Barn-nintendo-3ds/dp/B0078J2HRK

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  2. Those guys with the pipes remind me of Sigma from Mega Man X.

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  3. Saw a longplay of this a couple of months back, and thought this to be pretty peculiar. Strange how there isn't another game like it.

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