It seems that most adventures I play these days have a gimmick, as if developers are afraid you won’t play adventures otherwise. Maybe they’re right -- it’s not like we’re in the glory days of adventures or anything -- but the problem is that the gimmicks are usually pretty weak. For instance, I just played The Watchmaker, and it allowed you to control two characters simultaneously during the adventure. That’s a nice enough gimmick, but in actuality the game wouldn’t have been very different if it had only had one character. Adventures have fallen a long way since Maniac Mansion.
Now I have Jazz and Faust from Russian developer 1C Company. Its gimmick is that there are two adventures in the game, one each for the pirate Jazz and the more honest merchant Faust. That’s a nice enough idea. By combining two adventures in the same package developers can re-use locations and some dialogue, and so they can provide two games while saving on development costs. But the problem with the concept, at least with Jazz and Faust, is that you get two small, simplistic adventures instead of one interesting adventure, and it’s one of those cases where two halves don’t make a whole.
Anyway, Jazz and Faust takes place in a fictional, Arabian-style world. The background story is complicated enough that it doesn’t fit into a couple sentences, but suffice it to say there is a princess and a treasure, and those two things peak the interest of Jazz and Faust. In Jazz’s adventure, he spends his time looking for the treasure, while in Faust’s adventure, he chases after the girl. Both characters visit the same islands in the game, and their stories even intersect here and there, but 1C Company wasn’t clever enough to make those intersections identical. For example, in both adventures Jazz is captured by slavers, but how he escapes changes depending on who you’re playing. It would have been nicer, I think, if the adventures had told the same story, but from different viewpoints.
In fact, one of the main problems with Jazz and Faust is that 1C Company didn’t take enough time with it. The puzzles are about as basic as you can get -- most involve giving inventory objects to people so you can get new inventory objects -- and some don’t even make sense, like when you use a poker on a guy to get a hookah pipe. You don’t brain the guy so you can steal the pipe. Instead you somehow exchange the two items, and the game pretends that the exchange makes sense. In another place you need to get past a guard, but the solution to that involves going to a magician so you can get a potion to make the guard disappear. Sure. If you can’t create thoughtful puzzles, why bother making an adventure?
Luckily, Jazz and Faust is a friendly game. You can’t die or do anything to prevent yourself from finishing the game, and so you don’t need to keep a multitude of saved games around. Plus, 1C Company gave Jazz and Faust a lighthearted feel -- stopping short of the gags from a Monkey Island sort of game -- and that helps to make some of the sillier puzzles more convincing.
But Jazz and Faust might be a little too friendly. The game’s interface tells you exactly where you can use inventory objects, and there aren’t any red herrings, so almost all the puzzles can be solved with simple trial and error. Plus, unlike the DreamCatcher adventures that have the same level of friendliness, 1C Company didn’t make the inventory objects difficult to find. So Jazz and Faust is basically a walk in the park, and it shouldn’t even take 10 hours to finish.
There are worse things than playing an easy, breezy adventure, but Jazz and Faust also comes with a bunch of troubling problems -- again as if 1C Company just didn’t spend enough time with the game. Characters are allowed to run so they can move from room to room more quickly, but for some reason they can’t run if they’re on a staircase or if they’re in disguise. The game doesn’t tell you what the cursor is pointing at, and sometimes that can make puzzles more difficult to solve, like when I was supposed to rescue a guy from under a log, and I thought I was trying to defeat a tentacled alien. And sometimes the game gives bizarrely inappropriate responses to actions, like when you play Jazz’s adventure and offer people a cup of water, Jazz will ask, “Do I look like the kind of guy who pees his pants?” Huh?
So, despite having nice enough graphics and acceptable voice acting, Jazz and Faust is an adventure to miss -- unless you’ve just finished playing Myst III or Schizm, and you want to play something that gives your brain a break.