By Joseph Walter
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam Gaiden:
Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa
Overview: In this canon JRPG sequel to Space Jam, Charles Barkley, one of the last B-Ball players alive following the "Great B-Ball Purge," must face his tragic past after Neo New York is wiped out by a cataclysmic "Chaos Dunk," the very same technique that Barkley used years ago, which unintentionally brought the "Cyberpocalypse" to fruition. Hunted by Michael Jordan, the former hero of the Space Jam, Barkley is in a race against time to discover the truth about the terrorist organization "B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S.," who (or what) was truly behind this latest "Chaos Dunk," and maybe, just maybe, "redeem basketball once and for all."
The Good: In case it wasn't immediately apparent, Barkley is absurd and hilarious. It's filled to the brim with bizarre, laugh-out-loud humor. While the surreal aesthetics and content are great on their own merits, Barkley manages to be a surprisingly well-developed JRPG, and includes features such as a unique, interactive battle system (featuring "action commands") and an outstanding score by Final Fantasy's maestro, "Nobuo Uematsu" (at least according to the credits. Regardless, whoever actually composed the music did an excellent job). There are also a few impressive gameplay elements, like thrilling QTE cutscenes, out-of-the-blue mini-games (like a dating sim) and satisfyingly weird side-quests. Best of all, though, is that despite all the humor and absurdity, you'll be surprised by how emotionally invested you are in the characters, how impactful the story becomes, and how genuinely satisfying (and authentic) this JRPG truly is. I kid you not when I say I cried at the end. Oh, and it's free. And short (3-5 hours.)
The Bad: Honestly? Not much. Aside from some very minor rough edges (which are expected from a zero-budget, independently developed game), the only thing I can think of is that its style of humor might not be for everyone... and if the humor doesn't work for you, you're not going to enjoy the game, as sad as that might be.