In a week when a sequel to Tales of Game’s presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden — Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa has been officially announced, it seems fitting that for this week’s FreePlay we should revisit the original game, since it’s genuinely and legitimately one of the best games you’ll never pay a penny for.
For the uninitiated, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is the unofficial sequel to 16-bit consoles’ basketball game Barkley, Shut Up and Jam! It is also a game where the events of the movie Space Jam are canonical, which should start giving you an idea of what to expect from it. But don’t let its glorious, self-conscious ridiculousness put you off, for under the snarky veneer — which pokes fun at everything from otaku and Internet culture to video games in general — is a genuinely good game.
Our story begins in “post-cyberpocalyptic Neo New York,” a dystopian urban environment in which “b-ball” is banned as a result of our hero Charles Barkley’s performing of the forbidden Chaos Dunk some twelve years prior. As the story begins, another Chaos Dunk hits Manhattan, killing millions of people. Barkley, as one of the few people capable of performing the Chaos Dunk, is blamed for the atrocity, and must flee for his life from the pursuing forces of the B-Ball Removal Department, which, naturally, is led by Michael Jordan, the game’s primary antagonist.
Thus begins an epic (but manageably short) adventure in which Barkley and his plucky band of companions assemble in an attempt to get to the bottom of the strange happenings that are going on. To say too much more would be to spoil the outlandish and crazy (but admirably coherent) plot and its numerous hilarious cameos, so suffice it to say that you’re in for a wild ride if you follow Barkley on his journey.
Aside from the memorably hilarious plot, however, Barkley is noteworthy for a number of other reasons, not least of which is its excellent “B.A.B.B.Y” battle system. Influenced by a combination of the Final Fantasy and Paper Mario series, it’s a surprisingly fresh and enjoyable battle system to make use of, and it’s particularly praiseworthy for the fact that every different party member controls and plays very differently from one another. Some require timing-based button presses to pull off at all, while others reward accurate timing with additional damage. It’s a surprisingly solid and original system that would work extremely well in a game that you’d paid for, let alone a freeware title that initially appears to be nothing more than a parody title that ruthlessly lampoons everything it sets its eyes upon.
Then there’s the little things that make it a distinctive experience — even more so than it was previously. The fact that the save points always launch into a lengthy monologue before allowing you to save your game. The discovery of a colony of furries in the post-cyberpocalyptic sewers. A surprise appearance from Bill Cosby. The use of the “cock rock” boss theme from Blue Dragon. The fact that the rest of the soundtrack has incredible track names like “click here for mustache rides” — that’s the main battle theme, if you were wondering. Oh, and the amazing remix of the Space Jam theme that was our Song of the Day earlier this week.
I can honestly say from a personal perspective that Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is one of the most legitimately entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny games that I have ever played. It would have been easy for Chef Boyardee and the rest of his team to throw together something cheap, simple and amateurish, but the utterly crazy thing about Barkley is that it’s a good game as well as just being a silly curio.
The official sequel to Barkley has actually been on the cards since the original game was made, since it’s mentioned in the end credits. Chef Boyardee notes that he can’t remember exactly why the team chose to call it The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, but that they’re sticking with it regardless. The new game will focus more on Charles Barkley’s son Hoopz, who appeared in Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden as a supporting member of the main cast and playable character.
If I’ve successfully piqued your interest with this little bout of enthusiasm, I’d encourage you to get straight over to the official website and download yourself a copy of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden right now. It’ll take you maybe 10 hours in total to get through the whole hilarious experience — and it’s ten hours you’ll be very glad you spent, particularly if you’re a fan of 1) laughing your ass off and 2) JRPGs.
FreePlay is Games Are Evil’s weekly column about games that cost you nothing to download and get started with, hosted by GrE’s managing editor Pete Davison. Follow Pete on Twitter here.