Our Indie Impression column has been our own attempt at broadening our content and giving us a reason to try out those sometimes lesser known games. Barkley is a rather special case, as it was released free as basically a parody of Japanese RPGs, the NBA, and of course, Charles Barkley. Created with RPG Maker 2003 and Gamer Maker, the game undoubtedly started as a joke among friends and grew into something... bigger, to say the least.
We present our impressions of Charles Barkley's second game below, and they vary widely, much like his golf shot.
The name "Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley Saga" gives you a reasonable representation of what you find in this game. This is a fantastical spoof that both takes itself seriously and not serious at all. Your impressions will vary a bit, partially by how many tropes and jokes you'd understand. But if you were around to watch Space Jam when it came out and were internet and gaming-aware by year 2000, Barkley: Gaiden will almost certainly appeal to you.
It's a bit hard to even start to explain since the game has so much going on. However, the game itself is primarily an linear old-school JRPG, with you playing as Charles Barkley and companions. 12 years ago, Sir Charles let loose a Chaos Dunk, and basketball (along with the world) has never been the same since. After the incident, Barkley has been shunned from society and only wishes to live in peace with his son, Hoopz. Of course, things never play out that easily. The Round Mound of Rebound is pulled into a web of intrigue, conspiracies, and debating the merits of jrpgs and anime vs. their baka gaijin counterparts.
Fighting his way through the game, Barkley has control over a surprisingly fun and interactive battle system. All playable characters have spells along with multiple useful basic attacks, performed with timed button presses and directions. Battles are started in an advantage/neutral/disadvantage situation, with enemies visible on the screen. It's enough of a challenge without being overly difficult, and people could go back and forth between maps to gain more experience if they wished, although that's certainly not necessary.
It's hard exactly to say specifics, because there are so many fun surprises in this game that really don't want to be spoiled. But I can certainly say this: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is an extremely entertaining love story to those now in their 20s and can appreciate the references in the game. From start to finish (about 5-6 hours), Gaiden does not give you a rest. Once you get past the intro sequence and start fighting, you will almost certainly finish this game in a couple sessions and enjoy it as much as I did.
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is like a joke. Not a great joke, not a bad joke, but a joke in the perfunctory sense. It’s quick to the point, and it has the potential to evoke a giggle. If not that, at least a smile. But hear that joke a few more times in rapid succession, and you’re pretty much over it, rolling your eyes and searching for an escape ladder. Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is that joke.
Just so you’re aware, this next part where I summarize the game…it’s going to feel like I’m pranking you. If only. The Great B-Ball Purge of 2041, also called B-Ballnacht by those deeply traumatized, has come to pass, taking with it thousands upon thousands of Earth’s greatest basketball players. The cause of this apocalyptic event? Something called the Chaos Dunk. Flash-forward to 2053, and we’re in Neo New York with Charles Barkley, one of the few ballers to survive the basketball genocide. Also, he’s capable of performing the Chaos Dunk as well, which leads the B-Ball Removal Department to believe Barkley’s the guilty goat when a Chaos Dunk suddenly hits Neo New York, killing thousands.
Right, well. The game opens up melodramatically, with our athletic hero at home, reminiscing over the past with his friend Balthios while Barkley’s son…um, Hoopz, practices his b-ball skills in the living room. Eventually, Barkley decides to head out for some medicine, bumping into his arch-nemesis Michael Jordan on the way; the two sneer and scratch like two cats in a bag. After that, you’re on the streets of Neo New York, and I quickly saw more than enough to quit. To start, when you want to save your game, you have to listen to some robo-trashcan’s lengthy diatribe...each time. Then some punk tried to sell me Ecto Coolers, and I don’t know why. For the curious, I turned the game off at the exact moment when Barkley finds the shop and the man behind the counter is an old Asian man named…Chin. No thanks.
I don’t know if this is all meant as a parody or meant as a parody that should be taken somewhat seriously since it is an actual game, with menus, mechanics, and magical slam dunks. I don’t know, and I ultimately don’t care.
I played past the first boss and actually had a pretty fun time. After a slow beginning, Barkley gets up the speed quickly and before you know it, you're fighting off zombified NBA stars with your spectacular b-ball skills. Yes, this is game is one giant joke after another, and the humor is only multiplied by how serious everyone deals it in the game. The opening is littered with basketball stars of today and the recent past, and there are pop culture references aplenty.
The battle system is surprisingly deep, with the two characters I played with each having three different main attacks, plus some special powers. I really like the interactivity the system provides, almost as if every character is a variation of Saban from Final Fantasy VI. If anything keeps me playing Barkley through to its conclusion, it is definitely the fights.
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden seems to require at least a semi-working knowledge of the NBA and the ability to laugh at it and its stars. The end of the world has arrived, not with a bang, but with a dunk.