Under The Radar is a weekly look at games that have ended up hidden through lack of coverage, but shouldn’t have. If you have a game that you think should be featured here, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out.
Diving deep into the world of indie games, I feel as if I don’t always know what is reaching the surface and is being exposed to the broader video gaming audience. For instance, are you all aware that there’s an indie JRPG that stars Charles Barkley? If not, read on as we explore this week’s title, Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden (BSUJ:G).
Developed by a ragtag group going by the name Tales of Game’s Studios and released in 2008, the full name of the project is ridiculously long- Tales of Game’s Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkly SaGa. If you can’t tell from the oddly placed apostrophe in the studio’s name or the superlatively long title, the whole project is tongue-in-cheek. The game is poised as a sequel to the NBA Jam spin off game, Barkley Shut Up and Jam (though that game did receive an actual sequel) and Space Jam (a cultural touchstone for anyone who had R. Kelly music at their graduation).
Made with the Game Maker development tool, BSUJ:G takes most all of its gameplay mechanics from JRPGS of the 90’s. Battlescreens are a series of menus; characters can be outfitted with items that boost stats; overworld traversal is done from the overhead perspective. There’s even a touch of Super Mario RPG with the use of action commands- timed button presses that give actions greater effect. It’s all very conventional and pays homage to SNES era RPGs that have gained an aura of being amazingly good over time. It may not be your cup of tea, but the mechanics are merely the side dish to the main course: the crazy narrative.
The year is 2053, and basketball has been outlawed due to Barkley’s own chaos dunk in a game a dozen years ago having killed many people. In Neo New York (yes, that does translate to New New York), another chaos dunk leads the B-Ball Removal Department- a fascist police systems led by Michael Jordan- to Barkley’s apartment. Barkley’s quest to escape the law and keep his son- Hoopz- safe, starts there. If your nose isn’t bleeding by now by the high-level absurdism going on, good on you.
While the game can sometimes be a little heavy-handed with the irony, it’s a pretty fantastic experience that’s worth looking at. It’s also an example of how the indie world can make something unique and bonkers by willing to skirt the laws of copyright and taste.
You can get BSUJ:G for your PC for free at the Tales of Game’s site here.