Jazz: Trump’s Journey
Developer: Egg Ball
Release Date: 1/18/2012
When I heard that Jazz: Trump’s Journey was a platformer centered around the birth of jazz in 1920s New Orleans, a couple big questions came to mind: How will an iOS game take on a part of history and narrative not usually explored by the medium? And more specifically: Can a video game properly comment on themes like racism and prejudice without being flippant? Like every other medium, videogames have their own logic and way of understanding the world, and so far they seem to be rather oblivious to the boundaries of historical narratives and factual accuracy.
There have been some bizarre characters and narratives in videogame history—especially when it comes to platformers. But somehow, the characters in Trump’s Journey manage to be both based in reality and truly imaginative. You play as Trump, a poor African-American kid with a big dream of starting a band, winning a local musical festival competition and bringing a new kind of music to the ears of the public. Armed only with your trusty trumpet, you jump, run and climb through the story, which was apparently inspired by Louis Armstrong’s own early life getting started in jazz.
The visuals in Trump’s Journey are absolutely gorgeous. I never cease to be amazed by what developers and artists have been able to do with the iOS platform and 2D landscapes. Part of what makes the game so enjoyable is the magnificent scenery, lovingly crafted in the style of the original Mickey Mouse cartoons of the same era. The game’s visuals also take cues from silent film, using title cards to give voices to the silent characters. Furthermore, a live-recorded jazz band plays throughout the excellent soundtrack, continuing to add more instruments as you find members in your band throughout the different stages. This kind of attention to details provides considerable warmth and makes Trump’s Journey a game worth experiencing.
The platforming elements are tried-and-true, but are still clever enough to hold my attention for the most part. There are some creative timing puzzles that, while never getting too difficult, are still enjoyable to solve. Initially I thought the very frequent checkpoint system makes the game all too easy, but as the platforming gets more difficult, it keeps the game from becoming too frustrating. The only real problem it creates is with the collectibles, which the player can easily jump off buildings for only to respawn again close by. My main concern, however, lies with the game’s less-than polished controls. It won’t matter to you much for most of the game, but the control scheme’s slippery feel grows frustrating as the difficulty ramps up towards the end of the journey.
Jazz: Trump’s Journey is undoubtedly a triumph of ambition and heart. Without ever calling it out by name, the game tastefully references racism throughout as you stomp on the heads of cops, get looked down upon for your music and even plunge through the depths of prison after being thrown in jail. It’s never easy to distill an issue as huge as this one down to something a kid could understand, but Egg Ball and Bulkypix seem to have done just that. Trump’s Journey is one of those rare opportunities to experience these stories and heroes that we just don’t get nearly enough chances to think about and celebrate.