Warning: The review you are about to read is canon.
10 years ago, a small group of game developers took on a task that was inconceivable, and arguably one of the hardest things humanity has ever attempted: to create a Japanese RPG that was a sequel to the 1992 classic animated movie, Space Jam. 10 years later, this game is a grim reminder of what happens when basketball goes wrong. After reading about the game in Hardcore Gaming 101’s “The Best 200 Games of All Time” and watching a speedrun of it at RPG Limit Break 2018, I decided to lace up my sneakers and step onto the basketball court with anime eyes wide open. Tales of Game’s Studios’ Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is one of the wackiest RPGs ever made, and is also a fan-made freeware game that scores from everywhere on the court to provide an experience that will change your life… or just make you laugh really hard at the silliness of it all.
The Story That Needs to Be Seen to Be Believed
The premise of Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is as follows: after the events of Space Jam and the original Barkley, Shut Up and Jam, Charles Barkley performed a forbidden slam dunk, called the Chaos Dunk, during a live NBA game in 2041 that destroyed the world. Fast forward to 2053, and Barkley is living his life in a dystopian New York. Basketball has become banned everywhere because of the now-infamous Chaos Dunk. Barkley has quit playing basketball and becomes depressed over his actions in 2041. However, his son, Hoopz Barkley, has shown the potential to be a great basketball player, a la his dad. They are also both joined by a mysterious man named Balthios, the great-grandson of LeBron James.
One day, a Chaos Dunk is performed that destroys all of Manhattan and Barkley gets framed for the incident. Michael Jordan, now an anti-basketball crusader, is determined to bring Barkley to justice. Together with Balthios, Hoopz, and a dwarf grafted with basketball leather as skin named Cyberdwarf, Barkley embarks on a quest for redemption. Their missions are to stop a conspiracy involving basketball for evil purposes and to pass the torch to a young man who’s destined to save all of humanity.
An American Lampoon of JRPGs and Stolen Game Assets for the Benefit of Humanity
I don’t know where to start with Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. I guess I can go with the story. Yeah, the plot synopsis really is something. Players are supposed to treat Space Jam as if it was Lord of the Rings. They also need to treat Barkley as if he’s Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. This allows the story to play with many tropes JRPGs are known for. A hero being righteous at heart? A story filled with complicated lore? A rival character who was once close to the hero? Optional fetch quests where you have to fight a strong boss? Got a super-strong party member only for them to leave you right away? A turning point where you need to get a key item to save someone? A final boss that doesn’t get revealed until the very end? Yup, it’s all poked fun at. Yet Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden does this with an amazing amount of dialogue script that makes the story feel epic, even when you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Speaking of absurdity, there is a lot of it. A majority of the sprites and graphics in Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden were ripped off of other games. There’s some notable area backgrounds from Chrono Trigger as you can see in the screenshot above. Charles Barkley’s sprite is from the original Shut Up & Jam game. Balthios’ sprite is from a game called X-Caliber 2097. Hoopz Barkley is Skate from the classic Sega Genesis beat’em up game Streets of Rage 2. After the start of the game, Barkley goes into an underground community of animal people and some of them are Hanna-Barbera characters. The game liberally uses certain NBA players’ faces as well. Real-life personalities like Juwanna Mann, Wilford Brimley (the plot point involving him has me in tears to this day), Bill Cosby, Scott Creelman, and Harriet Tubman all show up at some point in the game as well.
Even though the game is pretty much copyright infringement on almost every level, Tales of Game’s Studios utilizes all of whatever they had to perfection. Each asset serves a purpose in the grand scheme of providing a unique humorous experience for players. They fit well with Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden’s world and lore. I think what Tales of Game’s Studios has done should be taken as a lesson on how to maximize assets within a freeware system that might be limited at times (Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden was made on GameMaker: Studio).
Intense Turn-Based Sports Anime Action
Let’s get into the gameplay and combat now. The level/overworld screens in Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden are similar to Earthbound. Your party members are all with you on screen instead of fusing with the main character. Enemies can be seen on screen, so you can run away from them if you want to. You also have a sprint/dash meter to zip past areas. The combat is pretty neat. Once you fight a boss/monster, it goes to a typical JRPG turn-based battle layout screen. You get the ripoff sprites of Barkley’s gang on one side and the enemies, all of which look ridiculous, on the other. Hit points and magic points are represented in life bars instead of numbers. Every character in your party has unique battle mechanics: Barkley is a hard-hitting baller, Balthios is a mage warrior, Cyberdwarf is a support tank, and Hoopz is a fast, multi-hit damage dealer. Every character has some input-dependent mechanic that feels refreshing compared to most other RPGs.
On a fun note: Hi-C Ecto Coolers are healing potions, tobacco cures all status ailments (glaucoma, diabetes, Parkinson’s, etc. are the real-life equivalents in the game), and steroids bring you back to life. Because why not.
A Glimpse into the Bad Side of Fan Worship
If there was one problem I had with Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, it would be that the dialogue can be too much for a player. If you didn’t grow up in the ’90s, some of the jokes will fly over your head right away. If you didn’t watch Space Jam, the story can be hard to follow (if you really care). The save points, in the form of truck pumps, also talk to you, but in a condescending manner. Their lines are written to sound like hardcore Japanese pop culture fans showing superiority and belittling the non-fans. When you start to use them for saving, the save point will rant about the superiority of Japanese video games, Pocky, and Yasunori Mitsuda, among other topics. It’s funny at first, but it’s troublesome to skip through quite a good amount of text just to save your game.
A Silver Lining That Might Rust
Another thing I want to note is that Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden ends on a cliffhanger (a funny one though) due to it being Chapter 1 of a grand saga involving Hoopz Barkley. Expect the game to be 6-7 hours long on the first playthrough. Side quests aren’t frequent, as the game wants you to zip through the plot. There’s a sequel that was funded on KickStarter and was supposed to come out in late 2013, but as of today, there is nothing yet. Tales of Game’s has been silent about it too.
Since the sequel will be a full-fledged game that players will have to buy, there will be no copyright infringement going forward, as the developers can’t afford to pay for licenses. So Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, etc, probably won’t be mentioned anymore. It’s fine for the most part, but something will feel off in the process. I felt that the mentions and likenesses of real people gave Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden a charm, where fans can learn to accept that sometimes in life, nothing will ever make sense, and you know what? That’s fine, as long as you can come to terms with it and learn to laugh about it.
The Great American Sports Tragic Comedy Anime
Those very minor flaws don’t change the fact that Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is a one-of-a-kind RPG that’s worth your time. It provides an experience where the characters play everything straight-laced, and are serious about things that shouldn’t be serious at all. Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is an artistic achievement because of that. It’s pure and fun chaos that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The game’s brevity and lack of filler feels refreshing when many JRPGs get a bit too bloated with a story. When the game provides a warning that it is canon as soon as you start a new game, while somber music plays in the background, you know you’re in for four quarters of a melodramatic basketball story mixed with memes. If that doesn’t somehow scream anime, I don’t know what does.
And oh yeah, did I mention that the title screen plays an awesome chip-tune remix of the Space Jam theme song from the Quad-City DJs?
So, come on and slam and welcome to the jam session of what fans love about Japan and the crazy humor that comes out of the internet.
Barkley: Shut Up and Jam, Gaiden can be downloaded at Tales of Game’s Studios’ official website for free on your PC or Mac.