It isn’t often that one thinks of To Kill A Mockingbird while playing a game, much less one that costs £1.99. But where Harper Lee used humour and innocence to expose racism from the viewpoint of a child, French developer EggBall Games pulls off a similar feat by filtering its difficult subject matter through the lens of a traditional platformer.
Jazz: Trump’s Journey’s genre might be familiar, but there are no ice or lava levels here. Based (very) loosely on the life and career Louis Armstrong, players guide the titular Trump through early 20th century New Orleans on a quest to form a band. Levels are broken up into discreet mini-puzzles which must be traversed using a combination of running, jumping, swinging (no pun intended) and wall-sliding, while a quick blast of your trumpet will pause time, affecting certain level elements. You can hold moving platforms in position and freeze enemies including policemen whose spindly-limbed sprites resemble characters from Game & Watch games. Later levels see ‘trumpet-proof’ objects and enemies with corks in their ears who must be negotiated without the chance to freeze them, while note-firing horns and rival musician bosses throw up challenging crochet-hell gauntlets.
The game boasts solidly implemented physics and some well-judged inertia, lending unusual weight to the virtual controls. They’re still virtual controls, though, bringing with them all that implies, and while left, right and jump remain on-screen at all times, the contextual appearance of up, down and grab mean that finding the button to, say, leap on to a ladder, is rarely as effortless as it should be. Moreover, on occasion, un-polished sections of levels will leave you unable to move objects stuck on scenery, necessitating a death in order to skip back to the last checkpoint.
Visually and aurally, however, Trump’s Journey is a triumph, blending a distinctive découpage look with a toe-tapping jazz soundtrack. And Trump’s chipper, euphemistic references to racism (“I woke up in this prison cell. The local police hadn’t been very kind to me. Apparently, novice musicians weren’t allowed to perform on the leading float. What a strange, outdated law!”) manage to make a serious point without ever becoming a heavy-handed sermon. A brave game in many ways, then, but above all, an enjoyable one.