There is a big difference between making a game intentionally funny and ending up with a gaming experience that makes players laugh when they really shouldn’t be. Many games might feature dialogue so cheesy or cliched that it makes us laugh., or the character design is so ridiculous we can’t help but snigger. But it is really a difficult task to write a game that is supposed to be funny and that still functions as a solid playing experience at the same time. In The Vault this month, let us take you back in time, to look at some of those titles that were meant to make us chuckle, and which did so with aplomb.
Of course, this list is far from definitive – comedy is very subjective and what makes one person laugh, may not even tickle another one. The games featured within this list are titles that have made me personally laugh out loud, and ones that i know are well-regarded for their comic wit. Games like the first Resident Evil – which is undeniably hilarious due to its poor voice-acting and horrible writing – will not feature on these pages, as the game was meant to make us hide under the bed, rather than roll on the floor laughing. Some action titles – such as Uncharted 2 (taking a leaf out of the Indiana Jones book of script-writing) – also heavily feature comedic scenes or dialogue. But titles such as these are punctuated by comedy, rather than structured around humourous situations and characters. So sit back, strap in and prepare to meet the comedians of gaming.
10: The Simpsons Game (2007)
Coming long after the Television series had begun to wane – its writing team seemingly bereft of ideas and burnt out – expectations for The Simpsons Game weren’t exactly sky-high. But long time fans of the series will find a lot of in-jokes and references to the TV show and parodies of both popular videogames and movies that are spot-on. Games on the receiving end range from staples like Mario and Sonic, all the way to the crazy world of Katamari. The voicework in the game is top notch – as you would expect when it features all of the original cast members – and this only adds to the comedic timing and impact. It is perhaps the fact that the game was funnier than expected that makes it stick in your mind – whilst not as original and creative as some other titles, the game features enough spoofs and Simpsons running gags to keep fans of the animated family and gaming in general chuckling for some time.
9: Sam and Max Hit the Road (1993)
Steve Purcell had been writing Sam and Max comics for years before he started to work with LucasArts, and his creations attracted the attention of other game designers in the company. The Dog and Rabbit Private Investigation team with a penchant for the weird and senseless acts of violence even had cameos in many other LucasArts graphic adventure games, before their time to shine came. The game consists of the team, tracking down a runaway Bigfoot across America, which leads them to a variety of paranormal hotspots and weird tourist attractions such as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, The Mystery Vortex and a Bigfoot Jamboree. These locations obviously throw up a lot of comedic gold, but it is the relationship between the two leads and their banter that really makes the game sparkle. The series has since been picked up by Telltale Games, and seen several series’ of episodic adventures released – but the original remains the best, for sheer craziness and laugh-out-loud moments.
8: Earthworm Jim (1994)
Where do you start with this game? Almost every aspect of the title was off-the-wall and insane that there aren’t really any particular features you can pick out as examples. The game begins with the titular Earthworm Jim finding a space suit that turns him into a human-sized superhero, who can use his body like a whip to traverse holes in the environment, or spin it like a propeller in order to hover like a Helicopter. His cute puppy sidekick Pete was a helpful little sort, but get him injured or scared and he would turn into a snarling beast. The host of bad guys is equally as weird, with a few of them being Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, Psy-Crow and Bob the Killer Goldfish. Then there is the cow launcher. A see-saw with a cow poised on one end, a fridge dangling above the other. Why is it there? Who knows. What does it do? Shoot the fridge in order to launch the cow into orbit. Why? Who cares. That is the kind of sensibility that runs through the whole game. Utter madness.
7: Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
What began as a cuddly platformer in the same vein as Banjo Kazooie eventually became a mature rated game that contains more profanity and poop jokes than any others on the Nintendo 64. Conker parodies films and TV series’ such as Saving Private Ryan and The Matrix, with many set-pieces and bosses being direct homages to the action in the film version. In a first for a Nintendo 64 game, the characters were potty-mouthed and unlikeable in general. Bad guys consisted a pompous big-bollocked Englishman called the Big Big Guy and a gigantic Operatic Poo monster. And how did you go about defeating the poo monster? Why, you throw toilet rolls at him! That is the kind of logic that sums up the humour and style of the game, one that broke barriers on Nintendo’s usually conservative system.
6: Warioware series (2003-Present)
The Warioware series isn’t so much funny in the traditional sense that it is trying to create funny dialogue or situations, but just in the way that all of the mini-games are so bizarre and off-the-wall that they could have only come from the minds of manic Japanese developers, and seeing your friends and family performing the silly actions or struggling to complete the basic tasks leads to endless amusement. This is well illustrated in the Wii version of the game. None of the mini-games can be played by multiple players all at once, so you must take turns and embarrass yourself one-by-one, in front of everyone else as you try to pick a bogey from your nose, or hold the Wii Remote like the Trunk of an Elephant, so you can squirt water at a flaming building. But it is not just the games themselves that create humour. The graphics, characters and tasks are so strange, that it instantly makes you chuckle. Players hammer buttons on the controller as they try to drag their avatar across a gym mat to reach the trophy in the middle, or waggle a feather duster to try and gain the attention of a fluffy cat. Best played with a group of friends, this game is the strangest, yet most intriguing party game there is.
5: Osu Tatakae Ouendan / Elite Beat Agents (2005/2006)
This title was radically different in its Japanese and English versions. The Japanese one saw gamers take control of a three-man High-School Cheer Squad, who would cheer and dance along to encourage various locals who were in trouble or distress, whereas Elite Beat Agents saw you controlling a team of Secret Agents, helping people with getting the motivation they need to overcome their problems. Both the music and the situations you found yourself in differed also, with the Western release being altered greatly in order to appeal more to gamers from Europe and North America. Players control the dnacers and the ending of each story will depend on how successful their performance is. The situations vary from helping a couple overcome relationship troubles, to dealing with a pottery master who has lost the muse for his art. Both games share the common goal of one last big mission that unites the characters from previous stages in a climatic last battle to save the world. What makes the game hilarious is the weird situations, the grammatically inaccurate scripting and the over-the-top animations. It all plays out like a comedy anime, and the fact that you are playing a dancing game in order to save the world, just makes it all the more amusing.
4: Leisure Suit Larry series (1987-2009)
It is hard to talk about the Leisure Suit Larry games without first offering the following disclaimer – any games released after Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail were not the work of Al Lowe the genius who created the beloved character, and as such, should not be held up as part of the same series of games. The two later Larry games are nothing like the first six games, and have dragged the Larry name through the mud. I say six games, because even though the series released game number seven, there was never a number four. This was due to designer Lowe stating – after the completion of work on Larry 3 – that he would never make a fourth game. The series was so popular that he had to make another sequel, but he stood by his word, and there was never a fourth game. This exemplifies the knowing and parodic sense of humour of the games, which targeted life in general and computer game conventions of the time. All of this of course, was wrapped up in a seedy, adult-orientated world – which just made the game all the more exciting for young boys to play when they shouldn’t have been. But playing the game years later, you see that there was so much humour that went over your head at that age – Political satire, social commentary and, of course, sexual innuendo that whilst coarse at times, was never explicit and always in good humour. The series got a bad reputation for simple being smutty, but players will realise that the series is in fact clever, witty and entirely non-sexist – when they actually give the games a chance.
3: Psychonauts (2005)
Psychonauts – with each level being based in the Imagination of a different character – allows for such a huge scope in variety, complexity and weirdness in level design. Stages include riffs on the board game Risk, Godzilla and a Meat Circus (don’t ask), for example. With the aim of going into the affected person’s brain, in order to fix a particular problem, you encounter so many strange situations, there is a comedy goldmine in here. Perhaps the sense of humour was a little too weird and the game as a whole too oddball – which lead to poor sales but a strong cult following. The use of a piece of Bacon in order to summon your guide Ford, and in turn to save the game, is strange enough in itself. But the idea that being able to enter the subconcious of a character and defeat the evils within, being able to cure that person of a mental illness, is a very creative and exciting one – that of course leads to a lot of laughs. Never poking fun at insanity though, the game rather takes the stance of a superhero team, fighting to use mental warfare to help the world be a better place. This is really a must-play title, as it makes little-to-no sense when explained in a mere paragraph, it is best experienced first-hand.
2: Portal 2 (2011)
The first Portal game was pretty funny in itself. The deadpan insults of the evil computer GlaDOS and the promise of cake went down in gaming culture. But with the advent of Portal 2, with the inclusion of the work of Stephen Merchant (the less irritating half of The Office’s writing duo), the game really pushed humour and conversation-based jokes to the fore. This was all backed up by the mock-retro Aperture labs safety announcements and posters, the Laurel and Hardy like robots featured in the co-op game – Atlas and P-Body – and the malfunctioning machinery throughout the title. There were lots of subtle little touches as well as the in-your-face screaming of your rather easily-scared and would-be robot pal Wheatley. Even the solution to some of the games puzzles provides basis for a little chuckle, as you finally realise the simplistic action that were needed to complete it, and slap your head in frustration. But it is the characters of Glados and Wheatley that really shine through and give the game bags of character – as we see the characters transform over the course of the game. Everytime Wheatley says something, it is likely to make you laugh – no matter how serious the situation.
1: The Monkey Island series (1989-Present)
Although Leisure Suit Larry was possibly the first really funny adventure game that was released on PC, the Monkey Island series soon followed and has been a benchmark for all adventure titles to measure up to ever since. Ask any adventure game fan what titles they like, and the majority will mention Monkey Island. The humour crossed age boundaries and langauge barriers, with gamers young and old enjoying the title, the world over.
The game plays on our preconceptions of the Pirating world, as well as providing parodies of modern life, as well as pop culture icons such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Disneyland – there is even a George Lucas cameo in the first game. The writing is sharp and clever, with a lot of wordplay and sarcasm, but there is enough simple humour and slapstick for the game to be enjoyed by younger gamers also. The inclusion of “insult sword-fighting” in two instalments of the game is also brilliant – where players must match up the insult and appropriate response from a list of rhyming couplets, in order to defeat their enemies. Working out which insult and response go together is a lot of fun, and getting the incorrect response can often be funnier than getting it right.
The cast of characters also contains a lot of parodies of Pirate stereotpyes and modern-day ones. The Vegetarian Cannibals and Italian twins in the circus both stand out as unusual characters in a Pirate story, but the game makes this all seem normal in its own slightly-skewed Piratical world. It is hard to describe all of the great aspects of the game in writing – they are games which need to be played – but if you need convincing of whether you should buy this game or not, check out the GodisaGeek.com review of the newly released Special Edition Collection, that contains the first two games in the series.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005) – The Japanese weirdness really shines through in this comedy-drama about a young Lawyer who also dabbles in detective work. A hilarious cast of characters, insane twists and witty banter make this an incredibly likeable title.
Day of the Tentacle (1993) – Another game from the stable of LucasArts Adventures, Day of the Tentacle uses time travel between three time periods at the same location to construct a series of bizarre situations such as a Human Dog Show and George Washington with a set of chattering teeth – that would make sense in no other game.
Grim Fandango (1998) – A Film Noir in the Land of the dead doesn’t sound like the most hilarious setting, but the world beyond life that is created in the game is filled with enough madcap demons, flaming Beavers and film references that is stands out as a comedy classic.
Grand Theft Auto series (1997-Present) - The Grand Theft Auto games have always maintained a black sense of humour, based largely around movie and pop culture parody, but the tale of 1980′s excess in Vice City seemed the perfect setting for their sarcastic sense of humour.