Video games are rarely funny because, well, game developers aren’t typically that funny. When you’re developing a game on a budget, most of your resources go to hiring programmers, designers, artists, and engineers. If it’s a smaller studio it’s not uncommon for the same people who are doing the programming and debugging to be doing the writing and even composing. Sometimes, though, we’re treated to truly witty writing or unforgettable gameplay moments that bring us tears of laughter. Those games are good for the soul, and these are seven of the best.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Of course we have to begin here. This is a classic that should be enjoyed by all. You assume the role of a wanna-be pirate named – I kid you not – Guybrush Threepwood. Seriously, say that name out loud and try not to at least grin. This is a point-and-click adventure with fantastic writing from start to finish. Tim Schafer actually did a lot of the writing for this one back in the day. The humor is dry but irresistible. I recall a certain scene where our hero is roped to a weight and thrown into the water to drown. While casually strolling the ocean floor beneath a dock, looking for something sharp with which he might cut his bonds, two pirates meet above him and begin chatting. One mentions to the other that he had just committed a felony, and still had the big sharp knife that might incriminate him. The two go on debating for a bit whether or not he should chuck the knife into the water, and at first it’s funny because you assume the game is poking fun at movies and games where the exact object a character happens to need always conveniently appears. After deciding to toss the knife there’s a short pause and the pirate walks away saying, “Naaah, I might need it.” It’s a hilarious waste of time, and that’s why we love it.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Conker is counted among video gaming’s pantheon of taboo mascots. He rests enshrined alongside Leisure Suit Larry, Duke Nukem, the chick from the GTA: San Andreas “hot coffee” mod, and others. Growing up, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was the ultimate forbidden fruit. Imagine, an N64 game where they said the s-word and the f-word, filled with raunchy jokes and pop-culture references. If you could sneak this one under your mom’s nose at Blockbuster, your Friday night sleepover with your buds was sure to be filled with tears of laughter. At one point you have to fight a giant poo monster who kicks off the encounter by singing, “I am the great mighty poo, and I’m going to throw my shit at you.” It’s a quadruple whammy at that point: you laugh at the poop jokes, then you laugh at the cursing, then you try not to laugh too hard and alert your parents that something is amiss, and that makes you laugh all the harder. Thanks for the hilarious memories, you foul-mouthed squirrel.
Nintendo is certainly capable of clever, witty writing. The Mario & Luigi RPGs, particularly Bowser’s Inside Story, deliver great jokes in spades. In fact, I was close to putting Bowser’s Inside Story on the list instead of WarioWare Inc. Mega Microgames! , but the latter is one of those unforgettable experiences that sticks with you long after your first time playing. This isn’t “set up a joke and deliver a great punchline” funny, it’s more “what the hell is happening, I feel like I’m on drugs” funny. Tiny games that have you peeling bananas, saving cats, flushing toilets, and repelling insects with poo-sticks come and go before you can realize what’s happening. This is a game you get your friends to play just so you can watch their faces as waves of absurd objectives demand that they complete the most ludicrous tasks before time runs out. Play this one if you haven’t already – it’ll put a huge smile on your face.
Psychonauts has that same warm, fuzzy, clean brand of humor that most of Tim Schafer’s games pull off so well. It’s something you feel like you would have loved as a kid, but you’re not sure if you’d want your kids playing it, as it’s a bit dark and gross at times. Still, there’s something irresistible about this group of misfits coming together and persevering through a psychic military bootcamp of sorts before getting swept up in a huge, out-of-control conspiracy. It’s like elementary school summer camp meets X-men . There’s boogers, psychedelic trips, ill-fated romance, impossible situations, and plenty of jocular dialogue. This is one cast of characters you’ll never forget, and you can look forward to a sequel sometime in the near future.
I’m convinced that Gearbox is a group of friends who all joined the same programming fraternity in college and just never stopped hanging out. It’s hard to choose a “funniest” Borderlands game, because they’re all hilarious, but I think Borderlands 2 takes the cake. Where else can you accept a mission to rename a giant, native beast and land on a name like “Bonerfart?” Is there any other video game universe where a robot sidekick named Claptrap makes sense? And then there’s Handsome Jack: a ruthless, narcissistic, morally dead corporate overlord. He’s supposed to be the bad guy, but everything that comes out of his mouth is so witty it makes it hard to shoot him in the face. Of course you also have Face McShooty. All he wants is for you to shoot him in the face, and he’ll continually and aggressively berate you until you do.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge South Park fan. Even when I was younger, when the show was still new and exciting due to its controversial content, I was not amused. Shock humor never really does it for me, and most of the time I just feel like it’s lazy writing. The same can’t be said for South Park: The Stick of Truth , which should appeal not only to long-time South Park fans, but to any gamer with a sense of humor. Apart from being a truly solid RPG, The Stick of Truth simultaneously hits it out of the park as a satirical parody of the genre itself, as well as a playable, 14-hour long episode of the show. There’s something for everyone: the nerds get to watch fourth-graders LARPing (horribly), the gamers get to grind, level up, and cast spells that have you shooting fire out of your butt-hole, and the immature still get to enjoy the mindless hilarity that ensues when a quest requires that you be shrunk down and go retrieve an item from the inside of someone’s butt. What more could you want?
Portal 1 & 2
The top spot goes to the Portal games. I was having the worst time deciding how to rank these games separately, so I cheated and smushed them together as one. The portal gun was such a huge leap forward in creative gameplay mechanics, and it single-handedly revived the puzzle genre, which at the time was devolving into a giant blob of match-threes and mazes. It didn’t have to have clever writing and it didn’t have to be hilarious, but it does, and it is. GLaDOS is one of the best video game characters of the modern gaming era, and I mean that. Her progression from power-hungry, conspiring, murderous psycho-bot to obsessively bitter and resentful AI-potato is one of the most side-splitting transformations you’ll ever witness. Comedian Stephen Merchant lends his voice and talent to the character Wheatley in Portal 2, and the rivalry between Wheatley and GLaDOS – and the banter between them – is timeless comedic gold.