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No Laughing Matter

Reid McCarter | 15 Sep 2011 20:00
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Sometimes a Cigar Isn't Just a Cigar

Shadows of the Damned, another ostensibly offensive game released shortly after Duke Nukem Forever, trades in much of the same style of humor but manages to achieve a vastly different outcome. This is a game that features a sidekick character named Johnson - a character capable of transforming into weapons like The Big Boner - and a plot that centers around a manly character rescuing his lingerie-wearing girlfriend from the clutches of a lecherous demon.

Despite the fact that Shadows of the Damned, by all rights, should come off as an entirely immature affair, it doesn't.

Despite the fact that Shadows, by all rights, should come off as an entirely immature affair, it doesn't. This is mostly due to the creative efforts of the game's Executive Director, Goichi "Suda 51" Suda, the oddball mastermind behind cult hits like No More Heroes, and Creative Director Shinji Mikami, a developer responsible for similarly quirky releases such as God Hand and Vanquish.

Both Suda 51 and Mikami are well known for their unorthodox approaches to narrative and design but, more importantly, a crass sense of humor as well. No More Heroes comes replete with (motion controlled) masturbatory light-sword recharging and a manically oversexed protagonist, while God Hand features combos that dish out extra damage to male enemies attacked in the crotch. On the surface it would appear that the crude humor of Duke Nukem matches that of Mikami and Suda 51. But it doesn't, not really.

Where Duke Nukem Forever plays its vulgarity straight, Shadows of the Damned doesn't. The jokes in Shadows are as much aimed at satirizing the long history of videogame crudity as they are at provoking tasteless giggles (something that also made Suda 51 and Mikami's past titles palatable despite their surface trappings). At its most basic, Shadows of the Damned's humor belongs to the more thoughtful tradition of satire, whereas Duke would rather we laugh just because we're being shown something inappropriate. Epic Games' Bulletstorm , a wilfully offensive send-up of arcade-style violence and military fetishism, follows in the same tongue-in-cheek vein, decorating gory kills with glowing points tallies and underlying hyper-macho attitudes with a homoerotic subtext.

The new guard, simply enough, is only ready to accept crass material if said material has enough self-awareness to satirize the type of game that Duke Nukem Forever still wants to be.

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