Humor and games have a fickle relationship, perhaps it’s due to some incompatibility of the timing necessary for joke delivery and the basic nature of an interactive medium. Maybe the long form nature of most video games just makes it hard to keep it consistently funny. Hell, are game developers just overall a not very funny lot? Whatever the reason, this makes truly funny games a bit of a rarity, but a few titles do manage to break the mold. The Escapist staff pooled up a few of their favorites here.
A classic sci-fi RPG that gets overshadowed and forgotten among Ion Storm’s more popular or infamous work, like Deus Ex or Daikatana. What could have just been another drab setting of stereotypical characters was instead infused with offbeat humor. One of the character’s special abilities is to talk people to death and another is a planet shrunk down to human level. Also, the Totally Arbitrary Collectible Objects, or TACOs, scattered across the game world, and an entire sequence riffing on the Battle of Endor where you help a bunch of scared-shitless stormtroopers battle against cannibalistic ewoks. It’s a shame that the game never got the sequel it deserved.
For those that don’t remember, Borderlands wasn’t originally infused with the style that we now all know it for. While you can see traces of assets and designs in the original art and trailers, it’s the inclusion of color and laughs that really put the game on the map. It was a bit of a white washing over the original title, but Gearbox really came into its own with Borderlands 2. Goofy dialogue, over-the-top villains, and plenty of explosive slapstick humor make this a fun little retreat for shooter fans.
A rather unique – unique being an entirely charitable word – horror game with comedic themes from the mind of Hidetaka Suehiro. The game follows FBI agent Francis York Morgan’s murder investigations as he tries to track down the Raincoat Killer. While it certainly deals with some pretty terrifying elements, Deadly Premonition leverages it with a dash of humor, much of which you’re free to drum up yourself, and the open world setting is rife with plenty of contextual humor. If you’re looking for a really quirky and out-there title give Deadly Premonition a look.
I think I’m beginning to see a trend here, some of the most successful funny games are otherwise serious titles that are given a breath of levity through humor. The Fallout series is no different, a bleak and violent post-apocalyptic setting dotted with quirky characters, mechanics and dialogue. Humor cleverly invades much of the aesthetics as well, with PIP-Boy and other 1950s-era Americana. Nearly every title in the series is a classic and well worth checking out.
Beginning life as nothing but a joke, Goat Simulator received a surprising amount of enthusiasm when some early footage was released to YouTube. The developers at Coffee Stain Studio followed the support and released Goat Simulator on what else but April Fools Day. They even fixed only the bugs that broke the game, leaving any other potentially funny glitches. The final result is a goofy romp where you run your goat avatar around the map trying to do as much damage as possible and ultimately looking for humorous ways to bug out the physics engine. It’s good for a few hours of fun, and new modes and mechanics being patched into the game will make it something worth dusting off now and then for a few additional laughs.
Hearthstone or just about anything Blizzard made
From secret cow levels to pop culture references, Blizzard has been sneaking in bits of humor, with varying levels of blatancy, into its games for years. Blizzard’s free-to-play card game Hearthstone is certainly no different. Cards come into play with silly voices and one-liners, some cards are even references to jokes themselves and the flavor text is dripping with sarcasm and jokes. In many ways the lighter tone helps to smooth over any incongruity between having, say, gnomes with silly voices and various demons being summoned to play side by side.
Monkey Island series
No list of funny games would be complete without some of Lucasarts’ adventure game heyday. While you could make some strong arguments for Sam & Max, Full Throttle or Day of the Tentacle, it’s the misadventures of Guybrush Threepwood that we remember most fondly. With legendary game designers like Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert at the wheel, the Monkey Island series is endlessly entertaining with it’s subversion of other adventure games, typical heroic characters and pirate themes. A rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle or insult sword-fighting are classic gags that every gamer should know.
A fair number of the titles we’ve discussed so far have weighted more towards the silly and zany end of humor. Portal is perhaps gaming’s best example of a dark comedy. Most of the game’s humor comes from GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain. Spoilers: GLaDOS is a crazy murderous AI, but it’s her flat and dry messages and directions that really sold and pushed Portal into being more than just a clever puzzler. Ardent fans will quickly spot their favorite lines about cake or Weighted Companion Cubes, but personally I enjoy the antics of the little voices added to the automated turrets.
Similar to Borderlands, Saints Row is another series that’s found its niche with each additional entry. Fully embracing the sometimes random nature of open world games, and how players behave in them, Saints Row aims to be just as wacky and off the wall as its players. There’s a heavy does of anything goes as well. We should have Keith David in our game playing himself, missions where you spew sewage around, and let’s throw in a chase scene where you control a carriage being drawn by a man in a gimp suit. Saints Row leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of it’s brand of silly humor.
Talking too much about The Stanley Parable starts to run the risk of spoiling too much about the experience of playing the game. To keep things short and sweet, you’re playing as Stanley as he explores his office building all the while your actions are being narrated. The narrator, voiced by Kevan Brighting, is where the humor in the game comes from. I won’t reveal more than than, but simply say that you should really go check out The Stanley Parable. It’s brilliant and one of the best games out last year.
During Team Fortress 2‘s long development time, the game moved away from the more realistic graphics of its predecessor and fully embraced a more cartoonish aesthetic throughout. From the character designs to the voice work, everything in Team Fortress 2 is loaded with charm and an obsessive love of hats. Honestly, look no further than the “Meet the Team” videos that Valve put out over the years to see how well the humor of the game holds up.
So there you have it, a few of our favorite funny games. Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments.