Baby, Where Did the Lulz Go?

So I’m chugging again through Gears of War, gunning down Locust left and right, lighting paths in the streets to avoid being eaten alive by the Kryll. I’m having a good old time and then suddenly I pause the game. It is then, sitting at the pause menu, that I am struck with a realization.

Some of my most favorite games have little or no sense of humor.

Worse, many games these days are serious, dark, and brimming with self-importance.

However, I’m thankful for any one-liners I get out of Gears, because if it weren’t for those, it’d be a pretty depressing atmosphere. I could overlook it in this case, however, since the chainsaw bayonet is just too much fun.

It just seems there are hardly any humorous games to be found these days. While I do love my fragging and questing to save the world, sometimes I just want to laugh. Sometimes I want to be light-hearted. Anybody remember the original Duke Nukem? I still sing “Born to be wiiiiiiiild” when I go to the bathroom and I’m all alone at home…

With all these ominous, dark, and super-serious games emerging left and right, one has to wonder where all the genuinely funny games have gone. Growing up I got to experience classics such as Sam and Max, Commander Blood, Grim Fandango, Duke Nukem, and of course kids’ games such as Lenny’s MusicToons. They cracked me up. You want to know a secret? Barbie and her Magical Dreamhouse had me rolling on the floor because I could fill out a little questionnaire at the beginning of the game about myself just like a madlib. That way, when I got letters from Barbie she’d ask me how Poop (my best friend) and I were doing and if I’d had any toilets (my favorite food) lately.

But now? It’s as if game developers are of the mindset that the only product gamers will buy has to include storylines where you are central to saving the world, sinking a maniacal enterprise, or keeping life as you know it from being plunged into darkness. While I enjoy this as much as the next person, sometimes I like when I’m pleasantly surprised by a game that constantly brings on the laughs. It’s not like I’m asking for some kind of madcap comedy in game form. It would just be greatly appreciated from time to time if characters didn’t take the in-game world or themselves so seriously.

After all, laughter is the best medicine, right? I have to wonder why many of my non-gamer friends flock to casual games, and it could be attributed to Diner Dash 2, even more of the diner…dashing action from the first game.the fact that they feel that there is so much pressure put on them in “regular” games. For instance, they might enjoy serving customers in Diner Dash 2 but they cannot stand gunning down the Flood in Halo. It could be that it creeps them out. Maybe they just feel overwhelmed. Sounds funny, but you never know. Gaming is supposed to be play, not always work.

I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me that if there were a few more comedic options that still had viable stories and gameplay, perhaps then some individuals would feel less intimidated. Obviously not everyone is like me and they may not enjoy God of War or Silent Hill. Plus, most of the population just loves to laugh. I know I do. I’ll watch that “What’s Your Problem” video on YouTube about a thousand times just so I can laugh like an idiot. Nothing wrong with a little tale of angst and destruction and he-killed-my-brother, as long as it’s balanced every now and then with something to grin about.

This has actually been done right a number of times, but as it turns out there really is a dearth of genuinely humorous games. I was hard-pressed to think of as many as I did. Of course, these aren’t all of the games out there that will make you chuckle. There are more, of course, but I’ve dug up a few of my favorites. I can only hope that more follow in their footsteps.

Katamari Damacy may be a lot of things, but serious it is not. Come on, how can rolling up a man with hair protruding about a foot from his head NOT put a smile on your face? From the excessively flamboyant King of All Cosmos’s comments during each stage to the ridiculous descriptions of items you pick up during your journey, the entire game was pretty much designed to keep you grinning from ear to ear.

The King of All CosmosThe cut scenes of the original Katamari were priceless. In one, you have a little girl standing amongst a backdrop of the stars who suddenly blurts out in a subdued tone, “Oh. I feel it! I feel the cosmos.” A close favorite of mine is a scene where the two children and their mother of the Hoshino family are watching television. There is a special news report that cuts in to an Ultraman-like program announcing that the stars have disappeared from the sky. Then it cuts right back to the show. Of course, no one is affected and everyone is still going about their business.

This is all relevant to the story (your dad, the King, broke the sky and you’re creating stars to fill it back up again), but it’s so bizarre and wild that you’re either laughing or asking what in the world is going on. It’s a fun and colorful diversion that will either get you giggling because of the subtle jokes it tosses your way or provoke snarky comments about the King’s purple tights and why he’s wearing purple tights. Katamari: get it now if you want to laugh.

I never realized that snowboarding could be so funny–that is, until I got myself a copy of Amped 3. Honestly? It has to be one of the silliest games I’ve ever gotten a chance to play. That’s really saying something, considering it is just a sports title, and I don’t generally dig those. With character names like Weinerboy and J-dawg, though, it’s kind of hard not to get into this one. At the very start of the game you’re treated to an old-school 8-bit recreation of the characters and you, represented by a bland avatar with a generic graphic obscuring your face since you create your own character to play the story with. “YOU ARE WIN!” proudly proclaims the cutscene, as it is quickly interrupted by a villain saying “I hate cutscenes!”. Already, just within the first five minutes of the game, I was genuinely entranced.

Amped 3 box art. Until you create a character you’re boarding down your first hill in a pink bunny suit while listening to “Blinded By the Light”. It’s…random, to say the least. The characters are wholly quirky and stereotypical, but that’s what makes them great. You have the free spirit Sebastian, boarder girl Hunter, energetic Weinerboy, and the charismatic J-dawg. Quite a motley crew.

As you traverse the mountain completing various challenges to earn new gear, respect points, music tracks, money, and costumes, there are insane cut scenes between each. There is a Robot Chicken-like recreation of Weinerboy’s homemade jumps and grinding locations, aptly titled Weinerland. In the Weinerland playset being advertised, you can play with your Weinerland toys, “because you have no real friends of your own!” Great.

After the announcer proclaims this, J-dawg proudly announces that he just swallowed a nickel.

Don’t think for a second that any area of the game isn’t infected with wacky humor. Even the loading screens hold special importance. My favorite loading screen? “Amped 3 recipes: Take a banana and poke stuff you like in it!” I mean….wow. Just wow. Give it a try, I promise you won’t be disappointed. It’ll liven your day up, that’s for sure.

I’m sure most people would agree that back in the day LucasArts dominated the point-and-click adventure game scene, cranking out many of the funniest titles gamers have ever been treated to. Sam and Max, Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango. They weren’t the only ones, as many, MANY adventure games were created that tickled my funnybone such as Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist. I haven’t seen that game in ages. All amazing in their own rights, and hilarious experiences that yielded good times such as chasing after purple tentacles who were trying to take over the world and visiting enormous balls of yarn. They all had a charm about them that is missing in action these days. I can’t think of any adventure game released as of late that is capable of making me laugh as much as those games could, and that saddens me.

Bernard getting ready to freeze a hamster so it is ready for use in the future. How could we forget Laverne of Day of the Tentacle getting lost after walking up a simple flight of stairs? Guybrush greeting a blind lookout will forever stand out in my mind. Those games always offered a stream of laughs that I just can’t find in many these days. Granted, I do try to look. That’s why I find myself all over quirky or odd games that most people tend to shy away from. I’m always looking for the game full of inside-jokes, one-liners, and easter eggs that almost make me wet myself.

However, there is one game that has been released that brings to mind the comedic stylings of Grim Fandango and Monkey Island, and that is Psychonauts. This would make sense, considering that its creator, Tim Schafer, was responsible for those two games as well. You take control of Raz, a boy with psychic abilities off to a camp (against his father’s wishes) to develop them. As usual, there are goings-on within the camp that only Raz can take care of. Isn’t that typical? He meets a ton of odd characters in the camp who are also developing their psychic abilities.

A few characters from Psychonauts.The game is FULL of memorable quotes such as Lili Zanotto’s response to Raz’s warning that psychic soldiers are being created to take over the world: “Oh my God! Let’s make out!” I especially enjoy the fact that a camper’s brain was removed because Dr. Loboto (the “dentist) referred to it as a “bad tooth”. The real icing on the cake is that Raz is voiced by the amazing Richard Horvitz, who you may recognize as the voice of Zim. Need I say more?

Not only is the game full of hilarious quotes, but it just looks funny. The visuals are lush and colorful, as are the characters. Razputin has an abnormally elongated head. Some characters have necks like giraffes and others have no neck at all. It’s a world of zany illustration that you rarely see these days in favor of realism. Not EVERY character has to look like they were pulled right of the streets and plunged into a game. A little creativity now and then is appreciated!

I’m still waiting.

I’m waiting for the day that games have already been established as a valid form of entertainment to the masses so that (just like movies), more genres are created instead of the big blockbuster action flicks. Of course, don’t get me wrong, those are great. I’d just like to see a lot more humorous games that poke fun at themselves, their characters, and their (sometimes) implausible storylines. Some masterpieces could be made if done right.

So what are you waiting for? Go out there and start demanding some hilarious games! I know you want them too. Speaking of you, loyal readers, what are some games that you’ve cracked a smile over? If you have ‘em, I wanna hear ‘em!

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