Long Live the King

One thing that seems to be missing from most of the games I see advertised these days is humor. Why? Comedy is arguably one of the oldest and most popular aspects of entertainment. Be it the comedies of Aristophanes which have survived hundreds of years or something more recent like the wildly popular musical: The Book of Mormon, it just goes to show that humans like to laugh. While I realize that what people find funny is something that is certainly subjective, I can’t help feeling that as a whole humor seems undervalued by video game developers. Sure I’ve chuckled here and there at finding different Easter Eggs like the computer screen in Halo 2‘s map Zanzibar  and I’ve chortled at the utter lunacy that permeates king conkerSander Cohen in Bioshock, but it has been awhile since a game has really had me in stitches the way that Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the N64 used to. Maybe this is because I was immature then, and that I’m immature now, but to me there’s something inherently funny about a drunken squirrel getting into shenanigans on his way back to his girlfriend.

If you’re not familiar with this game, it comes with a caveat, it was arguably the most offensive game to come out for the N64. However, that being said, it has also been called the best-looking game that came out for the console. As aforementioned the game follows Conker, an adorable red squirrel, as he attempts to get home to his girlfriend after a night of heavy drinking. Throughout the game Conker is distracted by wads of cash with eyes and often rude quips directed at the player as he seeks them out. Some of his other escapades include throwing toilet paper at a living and singing pile of excrement, fighting nazi-esque teddy bears, and performing feats of matrix worthy agility in a heist which funnily enough parodies The Matrix. These are just some of the many comical and usually obscene situations this squirrel finds himself in, not to mention the cleverly and lewd dialogue sequences.

However this game didn’t receive the highest praises almost universally simply because it was the kind of borderline obscene toilet humor that I personally find hysterical. But because it is overall an impressive game. Aesthetically it is incredible, from the facial expressions to the exaggerated ultra-violence to the rich sound quality. The sound of chopping off a teddy bear’s head with a katana is at a level unprecedented thus far by video games. The game’s story is compelling, and despite being a platformer, it stays away from the typical pit-falls the make some platformers drag. There aren’t useless items to collect, and throughout the levels are action buttons decorated with a giant letter “B” which give Conker temporarily and usually comical abilities. Another great part of this game is the multiplayer, which includes six different modes. You can race, you can capture the flag, you can kill teddy bears, you can steal things, and several other sequences adapted from single player mode to play with friends or even bots.

To me, Conker’s Bad Fur Day demonstrates the wild potential that humor has in videogames. It also conveys the idea that even though the content is far from serious, its developers still took producing the best overall product very seriously. This game doesn’t just go for cheap laughs. The product is well constructed, extremely polished, and most importantly incorporates humor in a way that cannot be ignored or detached.

  5 comments for “Long Live the King

  1. William Hurley
    March 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I discovered this game after playing Diddy Kong Racing and wondering why certain rare characters, notably Diddy Kong and Banjo, had their own games but the other supporting cast of racers were just thrown in to fill the roster. Once I learned that Conker, who was coincidentally my racer of choice, had his own game, I picked up Conker’s Bad Fur Day and gave it a try. And wow, definitely wasn’t expecting the sort of craziness in the game.

    It’s a little sad that the game didn’t receive more attention than it did, and I’ve heard that it was because the N64 was on its last leg during CKFD’s release. It especially surprises me that Nintendo even allowed its release at all, with the gratuitous amount of profanity, sexual imagery, blood’n’guts violence, and fecal matter. It makes me wonder whether its release was allowed because the console was so old and competitors were in the limelight, and releasing something so far removed from Nintendo’s traditional policies may draw some much-needed attention back to the three-pronged controller.

  2. erosenzweig
    March 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Borderlands 1 & 2, Portal 1 & 2, Metal Gear Series, Rachet & Clank, Psychonauts, the upcoming South Park RPG, and satirical quests in other games such as the Mario themed questline in World of Warcraft.

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing (especially since I haven’t played Conker’s Bad Fur Day) but are you saying that there is no humor in games in general or that there are no satirical games like CBFD? If its the latter I’d say maybe, I don’t know enough about CBFD to say. If it’s the former I’d say that not only is there still humor in games, I’d say the humor in games has expanded to many different types of humor.

    • V
      March 18, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      I think I’m just saying I’d like to see more games with humor as a primary focus. Despite the kind of humor in a game like Portal, which incorporates comedy but it is not a central component. I’m also just complaining about the lack of tasteful toilet humor in video games, but maybe I’m playing the wrong games. I’ll have to check out previews for that South Park RPG – sounds droll.

  3. Chelsea
    March 21, 2013 at 1:35 am

    I don’t think you can argue that humor is absent from the game industry because it may just be games that match your particular sense of humor are not as prevalent today. As you said in your post, “what people find funny is something that is certainly subjective,” and, having unfortunately played Conker’s Bad Fur Day, I have to say we definitely have entirely different senses of humor.

    I think it’s also important to note that, although you argued about humor in video games, you drew attention to a lot of other game aspects. What made this specific game memorable for you was not just the humorous aspects but also the aesthetics, character detail and sound quality. You noted the quality work the developers put into the game in order to produce “the best overall product.” What made this game a positive experience for you was that they didn’t sacrifice quality for humor.

    Although I didn’t find this game funny, I would agree that everything else about the game was very well done. It was obvious a lot of time was put into the game, which was unfortunate because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t actually all the successful. So, if humor is a rarity in the video game industry, maybe it’s because the world’s not ready for it yet. Maybe developers are reluctant to put so much work into a humor-based gamed and have it fail. It is surprisingly that games with such serious and depressing content are so successful and more light-hearted, humor-based games are not as popular.

  4. althky
    April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

    I do fondly remember Conker’s Bad Fur Day, but I do also wonder if it was a truly rare gem. Having recently started playing Fable 3, I can see where “funny” can fail in a game. Fable 3 seems to be trying really hard to have a game which is both really funny and makes me feel involved with the serious issue of the game world, namely a revolution against an unjust ruler. So far, it’s trying to have both and failing to have either.

    Although I think it might have been possible for Fable 3 to pull off this concept, I think it would also be really, really hard. It’s a fine line to walk, and you have to worry about sudden seriousness ruining the humor and vice versa. That means a lot of extra planning, testing, and rewriting until the moments are just right, which just doesn’t fly in a tight development cycle.

    So I’d say there’s two reasons we don’t see many good humor games. Humor is rather subjective, and so a game that leans entirely on it is a big risk; and that mixing heavy humor elements with more serious themes in a game without spoiling both (or ruining the release schedule) is really, really hard.

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