Comedy games are a tough genre that hasn’t really been cracked yet. Sure, they are a lot of games which are comedic and many style themselves are ‘comedy games’, a rare few actually achieve the status of being both a great game, as well as a funny one. Like with the majority of comedies that have come out on the silver screen which are just people telling jokes to camera, rarely do self styled comedy games actually use the mechanics and idiosyncrasies of games to tell their jokes. More often than not, a comedy game is just a game telling you jokes, rather than using the game itself to construct a joke and make it funny.
The problem is that many opportunities to tell a joke in a new way are missed by many games. Take Borderlands 2 for example, which basically just assaults you with references and memes to make you laugh, rather than using the game systems to make said jokes. Yes, they may do a quest where they take the piss out of Dark Souls by having you fight a red phantom or have you in a secret area where you shoot Creepers but you could just as well have them in a film and the ‘jokes’ would still work. There is nothing unique to the way that the joke is told, they are just showing you something that audiences may know and expecting to get a giggle from the sheer fact that it is there. It is exactly why Duke Nukem Forever is painfully unfunny, as it just has a Master Chief helmet in the background and expects you to laugh at just the fact that it is there, rather than making an actual joke.
It doesn’t making references to other games can’t be funny, it’s when comedy games solely rely on this type of humour to get all their laughs. You can only tell a joke so many times in the same way before you start to become tired. South Park: The Stick of Truth is an example of a game that does use game systems to make jokes, as well as making references and crafting hilarious set pieces but stick to hacky ‘gamer culture’ schtick in order to get easy laughs. You have the great joke of naming your character, for you to be only called Douchebag throughout the adventure, lampooning the whole idea of character creation in RPGs yet you have a whole plot point be about Nazi Zombies. We get it, Nazi Zombies were stupid and trying to make a joke out of it in 2014 is just lazy writing.
That is why many comedy games do not age well. So many of them are busy satirising the latest fad within triple A gaming or some recent event in the gaming world, that many of the jokes will not stand the test of time. You go back and play Conker’s Bad Fur Day and while the Great Mighty Poo is still hilarious, many of the other big set piece jokes fall completely flat. Again, you could quite easily watch a Let’s Play of the Stick of Truth or Conker, or just put the jokes in a different medium and they would still work. Nothing is inherently funny about playing the game and you probably won’t enjoy the experience as much the second time round, due to you having experienced all the gags.