The (un)funniest games of March

The best and worst bits from five interactive attempts at comedy

Above: See?

The entire horror chapter
You’d think that, out of all the things Box Office Bust makes fun of, it’d get the most mileage out of horror. There are rich veins to tap, from Resident Evil to Army of Darkness to the Saw series. However, Box Office Bust ignores all that in favor of slapping Larry Lovage (who’s been redesigned to no longer look like Jimmy Neutron) into Michael Jackson’s “terrifying” outfit from Thriller.

Above: Our sentiments exactly

It then pads out the rest of its horror-movie chapter with lazy references to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Oh, and to Gary Oldman’s dinner-roll-haired version of Dracula, which has been parodied so many times that making fun of it doesn’t even qualify as a joke anymore.

Above: Conker did it better, and without the embarrassing lisp

Interestingly, this is the only chapter that Larry himself repeatedly rips on, loudly bemoaning the chapter’s derivative minigames, lame jokes and over-reliance on zombies. Hey, know what’s better than mocking your own lame jokes? NOT MAKING THEM.

[Removed on legal advice]
For whatever reason, the dialogue in Box Office Bust is filled with references to celebrities, movies and other games, which are all bleeped out and accompanied by things like [name removed on legal advice] in the subtitles. At first, we thought it was a joke.

But as it gradually spiraled from a running gag into a confusing line-ruiner, we started to wonder if maybe publisher Codemasters’ lawyers hadn’t stepped in and redacted the whole script. Especially when saw this:

Wait, what? Was that even a joke? What are we supposed to infer? What’s the benefit of leaving in a joke if you’re going to remove the only thing that makes it a joke? Is this proof that lawyers ruin everything?

Olga Weissgrip

With the possible exception of Jane Lynch, none of Box Office Bust’s female voice performances are terribly easy on the ears. Actresses like Carmen Electra and Shannon Elizabeth try to sound vaguely sexy, but instead come off about as plastic as their characters look. Maybe that’s intentional, but it gets grating fast. And nowhere is it more grating than when you try to seduce the “Russian” Olga Weissgrip.

Yeah, OK, so she turns out to be an insane American, so maybe her lame stab at an accent is intolerable on purpose. Until you find that out, though, you’ll be cringing your way through dialogue embarrassing enough to make Borat look culturally sensitive.

Larry’s random banter
Normally the worst part of any “funny” game is the main character’s chatter, but the nonstop nasal whining from Larry can actually be pretty entertaining. His voice actor, Josh Keaton (who previously voiced Peter Parker on The Spectacular Spider-Man) is surprisingly talented and seems to genuinely have fun with the character.

Granted, you'll still want to hurl Larry off a cliff whenever he continually repeats the same line, but there are worse motormouths you could spend hours listening to.

Deliberately picking the wrong seduction answers
This being a Leisure Suit Larry game, the developers saw fit to tack on a bunch of optional “seduction” minigames, which really just boil down to finding an appropriate gift for one of several huge-breasted, near-identical women, and then trying to chat them up via multiple-choice questions.

Above: Go on, hit A. You know you want to

Part of what makes these worthwhile at all is that - if you flub an answer - you get to try again, no harm, no foul. You can usually tell when an answer is flubbed because Larry starts rambling about his STDs and saying things that no human being should say to another, ever.

The writing in these lines is sharper, cruder and more offensive than anything else in the game, which in turn makes them the most entertaining thing in the game. They’re a lot funnier than the sappy “right” answers, anyway.

Anytime Clark Tasselmuff is onscreen
Half throwaway David Hasselhoff reference, half stumbling old-Hollywood drunk, Clark is interesting mainly because he’s voiced by Peter Graves, whose gravelly voice can make even the worst material sound arresting.

Seriously, he’s like the only good character.

•Figures that if a throwaway gag is kind of funny once, it’ll be even funnier the next 50 times.
•Uses “videogame logic” to justify an endless series of monster closets.
•Introduces interesting game-character parodies that then just disappear.
•Makes players wade through hours of cookie-cutter warehouses.
•Keeps all the good stuff hidden until the end.

Bill the wizard
Early on, you’ll meet one of Matt’s friends from a parallel game series, Bill the wizard. He doesn’t appear to be clearly based on any single character (except maybe Gandalf), and for whatever reason – we’re going to guess it’s because he’s named Bill – he talks like William Shatner.

Much as we agree that Shatner’s overacting patter is inherently hilarious, we’re hard-pressed to think of what it has to do with wizards. That element of uncertainty makes us think we’re missing something, and as a result we’re left feeling like we didn’t get the joke. And if the joke is just “Shatner is funny,” then we’ve heard that joke done better by like every comedian of the last 30 years, including Shatner himself.

Master Chef
Bill the wizard is only the first of the “allies” Matt runs into, but he’s by no means the least interesting. That dubious honor falls to Master Chef, a one-note Master Chief parody whose only contribution to the fight is to throw down energy barriers for you to cower behind while fighting his game’s (Crown of Light, hurr hurr) overpowered space marines.

That’s kind of funny, when you consider that the space marines in the actual Halo were weak dumbshits who were really only good for catching bullets. Master Chef, however, isn’t funny at all. Not unless you think glowing oven mitts are automatically giggle-worthy.

The warehouses
OK, yeah, we get it: Warehouses are a common fallback environment in nearly every other shooter, so by forcing you to fight through several of them here, developer Vicious Cycle is poking fun at their ubiquity across the genre.

The thing is, warehouse levels don’t happen because people enjoy fighting through them. They happen because they’re relatively easy to create, and they make quick filler for lazy developers who want to squeeze out an extra level to pad their game’s runtime. Their sterility automatically makes them moody, and the fact that you can just pile boxes everywhere for cover eliminates the need to create interesting scenery.

Either this fact is lost on Eat Lead, or its developers are actually lazier than most, because you’ll be seeing the insides of warehouses and warehouse-like buildings an awful lot throughout the game. We admit it works late in the game, when you blast your way through a warehouse that’s used to house explosive props for other games:

But the whole “you’re in a videogame that’s breaking the fourth wall” angle really demands a little more creativity, variety and unexpectedness. Sadly, this happens occasionally, like when a drab, generic level suddenly gives way to this Wild West environment before almost immediately going back to being drab and generic:

Above: This motif shows up exactly once

So again, we get why this is meant to be funny. But when the joke is a bleak industrial hellhole we have to fight through for hours, it’s hard to see the humor in it for more than a few seconds.

Altos Tratus
The boss of one of Eat Lead’s final levels, Altos Tratus is easily the game’s most brilliant parody. A jab at Final Fantasy’s ever-more-effeminate stable of heroes (his name is a pun on alto stratus, a type of cloud – get it?), Altos speaks in text bubbles, picks his attacks from a floating Japanese menu and displays damage as little red numbers that fly off and disappear.

Above: Machineguns make the little numbers fly faster!

Over the course of his battle with Matt Hazard, Altos cycles through a litany of JRPG cliches, sprouting angel wings, calling down meteor attacks and swinging around an absurdly ornate sword that’s bigger than he is. But nowhere is he as funny as when he first shows up and Matt has to repeatedly push a big button just to hold a conversation with him.

The Secret Soldiers of the Wafferthin
Eat Lead’s recreations of the 2D soldiers of Wolfenstein 3D are probably the game’s most widely publicized gag, but the soldiers themselves don’t actually show up until near the game’s end. It’s a pretty big payoff when they do, though, because seeing stiffly animated 2D creatures trying to move around in a 3D world isn’t just funny – it’s a complete curveball, especially because the SS-type troopers can turn sideways to avoid your gunfire.

Above: Oh, weird

Above: Also they get a short hallway devoted to mimicking Wolf 3D

Aside from being kind of cool, watching the Wafferthin move through the world is jarring and at times even disorienting, especially when they’re fighting alongside other, more 3D enemies. It’s a totally unique effect, and it’s almost worth playing through Eat Lead to experience. Or you can get a glimpse of it in the video below:

Marathon’s staff joins the game
Early on, it’s revealed that Matt Hazard – a career veteran of countless videogames – has become the target of his own publisher, Marathon Megasoft, which wants to kill him off and replace him with a generic badass. In the game’s final level – a recreation of Marathon’s “real-world” offices – the company’s deranged CEO throws everything he’s got at Hazard, eventually going so far as to order all of Marathon’s employees into the game to try and kill him.

These players are different from other enemies in that they feature visible names and health bars, are almost as versatile as Hazard and loudly argue strategy with each other while they’re fighting you. They also vary in skill depending on which department they’re from. Lucky for Matt, the first one he comes across is a producer with no idea how to play the game, and the results are hard not to laugh at:

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