Funny Games Ought To Be Short
Size matters, right? Except of course if you’re a fan of Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. Then size clearly doesn’t matter.
In gaming we often tend to favour quality over quantity, where we’d happily take a shorter but more cohesive experience over the largest world ever. Granted there are some games where a large world is the whole point and nothing else matters, and I’ve never actually played Just Cause 2 so I’ll stop there.
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But when we look at games that try to make you laugh, why is it an issue how long it sticks around?
This week I released my review of Deadpool, a game from High Moon Studios which is based on the merc with the mouth himself, only the funniest and most refreshingly unique character to come out of the Marvel universe — ironic since he’s something of a loosely based parody of Deathstroke, of DC fame — and one of the better subjects for a comic-adapted game, given his level of maturity (or lack thereof) and his crazy, zany antics. Also: Lots and lots of weaponry.
After releasing the review, I went online and checked out various favourite sites of mine, reading their own reviews of the game. I was disappointed to discover that the game met with lukewarm reception practically across the board, with a lot of reviewers criticising two aspects of the game — its length and its complexity.
This got me to wondering about games that try to be humorous, and succeed, but are criticised because they don’t stick around for too long, or present much of a challenge. In recent years I’ve played Grasshopper games the likes of Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, as well as Valve’s Portal games and Atlus Persona’s Catherine. In the past, I’ve also played other games that do comedy well, including A Bard’s Tale and Armed & Dangerous, the latter probably my all-time favourite as far as pure laughter factor goes. I love comedy in my games and I tend to favour games with humour a lot more, over games that take themselves far too seriously, to the point that they begin to look egregious at the best of times. Far Cry 3… Cough cough.
Of all the games I’ve mentioned, okay sure enough some of them did stick around for a while, but none of them lasted all that long. And yeah, okay, some of them also had some challenge, I’ll grant that it was frustration nation trying to get through some puzzles in Catherine on the Normal difficulty, or surviving hordes of enemies in Armed & Dangerous while running around the battlefield, desperately trying to find a shark gun. Yes, a shark gun. As in a gun that shoots a shark.
But for the most part, games with comedy have been short, simple experiences. And I actually like that.
Take Deadpool for example. It will probably take you about six hours to power through the campaign on the middle difficulty, and it is mostly a walk in the park. If you play on the highest difficulty then you will experience moments of pure frustration, but for the most part it’s blissful slaughter on regular or below. There’s also a challenge mode to keep you occupied, meaning the game will last a lot longer than that initial six hours of the campaign. Yet critics slammed the game because it was short.
Why is that a bad thing?
Think of it this way, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s there, it’s funny, you laugh, you play, you finish it, it’s done. No dragging endlessly on, doing the same things over and over again, just for the purposes of extending play time. And to its credit, Deadpool rarely ever drags out game time. Sure you can’t skip cutscenes but why would you want to, when there’s so much of humour to be found in them? Perhaps you might agree, however, with Tody, who in his video earlier today, talked about laughs per minute and how Deadpool actually overdid it at times. I can get on board with that. But obviously having read the comics, I know that every single page has laughs abound and even in perilous situations, the character is hard-pressed to keep making quips.
But Deadpool surely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I’m sure that more than a few reviewers of the game have had no exposure to the character’s comic books, thus their reviews might not contain a full understanding of what High Moon Studios were going for, with their game. To their credit, they did it extremely well, as someone who has read the comics. Let’s take another example, one that might be a bit more widely appealing. Let’s look at Far Cry: Blood Dragon.
Blood Dragon is an eighties-styled cheese-fest which takes what we thought sci-fi would be back then, and flips it on its head. It’s got laser sharks, cyber birds and all sorts of other crazy things, and it is one of the most decidedly over-the-top experiences since Bulletstorm. And yet it’s a short game, isn’t it? Granted, it has a much lower price point and reuses almost all of Far Cry 3’s game assets and engine, so it appeals to a slightly different niche, more so because of its eighties theme. But it’s still a short and relatively simple experience. You shoot things, you kill things, you liberate things, you complete objectives and finish the story, job done.
So again I’ll ask, why is it a bad thing to have a short experience?
Deadpool, Lollipop Chainsaw, Bulletstorm, Far Cry: Blood Dragon, hell even the first Portal if you want to count it. All were comedic gold, yet all were criticised for being too short. Maybe it’s because you were having so much fun that it didn’t feel as if it lasted all that long?
I don’t know, I don’t really enjoy lengthy comedies. I feel at some point they stop being funny and begin to overstay their welcome. This problem was readily apparent in Shadows of the Damned where most of the final act actually sacrificed comedy for some seriousness, and of course Portal 2, which just got really dark for a while before bringing back the comedy later on.
It’s difficult to do comedy. Really, really difficult. And to their credit, most of the games I mentioned in this mini opinion piece managed to keep the laughs going on throughout the game. So they were short? If you ask me, that’s how they ought to be. What do you think?