Just to get it out of the way: Bridesmaids.
Now, there wasn’t a Bridesmaids video game, but we are required by the Splitsider style guide to mention it in all year-in-review articles. It was a great movie. Have you seen it? Melissa McCarthy was the best.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the magical world of video games, where anything is possible except for not being called a racist thing by a child. 2011 was a grand old year for interactive entertainment. While there wasn’t a lot of innovation, there was a ton of polishing that turned sequels such as Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword into massive cultural events. And the Michael Bay of games, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold better than actual Michael Bay movies.
But despite the overabundance of military shooters and self-serious role-playing games, 2011 had some of the funniest games in recent memory, including one that isn’t just the funniest game of the year, but also the best.
And it has your fancy Stephen Merchant, so keep reading.
Like a lot of games on this list, Catherine was marketed all wrong. In fact, it’s hard to find a decent trailer that doesn’t sell it as either a 1.) horror dating drama or 2.) dating horror drama. In reality, it’s a hilarious take on relationships through a parody of Japanese dating sims.
The game follows Vincent, a boring guy in a boring relationship with a boring woman named Katherine. When the hot and indisputably crazy Catherine arrives, he has to decide between the two. His choice is naturally made harder by a spree of murders involving men who cheated on their girlfriends. Oh, and bizarre dreams about men getting turned into giant sheep. And the fact that Catherine might be a demon. Or a actress working for the bartender who uses an arcade machine to plant fake memories in men’s heads to keep them faithful.
In a word, it’s nuts.
It’s this craziness that keeps Catherine entertaining. It is packed with hilarious WTF moments. Every choice, twist, and ending makes you want to go back and replay the moment to see if you can screw up Vincent’s life just a little less.
I’ve got a total mancrush on Tim Schafer. It’s incredible that after Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts he can still create interesting and hilarious experiences unlike anything on the market.
What it lacks in length, Stacking makes up in sheer adorable. The game takes place in a world of Russian nesting dolls and you solve puzzles by inhabiting other dolls. Seeing what each doll does it delightful. And while some are obvious — a beautiful woman seduces, a guard can unlock doors — others, such as the old woman whose power is “sipping tea” is hilarious. And the fact that these seemingly useless powers can solve puzzles is incredible.
While it’s not as in-your-face about its sense of humor, Stacking is kind of the “charming French cartoon” of the year’s games.
Oh, Bulletstorm. Poor, poor Bulletstorm.
The gritty style, the dialogue, even the name were designed to mock bro-heavy shooters. Unfortunately, the gritty style, dialogue, and name made casual fans think it was just another bro-heavy shooter. Without a solid franchise name behind it, very few gamers played one of the more clever (and fun) mainstream games of the year.
With its over-the-top kills and absurd story (including my favorite fake military title ever, “Star General”), Bulletstorm deserved to be more than a cult hit.
7. The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac is kind of the Ren & Stimpy of games. It’s gross. It’s evil. It’s mean. But at the end of the day, you kind of have to laugh at a title in which tears are bullets and your Mom’s bra helps you keep away the forces of Satan.
Of course, also like Ren & Stimpy, The Binding of Isaac isn’t for everyone. The focus on religion and child abuse are overt and difficult to ignore. Mom’s pills can heal or hurt Isaac. Getting the belt item covers him in welts but helps him run faster. And there are a lot of fetuses. Like, everywhere.
Sure it’s crude. But for a game that moves fast and is meant to be played in short bursts, it’s just right.
6. Ghost Trick
Another impossible-to-market title, Ghost Trick is a comedy about a recently-murdered man using ghost powers to go back in time and save the lives of people around him. Naturally, advertising executives sold this as a serious anime.
Ghost Trick is a fine puzzle/adventure on its own, but it’s the writing and characters who really bring the game to life. Your mentor is a lamp named Ray. Your best friend is a dog with super barking. It’s good times all around.
5. Magicka: Vietnam
Magicka was ridiculous enough when it came out at the beginning of the year. A wild take on Diablo-style action-RPGs, it allowed players to mix and match magic for often hilarious effects. While basic spells roast enemies with fire or lightning, other spells might “crash them to the desktop,” including a classic Windows “Blue Screen of Death” appearing over their heads.
So after running around a jokey, tongue-in cheek fantasy world, where did developer Paradox Interactive take the wacky wizards next?
4. Rock of Ages
Monty Python by way of Chile, Rock of Ages could very well be the weirdest game of the year. And in on a list that includes murdered men sheep and farting Russian nesting dolls, that’s saying something.
Rock of Ages — which I’m oddly happy scores higher on YouTube than the upcoming Tom Cruise movie — follows Sisyphus as he uses his giant boulder to escape from Hades and wreak havoc amongst mythical beings and historical figures.
There’s no one reason Rock of Ages is so giggle-inducing. The Greek vase-inspired graphic design is whimsical. The short cut scenes are aggressively charming. Even the over-the-top-yelling sound-effects add a certain quirk to a game about crushing people with a boulder.
3. Cthulhu Saves The World
Thank God for Steam. If it weren’t for the PC game service highlighting Cthulhu Saves The World, this bizarre title would’ve died in the trenches of Xbox Live’s Indie Games channel. A retro RPG with hints of Earthbound, it’s a $3 masterpiece that you have no reason to miss if you own a PC made within the last 7 years.
Cthulhu Saves The World follows the Great Old One himself as he wakes from his slumber to find his powers drained by a curse. Only by becoming a beloved hero can he regain the power to destroy the world.
The game squeezes an astonishing amount of comedy out of the bad-guy-turned-good story. Cthulhu spends most of the game confused by the idea of good — and tempted to stay good forever by — while his followers don’t seem to ever understand that they’re helping a genocidal God.
Well, one does, but she thinks it’s cute.
2. Saints Row: The Third
The first Saints Row was a crappy Grand Theft Auto rip-off. The second Saints Row dipped its toes in wackiness. The third game let players do this:
Oh. And this:
Well, there was this retro tank:
And a lot of other insane stuff.
1. Portal 2
With its clever puzzles and hilarious robot taunts, Portal was one of the most beloved games of all time. Valve, not wanting to fix something that ain’t broke, gave gamers more of the same for the sequel.
Except they added a lot of Stephen Merchant:
With a dash of J.K. Simmons:
The jokes in Portal 2 are perfect. Even if you don’t like video games, you could watch someone else play it and enjoy it almost as much.
And while Portal’s jokes were somewhat divorced from the game itself, the struggle between the idiotic Wheatly and the evil GLaDOS feels like it has real consequences.
And if all that weren’t enough, Jonathan Coulton once again supplies a brilliant end song:
“Andy Grossman” works in the video games industry.