Hitman: ‘it looks like a serious assassination sim, but through its wonderfully open and pliable systems, it often makes you feel more like Mr Bean than James Bond’. Photograph: Square Enix
Video games have always been funny. From the lumbering kidnap animation in Donkey Kong to the witty wordplay of the Uncharted series, developers have used every tool at their disposal to make us giggle while we shoot, jump, explore and accelerate. Sometimes the humour comes from the script, sometimes the mechanics, and sometimes it’s just the emergent joy of competing against friends. Whichever, we all remember games that have had us doubled over our controllers, helpless with laughter.
Here then, are the funniest games we’ve ever played. Please share your own rib-tickling reminiscences in the comments.
27. Jazzpunk (2014)
It’s funny because: it’s one of those rare video games that’s actually designed as a piece of humour. From the very beginning, when you step out of a person-shaped suitcase into its cartoon cyberpunk world, the gags are fast, furious and sophisticated.
26. West of Loathing (2017)
It’s funny because: it’s a black-and-white wild west adventure entirely populated by stick figures and sight gags. Much of the comedy comes from the way the script and mechanics work together with a delightful sense of wordplay, so that the ghost town is actually made out of ghosts and the needles you pick locks with are all hidden in haystacks.
25. Spy vs Spy (series, 1984-86)
It’s funny because: it’s a two-player espionage challenge that perfectly captures the look and slapstick humour of the Mad magazine cartoon strip it’s inspired by. A lot of the laughs come from setting traps for your opponent and then accidentally tripping them yourself, prompting a range of lovely Loony Tunes-style death animations.
24. PaRappa the Rappa (1996)
It’s funny because: it’s the heartwarming tale of a paper-thin canine rapper who is taught the meaning of life by a karate-chopping onion. Enough said.
23. Undertale (2015)
It’s funny because: it’s a refreshingly original and light-hearted role-playing adventure where the overarching war between humans and monsters is undercut both by the winsome characters (such as pun-loving skeleton Sans and blushing crush-prone scientist Alphys) and the fact that enemies can be vanquished with a nice hug.
22. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984)
It’s funny because: it’s co-written by Douglas Adams, closely follows the plot of the book and radio series, and contains one of the most devilish challenges in the history of text adventures: the babel fish puzzle. It also starts with the best two inventory items in history: a splitting headache and no tea.
21. Overcooked (2016)
It’s funny because: it’s a multiplayer cooperative cooking game where the kitchens are highly impractical – and often moving – and you’ve always got one hopeless friend who keeps setting things on fire.
20: Katamari Damacy (2004)
It’s funny because: it’s a game about having to repair the universe after your father – the King of All Cosmos – has destroyed it in a drinking spree. You do this by rolling objects into giant balls to make new stars. We can just leave it there really.
19. Worms (series, 1995-)
It’s funny because: it’s a turn-based military strategy game in which the military strategy involves holy hand grenades, banana bombs, weaponised grandmothers and exploding sheep.
18. WarioWare (series, 2003-)
It’s funny because: it’s a frenzied series of microgame collections that trade in surprise and utter weirdness. Whether you’re running away from a dinosaur or picking a giant nose, the humour comes in watching the cartoon scenarios then frantically figuring out what the hell you’re supposed to do.
17. Octodad (2010)
It’s funny because: you play as an octopus going undercover as a human dad. It’s also the perfect example of humour through mechanics, as the requirement to control each of the character’s limbs separately inevitably leaves him flailing around the screen, rendering even the simplest human task hilariously difficult.
16. Hitman (series, 2000-)
It’s funny because: it looks like a serious assassination sim, but through its wonderfully open and pliable systems, it often makes you feel more like Mr Bean than James Bond. If you’ve ever tried to stealthily kill a foreign agent only to accidentally squash a number of his party guests under falling spotlight, you’ll know what we mean.
15. Skate 3 (2010)
It’s funny because: the combination of an open-world environment, a wonky physics engine and some gigantic bugs turned this okay skating game into the world’s greatest accident simulator. Just type “Skate 3 compilation” into YouTube and watch the eye-watering chaos unfold.
14. Psychonauts (2005)
It’s funny because: it’s a platform adventure written by Monkey Island scribe Tim Schaffer and set in a series of bizarre dreamworlds including a paranoid milkman’s conspiracy laden suburb, a frenetic dance party and a metropolis inhabited by lungfish.
13. South Park: Stick of Truth (2014)
It’s funny because: it’s as puerile and gleefully offensive as you’d expect, thanks to the close collaboration with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. There are anal probes, there are parental genital assaults and there are weapon customisation items called strap-ons.
12. Goat Simulator (2014)
It’s funny because: you’re a goat, clip-clopping around a glitchy urban environment ruining barbecues, destroying museums and licking passing trucks. It’s also funny because Swedish developer Coffee Stain Studios made it as a joke and never actually meant to release it, but it did and now more than 2.5 million people have played.
11. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
It’s funny because: it’s about a foul-mouthed binge-drinking squirrel whose attempts to get home to his girlfriend are continually thwarted by an embittered Prussian weasel. Released after a series of beautiful family platformers, Rare’s mature-rated masterpiece remains one of the most subversive acts in console game history.
10. Lego City Undercover (2013)
It’s funny because: it’s a brilliant Grand Theft Auto pastiche in which super-cop Chase McCain hunts crime boss Rex Fury through a cavalcade of deconstructed action movie cliches, daft characters and whip-smart one-liners – all of which gleefully whiz over the heads of its younger fans.
9. The Stanley Parable (2013)
It’s funny because: it’s a complete deconstruction of video game narrative conventions, allowing the player – as downtrodden office worker Stanley – to disobey and contradict the ongoing voice over exposition. It’s like an interactive Franz Kafka novel, only a lot more enjoyable.
8. Saints Row IV (2013)
It’s funny because: on the surface it appears to be a game about hitting people with a giant purple dildo, but in fact, when you delve deeper, you realise it is a game about becoming president of the United States, committing insurance fraud, repelling an alien invasion, and hitting people with a giant purple dildo.
7. Fable (series, 2008)
It’s funny because: its a British-made role-playing adventure and that means it has more fart gags, condoms and double entendres than it does monsters. The Fable series wonderfully challenged the po-faced pomposity of most fantasy games – and the sad thing is, we’ll never see another.
6. Surgeon Simulator (2013)
It’s funny because: it’s about incompetent organ removal, using a deliberately inaccurate physics model to render the player laughably ineffectual. Forget Drunk History, this is Drunk Surgery.
5. Grand Theft Auto (series, 1996-)
It’s funny because: every instalment takes place in a horrendous moral vacuum where thudding violence and high-speed vehicular mayhem are only ever a button press away. Even if you hate the sledgehammer satire of the scripts, you’ll stay for the anarchy that comes whenever open-world environments, innocent pedestrians, zealous cops and freely available firearms collide.
4. Bulletstorm (2011)
It’s funny because: it’s a sci-fi shooter about rogue mercenaries guilty of massive war crimes but it’s also a bawdy comedy that mercilessly mocks macho gaming conventions. Scripted by Marvel writer Rick Remender, most of the best lines are unquotable in a family publication, though we can at least rejoice in the fact that it features a giant robot dinosaur called Waggleton P Tallylicker.
3. The Sims (series; 2000–)
It’s funny because: developer Will Wright intended his interactive reality TV show to be an exploration of urban life and relationships – but what did we do? We drowned our sims in swimming pools, forced them to pee on the kitchen floor and locked them in the cellar so that they could endlessly produce paintings for our profit. The Sims taught us that in video games, the real monsters are on this side of the screen.
2. Portal 1 (2007) and 2 (2011)
It’s funny because: one of the greatest characters in the history of video games is a murderous computer that sadistically toys with the player at every opportunity. That character is of course Glados, a vengeful AI who sets all the physics tasks in this first-person puzzler, while calling you a monster, lying about cake and singing about science. The sequel adds a brilliant comic performance by Stephen Merchant as ineffectual robot assistant Wheatley, but it’s Glados who steals the show once again – even when extracted into a potato battery.
1. The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
It’s funny because: it’s a loving tribute to swashbuckling Errol Flynn movies which brilliantly ridicules and subverts the conventions of its genre. Throughout the 1990s, LucasArts created a series of point-and-click adventures that would become legendary for their sharp sardonic humour – Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road – but Monkey Island is the pinnacle, best known for the brilliant insult sword-fighting sequence, its eccentric characters and its gorgeous one-liners.
No other developer and no other game could have made taken a line like “that’s the second biggest monkey head I’ve ever seen” and turned it into a moment of unforgettable comic genius. A triumph.