It’s not an easy thing to inject a little humour into a video game. The technological sophistication which goes into most AAA titles could probably rival a few NASA space probes, but there’s no shortcut to a great joke or memorably funny character.
Most characters in gaming who are written to be funny often end up in the dreaded realm of kooky or wacky side-kicks who spend their time running around in a blind screaming panic, or else they’re the typical playable protagonist who spouts corny one-liners after they’ve just murdered 20 faceless henchmen or torched an orphanage, which often just comes off as irritating and jarring.
That all being said, when a character does come along to genuinely make you laugh, you jolly well notice it. Here are 10 of the funniest video game characters of all time.
1. Anatoly Cherdenko – Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
“I’m escaping to the one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism – SPACE!”
It’s fair to say that Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 was never really a game that took itself too seriously. Alternate universes and plans to kill Albert Einstein aside, you don’t cast Tim Curry as a leader of the Soviet Union, complete with faux-Russian accent and not-quite-authentic military uniform, if you want people to regard your creation as a serious historical dissection of Western-Soviet relations.
Even within a cast that includes George ‘Oh My’ Takei as the Emperor of Japan and David Hasselhoff as the VP of the United States, Curry stands alone for his ludicrously tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the Russian premier, delivering most lines in a way that makes Brian Blessed look like Mark Rylance.
What’s really remarkable about Red Alert 3 is that it seems to have been made almost exclusively for the purposes of parody and memeification despite only being released in 2008 when people were still sharing Chuck Norris jokes and using the Trollface. Everything has the tone of an amateur dramatics troupe doing a production of The Hunt for Red October, and no-one is more in their element than Curry, gurning, smirking and hissing his way through dialogue with the joyous abandon of a man truly enjoying trivialising the might of the Russian military complex.
2. ClapTrap – Borderlands 2
“I am the last claptrap in existence, and I am going to teabag your corpse!”
Yes, I agree, ClapTrap is annoying. But he’s also very funny, which actually serves to make him more annoying because you feel that you should be irritated by his constant referral to you as ‘Minion’, his screaming, his cowardice, his self-obsession and his hyperactive wailing. Yet despite it all, you can’t quite help but like the flighty little rust box.
What ClapTrap does seem to prove is that a character can straddle the line between irritation and amusement, even if he occasionally strays too far into the former. He’s such a well-written, surprisingly well-rounded character that you can accept his irritating tendencies because the laughs feel earned due to the quality of his dialogue.
If ClapTrap were nothing but a screeching, whining little minion who made silly noises and occasionally waved his little robot arms in the air, the gag would wear thin very quickly and you’d spend most of the game trying to find the nearest trash compactor or very large vat of acid. The trick of ClapTrap is that he’s always just funny enough to keep you onside. Just.
3. Dr. Edward Richtofen – Call of Duty: Zombies
“It gives me great pleasure to deal this much pain.”
COD Zombies started as a fun little add-on to the hugely enjoyable World at War, but it really started to come into its own when later expansions added more maps, more weapons, and crucially, a host of new characters. The creators of the ‘Aether’ storyline’s protagonists certainly weren’t afraid to play on national stereotypes to get a laugh; Dempsey, the obnoxious oorah-ing American, Takeo the katana-wielding Japanese warrior bound by strict codes of honour and Nikolai the Russian drunkard with a predilection for vodka and a string of eclectic ex-wives.
Crowning them all, however, is Nolan North’s Dr. Edward Richtofen, the embodiment of every stereotype ever held about wartime Germans in the subsequent 70 or so years of film and media. Conniving, insane, probably evil and not a little sexually deviant, Richtofen was an amalgamation of every mad Nazi scientist and power-hungry German stereotype. All four of the Aether’s protagonists are a blast to play, but Richtofen stands alone as the format’s greatest creation, his ecstasy at severed limbs and exploded heads matched only by his rage at personal contact, being denied the mystery chest or having to talk to Dempsey.
You know you’re not supposed to like Richtofen given his allegiances (mainly to himself), but the game constantly dares you to resist his maniacal charms. If only they hadn’t made him so darn funny.
4. Guybrush Threepwood – Monkey Island Series
“Why, that’s the second biggest monkey head I’ve ever seen!”
It’s a testament to the quality of the Monkey Island series that in a market increasingly saturated by AAA heavyweights and gargantuan open-world epics, gaming circles still speak of the classic point-and-click adventure with such high esteem.
The Monkey Island series was notable predominantly for its lush visuals and signature sense of humour, populated by gnarled pirates, eccentric shopkeepers and dangerous jailbirds. Yet in a series rammed full of kooky eccentrics, it is its principal protagonist, the beautifully named Guybrush Threepwood, who continues to capture the hearts of players even today.
What’s best about Guybrush is that he isn’t trying to be funny. As hinted at in the intro, there is nothing worse than seeing the effort that goes into trying to make characters amusing who simply aren’t, and most ‘funny’ characters might as well be signposted with a large prompt which says ‘laugh now’, but Guybrush is funny because he’s likeable, and he’s likeable because he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just an innocent, bumbling dork doing his best, his chirpy inner monologue a window into his cheerful naivety and cheery disposition. He isn’t wacky, or goofy or even particularly notable, he’s just a genuinely big-hearted idiot in a world of cutthroats and vagabonds.
He’s one of us.
5. HK-47 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
“Even if I did not enjoy killing, I would have no choice. Thankfully, I enjoy it very much.”
Side-splitting humour isn’t something that I’d normally associate with the Star Wars franchise. That might ruffle a few feathers, but it’s never been a franchise noted for its astonishing rapier wit. I’m not saying there isn’t warmth and humour to the films and even some of the games, I’m just saying it’s often secondary to the lightsabers, space battles and strange haircuts.
That said, HK-47 might be the entire franchise’s funniest character of all time, regardless of the medium. An assassin droid built at the beginning of the Jedi Civil War, HK-47 is designed for one primary purpose; to kill, kill and kill some more. Put simply, HK-47 is a psychotic bastard of a droid, seeming to take genuine pleasure in killing and destruction while harbouring a distinct disdain for all human life. What’s so funny about HK-47 is that he is everything a droid shouldn’t be.
Rather than being purely logical and detached regarding suffering, he seems to court it with a quiet, callous enthusiasm, with Kristoffer Tabori’s bone-dry delivery juxtaposing brilliantly with HK-47’s enthusiastically murderous sentiments. He’s a walking psychopath in a tin suit, and there are times when HK-47 makes even the likes of Richtofen look like a saint, but you cannot help admire and revel in the droid’s singularly horrendous attitude towards all sentient beings.
6. Johnny Cage – Mortal Kombat
“Don’t hate me ‘cos I’m beautiful.”
The quips. The smirk. The $500 sunglasses. His own name tattooed on his chest. Reportedly based on 80’s action hero and martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme, recent incarnations of one of Mortal Kombat’s most iconic characters have often felt like a cross between Nathan Drake and Tony Stark cosplaying as a WWE wrestler. Whoever he reminds you of, it’s clear that Johnny Cage is the type of guy who has mirrored ceilings and shouts his own name during sex.
The apex, or indeed nadir, of all the incarnations of everyone’s favourite star of Ninja Mime was Mortal Kombat 9, featuring a walking personification of douche-baggery who epitomised the sort of arrogant, self-obsessed actor you’d never get sick of pummelling. His smug smirk and cocky swagger became the target of many a YouTube fatality compilation.
By the time MKX rolled around and expanded to include a more varied arsenal of cutscenes and pre-fight character dialogues, Johnny became a fully-fledged comic force. This older, more mature incarnation still provides the relief amongst the severed heads and flying limbs, but he won fans over with his sharp wit and new voice actor Andrew Bowen’s expert delivery. Meanwhile, MK11’s split timeline gave the developers the chance to let both Johnnies shine, with older father Cage perpetually exasperated by his air-headed former self’s nuclear levels of self-obsession. ‘Dad always said: Hungry people eat lunch; humble people serve it’ claims younger Johnny. ‘Dad was an asshole, Hollywood made us an even bigger one’ recognises his older counterpart.
Asshole or not, Johnny has become as integral to the behemoth fighting franchise as Scorpion, Sub-Zero or Liu Kang, emphasising NetherRealm’s uncanny ability to create some truly great gaming icons.
7. Dr. Neo Cortex – Crash Bandicoot
“I’m ok! The spikes broke my fall!”
I love Crash Bandicoot. I love his ludicrous design, the way he runs and his constantly cheery disposition despite the fact that the fate of the world seems always to be resting on his furry, flea-ridden shoulders. I love that his eyes are pointing into different time zones and that his tongue hangs out when he runs.
But this is a list of the funniest video game characters rather than necessarily the most likable. Crash himself is like looking at your weird dog or a joke that sits on your fridge; it’s always funny and it always makes you smile, but there aren’t a huge number of dimensions beyond the dopey grin and fingerless gloves.
Crash’s rival, Dr. Neo Cortex, is your go-to for memorably quotable dialogue and proper character development (as far as the Crash series ever got to character development). The basic dynamic of the series of a mindless, enhanced marsupial in cut-offs always outsmarting a bona fide super-genius is a beautiful gag, and it is Cortex’s constant exasperation, usually expressed with wailing campy eloquence, that really brings the laughs. ‘Must we keep going around and around like this? Tell me Crash, is this all there is, forever?’ asks Cortex after yet another humiliation at the hands of his furry rival. I hope so.
Cortex has always been a fantastic villain and foil for the series’ eponymous hero, but he seems to improve with every instalment. From being hell-bent on revenge after being frozen in arctic waters to his betrayal at the hands of N Tropy in Crash 4, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the mad little yellow genius as you laugh at his failings and revel in his defeats.
8. Wheatley – Portal 2
“I am not a moron!”
Portal is essentially gaming perfection. It’s as lean as Bruce Lee, tight, sharp and focused, a brilliant puzzler whose intriguing concept is realised to complete perfection by some very, very talented people. How on Earth do you improve on a title like that?
The simple answer is to expand the scale of the game and the scope of its characterisation. It’s a risk, especially considering the fact that the bigger a game gets the greater the chance of it becoming loose and bloated.
Portal 2 pulls the trick off though, and there’s little doubt that Portal 2’s greatest addition is Wheatley, the moronic little robotic sphere initially tasked with aiding protagonist Chell through the trials of the Aperture Science facility. Skittish, obsessive and often remarkably idiotic for a futuristic robot, much of Wheatley’s humour comes not only from his ineptitude but from his general inadequacy, desperately trying to prove himself competent in a facility designed to weed out incompetence.
Stephen Merchant’s voice really makes the character sing, his Bristolian accent encapsulating that constant sense of inadequacy and need for approval combined with a slightly comic sense of simplicity. No offence, Bristol.
9. PC Principal – South Park: The Fractured but Whole
Regardless of where you stand on the particular hot issue of freedom of speech wrestling with a greater awareness of social justice, there can be no denying that Parker and Stone have created an incredible character in PC Principal. The juxtaposition of frat boy alpha male douchebag using ardent support of marginalised groups as a means of proving his PC credentials has proved a fertile ground for some of the show’s best recent episodes.
Like so many others on this list, there’s a fine line between laughing with a character, laughing at him or just simply finding him incredibly irritating, but PC Principal works because he’s such a great combination of alpha male thuggery and overly rigid social and moral convictions. He’s also one of the only South Park characters I’ve ever seen with independently functioning legs.
PC Principal pops up in The Fractured but Whole as New Kid’s ethical and social mentor, schooling him in his own very particular brand of social justice. ‘Catch the Microaggression’ is certainly not a level you’ll likely see in almost any other video game ever, and championing any critique of liberal or left-wing beliefs always puts you one step closer to sounding like Piers Morgan, which is a fate worse than death, but like all of South Park’s best work, it’s best if taken in the right spirit.
10. The Worms – Worms
“I’ll poke your guts full of lead!”
I can’t have been the only one that played Worms as a kid. One of my first ever games on PC was Worms 2, and I remember even then loving the ludicrous nature of the concept of having a load of worms wielding ludicrously powerful weaponry, blasting one another to high heaven while spouting ridiculous little soundbites. I remember laughing at the hilarious little death animations, being enamoured by the cartoonish visuals of the chaos and thinking it was hilarious every time a bazooka sent an innocent little pink blob hurtling 1,000 miles off screen. What a twisted little soul I was.
Looking back on it now and a game in which a load of psychopathic terrestrial invertebrates devised new and more destructive ways to remove one another from existence might not have been the healthiest for a kid of about seven, but I still remember how much I loved the worms themselves as much as the actual gameplay. I loved the silly little cutscenes from Worms 2 which played out as Monty Python-inspired skits usually involving sticks of dynamite, anti-aircraft weapons and multiple acts of psychotic cruelty. Although the actual games are very solid little turn-based smash-‘em-ups, it has always been the worms themselves who have defined the humour of the franchise and its charmingly odd identity.
As the games have gone on, one of the mainstay mechanics has been a series of voice themes which can be assigned to your own custom team ranging from ‘Soccer Mom’ to ‘Mad Inventor’. The voices are great and often very funny, but I do recommend alternating between themes once in a while to avoid reaching the point of insanity when once again one of your ‘comedian’ worms says ‘I’m a frayed knot’ for the 200th time in that game.
Bonus – The Radio – GTA
“Flash FM: We tell you what’s good, then play it ’til you like it.”
It is such a testament to the time and world building which goes into every single one of GTA’s mammoth instalments that even the radio stations are churning out perfectly pitched, often surprisingly satirical content of such a strikingly high calibre and astounding variety. Some stations are merely repositories for a particular genre of music, but most are also tongue-in-cheek goldmines filled with genuinely funny dialogue, colourful DJs and worryingly prescient advertising.
Vice City’s ‘Flash FM’, for example, not only has some of the best music of the entire series, but the station’s ditsy party girl Toni perfectly encapsulates the shallow, egotistical airhead who typified the shallow excesses of the 80s. Ever the archetypal party girl, Toni introduces the band ‘Yes’ with ‘When these guys are done with me, I’d walk like an Egyptian…or a cowboy’, shows her disregard for anyone over the age of 25 (‘she was old, must’ve been like 30 at least’) and seems only be have an interest in hairspray, men and pop music, the latter of which she proclaims has value because it ‘makes us different from hippies’.
GTA has also always had a knack for lampooning the current zeitgeist with its radio commercials, such as Vice City’s paranoid public service announcement ‘Is your child a Red?’ which listed signs of Communism as ‘reading complicated literature’ and ‘sharing’, and GTA V’s satire on American’s industrial prison complex ‘PIC Prison’, a franchise opportunity ad describing itself as ‘the one business where you really do have a captive audience!’
The king of the GTA airwaves, however, is undoubtedly Lazlow Jones, the franchises’ real-life writer and producer who also appears as a fictionalised version of himself in practically every one of the series’ instalments. Worryingly incompetent and increasingly desperate as his fictional career goes on, Lazlow becomes more ignorant and outrageous, his career plagued by ‘Payola scandals, drug problems and continued accusations of sexual deviancy’. What could be more Grand Theft Auto than that?
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