I was reminded of the understated farcical comedy masterwork that is Untitled Goose Game recently, after walking through Regent’s Park and seeing Canada geese and their goslings honking at tourists. I was with a friend who had never heard of it, and so a couple of hours later we were playing it on the Switch in a pub, honking and flapping and making life difficult for any human unfortunate enough to cross our path. The sheer physical comedy of the game – the goose’s waddling gait, the appalled reactions of the villagers, the mischievous glee of running away from a gardener with a trowel in my beak and throwing it into the pond – is delightful. If anything, it’s even funnier now, because you can play with two geese (one of you can run interference while the other steals sandwiches).

When people talk about funny video games, they often mention Monkey Island or Sam and Max – games with quippy writing and witty characters, wordplay, and self-referential puzzle design. But those games have only rarely made me laugh; an appreciative smile, sure, but never an involuntary hoot of amusement like those Untitled Goose Game embarrassingly elicits. Perhaps my comedy tastes lean more slapstick, but it’s always the games with dumb physics or amusing controls or absurd set-ups that crack me up – games where the experience of play itself is what’s funny.

Octodad is a game I recommend to everyone, because it’s one of only a few that have reduced me to a helpless, breathless puddle of mirth. It’s about an octopus trying to masquerade as a human father, and you have to stuff yourself into a suit and use your wibbly tentacles to try and do normal things like navigate the supermarket with your kids, sending groceries flying everywhere. I ended up crying with laughter, forced to pass the pad over to my equally helpless friend until I regained enough composure to try again.

It reduced me to a puddle of mirth … Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Photograph: Young Horses

Often it is the presence of other people that tips a game from amusing to hilarious. The Nintendo series WarioWare barrages you with 10-second mini-games, and the element of the unexpected makes it extremely funny – one second you’re plucking someone’s nose hair, the next you’re trying to get two fish to smooch. But I was taken by surprise when I played the Switch version with friends in multiplayer mode and we were all swiftly incapacitated by uncontrollable laughter. The beloved multiplayer game Overcooked has the same effect: your own incompetence, and that of your fellow players, amps up the amusement.

Comedy often results from the unexpected interplay between yourself and a game. For all its other strengths, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is also a work of comic genius, because it gives you all the tools you could possibly need to entertainingly humiliate yourself. The first time I played it at Nintendo’s Frankfurt headquarters a few months ago, I spent 15 minutes painstakingly constructing a flamethrowing car and then immediately set it (and myself) on fire as soon as I started to drive it, which made both me and my poor demonstrator instantly collapse in giggles. “The comedic timing in this game is unmatched. Every clip I see is like Wile E Coyote Simulator 2023,” observed the Verge’s Tristan Cooper, commenting on a clip of someone accidentally smashing their own wagon’s chassis instead of turning on the fan to power it, its four wheels tumbling sadly one by one to the ground.

I’m not one for torturing Koroks intentionally, but I did once accidentally send one yeeting off a mountain by attaching it to a rocket-powered sled and giving it a good whack. Link fell off immediately, but the Korok went soaring into the distance and then off a cliff with a forlorn “oof”. The guilt only slightly tempered my amusement.

All this is to say that. despite the exquisite brain-pleasing comic writing of something like Portal, or the clever self-referential humour of stick-man western comedy West of Loathing, or indeed the surreal postmodern gags of Jazzpunk, I have probably laughed more at the parping noises of Trombone Champ. Maybe I am simple.

What to play

Final Fantasy XVI.

Despite a lifelong affection for Japanese games, Final Fantasy remains one of my embarrassing blind spots – I have only ever played the boyband road trip adventure that was XV, when I was massively pregnant and wanted to do nothing but eat ice cream and play video games on the couch. I can’t say too much here for fear of breaching embargo agreements, but Final Fantasy XVI is out this week, and veers into more Game of Thrones-style semi-realistic fantasy. If you’re a devotee of the series you’ll already have made up your mind, but if you’re wavering, you’ll be pleased to know that our reviewer doesn’t think it’s a stinker. Check the Guardian’s games page on Wednesday afternoon for the full review.

Available on: PlayStation 5
Estimated playtime: 40-plus hours

What to read

Baby Steps. Photograph: Devolver Digital

  • Our games correspondent Keith Stuart is back from LA, and between us we have compiled this massive roundup of all the most interesting-looking games from the June showcases, from Ubisoft’s Star Wars adventure to an unexpected crossover between Pokémon and volleyball. And, speaking of comedy games, Baby Steps (pictured above) looks hilarious.

  • A Korean model-making YouTuber has made a Zelda-themed Polly Pocket replica – the process video is so soothing and so impressive that I’ve watched it several times over.

  • Who knows what deals were made to make this happen, but Clive’s sword from Final Fantasy XVI will be on display in the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London for the next month. This has given me an idea for a museum of video game weapons, armour and artefacts … any blacksmiths reading this?

  • Steam’s Next Fest – a celebration of upcoming PC games – has just started, and there are hundreds of game demos available to try out. It’s live for the next three weeks.

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What to click

Question Block

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, an example of the very worst name for a game genre, immersive sim.

This week’s question comes from reader Emma: “How can I tell which genre a game is? What’s the difference between a first-person shooter and a first-person RPG? What about roguelikes, roguelites and soulslikes?”

Gamers love to argue over genres. We also love coming up with absolutely terrible names for them. (Metroidvania, anyone?) Loads of first-person games have guns in them, but are not first-person shooters. Soulslike is bad enough – I would call ’em try-and-dies – but the very worst game genre term, in my opinion, is immersive sims. This refers to games such as Deus Ex and Dishonored, where you inhabit a character and have the freedom to approach the game however you like – but to me it sounds as if it ought to apply to a cockpit flight simulator.

Anyway! It’s often hard to tell what genre a game is from a trailer, and sometimes even if you’re told what it is, it doesn’t make much sense. (I still, if pressed, couldn’t tell you definitively what the difference is between a roguelike and a roguelite.) My advice is: a) don’t worry about it too much; b) to check a game’s Steam page to see what genre the developer thinks it is; and c) read this guide that Keith wrote to esoteric genre classifications, from looter-shooter to masocore.

If you’ve got a question for Question Block – or anything else to say about the newsletter – hit reply or email us on [email protected].


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