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‘There Is No Game’ Highlights How Gaming’s Always Struggled With Comedy

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‘There Is No Game’ Highlights How Gaming’s Always Struggled With Comedy

Video games know their way around a handful of, let's say, wider entertainment genres just fine. In cinema you've the action movies, the adventure movies, the horror movies and the thriller movies - and gaming manages to stir those emotions, those tropes and tricks and tried-and-tested formulas, into its own mixes with fairly consistent success. Even romance can work well in gaming, from moving mobile experiences like Florence through to the branching-narrative role-players of BioWare.

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But comedy? Pretty hit and miss. And having spent an hour and a half in the company of a new comedy game, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, I'm pretty sure I know why. It's timing, isn't it. No doubt about it. It's all in the timing.

A good jump scare in a horror game lives and dies on timing; but unlike a great punchline, a jump scare can leave the player, the victim, hanging. You know it's imminent, but how imminent often only adds to the tension. But being left with silence when you were anticipating a sharp, savage, sides-splitting denouement? Nah. Doesn't work.

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And that's the main problem (so far!) with There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, a game that playfully pokes around with gaming genres and their conventions to provide a warm-hearted, good-natured, sometimes-pretty-smart-actually comedic commentary on breaking the virtual fourth wall of gaming. As the user, you collaborate with an AI UI to navigate your way through a series of distinctive settings, from point-and-click to 16-bit RPG, via the outside of a desktop monitor (you'll be unscrewing its back, too) and a Breakout-style beating of the game's own title. Or non-title, I guess.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension / Credit: Draw Me A Pixel
There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension / Credit: Draw Me A Pixel

But because it's point-and-click, with all the obtuse, trial-and-error puzzles that tend to come with the genre (and have done since its LucasArts heyday), there are lulls to contend with - and with those lulls, undeniable pacing problems. The pay-offs are here, and in my time with There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension so far I have chuckled a little to myself. But that's been a light ripple of laughter at most, more appreciative of the intent behind the game's funnies than their actual execution.

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A low-budget indie game made by French studio Draw Me A Pixel, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is admirable for its ambition, and its so-very-meta incorporation of whole gaming genres as gameplay within itself. Some of the humour misses its mark - the accents, and the cliched associations with them (the Russian thinks everyone is a spy, ho ho ho), are a big miss - but there really is a sweetness and a charm to what's on show here, that the absence of comedy timing doesn't affect the compulsion to continue (which is to say: I'll go back and finish the game over the weekend).

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension / Credit: Draw Me A Pixel
There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension / Credit: Draw Me A Pixel

But the game also highlights just how far the interactive medium has to go in making comedy something that feels at home on it. That's not to say that funny games aren't out there, as there are many: The Secret of Monkey Island, Jazzpunk, the super-recent Paper Mario: The Origami King, and the Portal games all immediately come to mind. But when the jokes are reliant on the player being able to execute a task in time with the cadence, I suppose, of the gag in question, that's where there's trouble.

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Portal's humour largely came from its scripted exchanges, Monkey Island's from its playful insults, and Jazzpunk's from its outrageously surreal everything. If you string all of There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension's best moments together as a linear, puzzles-removed experience, you'll likely have a solid 15 minutes of laughs. But the delays as you poke around the screen, looking for what object works with which item, kill so many scenes that should shine so much more, that should really stick the landings of their comedic set-ups.

Or maybe I'm just so bad at solving its puzzles that I should just shut up and enjoy it for what it definitely is: a brain-itching, smile-encouraging, sometimes rib-tickling exploration of the quirks and creases of gaming history, focused into an enjoyable way to pass a little time of an evening. You could do a lot, lot worse, frankly - as a scan of what qualifies for comedy on Netflix right now goes to show.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is out now for PC and Mac (via Steam). Code to produce this content was supplied by the publisher.

Featured Image Credit: Draw Me A Pixel

Topics: Steam, Indie Games

Mike Diver
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