Comedy is hard. It’s much easier to do solid drama and liven it up with a few moments of humor than it is to do something creative that’s meant to be funny top to bottom. No one expects every joke in a funny game or movie to land perfectly, but there is some golden ratio of funny to amusing to ignorable to unfunny that every good comedy nails and every bad one gets wrong. I think Deathspank gets the ratio wrong, and I think that the problem starts with the name.
First, let me say that Deathspank is a fine game, and I’ve enjoyed my time playing it. But mostly I enjoyed it in spite of the humor rather than because of it. There’s some laugh worthy material in there but not enough for me. Worse yet, the stuff that doesn’t work not only fails to make me chuckle, it actually weighs against the game in my estimation. I recently spent time vacationing at the home of some friends who have an Xbox that’s primarily for the use of their children, who are 4 and 9. My visit coincided with Deathspank‘s launch, and the game’s ever present advertisement on the first screen of Xbox Live every time one of the kids wanted to play Lego Indiana Jones or Monkey Island. “I cannot wait until the word Deathspank is no longer part of my daily life,” she said to me. This is someone who has a fine sense of humor and enjoys playing through a game like Monkey Island with her kids, and she did not find the title amusing.