There’s been a rather interesting black hole in the media towards stand-up comedy. Sure, television and podcasts are full of the trade and there’s no doubt that some of the largest celebrities that are out there are comedians, but when it comes to setting sole focus on the career; when stand-up is the filter that you’re seeing everything else through, people balk. All of this is particularly true for the medium of video games, who have barely even marginally featured stand-up through the years, at least to my memory, let alone having a title that focuses on the career. It’s for that reason alone that Comedy Quest is such an exciting, anomalistic title.
If Comedy Quest wasn’t already interested in exploring the narrative endeavors that stand-up comedy has to offer, it would already be a game that stood out due to its presentation. Trav Nash of Crothers Games has created this little-game-that-could which is very much a love letter to both the trials and tribulations (and not the glory) of being a stand-up comedian, as well as the adventure games of yesteryear that came from the likes of Sierra and LucasArts. The game’s title is even referencing old classic series like Space Quest and King’s Quest. If that wasn’t enough there’s also a really fantastic homage to The Secret of Monkey Island that starts off your adventure and kind of perfectly sets the tone of everything.
The meager goal of Comedy Quest is to see if you’re capable of becoming the greatest stand-up comedian of all time after three gigs (heh), and the title’s almost Louie-esque in its tone as at no point does it sugarcoat the profession for you at all. Oh no, as you perform your audience isn’t even in the double digits, your fellow comedians shit-talk you, your apartment is small, lonely, and unbecoming, and most of your contact with your parents is to ask them for money.
To elaborate on this, your objectives here don’t see you burning the juices on the creative side of your trade as you write new material. Instead you’re coaxing strangers to come to your show so you’re actually able to perform, handing out fliers, and telling clunkers on stage. The game effortlessly manages to capture the tone and atmosphere of being a struggling (keyword) stand-up comedian and captures it quite well. The glimpses of your set that you see are wonderful jabs and lampoonings of the stand-up trade.
Behind this despair is a wonderful art design that’s obviously reminiscent of old point and click adventure games, but there’s a bit of a manic, surreal twist to it. Almost as if David Lynch or Cronenberg were directing your comedy special. The close-ups of images distort and are peculiar enough to show a real visual style here in independent developer, Trav Nash. Similarly, the music intentionally harkens back to that golden age of gaming too, and marries the package quite nicely. While it clashes with the retro style a little bit, there’s even full speech for the game’s audio that is performed by actual comedians (so you can really hear that disdain).
Comedy Quest has a surprising amount of length and challenge to it, and if you’re struggling, there’s even a full walkthrough provided on the game’s site where you can also download the title for free. This is all pretty impressive considering that Crothers Games is a one-man production crew. If there was a bigger crew I’m sure we’d get more aspects of the field (and how crushing they can be), but as it stands, there’s an impressive product there already. To add even more to this, getting a perfect score of 360 requires even more effort and general knowledge of how these games work. It’s a satisfying feat for the completist out there.
It’s unlikely that Comedy Quest is going to break the trend of video games avoiding the topic of stand-up comedy, but honestly, that’s alright. As it stands, this game not only successfully sums up the field, it also faithfully recreates the retro point and click atmosphere and gameplay, while being particularly funny at the same time, which is really all you can ask for here.