Elephant Quest

Comedy is an often lamented genre in gaming. Other than some notable LucasArts alumni like Tim Schafer and Steve Purcell, there have been few game developers making their career at truly funny comedy. For all the difficulties with comedy, parody is even harder to pull off correctly.

One of the really great gaming parodies, in my mind, is Achievement Unlocked by John Cooney. It manages to perfectly walk that line between a ridiculous parody of how achievements are used in modern games and a truly fun game using that premise. The fun comes from finding all the ridiculous achievements, which can be surprising and frequently hilarious.

Elephant Quest is John Cooney’s latest game following the adventures of the little blue elephant. Is it as great an example of parody as Achievement Unlocked? It’s certainly subtler. It starts out with an NPC giving you instructions about how to move around and follow your nemesis, who has stolen your bowler hat. You then shoot lasers around various levels while killing animals and gaining experience. Pretty straightforward right?

The leveling up screen allows you to spend points in a ridiculously byzantine grid in order to get new abilities. When you check the minimap, the rooms are connected in a dizzying spiderweb labyrinth. The art style is almost a parody of his previous games, a hyper-saccharine version of the stark, pixelated style of Achievement Unlocked.

At first blush the game doesn’t appear to be doing anything out of the ordinary, but with more playtime, the game’s comedic roots start showing.

Talking Points: Does the subtle comedy here come across well in a video game? Which parts are parody and which are sincere? Is the comedy undercut by the fact that levelling is kinda fun anyway? What does this try to say about the RPG genre—do you think it’s successful?

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Comments

I've got to start off by saying that Achievement Unlocked is probably his best work. Everything he's done since then has tried to capture that magic, but never seems to reach it. Perhaps it's a one trick pony. Perhaps.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed about this game is that it broke the fourth wall with "What's a down key?" Great ... but that's been done to death now and is just cliche.

Actuallym that wasn't the first thing I noticed. I jumped and didn't get an achievement. That was the first thing I noticed.

Is the comedy undercut by the fact that levelling is kinda fun anyway?

To me it is. This game is very much like Deathspank was in that I stopped reading text after talking to a couple people. The jokes are all too thin for my tastes. I'd rather just get on with playing the game. Actually I need to get back to work.

Real quick, though. It's hard to tell if his fourth wall breaking was parody or not. I think it is because it pops up a couple times throughout, but not fequently enough that I can be certain it's parody. Perhaps my certitude isn't the point. Perhaps it's there to be funny to some on its own merit and to others (like me, you and many others around here) it's parody.

I played through the whole thing the other day. Where he sucked me in was the leveling system. The interface was so simple and sleek. Plus who doesn't love elephants wearing hats?

To me it is. This game is very much like Deathspank was in that I stopped reading text after talking to a couple people. The jokes are all too thin for my tastes. I'd rather just get on with playing the game. Actually I need to get back to work.
I hadn't made the DeathSpank connection but the problem is similar, the gameplay is compelling enough on it's own that the parody is undercut.

Think about Airplane!. What was it parodying? Overdramatic Airport dramas. The actual drama portion of the movie was razor thin and the comedy revelled in this. What is this game trying to parody? Levelling up in traditional RPGs. Yet the level curve here is actually pretty normal, with interesting things to do with your level up points, and tons of environments to explore.

I don't think it works nearly as well as Achievement Unlocked in that respect, as the great part about AU is that the achievements were silly yet you wanted to find them because they were silly. In this, you want to level because you get cool stuff, not because leveling is silly.

Yoreel wrote:
I played through the whole thing the other day. Where he sucked me in was the leveling system. The interface was so simple and sleek. Plus who doesn't love elephants wearing hats?
I do love the interface here, the bounciness is a bit too comedic to be generally applicable, but some of the things he does with status and health bars is pretty damn slick.

Am I the only one who saw the title and thought it was somehow related to Elk Hunt?

Rat Boy wrote:
Am I the only one who saw the title and thought it was somehow related to Elk Hunt?

Yes. Most of us don't immediately think of pouring Elk urine on ourselves and traipsing around in the woods like you clearly do.

Wait, there wasn't a reference to young girls in there. I failed.

I have barely sunk my teeth into this, but can I just ask: When did Armor games start publishing such high-production-values-lookin' games? This is really pretty and looks to be fun, and I haven't even hit all the cool parodies mentioned. Can't wait.

One thing I do think works in this game is the way your inventory is handled: your elephant physically drags everything around on-screen by a rope. If you've got a couple quest macguffins, several keys, and a few weapons then it looks appropriately ridiculous.

I broke the character advancement scheme pretty quickly... once I figured out how the system worked I chased +int squares and put my points into "get more points when you level up." Then I was zipping around the advancement paths pretty quick. I don't know if that's supposed to be part of the joke or not.

Ultimately I think the comedy here is undermined by the fact that many non-comedy video games are surreal and cartoony. A video game can't show me something silly and expect me to laugh at it; I grew up playing Super Mario games so I'm conditioned to expect random weirdness as a matter of course.

Definitely one of the best web games I've played in quite some time!

This reminds me of that idea (Truffaut, I think) that you can't really make an effective anti-war film because you still end up making it look glorious and thrilling (I think he was talking about Apocolypse Now). I can see that this is a parody and yet I found it so engrossing and fun. All those lights were going off in my brain like a lab-rat stuck in a Skinner Casino. I had to tear myself away from it.

At least Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker isn't actually fun to play. But his parody worked by stripping everything out and showing you what it is you are really doing when you play something like FarmVille. This game takes the opposite track by embracing and even enhancing the characteristics it parodies.

And, really, the production value is pretty damned high. I am going to try to forget its existence and go back to playing something that doesn't remind me that it knows exactly what it's doing.

This was a fun little piece that completely kill my productivity. The game starts off nice and enticing enough. First it hands me this wee little green giraffe on a simple quest to pickup some groceries from his neighbor. This red pony also happens to possess a weapon that can be utilized to kill mindless enemies. LASER BEAM! I've just killed something! 100 xp? Level up! Bam! The enticing continues as the screen reveals a labyrinth of upgrade choices. And on top that there's even a second more specific page to apply your upgrade points. As I progress through my journey, my little lion tends to gather quests and collect inventory items that follow him like a little train set. Eventually something starts nagging me. All these upgrades, once enjoyable seem to lose their luster. Once there was a point for me to kill all the enemies on the screen for some nice bonus xp, but with all the upgrades what point was there? No longer did I care to finish these side quests, finding tedious hidden items. I want to end my misery and reach the finish. So I finally sent the little monkey to fight the bully gorilla that had stolen his women.

This game really reminded me of how other games usually end up for me. After the initial period of enjoyability, gameplay winds down and gets to be bit more miserable. It could just be my OCD tendencies to attempt to obtain every little upgrade and finish every quest. The only thing that usually compels me forward is finishing the story/game. So in my mind I see this little game as a critique of that.

Hangdog wrote:
At least Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker isn't actually fun to play.

Have you seen the numbers on Cow Clicker? From what I remember, they were upsettingly impressive.

Heh, I'm lodged in a chunk of landscape and can't move. Perhaps this too is subtle commentary?

Is there a save feature? Perhaps I can reload.

Ah, reloaded the page and it gave me the continue option. Behold the technology of the internet flash game!