Humor in video games often feels hit or miss. Like most fiction, humor shows up at least occasionally in all kinds of games. For example, the Uncharted games try and fail at humor by thinking that having each of their characters quip back and forth (or even to themselves) is funny and endearing. Possibly worse is when you have games, like the otherwise enjoyable Guacamelee!, where a lot of its humor was using super dated (even at the time) internet reaction memes. There are parody games, but parody can only go so far. Honestly, outside of Okage: Shadow King and its humor centered on how goofy a lot of JRPGs plots are, the only other true comedy game I can think of is the visual novel Pizza Game.
Developed mostly by writer and programmer Plasterbrain, with help by her brother JelloApocalypse who designed the characters and directed the voice acting, Pizza Game is described by Plasterbrain as “a shit-post game, but a fully sustainable shit-post game”. Basically, what if someone made a full-length nonsensical otome visual novel, with none of the nonsense of games like the hour-long KFC dating sim? Pizza Game prides itself on its intentionally misspelled sentences and its parade of pretty unpleasant smoochable men. From the top, there is passive aggressive coffee shop owner with a dark past named Chris, rude tech billionaire who is almost definitely a serial killer named Mr. Arimnaes, an ironic and twisted skater named Warped Lamp, a bland but otherwise harmless pizza shop owner named Keenarnor, and whatever the hell Sensei is.
The protagonist who has to attempt to date (or honestly, just hang out with) these “personalities” is the lovingly realized and charming Kiane. Kiane, and her much-smarter-but-not-by-much inner voice named Inner Kiane, make Pizza Game special. Delusional to an almost sad extreme, boy crazy Kiane drifts through each route, from trying to solve a pizza parlor murder mystery to helping a demon hide zucchinis so he can restore his power, with the same blissful over-eagerness and lack of tact or skill. Kiane is an often mean and dumb character, which is usually hard to make likable and relatable, but somehow Kiane’s energy just works. For instance, a later plot point centers on how Kiane is always mean to her useless roommate Johnny throughout the game, but Kiane almost makes you take her side. Cause you know, Johnny really does suck, especially after taking Kiane’s car without asking.
Genuine is a perfect word to describe all of Pizza Game, but especially its humor. Some of the humor is based on referencing other media, either by visual homages for games like Phoenix Wright, name dropping Undertale characters, or this sweet thing Kiane and her mother do where they end calls by telling each other Drake and Josh. Thankfully, the referential humor is kept to a limit for the game’s two other kinds of humor: meta digs at being a otome visual novel and actual comedy. The meta jokes include vocally addressing game mechanics as reflecting the game world, like demonstrating the volume control button as a means to literally shut Warped Lantern up. Others are pretty clever, like how one character literally forces the game’s window into widow screen from full screen simply because they think their story desires it. Some are low hanging fruit, like when Kiane says out loud that she hopes creepy mop poet and demon hunter Sav does not have a datable route, but it never comes off as unskillfully hacky.
Actual comedy is hard and Pizza Game’s equivalent is from a reputable house. On the surface, Pizza Game could just be a “lol random!!!” game, which would be rough, but a lot of the game’s humor evokes wackier Simpsons episodes and Homestar Runner. This Homestar Runner comparison is textual, as the game’s manual even refers to its usage of side sketches hidden as different colored dialogue props as “Homestar Runner Thingies”. The first couple of hours of playing involved me breaking out in laughter saying “oh my god, that was so dumb, but I love it”. In the same way that every character in Pizza Game will flub or misspell a word, so too does every character get to be in on their own joke (expect Keenarnor, who just sort of exists). No greater enjoyment is to be had than simply poorly restating a joke or gag, but scenes like Mr. Arimnaes giving a seminar on how he has been personally ruining his tech companies’ logo for decades is pretty great. I found myself constantly making screen shots of different jokes that I liked, akin to how weirdos will highlight passages in books they are reading.
A lot of humor is derived from implementing different combinations of each characters’ two-to-three running gags. For instance, the fact that Warped Lamp is a legit copyright lawyer, but only ironically. Or how the grocery store owner Brain is expected to host or handle town events, even though she is not qualified to do much of anything. Which means that if one character’s personality or gimmick does not fly (like how Warped Lamp can be funny and endearing, but is often just annoying), expect to learn to deal with it. Like an entire joke can be that a character has a literal visitable GeoCities page and someone is going to find that rad as hell or be totally confused. This approach to humor also allows a remedy for a problem often found in otome games where characters do not really engage with each other in routes. The game will have a long gag about Sensei being a terrible poetry slam host in someone else’s route, a character focus wall that visual novels really struggle with.
While none of the overall route stories are that complicated (or in the case of Warped Lamp’s route, barely there), each route leaves clues and ideas about the true ending. Pizza Game is the only visual novel in recent memory where the bad endings are actually the most interesting part. Without going into too much detail, one bad ending especially surprised me when it shifted over to a different character’s route entirely and I just got to play thirty percent of a different route before being flipped back. The conclusion is not anything massively novel, but unlike say, Hatoful Boyfriend, where the real dark ending comes out of left field, Pizza Game’s real ending feels at least foreshadowed.
Pros: Genuinely funny game that lampoons otome visual novels without beholding all its comedy to references and meta commentary. Likable and well-designed characters, like the space bunny Roobit (who is the best). Interesting plot in a game that could have just been all jokes and no overarching point. Catchy music, especially the songs that only exist for a one-off-joke.
Cons: Because every single character talks in a occasionally random and misspelled fashion, it makes the game hard to push through in the first few hours and messes with pacing. As is to be expected with most visual novels, not all the routes and their respective stories are of equal quality. For instance, Warped Lamp’s story about accepting someone’s personhood and gender identity is well-intentioned and nice, it is rather short and comes at the end of a pretty disjointed narrative about community center “MYSTERIES”. Humor will absolutely not work with everyone, but honestly, nothing felt like a dud.
Pizza Game is available on Steam and a demo of the first few chapters is available, which is highly recommended to test if the comedy personally works for you. Fully comedic games are hard to find and like most humor, is wildly subjective. It’s probably around twelve to fourteen hours, but it never felt it was wasting my time. Pizza Game is charming enough in its genuine presentation and good nature that I highly recommend it.