It’s April Fool’s Month on Virtual Bastion! Join us as we celebrate all the silly and kooky things we love about games and gaming. My first theme for the month is running gags. There’s so much ridiculousness here, I can hardly contain myself!
When it comes to comedy, sometimes a good running gag really hits the spot. We’ve seen them repeatedly in TV and movies (the Looney Tunes classic “rabbit seasons vs. duck season” comes readily to my own addled mind), but how about in video games? Given that games don’t follow anything resembling the release schedule of your favorite shows, it might be a little harder to recognize them in the moment. But once you start to examine your favorite franchises, their existence becomes undeniable. It’s in that vein that I present here five of my favorite running gags in games.
Dragon Age – “Enchantment” saves Sandal every time!
Video by YouTube user Nic Versailles
It’s in Dragon Age: Origins when we first meet Sandal and his foster father/traveling merchant, Bodahn. Bodahn and Sandal join the team, and while Bodahn has a knack for finding the best good, Sandal, who speaks little save for a few words, is a whiz at enchanting weapons and armor. In fact, you know you’re on to something with Sandal every time he says “enchantment!” But there’s more to Sandal’s simple ways than meet they eye. While the scenarios are never fully explained, he appears twice in the games surrounded by death and/or chaos that he’s somehow magically defeated. There, in the midst of bloodshed (near the end of Dragon Age: Origins) or certain doom by the hand of a formidable Darkspawn Ogre (Dragon Age II), Sandal remains unharmed and with his wits about him. When queried as to what happened, Sandal’s only utterance is “enchantment!” And the party remains both confused and delighted.
And what of Sandal in Dragon Age: Inquisition? Unfortunately, he and Bodahn are only mentioned in passing. However, in the Trespasser DLC, players can stumble across a mysterious and unattributed journal. A skewered Qunari near it provides a definite clue as to the journal’s probable author.
Portal – All the cake and none of the cake
It’s hard to argue with the classics, right? Portal’s “the cake is a lie” meme has become a classic in its own right. Cake is the ultimate “prize” in the original Portal, and its many mentions by GLaDOS throughout the game only seem to enforce that notion. But as we all know now, there really wasn’t any cake. Or, there was but…? Well, you know how it ends.
By extension, food becomes something of a running gag generally in the Portal series. Cake favors heavily into the first game, and in the second one we have lemons and potatoes, as well as those propulsion and repulsion gels. Did you catch that they were first created as food substitutes? I’m sure they tasted awful, besides being, y’know…deadly.
Paper Mario – The Wizards of “M”
It’s hardly unusual for the Mario series to milk to death an idea or character’s predicament. (My word, just look at Peach!) But sometimes they do alright by creating something that’s more memorable than not. Take the wizard Merlon. He appears in several Paper Mario games, and though his predictions guide Mario through his quests, Mario must always first sit through one of Merlon’s long stories. Uh…more like nap through! No matter what Mario does, Merlon’s stories always put him to sleep. (Honestly though, given what he must do, it’s probably the best sleep Mario’s ever had!)
Adding to Merlon’s family in the Paper Mario series are a number of other helpful folks, all of whom possess unusual “M” names, from the fortune tellers Merlee and Merluvlee, to Merlow, with whom you can trade. There’s also Merlon’s opposite, Nolrem, in Super Paper Mario. Yep, it’s one heck of an interesting family!
The Legend of Zelda – Cuccos unite!
Video by YouTube user Family Games
I’m not one for bothering animals that aren’t bothering me in games, except, maybe, when it comes to The Legend of Zelda series. One of the series’ most hilariously dangerous secrets involves its chickens. Oh yes…chickens. Called “cuccos,” you’ll find them in pretty much any Zelda game out there. Sometimes they’re little more than added background flavor; other times they’re involved in sidequests. And there’s nothing quite like using a chicken to “glide” from one spot to another. But you have to watch out if you find yourself feeling too attack-happy around them. Attacking a single cucco might seem like child’s play, but if you keep at it, you’re bound to find yourself eventually swarmed by an entire angry flock seeking revenge!
Considering how many Zelda games there are, it’s amazing that this gag has survived to this day. But it’s one of the many things that adds to the lasting charm of the series. (Having just started Breath of the Wild myself, I’ve yet to anger any cuccos. After watching that video, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to!)
Grand Theft Auto – Lazlow, the worst talk radio host
There are a lot of things I enjoy about the Grand Theft Auto games. Being tough and crazy, roaming vast cityscapes, and driving cars into rivers (something I’m very good at…err, in the games). And while I’m doing all those things, I enjoy listening to the dulcet tones of worst talk radio host going, Lazlow Jones. Not to be confused with the real-life radio host of a similar name, Lazlow is the worst. He’s appeared on GTA’s radio lineup since GTA III, and he only seems to get more awkward, slimy, and depraved with each game. His radio appearances are one of those running gags that you think you’re going to get sick of after a while, but then Lazlow says something new that’s truly awful, and there you are, hooked again, waiting for him to up the ante. Finally getting to meet the scumbag in GTA V was a real treat. And believe me, he only got what was coming to him.
What are some of your favorite running gags in video games?