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Funny To A Point – The Pursuit Of The Perfect Headline

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jun 02, 2017 at 03:11 PM

Trying to come up with the perfect headline can drive even the most gifted auteur to the brink of madness. In just a few short words, you have to convey the subject, tone, and opinion of the article, while being accurate enough to not mislead readers, yet sexy enough to make them want to read it in the first place. If you're anything like me, you also have to constantly fight a competing goal: to make the punniest joke headline you can possibly stomach.

Review headlines are the most fertile ground for joke headlines, and our reviews editor Joe Juba does an admirable job as G.I.'s watcher on the walls, bravely fending off the bad ones for the sake of our readers. However, every now and then a headline accomplishes all of the above – it's informative, accurate, clickable, AND contains a groan-worthy joke, at which point Joe has no option but to approve it for print. Few brave editors pursue this wicked brew of punny perfection, but just like my efforts to aid amateurs with my Professional Gamer insight, I consider it my duty to keep on trying.

As such, I've put together a master class for coming up with awesome headlines, yet another service I've offered before to great acclaim. For each entry I'll be looking at one of my fellow coworkers' review headlines, offering a much-improved headline of my own, and then – most crucially – explaining why mine is awesome and theirs sucks. While this exercise is geared mostly toward writers, the sheer wisdom on display should enrich the lives of anyone who reads it. Enjoy, and as always, YOU'RE WELCOME.      

Battlefield 1
Actual Headline: Large-Scale Warfare At Its Finest
Awesome Headline: World War FUN

Bertz's review headline for Battlefield 1 makes it clear that DICE has successfully returned to its roots of competitive FPS matches featuring big player counts. That's pretty good – but it's not as simple or as bold as "World War FUN," which plays off the global conflict the game is centered on while simultaneously letting readers know how much they're going to enjoy it. Some may scoff at making a pun about a horribly brutal war that killed millions of people – but if that's the case, they probably shouldn't have made a freaking video game about either!

Prey
Actual Headline: Somewhere Beyond The Stars
Awesome Headline: Eat, Prey, Love

"Somewhere Beyond The Stars" appears to be the title of a song by Gandalf's Fist, which I can only assume is some millennial hipster band that Javy really likes. However, it doesn't really tell you much, other than the fact that the game is set in space (uh, DUH). In contrast, my headline riffs off of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, which is like a billion times more popular and will surely resonate with hardcore gamers. It also tells you that you'll love the game – and that you eat food in it. That's not exactly a huge detail, but it's informative nonetheless.

Mass Effect: Andromeda
Actual Headline: Adapting To Harsh Frontiers
Awesome Headline: It's Tinder For Alien Pervs

Leave it to our reviews editor to come up with a pretty clever headline, which alludes to not only the challenges that NotShepard faces in the game, but also the challenges that BioWare faces in continuing the series and transitioning to an open-world format. That's good, but it tells you nothing about what Mass Effect fans REALLY want to know – how many aliens can you bang? Like a horny Salarian, "Tinder For Alien Pervs" lays it all out there, and could be read as a positive or a negative depending on your proclivities, so no one will disagree with it.

Snipperclips – Cut It Out, Together
Actual Headline: A Nice Slice
Awesome Headline: Walk To The EShop And Buy This Game Right Now!

It shocks me to say this, but Shea's review headline isn't awful! "A Nice Slice" conveys that Snipperclips is a short but fun experience, and even plays off the gameplay mechanic of trimming your characters. I opted for a more straightforward approach, informing readers that they should buy the game immediately, but while still promoting safe behavior – because we all know you can't run with scissors. Shea's headline might convey that the game is good, but mine could potentially prevent you from losing an eye! I think we all know who wins that match-up...

Super Bomberman R
Actual Headline: Falling Well Short Of Super
Awesome Headline: It's A Super Bummer, Man. RRRReally.

Ahh, now this is closer to what I expect from Shea: profound disappointment. Sure, he figured out that he could riff off of the game's name – but he only included one word. My headline, on the other hand, includes THE ENTIRE TITLE, while capturing how bad the game is. Granted the "R" was a bit tricky, but I think I nailed it.

Owlboy
Actual Headline: Taking The High Road
Awesome Headline: Well Owlboy Damned – This Game Is Fun!

"Taking The High Road?" Someone was high when they wrote that headline, alright – Suriel. I guess it sort of conveys that Owlboy is a quality game, and alludes to protagonist's ability to fly. But no one will give a hoot about any of that when they see my masterful headline, which conveys the ecstatic surprise of discovering and indie gem. "This Game Is Fun!" acts as an added reinforcement for the dummies who are too dumb to figure out the wordplay.

Injustice 2
Actual Headline: Of Gods, Monsters, And Precious Loot
Awesome Headline: The Real...Injustice...Would Be Not Playing It – Yeaaaaahhhh!!!!

Reiner's play off of the Justice League's Gods and Monsters series embraces the epic, good-versus-evil showdowns that Injustice 2 serves up, while also calling out the addition of collectible loot. All good stuff – but not "CSI: Miami opening stinger" good. To really sell my alternate headline, I'd also replace the review's header image with a shot of David Caruso putting on his sunglasses, which is worthy of a 9 out of 10 in its own right.

Farpoint
Actual Headline: Shooting For The Moon
Awesome Headline: More Like Fartpoint

Bertz's headline captures Farpoint's setting, main gameplay mechanic, and the uphill battle that developers face when trying to make a quality VR game. However, based on the lackluster review score, Farpoint turned out like all the other VR games that came before it. Hence the "More Like Fartpoint" headline, which is a lot more straightforward.

Wilson's Heart
Actual Headline: Campy Horror Crippled By Technical Shortcomings
Awesome Headline: More Like Wilson's Fart

Coincidentally, this headline approach works for every VR game.

Rock Band VR
Actual Headline: Falling A Little Flat
Awesome Headline: More Like Rock Fart

Okay, maybe not every VR game. But the sentiment still rings true!

Coming Up Next: The quest for the perfect review headline gets more extreme...

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Actual Headline: A New Era Dawns On Zelda
Awesome Headline: You'll Pitch A TENt In Your Pants

It brings me no joy to say that Kyle really screwed the pooch on his Breath Of The Wild headline. "A New Era Dawns On Zelda" certainly conveys what a drastic departure the game is for the series – but why is it dawning on Zelda specifically? That's just weird. However, Kyle's biggest misstep is not highlighting the fact that he gave the game a 10! That almost never happens! "You'll Pitch A TENt In Your Pants" conveys the double-digit score while also capturing the extreme excitement fans will have for the game. Granted, the term is a bit gender-biased, but so is sticking the titular character in a minor role for the umpteenth time.

Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood
Actual Headline: You Might Want To Sit Down For This
Awesome Headline: The Blood Ain't Rushing Anywhere Good

After swinging and missing on his BotW headline, Kyle strikes a solid foul on this one. "You Might Want To Sit Down For This" is an admittedly clever way to convey that the review contains bad news, while also alluding to the fact that playing it in VR made him sick (I guess you also sit when you're on roller coasters, but I'm not giving him any extra credit for that). My headline, however, turns the game's title into a hilarious erection joke. And as we all know, erection jokes trump everything that's not an erection joke.

For Honor
Actual Headline: Battle-Scarred But Victorious
Awesome Headline: For(ho)n(or)icating With Greatness

Fun fact: Jeffs come up with better titles than people who aren't named Jeff. Here, Jeff Cork plays off the gritty melees that players will endure – but it also applies to the shortcomings that prevent For Honor from being truly exceptional. An admirable attempt for sure – but can that really beat my ingenious wordplay? I'll let you be the judge.

Yooka-Laylee
Actual Headline: Reviving A Classic Genre
Awesome Headline: More like Yooka-Fail-ee

"Reviving A Classic Genre?" YAWN! No one wants to read about that – heck I don't even know if they want to play that! "More Like Yooka-Fail-ee" is way catchier. Wait, Shea liked the game? Dammit. Fine, how about "Yooka Yay, Wee!" That's still better than Shea's headline!

Watch Dogs 2
Actual Headline: A Hacker's Playground
Awesome Headline: Ass Surveillance Program

Actually, it looks like Elise liked Watch Dogs 2 as well. I hate when my co-workers ruin a good headline with their stupid opinions. No worries – we can go with "Phat Ass Surveillance Program," instead. Kids think that's a good thing, right?

Nioh
Actual Headline: The Soul Of The Samurai
Awesome Headline: "NiOh!" Is What You'll Scream When Your Loved Ones Beg You To Stop Playing

Dan Tack's headline does a solid job of calling out Nioh's samurai theme, as well as the inspirations it takes from From Software's "Souls" series. It also sounds vaguely positive, though I'm not sure why. But Tack gave Nioh a 9, which is way better than "vaguely positive." In addition to once again expertly playing off the title, my headline really drives home just how much you'll love the game – to the point where it may rip your family apart. Now that's a great game –and a great headline!

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Actual Headline: Back On Track With Intensity And Distress
Awesome Headline: "How To Make A Game In Unity"

This is not so much a review headline as what Telltale should type into Google before they make another season of The Walking Dead. Or any other series.

Late Shift
Actual Headline: Riding The Rails
Awesome Headline: Clock Out Now, This Game Ain't Worth Minimum Wage

"Riding The Rails" refers to the storytelling offered by Late Shift's FMV structure. It's also what hobos do, which could be confusing unless the game has actual hobos in it, which I don't think it does. Either way, my headline is a heck of a lot more relatable, doubling down on the title's worker theme, while also conveying that readers shouldn't buy it. Check and mate.

Little Nightmares
Actual Headline: A Grotesque Tale That Plays Off The Familiar
Awesome Headline: Little Nightmares, Big Wet Dreams

Jeff Cork's review headline certainly indicates what this indie horror hit is all about, but it doesn't really express whether that's a good thing or not. "Little Nightmares, Big Wet Dreams" lets you know exactly how good the game is through dual juxtapositions of the game's title. It's also a helpful litmus test – if you don't get what the headline is referring to, you're too young to play the game!

1-2-Switch
Actual Headline: The Switch Gets Its System Soiler
Awesome Headline: http://bit.ly/2rhZq6I

Jeff Cork volunteered the marvelous headline that I went with for 1-2-Switch, and it's one of those instances where Joe simply couldn't say no. However, it wasn't quite as perfect as my original headline, which is pasted above. Nothing so wholly sums up the experience of playing 1-2-Switch, or the value proposition is offers Switch owners. Sadly, Joe still vetoed it anyway – apparently he's too lamestream to run a URL as a headline. #SAD!

Coming Up Next: The search for the perfect headline goes off the rails...badly.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Actual Headline: The Heavy Gravity Of War
Awesome Headline: In-FUN-ite Weeeee-For YOU

Look, there's a reason these entries are on the third page – sometimes, despite the best of intentions, a review headline can go horribly, horribly wrong. That's why most editors play it safe with lines like "The Heavy Gravity Of War." But I'm never going to stop striving for perfection, and I'm brave enough to share my mistakes with you. Anyway, Tack's headline conveys that the game is set in space and has a darker tone than previous installments. I tried to out-World-War-FUN myself with another play on the title, but it got away from me a little bit. Still, at least you know it's fun – it's right there in all caps, for crying out loud.

R.B.I. Baseball 17
Actual Headline: Not Even Worthy Of The Little Leagues
Awesome Headline: Like Getting Hit In The Nuts With The Ball And The Bat, And Then A Bird Flies Over And Poops On You

I got a little overzealous on this one too – but Reiner gave the game a 2 out of 10, so I felt I really had to drive home how awful it is! You gotta admit, despite the cumbersome length, my headline definitely paints a picture...let's move on.

Birthdays The Beginning
Actual Headline: A Dried-Up, Time-Lapse Terrarium
Awesome Headline: Die Now, Sore...something something

Jeff Cork didn't like Birthdays much, and his headline aptly sums that up while also capturing the gameplay mechanics. My attempt to outdo him didn't go so well – after coming up blank on "birthday" puns, I moved on to "dinosaur." I still think there's something here, but I'm ceding the victory to Cork on this one.

Bye-Bye Boxboy
Actual Headline: The Best Of The Boxes
Awesome Headline: Goo-goo-gwaphics? Waaahhh!!!!

Look, I freely admit my attempt to express that a baby could make Bye-Bye Boxboy's graphics isn't great – but Kyle's headline ain't much better! "The Best Of The Boxes"? Come on! Between the headline and the title, that's like six B-words, Kyle! Granted, his headline does do a better job of reflecting his actual review score – but that assumes his opinion about the game is accurate. And if he thought "The Best Of The Boxes" was good...well, I don't know what to believe anymore.

Poochy And Yoshi's Woolly World
Actual Headline: A Tight-Knit Port
Awesome Headline: It's Knit Your Average Yarn, Crochet?

Like Icarus, I flew a little too close to the sun on this one, only to come crashing down to Kyle-levels of mediocrity. Well, not quite Kyle-levels – he only worked one reference to knitting into his headline. My first two references blow his headline out of the water, but substituting "crochet" for "okay" was a stretch, and just makes the whole headline read like a list of SEO search words for Hobby Lobby. Speaking of going too far...

Mario Party Star Rush
Actual Headline: A Mad Dash
Awesome Headline: More-io Potty: Shart Rush In Your Pants

Hoo boy. This just reads like a crazy person wrote it, huh? But really, is "A Mad Dash" any better? I mean, at least you can tell I really tried to encapsulate how bad Mario Party games are, and as they say, perspiration is the mother of invention.* It really makes you think, doesn't it?**

Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls/Bony Spirits
Actual Headline: Subpar Spiritual Successor
Awesome Headline: We Get It, You Wanna F--- A Pokémon

Wait, why did I lump this one in with all the failures? This is as honest as review headlines get. What other explanation is there for all this fleshy boning crap? I mean look at those perverted freaks. At the very least, it would get a heck of a lot more hits than "Subpar Spiritual Successor." More like "Subpar Headline Writer Named Kyle." Man, I'm on a roll today!

Yakuza 0
Actual Headline: Everlasting Mob Stopper
Awesome Headline: I QUIT

I give up – leave it to Jeff Cork to come up with the perfect review headline! It's funny, it alludes to the game's length and the protagonist's quest, and it plays off of the Willy Wonka jawbreakers...for some reason. Alright, so maybe it's not perfect, but it was clever enough to make it past Joe. There's no way I can top that. Wait a minute...Ya Coozy Is A – yeah, forget it, I'm not topping that one. At least I lost to another Jeff.

One quick note: The next Funny To A Point will be delayed from June 16 to June 23, because E3 is a total pain in the keister. In the meantime, you can always check out previous columns by clicking on the banner below to enter Funny To A Point's fancy-pants hub!

*I'm aware that no one says that. (back to top)
**Yeah, I know you're not really thinking about it, THANKS FOR NOTHING. (back to top)