Disclaimer: This review contains images and language that may offend readers. Discretion is advised.
Devolver Digital, thank you for being what sometimes seems like the only boundary-pushing, risk-taking entity in an industry whose comfort zone has the radius of a hockey puck. Most recently, thank you for Genital Jousting, the game about competitive intercourse between anthropomorphic penises. I don’t particularly like this game, but I love the fact that it exists. I love being able to imagine a more traditional publishing executive listening to the elevator pitch with his jaw agape, sputtering something along the lines of, “But that’s gay!” before having a little brain aneurysm and going off to throw money at the next obliviously macho military shooter. From a purely methodological perspective, the game is a slapdash curiosity at best, but it’s at least the most memorable slapdash curiosity since Goat Simulator.
It’s a game of two fairly distinct halves: the quirky, accessible multiplayer mode, and the still comedic but genuinely meaningful story mode (no, seriously). The first half is the primary focus, as it’s the part that’s been available in Early Access for some time; the Steam description didn’t even mention a planned story mode until the day of the full release. This makes sense, as the multiplayer component is arguably the better, more straightforward one, even if the other is more interesting for its sheer audacity. Multiplayer is further divided into three categories: Traditional, Party, and Date Night modes. Date Night has players accompany their chosen phalli on ten-second dates. It’s as pointless as it sounds, unless you find “This penis is doing things that penises don’t normally do!” to be a joke that never gets old. The other two options are more worthwhile.
Traditional mode is a simple competition to see who can overcome the wobbly physics engine and penetrate their opponents first (oh, by the way, the penises all have anuses on their back). It’s entertaining for about 15 minutes until the complete lack of depth sinks in. Party mode has much more longevity, being a collection of randomly chosen X-rated Mario Party minigames, including wiener dog roundup challenges and a suppository-devouring contest. As usual for this sort of thing, some of the selections are better than others, but even the less impressive ones get by on the incredulity they evoke. Additionally, the occasionally uncooperative physics actually improve its potential as a party game, because no matter how skilled you become, you can still be tripped up by a wayward testicle, giving everyone a shot at victory without being entirely chance-based.
Now, I imagine everyone’s first reaction to learning of the story mode’s presence was, “How do you make a story out of that?” At first, it seems like it’s going to be the same interminable joke as Date Night mode: a guy named John going through his ordinary life and looking for a date, except…well, you know. But after some time (not that much; the story’s only 90 minutes long), it shifts its priority to delivering a statement on toxic masculinity that’s so accurate and creatively realized that I’m still a little shocked it was in the same game as everything else I’ve described. Turning the fact that the protagonist is literally and figuratively a giant dick into the underpinning of a surprisingly relevant message doesn’t save the single-player content, but it was enough to shake me from the stupor that it had otherwise dropped me into.
On the other hand, the change-up highlights how Genital Jousting constantly feels like it’s being pulled in multiple directions at once. The divide between its two halves feels like its trying for a bait and switch à la Spec Ops: The Line or Doki Doki Literature Club! while still offering the silly penis playground that was advertised. The title screen itself just splatters its constituent pieces across the screen, like the developers outsourced the UI to the physics engine. And most importantly, none of the gameplay elements involved in the single-player experience add up to a cohesive whole. Their combination could be superficially described as The Stanley Parable meets Octodad by way of schlong. And while that sounds like just about the best thing ever, this title shows how much of those games’ greatness was due to execution.
Genital Jousting really doesn’t care for the player’s input. There are several moments that seem like legitimate choices to be made, only for those choices to be illusory – a narrative device with a specific purpose that has no place here. And those are just the instances where the objective requires movement. Elsewhere, the game just slaps an invisible timer on certain requirements and continues on whether you finished within it or not. There were instances of this where the timer was so short and the directions so vague that I honestly wasn’t sure what it was that I failed to do. It’s as if the designer thought slapstick comedy would emerge out of nothing just by having a funny character, so every situation that could have been difficult enough to provide some entertainment is instead abandoned immediately.
This is definitely a one-joke game, if that wasn’t obvious by now, but to its credit, it makes the most of it. Every graphical detail makes it impossible to forget what you’re looking at, and there are entire story sequences and minigames that are basically castration anxiety distilled to an art form. The universal humor of the subject matter probably helps, although it’s likely that every player will be able to point to something that crossed a line for them. I personally found the way every character leaves a trail of ball sweat behind them to be consistently funny, while the movement sound effect that’s self-described as the noise of spaghetti hitting a wall quickly got on my nerves. Additionally, whoever decided to make a visual parallel between the two definitions of “ejaculate” should be given an award and then promptly fired.
I doubt there’s anyone out there who would find every aspect of Genital Jousting appealing. Target demographics don’t get much more specific than “People who are totally in-tune with single-minded phallic humor who also enjoy 8-way multiplayer and loosely constructed walking simulators with progressive messages.” To anyone that applies to, here is your perfect game. To everyone else, here is a game that transcends the idea of a rating scale, because while it’s not really good by any metric, it may be worth playing just to make sure it really exists and isn’t an elaborate practical joke.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with by Devolver Digital.
How entertaining you find Genital Jousting will depend on how funny you find its central joke. Beyond that, it's just fascinating that it even got made.