Friday, October 03, 2008

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free Review

By Zeus Poplar, Official Out of Eight Adventure and RPG Correspondent

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free, developed and published by Telltale Games.
The Good: Hilarious dialog, superb voice acting, clean graphics, friendly interface
The Not So Good: Some locations still feel sparse, not the longest or hardest game out there
What say you? A great little third person point-and-click adventure that's as fun as it is funny: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
When last we saw our lovable anti-hero in Episode 1, Strong Bad had done his best to ruin the good name of hated rival Homestar Runner. Now he's up against the King of Town, who has issued an uncharacteristically evil email tax. The tax is both IMMEDIATE and RETROACTIVE, so Strong Bad is collared with a custom fit exploding necklace and placed under house arrest. Unable to send or receive a single freakin’ email, Strong Bad is given no other choice but to escape, secede and start his own country of Strong Badia.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Vivid 3D characters faithfully recreate the look of the 2D flash-animated cartoon. Chalk it up to the simple design of Homestar Runner, but it's a thousand times more effective than Homer Simpson's eerie cell-shaded head in Simpsons Hit & Run. Unfortunately, some of the locations don't translate well to an adventure game. They seem sparse compared to the intricate, pre-rendered backgrounds of other titles. Where Strong Bad really shines is the dialog, wonderfully written and performed by the show's creator. The music fits the lighthearted mood of the series, and I'm especially fond of the Bleak House retro MIDI dirge.

ET AL.
Episode 2 has an easy to use, professionally crafted interface. There's a one-function pointer, which talks, grabs or operates based on context. This means you can't “look” at objects you're supposed to grab, but Strong Bad has a habit of narrating everything he does, so you get a good description anyway. Dialog is handled via icon-based speech balloons. There's also a Good/Evil system, where you can flatter or insult someone, which is usually just good for a laugh and doesn't add much to the gameplay. You can skip dialog with the right mouse button: handy and intuitive. A blue menu on the top-left has an inventory, map, and a camera icon that lets you take pictures (for those of you without a screen capture program; it's handy for the Wii port, I guess.) Finally, it's possible to Alt-Tab to the desktop with no problems, something I can't do in 90% of the games I review (don't developers ever have to check their sbemail, er, email?).

In an interesting twist, the whole cast of characters decide to secede, dividing the land into their own countries. Strong Bad begins at the top of the map, which is drawn on an old pen and paper RPG box (The King of Town destroyed your old map, so no more dragging around locations as you please). From there he must conquer his way south, toward the King of Town's castle. I've seen my share of mystery games, and adventure games about amnesia, and mystery adventure games about amnesia, but never have I played an adventure game about conquering a map full of personalized day-old countries. It's a great hook and a perfect comedic scenario. To conquer each country you must shift your tactics to meet the situation: The Cheat demands a medal to prove he'll be Strong Bad's #1, whereas Strong Sad, who turned the Strong household into a mime's paradise draped in black fabric salvaged from his “highly flammable pajamas” (hint, hint), isn't so lucky.

Although some problems of the first game are addressed (they fixed the curious three-picture limit, which I believe was a holdover from the Wii version), there are still several screens devoid of anything but blue sky, green grass and a lone object. I realize they're trying to stay true to the source material, but it wouldn't hurt to add a random Whoozit or Whathaveyou to interact with. And no, putting a little flag on The Stick doesn't count. It's still just a stick with a flag on top. Those looking for a challenge may be disappointed: the puzzles are generally of the “find the right item for the job or talk to the right person” variety. But I enjoyed myself, and got a real kick out of this episode's Fun Machine mini-game, an educational Double Dragon clone called “Math Kickers: Featuring the Alge Bros.” And yes, you actually solve math problems... by kicking ninja butt! Quick, 6=4+Y. Y=?

IN CLOSING
Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free (whew!) is an immensely entertaining adventure game. From the moment it begins, it's all about sharp wit, constant gags and neigh perfect comedic timing. Playing a Strong Bad game reminds me of watching an episode of Family Guy or a Mel Brooks movie, only I get to play along with the actors on screen. Like a good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the humor ranges from silly (the camera zooms in on a video game poster as Strong Bad makes vroom-vroom noises and claims the games are “exploding from his wall”) to the obscure (he calls his brother “Little Lord Fatleroy”, a reference to an 1800s children's book). This episode actually cracked me up even more than the last. If the series continues to improve, it could easily rank up there with such comedy classics as Quest for Glory 4 and Day of the Tentacle. Is it worth the $8.95? You'd better believe it.