Minutes after accidentally stumbling into a garish landscape, Andrew Bryant is insulted by a gnomish mexican wrestler...
It's just like visiting the in-laws!
Game Title: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People Season One
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games/Videlectrix
Format Reviewed: PC (Review Copy)
Also Available on: WiiWare
Price: £18.99 - £39.99
Telltale Games, themselves comprised of many a LEC ex-employee, re-ignited the adventure genre back in 2006 when they resurrected Sam & Max for a series of episodic games that, unlike contemporary examples (I'm looking at you, Valve) were actually episodic.
A rigorous release schedule, humourous plot and evolving gameplay (that openly took in criticism and praise from the community as the episodes were released) all contributed to making S&M a winner, despite a few faltering first steps expected from a relatively new start up targeting a new market. A second season was quickly announced and released which, although shorter and a bit less fresh, showed Telltale were still on top of their game. Then they announced their next I.P.
Homestar Runner (or H*R) is a bit of an acquired taste... Grown out of a the twisted minds of 'The Brothers Chaps' internet site full of flash cartoons, mad characters and a metric tonne of self-deprecating humour, arguably the main draw of the site is Strong Bad (think pint-sized angry Mexican wrestler) and his use of his computer too answer emails from fans, often with hilarious consequences. The genius of the material is in its off-beat meme-spawning comedy and fourth-wall destroying deprecation of the universe around it, full of digs at 80's pop-culture, home-brew animation & the woefully out-of-date technology we all take for granted. That and it's full of slapstick... and there's nothing wrong with slapstick!
Thankfully, as a product of the internet (and despite the strange concept), the humour is fairly global... gone is the pastiche parody of hardboiled detective novels that was Sam & Max, which often featured situations that only Americans & die-hard fans of Steve Purcell's universe would understand, to be replaced this is a world full of primary colours, kooky characters you'll love and hate in equal measure and high-concept situations that can often be resolved less with lateral thinking and more with simply making the main protagonist/antagonist (depending on your point of view) break something or piss someone off.
Graphically, the game is almost cut & paste from the web cartoons, often to the level that the entire game seems 2D, with only the minimal shading and depth of play giving any indication of the third dimension – joke as you might about the game being tailored for the Wii's limited graphical power, but this style captures the charm of the source material. The Telltale Tool looks to be as versatile as ever and the simpler graphics cater for low-end computers.
The audio which backs up the visual is on-par with the quality released in Telltale's other releases and the full voice-cast from H*R (which comprises mostly of Matt Chapman and Mike's wife, Missy) is present so there's a deluge of fan-service to digest if you're a long-time viewer. Of course, any annoyingly bad accents are intentional!
All 5 episodes, when taken individually (as suggested by most medical practitioners) represent, like Sam & Max, a self-contained bubble in their mad little universe. Unlike Sam & Max though, there is no continuous plot thread linking the episodes together. Like the web-cartoon it's based on, the episodes are varied, with each taking more risks than the last on it's story, content & direction.
Episode 1, Homestar Ruiner, is played out almost exactly like one of the sbemails cartoons (basically, Strong Bad answers an email from a fan, then proceeds to answer the email in the most convoluted way possible). Instead of simply 'beating Homestar up', as requested, the whole goal of the episode mutates into a series of events involving beating Homestar in a race & ruining his reputation, then having to deal with the fallout of having him stuck in SB's home, a fugitive from society, whereby the goal becomes the restoration of his reputation.
Strong Badia the Free documents Strong Badia's struggle to secede from Free Country US and the The King of Town's email tax. What follows can only be described as the Russian Revolution meets Risk meets, well, Strong Bad!
Baddest of the Bands moves away from the email concept, instead taking something simple like 'fixing a video game console' and running with it... far, far away. The set-pieces in this episode steps up a gear, with clever humour and more intellectual puzzles to solve, offering a more fulfilling experience.
Dangeresque 3:The Criminal Projective takes the series on a sudden off-road jaunt into the world of the much-demanded and incredibly high-budget action-movie series, Dangeresque. Essentially playing (literally) as the game-of-the-movie (literally), this episode answers such questions as why Ireland looks just like Paris, where are the blueprints and who is Craig!
Following the less than popular premiere of The Criminal Projective, the episode swiftly segue's into 8-bit is Enough as Strong Bad's attempts to 'jump' result in him damaging the Trogdor arcade machine in the basement. The usual token hilarity ensues... The shear amount of fan-service at games from the 8-bit era is positively overwhelming as cartoons and games are aped (some literally) left, right and centre.
When viewed from an individual stand-point, the first two episodes are quite disappointing, especially if you're having a hard time adapting to the style of the games. The good thing is, things just keep getting better, with none of the mid-season lull that Sam & Max's first season unfortunately enjoyed. By contrast, the remaining episodes are easily some of Telltale's best works and the complete season is a must have for fans of their work and H*R alike.
Telltale have again proven that they are up to the task of getting an entire season of episodes out on a consistent time-scale, this time without breaks (both Sam & Max seasons had breaks between episodes 1 & 2, presumably to allow time for speedy development later on), without dropping the quality of the product in order to manage it. This can only bode well for future products, including Wallace & Gromit.
As a result, I wholeheartedly recommend SBCG4AP to any adventure gamer looking for something to fill a few days.
Rating (out of 10)