Monday, August 18, 2008

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner
Video game review by Sombrero Grande

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People is my first foray into "episodic" video games, but not into the world of Strong Bad and Homestar Runner. I've been a longtime fan of the HomestarRunner.com website, regularly following the semi-weekly cartoon installments of the whole gang from Free Country, USA. If you've never been to HomestarRunner.com and are a fan of Flash animation and off-the-wall, mostly kid-friendly humor, I'd suggest you check the site out, especially if you have any inkling to download Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (and with a name like that, what attractive person into cool games wouldn't?).

There are two kinds of people this game will appeal to: 1) fans of the Homestar Runner website and 2) fans of old point-and-click adventure games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. I think the folks at Telltale Games, as well as the Chapman brothers who created HomestarRunner.com, are hoping that there's a lot of overlap between the two.

If you're no stranger to HomestarRunner.com then you'll know that this is not the first game to be associated with the characters, but it is the first one you have to pay to play. The Chapman brothers have long been experimenting with ways to create really-old-fashioned games with their characters, creating some fun pixelated diversions (such as Trogdor!, Secret Collect, Rhino Feeder and AweXome Cross 98) but never anything as full and fully-flushed out as Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

Now, I mentioned that this is an "episodic" game, which means that Episode 1 is only the first (duh) of five total adventures that will be released on a monthly basis, all connecting together to form one long story arc. From what I've been told, each episode exists unto itself story-wise (like the new Futurama direct-to-DVD movies, I'm assuming) so you can enjoy just one or two but they also make sense in context transitioning from one to the next.

Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner plops the player right down into the boxing gloves and Mexican wrestler mask of the site's anti-hero, Strong Bad. For the uninitiated, Strong Bad is one of the site's main draws. His "adventures" checking his e-mail make up the majority of the content on the site. When not checking his e-mail on one of his grossly outdated computers (his current one is an ancient, power-sucking laptop called "Lappy") he's generally causing havoc for the other characters, nearly all of whom he intensely despises but none as much as the "hero" the site is named after.

In Homestar Ruiner, you as Strong Bad are finally are able to dish out to Homestar the humiliating pummeling Strong Bad has always dreamed of. However, a problem arises when this humiliation forces Homestar into hiding--in Strong Bad's house. So now you as Strong Bad must set out to clear Homestar's name and record among the other citizens of Free Country, USA so that Strong Bad's world can go back to normal.

While fans of the site are no stranger to the amount of interactivity typically present in the cartoon adventures of Homestar Runner and Strong Bad, they've never seen anything like this before. In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, you ARE Strong Bad and as such you'll get to participate in all of his usual activities (such as checking his e-mail, making prank phone calls and even creating "Teen Girl Squad" comics) not to mention getting the ability to roam free around the entire world presented in the cartoons on the website, from Strongbadia to "the Stick" and everywhere else. Side quests, including using Strong Bad's metal detector to find the missing pieces of his Snake Boxer 5 video game manual, or playing said video game, round out the experience.

Point-and-click adventure fans will feel right at home with the game's interface of clicking on everything in the environment, amassing an inventory of random items and attempting to "use" them on just about everything else. A pleasant surprise is how simple, elegant and intuitive all the menus are in the game, ensuring that even video game novices will have no trouble getting the hang of things immediately. Bravo! There are even fun touches added in the most unexpected of places. For instance, once Strong Bad receives the ability to travel to a new location, you as Strong Bad get to decide where to draw it on your own map. It's these kind of extra special touches that are sure to illicit many smiles from players throughout the game.

But the experience isn't flawless. Moving Strong Bad around the environment isn't always as intuitive as the menu systems. A few times, Strong Bad actually walked in the opposite direction that I wanted him to, and getting him to run consistently in large spaces (like the athletic track) is something I just couldn't figure out how to do. Accidentally clicking too close to an object can start a long, unavoidable sequence (such as with the camera at the track later in the game) and I found myself accidentally triggering said sequence numerous times to the point of frustration. A few times the 3D animation was off, such as during the opening "song" Strong Bad sings when he's supposed to have a potato chip bag stuck around his hand but when he walks his boxing glove hand can clearly be seen outside of the bag with it "floating" behind.

Minor bugs aside, this is a game worth checking out for any Homestar Runner or Strong Bad fan. Any point-and-click adventure game fans eager to jump back into their favorite genre of gaming would do well to check out the website that spawned these characters first as there's quite a lot of inside-jokery to be found within the game before downloading and playing this game.

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People's presentation reminds me of when a TV series makes the jump to making a movie. It's a bigger, fancier, glossier package where the pacing is forced to slow down (in this case it's slowed quite a lot seeing as how this is a multi-hour point-and-click, trial-and-error game and not a short Flash cartoon), but rest assured the trademark Chapman brothers' humor is alive and kicking in this game, there's just longer stretches between the gags and zingers while you figure out how to progress in the game.

Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner is currently available on WiiWare (and may be downloaded onto your Wii console from the Wii Shop Channel in the system menu for 1000 Wii Points) and on PC for $8.95 at Telltale Games. As for the differences between the two versions, Telltale has this to say: "We have had a lot of questions about the differences between the PC and WiiWare versions of the game. The main difference is that in the WiiWare version, you can use Strong Bad's Lappy to send emails and pictures to Wii friends. This functionality does not exist in the PC version (although you can still take pictures in the PC version). Additionally, in the WiiWare version, the Snake Boxer 5 mini-game is controlled by turning the Wii remote sideways. There are no other major differences between the PC and WiiWare versions of Homestar Ruiner."


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