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Review #214

Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People: Episode Two: Strongbadia the Free
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 09/16/2008

Last month, Telltale Games debuted the first in its series of stand alone episodic adventure games featuring the cast and crew of Homestar Runner. The first game, Homestar Ruiner, was a lot of fun and was a perfect blend between the cartoon characters, the world they live in, and point & click fun. Strongbadia the Free is a very similar game and clocks in at only two and a half hours, compared to the four or so of Episode One. Does Episode Two manage to start a streak of quality for the series, or does the Homestar Runner cast experience a sophomore slump?

Let’s Review

1. Story

In this month’s episode, the King of Town implements a tax on emails. One delicious snack cake per email. Strong Bad, whose entire schtick at this point revolves around reading emails ends up missing this proclamation as it went into his idiot filter, ends up being placed under house arrest for ignoring the law. After escaping the device around his head that will blow him up if he tries leaving the house (which is your first big puzzle), Strong Bad declares war on the King of Town and secedes into his own independent nation of Strongbadia. Of course, everyone in town does the same thing and so now the game is a mini cluster of territories which Strong Bad spends the rest of the game uniting under his rule, either through diplomacy or burnination. At the end, you get not one, but two Machiavellian plot twists, and everything is returned to the status quo.

I have to admit, the story here suffered from a drastic drop in quality from Episode One. There I was laughing out loud constantly. Here is was merely a chuckle or two. The situations are forced, the dialogue is nowhere as witty, and the game plays more like a straightforward generic Adventure game with a half-hearted Homestar Runner feel. I was glad to seel Strong Mad and The Cheat receive more of a presence in the game, but everything felt forced and well, not funny.

Strongbadia lacked the out and out surreality of the previous installment and although there were a few comedic moments like the subquest to set everything you can on fire, Episode Two was a pale mockery of Episode One.

Story Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics
As with the last episode, the graphics are ripped straight out of the Brothers Chap’s cartoons. Everyone looks exactly like they would in a normal Homestar Runner episode, and the background are bright and detailed, fitting the mood of the game perfectly. However, the graphics are by no means up to the level of this generation of games, and especially those generally found in Adventure games.

There is an improvement over the last episodes visuals however, as the jaggies I encountered last time are nonexistent in this go-around. Movements are a bit more fluid and cartoon like rather than bad video game rendering, so this is one area that has improved since last time.

For the most part, Strongbadia the Free looks and feels the same as Homestar Ruiner, but with a noticeable (albeit slight) upgrade.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

This is easily Episode Two’s strongest area. All of the actual Homestar Runner characters are back, all voiced by the same people that do them for the cartoon. Although the script is decidedly off, the actors have brought their A game and it’s a lot of fun to hear all the lines of dialogue being acted out rather than just read.

The music is the game is highly enjoyable. From the music you encounter during a lightswitch rave to the end credit song about the King of Town, the score fits the game perfectly and really adds to the overall mood of the game.

You can’t ask for better in this category for this particular game, and you certainly wouldn’t be able to achieve it.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Like all adventure games, Strongbadia the Free involves using your mouse to move around, pick up and use items, and enter into conversation with other characters. Like the last game, the controls for moving aren’t the best as sometimes the game interprets your click to go right as “go as far left as you possibly can,” but thankfully this time this control error appears limited to Strong’s bad house, which you are rarely in. So the issue persists and Telltale REALLY needs to fix this, but it’s less apparent and thus less annoying is this game over the last one.

Much like the plot of this game, the puzzles have dropped in quality this time around. This time they are hand-holdingly easy and far less bizarre then in the last game. Many of them feel like they could be puzzles in ANY adventure game rather than Strong Bad specific. I just really wasn’t impressed by any of them. I mean giving The Cheat a set of pilot wings to get him to join your country? Moving items around on the model UN so as to affect the draft wheel? Picking the correct drink and adding a glowstick to get Pom Pom to join you? None of it was anywhere as amusing as say, Making Pom Pom fail a drug test so he couldn’t compete against you in a race, or outright destroying Homestar Runner’s life in the last one. Even the end game puzzle which was an Axis and Allies-like boardgame bored the tears out of me. All that innovation, humour and flavour from the Homestar Runner universe was missing.

Even the extras were of a much weaker quality. Last time we got the hilarious Snake Boxer V. This time? Math Fighter featuring the Alge-bros. It was a distinctly lamer game, especially when Trogdor is out there for the playing! Even the “Make your own Teen Girl Squad” bit was nowhere as amusing as last time.

Pretty underwhelming for an Adventure game this time around. Some of the control and gameplay issues of actually playing the game were fixed (or hidden) but the puzzles and overall funny atmosphere took a hit making episode two feel like a mediocre generic adventure game instead of journey into the outright weird and retarded world of Homestar Runner

Control and Gameplay Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

Most Adventure games are a one shot. Thankfully, each of the Homestar Runner games so far have included an extended play mode allowing you to finish the subquests that you may not have completed in the main story runthrough. Here you can dress up Strong Bad in stupid outfits, collect flags from all the new nations, replay the awful and boring board game from the endgame, playing more of the boring retro-esque Math Fighter, make new Teen Girl Squad comics, and improve your overall score/ranking in the episode. So although the extended play options are there for you this go around, it is a weaker overall affair then last time.

Also, as a hint, if you don’t get all but one of the Strong Sad insults in the main mode of the game, you won’t be able to 100% it in extended play. Sorry.

Better than the average adventure game in this area, but not by much, and nowhere as well done as Episode One.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Often a complaint about adventure games is that the puzzles can be quite hard and somewhat lacking in obviousness about what to do. Not so with Strongbadia the Free. This game plays like “Baby’s First Point and Click” with every puzzle being amazingly easy and blatant in regards with what to do next. If, by some strange occurrence, you find yourself stuck, you can just change the frequency with which the game gives you hints and Strong bad will outright tell you what you have to do next. I found this to be a bit sad as Episode One could be a bit on the tough side as the solutions and extras were pretty wacky. Probably the most out there solutions to the game involved the locations of the hidden Teen Girl Squad cards.

Episode Two was just a bit too simplistic and far too easy for my tastes. As Telltale is trying to bring new fans into this genre of gaming, this utter lack of difficulty will help people discover adventure gaming, but that should have been done with Episode One, instead of making the second one a lot easier. It’s just…common sense.

Balance Rating- 6/10

7. Originality

As stated earlier, a lot of Episode Two feels generic and nowhere as imaginative as the previous installment. There’s a degree of charm and weirdness to the game, but the game lacks the it factor the previous one had. All of the puzzles are ones you encounter in practically every other adventure game ever released and the running time was nearly half that of the previous game, giving you less madcap antics and crazy schemes.

I enjoyed the new subquests, like flag collecting, burninating, and the insulting Strong Sad, but there just wasn’t enough here to keep the game from feeling like a fan fic adventure game made my some kids in college rather than a product I paid money for.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

The game was shorter than a Lord of the Rings movie, so it’s no surprise it held my attention from beginning to end. It was enjoyable for what it was, but if a game had similar puzzles and lacked the Homestar Runner characters, I’d have probably bashed it something fierce for being boring and predictable. I guess this shows the power of using a license properly.

It was a lot of fun finding all the items, collecting all the bits and trying every possible dialogue combination. When it was all over I was shocked at the shortness and suffered from disappointed as it was a distinct drop in quality from the first game, but I still whipped through the game without the slightest pause whereas the first one was longer and thus I took a break for food and making with the bowel movements, so it will hold your attention proving even a lesser game starring Strong Bad is better than one without him.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

From my previous review:

Homestar Runner has a huge fan population. Sales will surely reflect that and fan boys with a less critical eye will rave about the game, ignoring the many obvious glitches in the game because, hey, you can play as Strong Bad!

Even with the glitches though, gamers will enjoy the game because of the ease of controls and the hilarious antics of these weird ass characters. This is probably going to be the best selling Adventure game of the year when all is said and done, which says more about how gamers have chosen to be ignorant about the genre, then the quality of the game.

I’ll knock the score down a little here due to the drop in quality and comedy, but it’s still going to delight the majority of Homestar fans who pick it up. It’s not as accessible to newcomers as the first game, which is odd considering it is shorter and easier.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Strongbadia the Free proves my worries about episodic content to be valid. This was shorter, weaker, and nowhere as funny as the first. It felt more like a bad sitcom than an episode of Homestar Runner and it worries me that each episode will simply be trying to squeeze blood from a stone instead of giving a quality product the Homestarmy deserves.

Episode Two is by no means a bad game. In fact it’s an above average one, but two and a half hours for nine bucks (Thankfully I picked up the season pass so it was more like $7.50 for me) is about what one would expect to pay for a ticket at your local movie theatre. That sounds pretty good, right? Well considering most adventure games released in 2008 are about ten hours long and go for $19.99, and the actual content for your dollar is less than a quality product like The Lost Crown from Got Game or Dracula: Origin from The Adventure Company.

In the end, the first episode of Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People, with all its extras, plot, and zany case was well worth my money. Episode Two however, left me unimpressed and feeling a little ripped off. It’s a better adventure game then Dracula 3 or Murder in the Abbey, but it’s not a title I’d recommend picking up as a stand alone.
Miscellaneous Rating: 5.5/10

The Scores
Story: 5.5/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 10/10
Control and Gameplay: 4/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10
TOTAL SCORE: 58
FINAL SCORE: 6.0 (Above Average Game)

Short Attention Span Summary

While Strongbadia the Free is nowhere as good as Homestar Ruiner, this second episode in the Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People line will no doubt make fans of the Homestar Runner series happy. If you’re going to play it, I suggest picking up the season pass so you can get all five games and thus will get to play the first game, which uses the characters better and is hilarious where this is merely cute. Next month comes Baddest of the Bands whose preview teaser alone had me laughing out loud, so let’s hope Episode Two is merely the slump for the series.

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