Telltale Games inaugurated its first season of Strong Bad’s Cool Games for Attractive People with a straightforward point-and-click adventure soaked in colorful, cartoonish trappings and laden with a masterful level of ridiculousness. Strong Bad and the other band of misfit characters from the Chapman brothers’ comedic Homestar Runner web cartoon laid the foundation for what’s turning out to be another awesome and style-infused episodic series. Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free holds the line, delivering another heaping slice of consistently amusing and completely absurd humor built around similar gameplay principles.
Transitioning from a web cartoon cameo to an episodic adventure game spinoff of his own seems a natural move for Strong Bad. A sudden electronic reminder of his desire to momentarily break from reading e-mails in order to pummel Homestar in Episode 1 backfires heinously, resulting in convoluted conundrum of epic proportions that takes an entire episode to iron out. In much the same manner, it’s the arrival of another e-mail that sparks the voluminous shenanigans that ensue in Strong Badia the Free. Telltale’s second episode changes the flow up just enough to keep things fresh, while keeping much of the basic underlying elements intact.
When the greedy King of Town enacts a miserly tax of one Creamy Ding Snack Cake for every e-mail sent or received, Strong Bad finds himself in a bind (literally). Eventually breaking free from his oppressive bonds, he attempts to rally the gang to rise-up against the oppressive KoT (whom he opts to simply call Of Towns for the remainder of the episode) only to be met with resistance. Apparently, everyone has already formed their own independent nations. Through force or trickery, Strong Bad sets out to conquer every nation in his way – in a very Risk-like faction – in order to muster his forces and bust down the door of KoT’s castle in the name of revolution. The story is a little more developed and revolves around a more cohesive structure than the previous episode. It’s one of the few notable improvements in the season so far.
Themes of revolution and war provide plenty of ammunition for the series’ humor to play off from. They also present a solid opportunity to introduce a new and interesting gameplay mechanic into the episode. Instead of drawing locations on a map, the areas you’ll visit are already pre-determined – once Strong Bad picks up a Maps and Minions board early-on in the game. It’s laid out like a Risk board, and you can only move the story forward by conquering neighboring nations to unlock adjacent territories. This definitely makes the episode feel bigger and longer, and it provides a fun new twist on the way you’ll progress as you push onward towards the final confrontation at the castle.
Each “nation” offers greater opportunity for scenic variety. No tangible visual improvements have been made over the past episode, but new locations like KoT’s castle, the aptly named Country, Pompomerania, and Homsar Reservation are a great balance to the recycled areas of the adventure. Additionally, the controls and minimal differences between the WiiWare and PC versions of the game are essentially untouched. It’s a point and click affair in both cases, except when playing the FunMachine – the Wii Remote is turned sideways in classic style, and the keyboard is used on the PC.
Even with a different flow, there’s still plenty of classic point-and-click gameplay, wacky dialogue to engage in, and item-based puzzles to work through. The frequent one-liners and unusual conversations have been expanded nicely in this installment without holding onto too many recycled gags, making the increased volume of dialogue a mostly welcome experience. On the whole, most other gameplay areas will feel much the same as in Homestar Ruiner. There are reams of inside jokes from the cartoon worked into the game, though it’s still perfectly enjoyable and funny for those who’ve only played the first episode.
The puzzles have improved a bit, both in implementation and inventiveness. Some require multiple items or actions to solve, and events like the sword battle against Strong Mad’s cardboard cutout tarantula beast and the neat board game challenge later in the adventure are excellent ways to keep things from getting stale. Puzzles are also still reasonably challenging without being overtly difficult. It’s occasionally tough to discern the correct path ahead, but in such instances turning on the hint feature makes the few sticky moments bearable without totally giving everything away.
Extra goodies still abound in Episode 2, though the massive Trogdor arcade cabinet remains sadly unused and collecting dust in Strong Bad’s basement. Like any good tool of foreshadowing, perhaps it will come into play by the end of the season. On the bright side, the SnakeBoxer 5 game in the FunMachine has been replaced with the greatly improved and even goofier Math Kickers (featuring Dex and Ryu, the Algebros). This mathematical beat-’em-up arcade game revolves around solving equations by using the corresponding bro (one adds and the other subtracts) to pummel ninjas and other baddies to end up with the correct answers. Also, Teen Girl Squad is back in the form of Cave Girl Squad – a prehistorically doodled version packed with plenty of new ways to get the girls maimed.
The diverse and truly bizarre cast of characters really brings the game to life. Providing some balance to the first episode, Strong Sad, Strong Mad, Homsar, Pom-Pom, and The Cheat get a lot more airtime in Strong Badia the Free. Conversely, Homestar Runner, Marzipan, Coach Z, and The Poopsmith play bit parts. The interactions between Strong Bad and the other characters are as wacky and hilarious as ever, and it’s going to be interesting to see what new mayhem unfolds in future episodes.
Strong Badia the Free propels the series further onward in more ways than the premier episode. It’s littered with plenty of subtle nods to the online cartoon series, while still being accessible to new players. The fresher elements improve on the firmly established vibe and gameplay, making this a solid follow up episode. We can’t wait for Episode 3 next month: Baddest of the Bands. Rock on!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Still a great 3D translation of the original flash cartoon series. New areas are a nice touch. 3.9 Control
Basic, functional point-and-click controls. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Still superb voice work, and even the odd tunes worked into the game are hilarious. 3.5 Play Value
The short adventure is a little livelier, tighter, and more varied this time around. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.