Preview: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People -- Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner

by: Randy -
Looking at Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People with an unbiased eye is not altogether possible for me.  Because I’m one of those “attractive people” Strong Bad’s talking about.  In college, our entire floor would gather every Tuesday in one person’s dorm room to log onto HomestarRunner.com and watch the latest weekly episode of Strong Bad’s Email.  And it never occurred to us to maybe even skip a week.  Years of this went on.  So in all actuality, it’s a crapshoot knowing whether the uninitiated can adjust to the purposefully nonsensical humor in Strong Bad’s Cool Game, a sense of humor that’s 100 percent faithful to the online flash comic.  The sense of humor is decidedly not as universal as developer Telltale Games’ shining star, the Sam & Max series, which in itself is rife with quirkiness, but PC users (folks that are only clicks away from HomestarRunner.com) and WiiWare downloaders (the highly-touted target audience) are the most natural fit.

But the possibility of a newcomer quickly adapting is certainly there.  As opposed to the tightly-strewn skits of the web comic, however, Strong Bad’s Cool Game is more densely-packed than any one online episode.  Not a pixel-hunting level of density, but density enough that every short jaunt conjures handfuls of interactions for Strong Bad, peppered with a Strong Bad sense of humor.  (Yes, the main character’s name is made up of two adjectives, which is this webcomic’s comedic equivalent of meeting a person with two first names, like Ron Paul.)

In “Homestar Ruiner,” the first of five episodes in the debut season, Strong Bad, the gravely-voiced boxer in a luchador wrestler mask, sets off to ‘ruin’ Homestar Runner, his armless, lisping, series-long archrival.  And nothing comes to Strong Bad more naturally than answering viewer-written emails and concocting “evil genius” ways to embarrass the rather un-embarrass-able Homestar Runner.  And, in what essentially pans out as a goofy-dialoged version of the Roadrunner versus Wile E. Coyote, the culmination of episode 1 is aiming towards Strong Bad competing in the “Free Country USA Tri-Annual Race to the End of the Race.”  The problem:  Strong Bad is barred from entering the race.  The solution:  Find a way to enter the race.  Simple enough.  But the antics from point A to point B are plentiful.

Free Country, USA, is the name of the area that Strong Bad and company inhabit – though Strong Bad, along with his mush-mouthed colleague, The Cheat, and his mush-mouthed brother, Strong Mad (not a typo), have carved out a square of sovereign territory dubbed “Strong Badia.”  Free Country, USA, is largely a side-scrolling land, though cel-shaded animation and a short screen depth give it a 2.5D breadth.  Backed by simply-lined graphics, a cast of characters made of completely incongruent shapes and demeanors, and a general refrain from taking anything too seriously makes up the gist of Free Country, USA.

A map of Free Country, USA, has never been required of the webcomic, however.  Adventure game conventions somewhat call for it though, and -- in an entertaining concept -- the player is allowed to hand-place each scene (House of Strong, Marzipan’s, Bub’s Stand, etc.) where the player wants to on the hand-drawn map as each location opens up.  Couple that with the player contributing to the creation of Strong Bad’s own comic of accident-prone stick figures, “Teen Girl Squad,” while also gunning for the high score in one of his favorite games from the 8-bit era, Snake Boxer 5, and there’s plenty of fun concepts packed into episode 1 … Frankly, more than I thought Telltale capable.  Not due to any shortcomings on Telltale’s part, but simply because of the somewhat limited nature of the webcomic.  There’s years of material to spinoff in the upcoming episodes 2 through 5, but it’s hard to predict where they could take each episode, let alone predict what overarching narrative would tie an entire season of Strong Bad’s Cool Game together.

In that light, it’s a good thing Strong Bad’s Cool Game is presented episodically.  While the short webcomic hits the sweet spot when it comes to episode length, the game episode wears itself thin across the hours.  The easy-enough adventure game puzzles moved along all well and good, until I hit a major choke point about an hour in.  It turned into a frantic period of try-everything-in-the-inventory-to-get-a-reaction-out-of-anybody, but all I could squeeze out of Strong Bad for a painful stretch of time was “Uhhh, no,” “No way,” “Nope,” and, “That won’t do anything interesting.”

Still, the production values are inarguable, it runs with barely a hitch, and it’s true to a fault when it comes to the source material.  Homestar Runner fans ought to be surprised that the translation was conducted with such a high level of fidelity.  But even this bygone fan wonders if there’s enough cool material to make the full five-episode journey an attractive proposition.
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