While it doesn’t particularly storm ahead in terms of revolutionary gameplay of groundbreaking graphics, Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People does represent its fair share of innovatory moments.
First and foremost, it’s the gaming debut of the popular Homestar Runner characters, which is pretty much all fans of the online cartoon need to hear. And rightly so, as the richness of Mike and Matt Chapman’s bizarre array of eclectic characters could carry most any game to success. And they’ve had plenty of previous offers to bring Homestar Runner, Marzipan, Pom-Pom and, of course, Strong Bad to life in videogame splendour, so the simple fact that they’ve finally allowed Telltale Games to forge ahead suggests their faith in this inaugural adaptation.
This is another important aspect of Strong Bad’s Game; it’s inauguration of an episodic series. This first episode centres around the title character’s more-or-less nemesis, Strong Bad, and right from the outset it’s clear this was a wise choice.
As those who frequent the web animation will know, Strong Bad’s email slot is one of the most popular aspects of the site, and the character’s hilarious, self-centred nature allows for far greater scope in creating a game that’s going to introduce us to the interactive Homestar Runner universe.
The developers clearly have something of a passion for the Flash animation, as the game successfully attempts to recreate the cell-shaded, simplistic animations throughout – from menus to gameplay. This adds a vital anchor point to the source material, and makes you realise just how much you’ve always wanted to direct the show’s shenanigans with a few choice mouse clicks. Well, now we can, so how does it play out?
If we stripped away Strong Bad’s legacy, and all the Homestar Runner character’s established popularity, this would not only be a very basic point-and-click adventure, it’d be quite a shallow one too. But there’s also a prevalent reason for the developers to have adopted this rather archaic gameplay style, as Strong Bad is already well known for his affinity for outdated technology, so this old school adventure gaming model actually fits the theme perfectly. It’s not very often at all that, during play, you’ll stop to ponder the crude graphics, simplistic interface or lack of dynamic invention – it’s simply enough that the game is held aloft on the shoulders of such great character interaction and a wealth of comedic dialogue and premises.
All you’re told is that Homestar Runner is entering a new race, and if he wins, Marzipan is throwing him a victory party – that Strong Bad isn’t invited to. The initial compulsion to shuffle around Strong Bad’s house and listen to him hilariously commentate his own superficial life is enough to bring the game to its first couple of loose plot lines, and the growth of the adventure feels very organic and represents exactly the kind of “day in the life of” scenario we’d want from Strong Bad and company.
Indeed, this forms the crux of everything that happens in Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People. You wander around, discovering new places, interfering with the other characters, being a nuisance and taking things. Most every aspect of the environment is clickable, and solicits more than a few different responses from the mask wearing miscreant. An inventory, map, side quests and all the other expected adventure game elements are all present and correct, yet their implementation fits impressively well into the established Homestar Runner canon.
This does raise something of a question of enjoyment for people who’ve never heard of the Flash animation, however. For those gamers, the fanboy thrills of tormenting Strong Bad and Pom-Pom will be undeniably diminished. As it will for those who prefer a more progressive and challenging game, and aren’t particularly inclined to let an adaptation like this coast by on the strength of its sense of humour. That said, it’s a perfect introduction to a whole new realm of entertainment for those who’re looking for something new to replace The Simpsons. The episodic nature of the five part series means we’ll only have to wait a month for the second instalment, so the potential for this fairly unassuming and trivial (if raucously entertaining) game to gradually expand into a whole new realm of cult fandom is huge. Getting in on the ground floor is advised, as there’s a strong sensation of Homestar Ruiner being a new phase in the life of the Flash cartoon.
Some gamers will undoubtedly find the simplistic gameplay and flippant storyline shallow and without much purpose. And they wouldn’t be far wrong, although there’s little doubt that the developers, along with the character’s progenitors, would say that’s precisely the point. Following on in the great tradition of cartoons like Space Ghost and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the day-to-day interactions of juvenile characters is where the humour and enjoyment is to be found – not in the rigidly structured, gag-tastic prime time entertainment of Seinfeld and The Simpsons. If you don’t ‘get it’, that’s unfortunate, but one of the downsides to cult viewing (and now playing) such as Homestar Runner.
Breaking off to play Snake Boxer 5 on Strong Bad’s Videlectrix console, or thumbing through some rough doodles for his own comic creation, Teen Girl Force, is an utter delight (again, for the fans) that really brings Strong Bad’s world to life. As does the petty pilfering that builds the inventory and gradually, but amusingly, opens the game’s cheeseball plotlines.
Strong Bad’s game, while certainly not revolutionary, highlights the seriousness PC games have been adopting lately, and bring back the casual arcade-style adventuring that’s easy to play and easy to enjoy. Having been simultaneously developed for release on Wii-Ware and PC download, it’s laced with console-esque elements that will undoubtedly feel like a nostalgic breath of fresh air for desktop gamers.
It’s not an amazing game, I won’t say that, but the powerful undercurrent of characterisation and salacious humour make Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People something of a necessity during the typically quiet summer gaming period. There’s no reason not to give it a lash and see what life’s like behind Strong Bad’s mask – at the absolute minimum, you’ll laugh at the dialogue, and you might just find yourself enjoying the game when you least expected it.