Strong Bad has for a long time been part of the collective conscience of my friendship group for years now. The lovable not-really-a-rogue has penetrated the sub-culture of the internet and gone on to be something of a poster child for the wonderful things the internet can do. He is, as a character, almost entirely unique and the world he occupies is unlike so many others. The land of Homestar Runner and his collectively bizarre chums manages to be something of an anomaly in the media. Not surreal enough to be a Nickelodeon Cartoon, too pedestrian for Cartoon Network and far too adult for anyone else, Strong Bad’s emails managed to be a kid’s show for adults in a very real sense. No foul language and a light hearted tone of care free every day happenings made it feel so much like the cartoons you watched when you were 8, but the humour and general plot of the things were clearly aimed at an adult audience. What you got, then, was a show that captured that unique part of a growing teen: the inner child trying to be the adult man. It was wonderful. Then they announced the game.
Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People was a ballsy move. Not only were Telltale taking on a relatively low key IP, they were also taking on one which had very little sense being a video game. The Homestar Website had games already, and many acted as parodies of popular franchises like Megaman and text based adventure games, but a game actually set in the land The Brothers Chaps built? That was quite the task. The problem was less about having too many or few ideas and more about just how the hell do you take the humour of everyday nonsense and make it somehow have a game narrative? The answer came in 5 episodes, an experiment with a mixed level of success. Each of the episodes almost represents an entirely different way of tackling the problem, and each has their own charms and flaws.
Episode 1 was almost the easiest way to tackle the problem. Take a sbemail, extended it for around 3 to 4 hours and make it so the player must click their way through. Episode 1 of the series, Homestar Ruiner, was a poor game, but a good experience. The majority of the puzzles were lazy, boring or downright obvious, and the level of detail put into making the game interactive was low. Despite being a great laugh and having a fun little mini game hidden in the corner (the infamous “Snake Boxer”) Homestar Ruiner couldn’t really keep the pace that many had hoped for, and despite a strong showing in terms of delivering the humour and characters of the Strong Bad Universe it was a flat opening to the series.
That would then immediately change. The second episode, Strong Badia the Free, felt like the game we were actually hoping for. Taking the residents of… wherever they live and dividing them up into nations made this game excel, not only in terms of creating a hilarious new scenario that was best portrayed in game form, but also giving us a sense of progression and triumph with every puzzle. Some characters got some depth given to them, the rambling lunatic Homsar was given a true voice in this episode so that progression could be put into his level, and on the whole the universe adapted itself to a truly “game like” scenario. Strong Badia the Free even ended on a brilliant classic game parody, a “DOOM” level through The King of Town’s Castle. Episode 2 was a triumph, and with the bad taste of Episode 1 washed out it was set to go on to be a classic series.
Then episode 3 happened, and everything that was good in episode 2 would vanish in a puff of “what the hell happened?!” The Baddest of the Bands was not the episode it should have been, with ample opportunities to parody the music game genre squandered, the lack of one of the series funniest characters NOT dropping by despite ample reason to (Limozeen for some reason only cameoed in this episode) and a return to the open ended, easy to be lost in overworld dropping everything from episode 2 that was good. Again, similar to episode 1 the game did hold its own, still having all the wonderful work of the brothers Chaps throughout, but it felt like every lesson learned was forgotten.
The next episode proved… interesting. Basing itself around the homemade action movies known as “Dangeresque” the episode proved to be something of a hit and a miss. On the plus, the setup was entirely unique; all of the characters were “acting” and the camera would often drop or bloopers would suddenly during dialogue. Episode 4 was incredibly funny, and the fact that everyone was “pretending” made the puzzles and awkward setups part of the world. A part of the game has one of the main character refuse to stick to the script, so you have to outwit them and progress with the story. On the down, the puzzles were more bizarre and difficult than ever, with lots of items having incredibly tenuous uses. It was both the best written and worst paced of the 4 episodes, an excellent idea with some terrible execution in places.
The final episode was a true finale. Doing the “Strong Bad in multiple video game worlds” was fun and fantastic fan service, allowing the designers to use some of the Brother Chaps more playful stabs at gaming to make a set of scenes that truly used the video game format to deliver some great punch lines. The multi-universe setup, while cheesy, was so brilliantly presented and introduced there were no issues in accepting the plot device, and the Videlectrix technicians had some of the funniest lines in the series. The actual puzzle design was pretty straight forward, with the most confusing involving on clicking something twice, but the overall pace and humour actually made this more than forgivable, even making it a good decision. The episode bounces along at such a fun pace that puzzle interruptions would only have hampered an otherwise enjoyable experience. Also, Trogdor. TROGDOOOOOOOR!
Overall SBCG4AP (yes, that is an acronym, unbelievable isn’t it…) was one of the best experiences I got out of my Wii. While the series was about as consistent as a rollercoaster the very idea of making Strong Bad into a game was enough to charm me. The fact that 3/5 of the episodes were great made the deal only sweeter. Possibly the cultist set of games ever made, SBCG4AP will stick with me as the highest budget in-joke ever produced, and for that alone, it remains a favourite. Something only a downloadable service could give us, delivered in a fashion that couldn’t suit it better.