We have already seen the first entry in the five-episode run of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People storm onto the WiiWare system and not only prove to be more popular than the PC edition, but actually end up being a mighty fine point-and-click adventure that left gamers eager for more. But can this new addition to SBCG4AP illustrate that the first outing was not a fluke or is the formula beginning to show signs of stagnation already?
Strong Badia the Free starts by setting the scene with Strong Bad sat on his stooly, typing away on his fancy little Lappy when all of sudden he gets a warning about a ridiculously unfair email tax from the King of Town and, upon ignoring it, is promptly placed under house arrest with a tag placed around his ankle that causes his head to explode should he dare attempt to sneak past the barrier on his front door step. Thus begins his quest to thwart the King of Town's plans for petty domination by usurping his throne and becoming high and mighty ruler of the 'of Town,' making it into 'Strong Badia'. As with Strong Bad's plans in the first episode, Homestar Ruiner, however, things do not go quite as planned and once he announces that it is actually quite easy to set up an independent nation, everybody wants a piece of the action, meaning the simple task becomes a much more complex one, with Strong Bad having to convince other factions to join his ranks and face up to the King.
And so the game continues, this time with more of a structured feel than in the first episode, which some may actually prefer as now there is far less chance of aimless wandering around, wondering what on Earth to do next. Instead players are given the chance to guide Strong Bad around using the Wii Remote as usual, but in fewer areas at any one time. Yet do not think that this limits the amount of fun to be had throughout as Strong Badia the Free is just as witty, charming, downright wacky and hilarious as its predecessor, if not more so than Homestar Ruiner in places. Players will once more be tasked with the 'simple' act of collecting numerous items to store in their inventory and figure out the best way to use most of them in order to progress further. Obviously, though, the key is to try and start to think like the creators and be inventive in how you use said items or else roadblocks will be hit each and every time. The easiest route is not always the answer (one early example being trying to jump through Strong Bad's side window to avoid having his head blown off...only to find metal bars rather inconveniently placed there to prevent such an escape!).
Players need not worry, though, as the action never becomes frustrating thanks to the confined environment approach leaving gamers will only so many avenues to go down. In addition, there is always the choice getting further help by upping the amount of hints thrown your way in the form of Strong Bad muttering helpful clues to himself if left stationary for a while. Telltale has taken the strong foundation laid in the first episode and thankfully stuck very close to the blueprints for this new entry, leaving gamers with another deliciously appetising point-and-click adventure to get their teeth into. Visually the game is the same as before, with the characters purposely basic in nature to stay true to their web versions, whilst at the same time being transferred smoothly into 3D. And as for the audio side, Matt Chapman must be having his vocal chords massaged right now because the amount of effort put into voicing all characters (other than Homestar's girlfriend Marzipan) must be taking its toll! Just as the voice work in South Park is done by its creators, adding an immense amount of charisma and appeal to the show, Matt Chapman's work should be strongly applauded as his strenuous attention to detail in the vocal work for the wealth of characters is definitely a major achievement.
For those not content with the meat of this second episode, players will be pleased to know that other than the main adventure they can partake in another round of Teen Girl Squad comic creation, with the aim being to slaughter all four girls in the most horrific and amusing ways possible using various item cards at the right time before the end credits roll. And the best way to obtain the highest score is to unearth special item cards dotted the various locations Strong Bad visits and up the overall gruesome comic factor. Digging away also help towards bumping up the total of in-game achievements attained, all of which can once again be accessed from the menu icons handily tucked away in the top-left of the screen. This time Strong Bad is able to dig things up right from the start of the journey, rather than having to locate the shovel as in the first episode, meaning he can get cracking straight away on uncovering several different new costumes and collectibles in an effort to complete the game 100% (something that can in fact only be done by going back into the game after the closing credits and searching some more or talking to people again - plus costumes found can be worn outside the game's Photo Booth at this point, opening up the ability to take snaps at any location).
Then there is the Final Fight-esque 'Math Kickers, Featuring the Algebros', where players control two characters stuck together, one facing forwards, one back, with the aim of walking around, beating up hordes of evil, 'math'-kicking thugs that launch wave after wave mathematical symbols your way, before eventually reaching the end of level boss encounter (a large equation in a box that tries to land on your characters, pummelling the quadratic out of them...). As with Snake Boxer 5 in Homestar Ruiner, the effort from imaginary developer Videlectrix is basic to the extreme, but proves to be an amusing retro time killer that adds to the whole package nicely. Finally, there is also the option to send emails and photos from SB's trusty Lappy that can be stored on your friends' Wii consoles. So even when you think you have completed the game there is still plenty to tinker around with to help tide players over until Episode 3 arrives on WiiWare next month...
Streamlining the game has paid off, with less aimless wandering than before, whilst the main game itself is just as addictive as the first episode, with plenty of fun and laughter thrown in for good measure.
Purposely basic to stay true to the online world, but nicely rendered in 3D at the same time.
The retro tunes throughout complement the game's quirky nature, whilst the voice work is exemplary and increases the humour and general enjoyment factor considerably.
The core adventure may only last mere hours, but the level of gratification is so high that players will love almost every minute. Plus more Teen Girl Squad, WiiConnect24 features, collectibles and the inclusion of Maths Kickers bumps up the value stakes.
Homestar Ruiner was a pleasure to play through and Strong Badia the Free takes that template and beefs things up even more to give gamers a fun-filled point-and-click adventure that is packed with thrills, wacky puzzles and constant hilarity. Telltale has once again delivered a must-have WiiWare download that is by far a cut above the rest. Now be sure to get your hands on it before the third episode arrives!
Telltale was created to churn out episodic content in the hope of keeping gaming fresh for longer...and it definitely seems to be working. Can't wait for Sam & Max and the forthcoming Wallace & Gromit games!
Fingers crossed this new ep hits Europe this coming Friday...
Excellent review Adam, nice one. Loved the first episode so really anticipating this one too!
Cheers Mike Interview with the team coming soon...
I think it may be the week after, since Wiiware titles only hit once every two weeks, and we just got Bomberman last Friday.