Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People: Baddest of the Bands starts off in a slightly different fashion to the other episodes; rather than being inspired by his laptop, the trauma of the day is his ancient and beloved Funmachine finally giving up the ghost. Naturally, the only guy able to repair it is Bubs (is there anything this man cannot do?), who of course wants a big stack of cash to run his magical healing fingers over it. True to the strange nature of Homestar Runner, and preventing us from playing the most tedious game known to man, Strongbad rejects the idea of working like a slave for the necessary coins and instead opts to run a pay-to-enter Battle Royale of the Bands contest. Aiding him in the organisation is Bubs, who turns out to have had experience and great success in the music industry. Again, is there anything this man cannot do?
The gameplay is the same sort of fare once again: you point, you click, you adventure. With the genre’s trademark humour and the bizarre nature of the Homestar Runner world, Baddest of the Bands is funny throughout and has a few hysterical laugh out loud moments too (particularly the exploitation of Coach Z, the inevitable fire and the appearances of Homsar and the King of Town). It’s certainly one of the funniest games of the year, up there with the other two episodes, and while there are a few references that only fans or people who have played the other episodes will get, it all hangs together well.
Other than the main adventure, you get to play around in the photo booth and take photos with the costumes that you accumulate, send emails to Wii friends with Lappy and play another arcade game (once the story is finished and the Funmachine reigns once more), this time a shoot ‘em up affair. The broken Trogdor arcade machine still taunts us in the basement; we’re hoping for something special from it come the end of the series. Episode three, sadly, is missing sections to mix up the gameplay, as stealth sections and strategy games mixed up the first two. The closest it comes to variation this time is a tiny rhyming puzzle which doesn’t work too well due to the names of the items not matching up with what Homestar actually rhymes about them, so some guesswork is required despite there only being a few choices. Annoyingly, you get no say in how Teen Girl Squad goes this time, either.
We would have to say that Baddest of the Bands is the weakest of the episodes to date, we’re afraid. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it, it just has things that don’t sit so well with us. Firstly, some of the leaps of ‘logic’ are awkward, moreso than in the other episodes; we expect a modicum of absurdity with an adventure game, but some of the puzzle solutions are tenuous at best. The security robot puzzle is a prime example, as it seemed to me that the actual solution was completely disconnected to common sense, mainly due to a key characteristic of the item needed not being referenced beforehand. Secondly, the back-referencing. It’s fine for the humour side of things, but when several puzzles rely on locations that are only made known explicitly in the second episode there’s an issue; not an issue for us, having played all episodes, but surely something that will only be solved by newcomers by randomly clicking and/or reaching for an FAQ. Clue: the grass around Bubs’ shack is a large circular area that scrolls round. It would have been easy enough to have some indication to show that the environment continued over multiple screens. This may not be as big an issue to some people as we’re making out, but as the games are set out as separate episodes you’ve got to assume that they play well standalone as well as parts of a greater entity. Finally, some sections, such as parts of the final act, seem to be more about guesswork that anything else, which was severely disappointing.
We hope that Battle of the Bands is a blip in the Strongbad series; next month’s looks like it will deliver in the humour stakes again at least. Luckily for fans of the series, a blip here is still better than most games out there, it’s just a letdown after the great heights that episode 2 reached. If you’ve played the others, get this; if not, go for the initial episodes first and see if you want to continue, as fans of the genre owe to themselves to introduce themselves to Strongbad in some capacity.