Review By: Jared Black
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From a commercial standpoint there’s no question that Episode 1 of Telltale’s Strong Bad series has been a success, regularly leading the WiiWare charts since its release last month. While that episode was criticized on several fronts (our own criticisms included some glitches and a lack of interesting locations), it was a strong start to the series. However, it was imperative that Telltale followed it up with a strong second episode to prove that the Homestar Runner franchise has the legs to be a successful long-running episodic series. So did they?
This episode opens with Strong Bad doing what he loves to do best (besides flaunting his awesome style of course)…checking email. In the middle of answering an email asking if he thinks he’d do a better job of governing Free Country USA than the King of Town, the King of Town himself bursts in with the Poopsmith in SWAT gear and catches Strong Bad in the act. For failing to pay the new email tax (which Strong Bad knows nothing about of course), the King imprisons Strong Bad in his own home. After gaining his freedom in the episode’s first puzzle, Strong Bad looks to unite Homestar Runner, Strong Mad, and others in his fight against the King. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?
As a result, the majority of the game is spent convincing other major characters to join Strong Bad’s crusade against the “Of Town” (Strong Bad refuses to acknowledge his sovereignty). This plays out in a series of hilarious events as Strong Bad “conquers” each character’s new territory in the suddenly lawless land, such as Pompomerania (Pom Pom’s disco), Country (Strong Mad’s cleverly-named territory), and Homsar Reservation. The latter should be the most interesting to long-time fans, as it finally starts to unravel (just slightly) the mystery of Homsar. After each area is “conquered,” a WWII-style broadcast outlines Strong Bad’s advance.
This setup also addresses one of my major complaints about the first episode, that there weren’t a lot of new areas to explore that Homestar fans hadn’t already seen. Not only does this introduce several new areas to explore, but the areas that return from the first episode have all had makeovers to represent their new allegiances. Some of the changes are subtle, but they add variety in much the same way that Sam & Max’s ever-growing collection of episode souvenirs does in their office. My other complaint was a variety of graphical glitches in Episode 1, and those have essentially been eliminated in Episode 2 as well (Strong Bad’s eyes disappeared one time in the entire game).
Other tweaks have been made to the series as well. For example, Strong Bad no longer comments that an area can’t be searched with his metal detector after a treasure is found. That’s because multiple treasures can now be found in certain locations, and in fact one puzzle can only be solved by finding things in the ground to use in solving it. Given how little ground needs to be explored in outdoor environments and the way the game lets the player know when Strong Bad is getting closer to a treasure, I think this is a change for the better and hope it stays that way going forward. On the other hand, Strong Badia the Free is a little too easy…much easier than Homestar Ruiner. I breezed through the game fairly quickly, and never needed to use the in-game hint system. While this does mean logical puzzles (which is good), it also means the game doesn’t quite tickle the intellect like gamers usually expect an adventure game to do.
As far as extras are concerned, the new game in Strong Bad’s “Fun Machine” is Math Kickers Featuring the AlgeBros, a send-up to both edutainment titles like Donkey Kong Jr. Math and side-scrollers like Double Dragon. Unfortunately, the game itself just isn’t very fun, with the same repeating backgrounds and very basic action. The AlgeBros, Dex and Ryu, fight back to back against wave after wave of ninjas, and as those ninjas are vanquished the formula displayed in the middle of the screen changes until it’s solved. On the PC movement is controlled with the arrow keys while Z and X make each bro fight, while on Wii the controller is held sideways like a NES controller. There’s also a turn-based strategy mini-game to play at one point, but it’s extremely basic and probably won’t be played more than the required amount.
Strong Badia the Free’s setup addresses my major complaint with the first episode, as it allows Telltale to introduce several new areas and provide plenty of hilarity as Strong Bad attempts to gain the support of characters he’s long abused. However, seasoned adventure game fans will probably bemoan the lack of difficulty (the draw here is definitely the humor, not challenging puzzles), and the included mini-game Math Kickers is a bust. On the whole though, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free proves this can be a long and successful episodic franchise.
Posted: 2008-09-15 09:40:08 PST