Having started this site and re-reading my previous musings and such, I've felt inspired to write more. But I had no idea what to write about. So on that fabled forum of yesteryear, I started a new thread and basically said 'Tell me to Write a Game Review'. The idea was that people would give me a game, and I would go off and write a review about it. Some people took it seriously, some didn't, and some told me to review something that wasn't even out yet (and me forgetting that I was his beta tester for said game - oops!). The ones who did take it seriously, however, gave me some good suggestions. Here's the first one I finished.
Strong Bad's Cool Games for Attractive People
Before the games were announced, I hadn't visited HomestarRunner.Com for years. It had been a site I'd somehow stumbled upon during one of my ambles across the internet, and I'd very much enjoyed the cynical, zany and frequently random humour of Strong Bad's E-Mails. So while I wasn't all that familiar with the character, I knew roughly what I was letting myself in for when I bought the first episode, Homestar Ruiner.
Oddly enough, the game surpassed my expectations and surprised me with its flexibility. Controlling the title character of Strong Bad, the player has to travel around the fictional land of Free Country USA, in an attempt to achieve various goals depending on which episode you're playing. In one your main goal is simply to give another character a long overdue pummelling. In another you're trying to depose a corrupt King of Town (or just 'The of Town', as Strong Bad says he will call him from now on) after he enforces a new, totally unfair e-Mail tax. Another game has you trying to make an epic movie with a budget of mothballs. And so on.
One of the major factors of the games is the humour, and how it would translate to a series of flash cartoons to a fully fledged video game series. Fortunately the games are hilarious, with frequently random acts of violence, bizarre insults and ludicrous characters all helping to keep the entertainment value high. The zany sense of self-parody the game has helps to keep people going, just to see what the characters will say or do next.
The characters themselves are, for lack of a better word, morons. But lovable morons. Even Strong Bad himself, a strange Mexican wrestling mask-wearing bully, is shown to be a few marbles short of a happy meal. He may think he's the smartest and most handsome of the inhabitants of Free Country USA, but that's only because everyone else is so absurdly mad.
They're also pretty well characterised. These people (for lack of a better word) have existed for years in the cartoons of the original site, and their personalities, quirks, flaws and alter-egos are all used to good effect in this series. Strong Sad is a depressed resigned-to-his-fate punching bag for his brother, Marzipan is an eco-friendly pushover, Coach Z is an idiotic failure at everything he tries and The Cheat... well, he's The Cheat. What else can I say?
Graphically, the game is a bit of an oddball. While faithful to the cartoons, it also seems like a throwback to the early days of 3D gaming, with it's bright colourful palette and cell-shading techniques showing off the basic geometry that makes up Free Country USA. Then again, if Telltale Games had updated the graphics to anything else the fans wouldn't have liked it one bit, but there's a fine line between pleasing existing fans and drawing new ones in.
Which leads to the biggest problem with these games. It's that horrible cliché - 'it's for the fans'. As I am constantly reminded at the end of every Zero Punctuation video, fans are clinging, complaining dipshits* who will never, ever be grateful for any concession you make. In this case, by making a series of games for the fans, Telltale have made it solely for them. It's not something an average gamer is going to try, simply because they're not going to feel as welcome.
In fact, at times the series almost seems to works at driving away people who aren't familiar with the original website - Episode 4, 'Dangeresque 3', is a perfect example of this. While a very funny in-joke, referencing a long-standing project of Strong Bad's from the website, players new to the series will have no idea what's going on and, if anything, won't want to find out.Of course it's hard to imagine a series based on a popular website being anything else, but even so, maybe a little more effort could have gone into letting new players in on the joke, given just how funny that joke is in places.
The other problem is the randomness of some of the puzzles. While most of them are solvable, there's a couple that don't make a lot of sense, as I'm finding out due to a recent replay of the series. Fortunately the new Hint System, which has now become almost a standard in adventure games, does a lot to alleviate this and stop players running off to GameFAQs, but at times the sheer randomness of the puzzles defies logic. How on earth would you know to make Homestar use an onion as a performance enhancer? Even a fan of the series like me had no idea that would work.
Some of the requirements for the optional Awesomeness meter and hidden trophies are also completely random and make little to no sense, though given that they're entirely optional it's a little more forgiveable. But even so, I'd challenge anyone to max out their awesomeness rating without visiting the Telltale Games website and find out how. A little randomness in a game is welcome, but not to the point where it's impossible to get everything without cheating.
At the end of the day though, the main question is 'Are these games fun?', and the answer to that question is yes. If you're into silly, slightly dark and utterly random humour, then there's a lot to like about these games. And with the new SD card storage system, it's actually possible to download all five games onto your Wii without having to delete some of your other channels. So now's as good a time as any to give 'em a try.
*I think that's the first time I've actually sworn on this site. Surprised it took me so long, really.