Sunday, October 26, 2008

Strong Badia the Free Review

Strong Badia the Free, the second episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive people takes the ball from Homestar Ruiner and runs like crazy. It's not quite a touch down, but it's a great step in the right direction.

In Strong Badia the Free, Strong Bad is placed under house arrest after the King of Town places a tax on e-mails. Strong Bad has to find a way to get out of the house, but he has an exploding collar on his neck that will go off the moment he walks out the door. Once escaping imprisonment, he declares that he will create his own, independent nation under the Strong Badian flag. He asks the citizens of Free Country, USA to join him, but they all decide to make nations of their own.

Now Strong Bad must travel to these nations and convince their leaders to join Strong Badia in it's fight against the municiplality of the King of Town. Since this is the Homestar Runner universe we are talking about, the "nations" all consist of one person (or at the most two people) in their usual stomping grounds. For instance, Marzipan's house becomes a nation, as does the House of Strong. There are locations that we haven't seen before in the game's continuity that should be quite familiar to fans of homestarrunner.com. Every location, including the locations previously seen, is well utilized as a nation. None of the locations get a major overhaul, but are given banners or new objects to show they are now countries. These are exactly the small-fry changes that the characters would make in the flash cartoons, so it's actually nice to see that Telltale didn't go overboard with the concept.

The user-placable map from the last episode has been replaced with a map of the nations. In order to enter a nation at the lower portion of the map, Strong Bad has to form an alliance with the adjoining nation so he can have safe passage to the new nation. Strong Bad must play to each character's personality quirks in order for them to join forces. Each time an alliance is formed, an early-film style newsreel is shown with a narrator telling the viewers the news. This is a nice touch, and adds a lot of polish to the game making meeting the game's goals seem a lot less tedious than Homestar Ruiner.

To my pleasant surprise, there is actually a great deal of character development here. We get to see one character in particular in a way never before seen. It's unchartered territory for the Homestar Runner universe, but surprisingly it actually fits in perfectly with the series' atomosphere. I loved that aspect of this game, and would love to see more of it in future games.

Another thing that I really loved was that the game had Strong Bad going into drawing tangents while reading his e-mail. Strong Bad's plain reading of the e-mail last time felt a little lacking, so it was nice to see Strong Bad's trademark illustrations while he was making his point in this e-mail. I'd love to see the game get into some "made-up" territory, as is common with the Strong Bad e-mails, but as things are now I'm still a happy camper when it comes to the e-mail aspect of the games.

One thing that did seem tedious this time around was the trophy quests and the Teen Girl Squad comics. Telltale did try to make things a little fresher by making the Teen Girl Squad comics chalk drawings on rock as "Cave Girl Squad" this time, but the experience still feels a little hollow. I love the Teen Girl Squad comics on homestarrunner.com, and making your own comics sounded like fun when it was announced. However, the experience feels lacking. The comics aren't exactly being made, but rather connected like a jigsaw puzzle. And, like last time, the better puzzle pieces are hidden throughout the game. This time around though, I just didn't feel like there was enough incentive towards putting in the effort to finding the pieces of comics and the trophies. It feels like just more of the same-old same-old.

Strong Badia the Free is a much more satisfying game than the last. It has a fairly epic plot and a good deal of character development, but it still fits nicely within the Homestar Runner universe. The quests and comics are starting to feel tired already, but thankfully they aren't necessary to complete the game.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5

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