Reviews: Hand over all your moneys in a paper and/or plastic bag!
The latest installment to Telltale Games' episodic adventure series Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People opens with a gamer's worst nightmare. The title character sits down in front of his console, or ?fun box,? as he calls the suspiciously Atari 2600-esque machine only to have it crash on him. He's ready for an afternoon's fun playing the side-scrolling shooter Limozeen's Hot Babelian Odyssey, but instead finds a half-screen full of garbage that looks a like Pac-Man on level 256. He quickly decides that his only option for getting his dear machine fixed is to hold a battle of the bands competition to raise the money for the expensive repairs. This is where the player comes in: to collect useful items, solve puzzles and manipulate people in hopes of making the contest come together. In short, it's slightly less complicated than dealing with Microsoft to get a ?red ring of death? repaired on a 360.
While the wrestling-mask-wearing Strong Bad's plan may be convoluted (he eventually ends up entering and sabotaging his own contest in his quest for cash), the puzzles are fare more . . . well, they're just as crazy, but at least they're fun and will throw some curve balls your way as you try to figure them out. Most of them will have a familiar style for anyone who has played any adventure game, ever: you collect stuff and then decide when and where to use them. What makes these puzzles a bit better than most is that, for all their strangeness, they have a logic based in the game characters and story. So when Strong Bad needs someone to run security for his competition, he naturally turns to his meek but bulky brother, Strong Sad. Or when he needs to influence Marzipan, lead singer of the band Cool Tapes, he manipulates her concern for the environment, among other things. It's funny, and puts the player in the middle of the joke.
Strong Bad's quirky sense of humor means that objects like bent wire coat hangers, toilet paper, and a coloring book will fill your inventory, with an equally odd set of locations and characters to use them with. Strong Badia, the main character's mythical land of tire and fence makes an appearance, along with other locations like The Stick and the non sequitur-spouting Drive-Thru Whale. It's all rendered in a cel-shaded style that looks good and matches the light-hearted mood of the game. The game also includes the Snap Shak photo booth from the first two games, where Strong Bad can don different costumes and take snapshots in front of a selection of fake backgrounds. The Wii version includes the ability to email the snapshots to friends from in-game, but PC players have to send the pictures the old fashioned way (assuming you consider email old-fashioned, that is).
The photo feature isn't all that exciting, in part due to the limited number of clothing options. They're one of several collectible items in the game, along with souvenir Limozeen shot glasses, posters for various bands in the game, and so on. They're all hidden around the environment in odd places, and Strong Bad can find a good number of them in a mini-game of sorts using his ?Taranchula Black Metal Detector? and accompanying shovel. It's a fun little aside to pursue when you get stuck on one of the main puzzles. The game tracks the shot glasses, clothes and a few more unlockables, presumably to give a bit of replay value to what's essentially a one-shot game, since there's no chance for variation once you've solved the puzzles the first time. Unfortunately, unless you're someone who likes to rack up the numbers, there isn't much reason to collect all the items, since the pictures and descriptions that go along with them aren't all that funny.
On the other hand, there are plenty of great jokes and one-liners throughout the game, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. The laugh per minute ratio might not be what viewers are used to with the animated cartoon, but this is an adventure game we're talking about here?the pacing is different if only because Strong Bad spends some time walking from one location to the next. The game flows smoothly and stays fun except for a puzzle or two that requires a bit of the dreaded pixel hunting?if you don't find just the right thing to click on, you won't be able to finish the scene. Another little quibble with this adventure game is that some early scenarios require a good bit of backtracking so that you cover the same ground again and again. For instance, a bit of progress with one character in one location affects what's available for use in another location, so you end up covering some of the same ground again and again just to be sure you didn't miss anything. It's forgivable in this game, though, since the locations are small and you can cover all the areas pretty quickly.