Reviews: More bad than strong?
It seems like a colon and lens flare are all the major studios need to throw together a blockbuster hit video game any more. Screen shots full of lens flare (those circles of light that appear in a picture when the sun is in or near the frame) let everyone know that your game has ?next gen? graphics. The fact that lens flare only happens through a camera lens, not in the human eye, hasn't stopped developers from throwing it into any number of first-person games. Colons, on the other hand, let us know that we're in for something important, maybe even another sequel in a sequel-driven industry. So when Telltale Games' latest episodic adventure game throws not one, but two colons into the title, we know we're in for some action movie/game parody, right along with what might be the longest game title yet.
Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People 4: Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective continues the Strong Bad character's home-made Dangeresque movie series. In this movie-within-a-game, Strong Bad, Homestar Runner, Coach Z and other characters play as characters in a no-budget action movie. Of course the egotistical Strong Bad takes the title role, playing as Dangeresque, who tries hard to play a cross between private detective Sam Spade and tough-guy cop Martin Riggs. In Strong Bad's hands, this boils down to cool shades, insults, and jumping off of stuff where possible. Armed with a nunchuk gun, Dangeresque travels the world in true action hero fashion, visiting locations like Venice, Tokyo, and a rocket scientist's lab while dealing with a stolen painting, his partner Renaldo's retirement, and a rather one-sided romance with Sultry Buttons (played by a raven-haired Marzipan). The story starts out great, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but unfortunately, a few hours later, the jokes have lost most of their appeal. A lot of the comedy is based on Strong Bad's lack of film making skills?actors forget their lines, the exotic locations are actually standard locations covered with cardboard, and so on?and it doesn't take long to wear out that kind of humor.
Even a couple of crazy plot twists and an appearance from Dangeresque's father don't do much to make a cohesive story out of this adventure. Unlike the last installment in the series, there isn't much here that connects the individual episodes into a plot that makes much sense. You end up following the locations rather than the plot, meaning that when a new location opens up on the map, you go there as much because it's available as because it makes sense in the plot. In one of the last parts of the game, you end up visiting the same location again and again, with the same character standing there waiting to talk to you, only the place is given a different name each time: Ireland, Tokyo, Paris, etc. It's another one of those bad movie making jokes that doesn't quite pay off.
The puzzles, on the other hand, are a bit better than the plot. There's a fun puzzle that pits Dangeresque/Strong Bad against the bad guys who have kidnapped Cutesy Buttons (also played by Marzipan, but the relationship to Sultry Buttons is kept a mystery). By talking to the characters, Dangeresque can move them around like chess pieces until Cutesy can free herself from her captors. Another puzzle has Dangeresque playing cards against nemesis Perducci, who cheats to win every hand. It's up to the player to figure out how to win the game in spite of the crime boss's dirty dealing. The final scene of the game, in true action movie fashion, requires Dangeresque to foil the bad guy's plans while also saving his partner's life so that he can make it to his retirement, only two weeks away. Without giving too much away about this climactic confrontation, it has to be said that it isn't very climactic. Its pieces fall together just a bit too easily, so that it really only takes a few minutes to work out all its puzzles. Unlike the movies it parodies, the game ends with more of a whimper than a bang.
Fortunately, even after its puzzles are neatly wrapped up, there are still a few things to do in this foray into Strong Bad's world. Like the earlier games, Strong Bad can pick up the Taranchula Black Metal Detector to collect items hidden around the world. For players interested in racking up achievements, the game keeps a tally of ?Characters Nunchuked? and ?Out & Spit Takes.? There's also a new 8-bit style mini-game included in Strong Bad's funbox, and it's definitely worth a couple of plays. It has an authentic Eighties feel, even if the graphics are probably better than anything the Atari 2600 ever saw. And for good measure, Strong Bad throws in a collection of ?deleted scenes? that allow you to revisit many game locations to see slight variations on scenes and conversations. A couple of the locations are treated like behind the scenes featurettes, so that you can talk with Strong Sad about special effects and things of the sort. They're a fun addition to a game that's otherwise over pretty quick.