Review: Everything's turning up Strong Bad in the final game of the series
So it feels like adventure games are undergoing a minor sort of renaissance. It's been a long time since Myst ruled the roost?when it released in 1993, CD-ROM drives weren't standard equipment on home computers, and many people bought drives just to play the CD-only game. And before that, gamers cut their teeth on text-only adventures like Adventure, Zork, and just about Infocom's whole catalog. But somewhere along the way, the devious and often downright cruel puzzles of a Grim Fandango started taking a back seat to the adrenaline-fueled gratification machines that are shooters, platformers, and most recently, rhythm games. Adventure games seemed to be stagnating in a niche market, with each game rehashing the same fetch quest and red key, red door mentality. That is, until Telltale Games got their hands on the genre and combined it with an episodic release schedule to produce the funny, innovative new installments in the Sam & Max series. Then they turned their talent to the Internet hit cartoon from Mike and Matt Chapman, Homestar Runner, a can't-miss combination that has until now produced games that please both longtime fans and newcomers to the series.
8-Bit is Enough, the fifth and final game in the Cool Game For Attractive People series, once again puts the player in the shoes of Strong Bad, Free Country, USA's generally snarky, often dense answerer of emails. The premise feels a bit familiar in this final episode: as in Strong Bad 3, the player is out to repair a piece of video game hardware through a series of outlandish and often hilarious adventures. This time, though, it isn't the FunMachine that's on the fritz, it's the TROGDOR! arcade cabinet that stands in the Strong Brothers' basement. Trogdor, the one-armed, fire-breathing dragon, has escaped from the game and is rampaging through The Field, and has burned Strong Badia to the ground. On top of that, familiar characters like Coach Z, The King of Town, and Strong Sad have been transported into 8-bit games or turned into villains reminiscent of classic game villains. In one early puzzle, Marzipan is turned into ?Marzikong,? a crate-hurling beast perched on top of Bubs' Concession Stand. Instead of a princess, this villain with a familiar monkey grill has kidnapped Bubs, and it's up to Strong Bad to come to the rescue.
As the name suggests, Strong Bad's latest adventures take him through a series of parodies of classic video games, including a look at earlier Homestar parody games Peasant's Quest and Stinkoman 20X6. The usual Strong Bad satire delivers some of its best jokes in this section of the game as he makes targets of everything from players' trial and error strategies to repetitive quest missions and poor translations of import games. This part of the game also has some truly creative puzzles as they poke fun at some of those old games. One casts Strong Sad in the role of a princess in distress and in need of rescue, but of course it's actually Strong Bad who puts the ?princess? in danger to manipulate a valiant adventurer into doing what he wants. Another puzzle recalls rudimentary copy protection systems by asking you to ?see page 38 in your manual.? Of course there's no manual, so it's up to you what to do next.
As usual for the series, 8-Bit is Enough takes the player on a wildly creative ride through the world of Strong Bad. You'll get the chance to play a bit of just about every game in that Videlectrix poster that's been hanging near Strong Bad's television through the whole series. And along the way, you build a party of adventurers, each member with his or her unique abilities that will help you solve some of the puzzles along the way. At one point, the game jumps into a first-person perspective with graphics and a UI that recall the original Doom. Like its jokes, the satire of the dated graphics is spot-on, evoking laughs and a bit of nostalgia at the same time.
Like its predecessors, there's a whole lot going on in this game and it's up to you how far you want to take it. There are two separate mini-games built in, including the usual round of 8-bit fun attached to the FunMachine. It's a side-scroller that skewers promotional product tie-in games from the eighties like the old Kool Aid Man game for the Atari 2600. And you'll get to play as Trogdor in a 3D game that you unlock along the way. Your scores from each of these games are tracked on an achievement page alongside stats on how many hidden objects you've located along the way. Anyone interested in Easter egg hunts will have plenty to work with here, including clothing and other unusual items just there for the finding. But the really fun Easter eggs are the extra jokes you get by repeating certain actions, trying them in unusual combinations, or trying them again in extended play.