Let me check the mirror for a moment. Am I attractive? Well, I may not be the best judge. I think I look okay, and apparently that was enough for me to get a sneak peek at the first episode of Telltale's new series, Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People.
Ever since the announcement of the first adventure for Nintendo's WiiWare (and fully adapted for PC), the Internet has been abuzz, at least in those circles where the name has achieved cult classic status. If you're not familiar with him, Strong Bad is one of the many characters that resides in the Homestar Runner universe, brought to life in a series of Flash cartoons created by brothers Matt and Mike Chapman. Homestar Runner is a very good but dimwitted athlete, who has no arms, a propeller hat and looks good in red. He was the first character created by the Chapman brothers but his star status has since been matched, if not surpassed, by Strong Bad, who has amassed his own following as he regularly answers fan email in his sarcastic and snarky fashion. I have to admit to previously knowing almost nothing about the Homestar Runner characters or the cartoons they appear in, making the new game my first exposure to the popular series.
Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People or SBCG4AP for short (!?!) stars the diminutive tough guy in his wrestling mask and large boxing gloves. The portion of the as-yet-untitled first episode I saw included Strong Bad’s attempt to get Homestar Runner off his couch and out of his house. Homestar Runner has been cited for public indecency, and in his shame, is hiding out in Strong Bad’s house. Homestar is also hogging the TV and keeping Strong Bad from watching his favorite programs.
The self-contained demo, which was shown to me during a recent visit to Telltale's offices, displayed a couple of locations, a few characters and some limited gameplay, including several of the promised extracurricular activities. Since it was based on a very early build of the game, unfortunately there were no real puzzles to be solved in the section I played. However, the game has undergone a lot of development since then, making it a work very much in progress, and the puzzle set-ups were already apparent as I traveled around and spoke to other characters. It started in a way I’ve never seen in an adventure game, with a musical number. Strong Bad may not find himself in a Broadway musical anytime soon, but it was a funny introduction to a character that I knew very little about.
Navigating Strong Bad was an interesting experience. Although it works in a fairly straightforward point-and-click fashion, it was the first time I had ever used a Wii remote and it took a little practice to move the cursor where I wanted it to go. I was told that it would be even easier in the final game, so my early difficulties shouldn't represent any worrisome failings of the controls. You can either click the A button to make Strong Bad walk, click and hold to guide him continuously, or double click to make him run. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People will be also be available for the PC, but I was only shown the Wii version. According to Telltale, the navigation will be practically identical, though of course using the mouse instead of remote. There are no Wii-specific motion controls planned for SBCG4AP, so the experience should be largely similar for both versions.
Only two locations were available in the demo, Strong Bad’s house and Bubs’ Concession Stand. You can travel between the locations using Strong Bad's map. In the full game, additional locations will be added to the map as the game progresses. Players will have the ability to move the locations around on the map, which I was told is an inside joke for series fans, who can be fanatical about mapping the Homestar Runner world. All of the voices, in the Flash cartoons and now the games, are done by Matt Chapman, with the exception of the only girl in the game, Marzipan, who is voiced by Missy Palmer (Mike Chapman’s wife). During the demo, I was able to talk to Homestar Runner and Strong Sad (Strong Bad’s younger and more melancholy brother). When talking with another character, dialogue options are presented as icons. Some icons need to be clicked on more than once until the dialogue option is fully played out.
The graphics in the game will have the same bright colors and simplistic, blocky environments as those in the Flash cartoons. While Telltale's previous games have all been distinctly 3D and SBCG4AP uses the same technology, the designers are using shaders here to make the characters look 2D. The animators faced a bigger challenge with the characters. Strong Bad wears boxing gloves, Homestar Runner has no arms and many of the other characters have simple designs that don’t call for extensive animation like that seen in the Sam & Max episodes, so it was more difficult to find ways for the characters to be expressive. The end result successfully conceals that dilemma, however, as the combination of looks, movement, personality, and voicework all combined to make each character I encountered highly distinctive.
The first episode is expected to be a little shorter than a standard Sam & Max episode if only the main storyline is played through. However, there will be numerous activities throughout the game that aren’t required for story progression, which relate to Strong Bad’s favorite pastimes and jokes from the cartoons. Strong Bad can pick up collectibles such as cards, trophies, and pages to the manual for "Snake Boxer 5", a game made by Videlectrix, the fictional video game company in the Homestar Runner universe (the same company responsible for the popular retro adventure Peasant's Quest). The cards can be used to make Strong Bad’s own crudely drawn comic, "Teen Girl Squad". I found one card and I was able to play a few levels of "Snake Boxer 5" on the console in Strong Bad’s room. During this game within a game, I needed to turn the remote sideways to replicate an old NES (Nintendo) controller and spent some time punching out a snake while trying to avoid being punched by it (who knew a snake could punch?). Since I’m not that good with combat in games, I stuck to the tried and true button mashing technique with some pretty good results.
Finding collectibles isn’t the only extracurricular activity available. Strong Bad can also discover costume items to wear, make prank phone calls, and just generally try to make everyone upset with his caustic remarks. I was able to make a couple of prank calls and even had Strong Bad call himself. In the full game, some of the prank phone calls can be done just for fun, while others are needed to move the game along. During conversations with other characters, Strong Bad will have the option to respond in a nice or mean way, which will affect how the other characters treat him and can change how the game progresses, though other times this option is mainly for laughs. Some of these extra activities aren’t required, but they are considered achievements and will add to your final score. The score, one that only Strong Bad can conceive of, is the player's “awesome factor.” The more you accomplish, the more awesome you are. These extra activities and achievements, along with the map and inventory, are all easily accessible via icons in the corner of the screen.
The first episode of SBCG4AP is expected on WiiWare in June, with the next four following monthly. Each episode will have a different lead designer and writer, similar to a television series. The first episode is being led by Mark Darin, the creator of the Nick Bounty games, with a later episode being helmed by Mike Stemmle, a name familiar to many Sam & Max fans.
As someone who had never seen a Homestar Runner Flash cartoon and knew almost nothing about the world created by the Chapman brothers, I had a fun time with the demo. The funny premise and edgy dialogue should make for a game that will be enjoyable even for novices. For the hardcore fans, there will be many in-jokes, characters and details from the Homestar Runner universe that will add an additional layer of appreciation. Whether a series fan or newcomer, then, Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People looks to be another promising new series and a worthy debut for the genre on WiiWare when it releases next month.