Harry Milonas
26 Aug, 2008

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner Review

Wii Review | Not a HR fan? Looks like you're gonna have to jump…
Within the first few seconds of beginning the premiere episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, players are greeted by a typically song-struck Strong Bad himself. The titular masked protagonist of Telltale Game's latest episodic endeavour pleadingly harmonises to the non-lady crowd to "please stop trying to handle my style". A rather apt chorus line if instead taken to heart by those unfamiliar with the comedic stylings of the Brothers Chaps and their Homestar Runner universe.

Unlike Telltale's success with the Sam & Max property, the playing experience of Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner can very well be hampered by unaccustomed experience with the Homestar Runner subject matter. Case in point, the Sam & Max franchise thrives on near non-existent background details, making it easy for almost anybody to jump into the police dog and hyperkinetic rabbity thing's spontaneous far flung adventures – no matter the medium in question. While it's evident Telltale took considerations in making the humour in Homestar Ruiner universal, a lot of the intentional comedy nevertheless relies on understanding the nuances and peculiarities of the characters. Something a four hour (give or take) episodic game, in this case, can only hope to achieve when placed alongside its full season brethren.

Such is the unfortunate nature of the established franchise beast that will deter rather than attract newcomers, as the Homestar Ruiner package is an otherwise well-rounded, if flawed downloadable purchase. Structured like almost any other 'point and click adventure game' popularised in the 90s (and met with cult followers in the oughties), Homestar Ruiner follows the typical misadventures of a day in the life of Strong Bad. Faced with making a choice between publicly humiliating Homestar Runner and subsequently restoring what semblance of respect the residents of Free Country USA had in the baseball-capped dope, Strong Bad's penchant for parties is put in an ironic struggle with his questionable conscience. In short, players can expect to explore familiar Homestar Runner locales, peppered with meticulous run-throughs of dialogue trees and appearances with practically the whole main cast of the Homestar Runner universe, separated by thoughtful application of whatever seemingly random objects Strong Bad may have filling a hole in his pockets. And all from the comfort of a couch and the Wii Remote's mouse-like pointer.

Of course, if an adventure game is predominately measured on any scale wholly, it's that of its puzzle design, and it is here that Homestar Ruiner falters foremost. Suffering from what appears to be a common case of 'first-episode-itis', the object-centric design of the game's synapse-testing obstacles doesn't go much further than the fundamental basics of figuring out which doohickey should be used with which whatsit, or what piece of dialogue has yet to have been triggered with a certain character. Even with the hint system turned off (being on 'Medium' by default), there's very little that'll satisfy the hardened adventure game fan. Granted, this means there's less of the incessant figuring-out-the-designer's-obtuse-mindset than is present in other comparative adventure game design. That said, it can't help but be felt that the first episode is catering to a fresher/younger attention span.

Perhaps in another wink to its target demographic, Telltale Games has also seen fit to add a few gameplay extras to Homestar Ruiner's adventure formula. This is most evident in the ability to take pictures of Strong Bad, replete in various hidden costumes found during the adventure, and send them to a friend's Wii. Hidden trinkets and mini-games are also dotted about the world of Homestar Ruiner, including one starring a particular group of accident-prone teenage girls. On top of that, the ability to travel to any location already discovered by simply pulling up Strong Bad's custom map is one that helps downplay the needless waiting for your character to tread back and forth between areas. While these design choices are nothing revolutionary, they're thoughtful additions for those looking to extend their dollar investments in lastability.

As far as lasting visual impressions go though, the aesthetics of Homestar Ruiner, even for a downloadable title, hit the home run. Timeless and true to the source material, the game's graphical sheen is rendered in glorious low polygon counts, with each location and character as (pardon the cliché) 'lifelike' as the Homestar Runner universe can get in three-dimensions – quite the (cringe) 'cartoon come to life'. Likewise, the audio department brings together series' voice talent for all the spoken dialogue, as well as the cleverly placed and styled musical pieces.

It's here though where the most questionable fault of Homestar Ruiner becomes apparent in transitioning the central wacky value of the franchise – the inherent humour of a Homestar Runner cartoon doesn't always translate as authentically. Maybe it's once again a case of Telltale Games warming up the jokes with the first episode, or the general attempt of pining to the non-fan; perhaps it's simply the age old dilemma of comedic timing in a videogame being entirely in the hands of the player, and therefore never a guarantee. Verily, there are moments where even the Homestar Runner fans will be wondering where and when the quick and random chuckles from the Flash cartoons will be making their appearance.

In the end however, these are all near moot points, considering both the cost and inherent polish in admission. As yet another example of the industry's exaggeration of the death of adventure games, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner is not quite the upholder of its genre's elegant values. But as an example of what WiiWare is truly capable of when developers aren't unenthused by the profiteering of shovelware, the game's a welcome, if short-lived experience for both console owners and Homestar Runner fans alike. A positive foreboding for the rest of the SBC4AP saga.
The Score
A polished, if uneventfully designed episode, better suited to the Homestar Runner crazy-go-nut. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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5 years ago
boy if i had infinite money...
5 years ago
^ Agreed. The total cost of all these episodes divided by the total play time means no sale for me, a mid-range HR fan.
5 years ago
Gtpod wrote
^ Agreed. The total cost of all these episodes divided by the total play time means no sale for me, a mid-range HR fan.
How long does an episode go for? Most FPS games end up costing around $12 per hour of gameplay and I really doubt that this could possibly be worse than that at only US$35 for the entire season.
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