Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People has so far proven to be a triumphant serving of episodic gaming humour to fans of the Homestar Runner universe of cartoons. Like the fictional Videlectrix company in that universe, the games take inspiration from the point-and-click adventure games of the past and update them with "good graphicks". However, fresh ideas in the series have so far been few and far between, and for outsiders to the world of Strong Bad and his friends, much of the humour and references can appear baffling at best. But does Baddest of the Bands, the middle entry in the series, manage to kick the trend?
The plot this time around is fairly cliched, but at least Strong Bad appears to be aware of it. Essentially, Strong Bad's gaming console (the 'fun machine') breaks down in a sizzle of 8-bit flame, and the only qualified repairer in town is concession stand owner, Bubs. Bubs generously offers to fix the fun machine in exchange for "one sack o' cash", which Strong Bad decides to raise in literally the most convoluted way he can think of - holding a Battle of the Bands competition, then entering and winning it. So, off he goes to sign bands for the contest, and then to sabotage their performances so that he can emerge victorious.
"We're from the band Limozeen!" "Uh, I'm pretty sure it says that in the image above." "Well, I didn't know that!"
Seeing as this is yet another installment in the ongoing SBCG4AP series, the gameplay hasn't really changed all that much from previous entries. In fact, it hasn't changed at all. You use your Wii remote or mouse to click around various locations in Free Country, USA (which seems to be a little smaller than it has been in the last two games), as well as to pick up items, use them, and to talk to the various characters you meet. Most of the puzzles in the game are your typical bog-standard adventure fare, consisting of just using a certain item at a certain place or with a certain person. There are a couple of exceptions, including a cheesy segment involving rhyming song lyrics, but there's not a whole lot of depth or particularly difficult brain-teasers to ponder your way through. However, despite fewer locations to visit, Baddest of the Bands does seem to be a little longer than past episodes, pushing the three hour mark due to several acts within the game.
Provided that you have a background knowledge of the universe, you'll probably find Baddest of the Bands very funny. For everyone else, there's actually some less-referential stuff that works too, including stabs at snooty music journalists, foundations for endangered animals and rock stars. Of course, there's also a whale-shaped fast-food ordering box that claims he's a pretty girl. There seems to be fewer extras this time around, as any 8-bit fun machine antics are restricted to an 'extended play' mode unlocked after completing the game, and the 'Teen Girl Squad' comic creator from previous games has been removed as well. To be fair, the latter's implementation in those games was kind of lame, and to make up for the loss there is a special non-interactive 'Limozeen' edition of Teen Girl Squad that's up to the same quality of what you would find on the website.
Once again, the voicework from Matt Chapman is hilarious, as he voices every male character in the game. Special mention must go to his performance as Larry Palaroncini, the lead singer of washed-up rock band Limozeen and a riotous send-up of air-headed rockers. Even funnier is that he only appears in the game as a cardboard cut-out with a speaker attached, as he communicates with Strong Bad from inside his tour bus in a different state. The graphics are once again true to the source material, colourful and minimalistic and perfectly suited for the Homestar Runner universe.
Baddest of the Bands suffers a little from being the middle-child in the SBCG4AP series. By now, gamers who have played the past games are expecting a little more meat and originality from these episodes, which appears to finally be coming with the next episode, an all-out 70's cop-film parody, Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective. Like a pair of Simpsons-themed boxers, Baddest of the Bands is funny and entertaining, but feels a little restrictive, almost as if it was made for a younger audience. Considering the content of the game and the fact that we're up to Episode 3, we were hoping that the gameworld would start opening up rather than making us revisit old locations, while presenting us with samey new ones. As it stands, it's a worthy part of the series as a whole, but proves to be a weak standalone effort.