Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 3: Baddest of the Bands (2008)

It's been quite a while (more than two years!) since I've come back to the Telltale Games library.  I'm currently thoroughly enjoying their current series Tales from the Borderlands, and it's high time I tackled Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People - Episode 3: Baddest of the Bands!  I really enjoyed this series based on the Chapman brothers' Homestar Runner web cartoon when it was released back in 2008, and this was my favorite of the five episodes, so I'm looking forward to seeing if it holds up to a replay.  These episodes were designed to fit within tight 50 MB space limitations for Nintendo's WiiWare downloadable channel, but the PC version is a little more liberal with audio quality and texture resolution, over 200 MB, and that's the version I'm playing here.

Like most of the early Telltale adventures, the Strong Bad series is played for comedy in keeping with its inspiration.  The writing and voice acting (Matt Chapman voices all the characters but Marzipan) is consistently high-quality and provides plenty of entertainment value.  But there are genuine puzzles here, unlike the more story/event-driven games the company has been producing of late, so if you've found the more recent Telltale titles less than challenging, you might want to seek this one out.

I can recommend Baddest of the Bands to all adventurers -- the humor may not be to everyone's taste but there's nothing offensive here, and it's a fine, well-paced point-and-click adventure.  It remains available via Steam and other channels including Telltale Games' own website.  Beyond this point, I will be detailing my playthrough experience -- so as always, be advised that there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The game begins with a game within a game, as Strong Bad turns on his Fun Machine console to play Limozeen: Hot Babelian Odyssey, licensed based on the once-popular (in the Homestar universe) hair metal band.  The gameplay is similar to Scramble or Super Cobra, but of no real consequence, as the game quickly glitches out and incites a little action.  The opening credits roll, as Strong Bad gets harassed by a small group of bats not usually indigenous to this world.

Strong Bad has to take the broken console to the mercenary Bubs, the only licensed repairperson in town, and Bubs' Concession Stand is added to the map (the game preserves the geographical vagueness of the characters' universe by allowing the player to place some locations wherever desired.)  We'll spend a little more time in Strong Bad's house before we set out, though.

There's no change or folding money to be found in the messy laundry pile, foreshadowing this adventure's primary obstacle -- our antihero doesn't have the cash to get his console fixed.  He also doesn't have any notebook paper, so any further Teen Girl Squad adventures will have to wait until he has something to draw on.  We can take the metal detector from Episode 2 along, it will likely come in handy.

Downstairs in the rec room, we find a pair of leopard-print pants in the sofa cushions, but no cash.  The Trogdor arcade cabinet is still out of order, as it has been in every episode so far, waiting on some parts to clear through customs. 

Next, we'll check out the living room and kitchen on the main floor.  We can greet the green bushes out the window rock concert style ("Good afternoon, green bushes, how ya FEELIN'?") and find a Limozeen shot glass in the Luxa Lounger.  We can also acquire a can of aerosol cheese from the fridge.  The microwave is out of order because "someone" fried some forks in it yesterday.

Upstairs on the top floor of the house, we can visit Strong Sad, our hero's considerably less confident brother.  He won't let us borrow his ancient "fillum"-based camera, and he doesn't have time to talk much.  We can get him to tell us he's decided to become a snooty rock-and-roll journalist (a concept Strong Bad finds laughable in and of itself), and that he's raising the bats (the Von Blaubluds) in his bat hutch.  He also advises us to take the broken Fun Machine to Bub's.  We can't borrow his fake sword either (it's made it back from Episode 2's Club Technochocolate.)

We can also visit musclebound Strong Mad, who is currently angry about his missing guitar pick to go with his (literally) heavy bass guitar.  We learn Marzipan has founded a band called Cool Tapes, and Strong Mad and the Cheat are involved; this adds Marzipan's house to our map.  In the closet is a scary demonic painting that whispers "COME ON IN HERE" and freaks our hero out (I appreciated the PC's audio quality here, as I never quite made out what it was saying on the Wii!)  We also run across an album cover defaced years earlier into the Best Album Cover Ever by Strong Bad (age 8), which we suspect will come in handy later on.

Finally, we'll check out the computer room.  Fiddling with the light switch turns up the cover of the manual for the Limozeen game -- this collecting-the-manual concept returns from earlier episodes, though it usually doesn't have much bearing on the outcome of the game.  Checking Strong Bad's email is always fun, and sometimes relevant to the plot, so we'll open the one message here.  This one's just for fun -- a fan writes asking for help naming a band, and Strong Bad suggests something futuristic like, um, "My Personal Jetpack."  We can try to unplug the laptop, but something's miswired and Strong Bad gets a brief zapping.  Potentially of use later on, methinks.

Outside the house, there's nothing in the mailbox, and we can't do anything with the metal detector, so we'll head off to see Bubs.  He has a diamond-plated record at the Concession Stand, but doesn't want to talk about his former life as a member of the hit act Two-o Duo.  He'll repair the Fun Machine in exchange for a "big sack o' cash."

Strong Bad can't raise the money by getting a job, of course -- "There has to be a more convoluted way" -- and a vision of Limozeen inspires him to stage a Battle of the Bands for profit.  Bubs offers to help promote the event and skim off the top.  He tells Strong Bad we need two things -- security (jacket provided by Bubs) and celebrity judges to attract an audience. 

An aging contest flyer posted nearby suggests a possibility for the latter need -- the winning album cover design will win a whole day with Limozeen, and it seems we already have a template, we just need to stage a similar photo.  We can also liberate Bubs' SECURITY stencil for further use.

We can wander around the large field surrounding Bubs' place to see what's going on in the usual hot spots.  Strong Badia (Strong Bad's plot of dirt with flagpole and tire) has been defaced with graffiti promoting rival bands on the white picket fence.  The cool car is leaking oil.  The whale is as hard to hear as ever, but pops his white plastic "spout," for no apparent reason.  We can steal a gold star from Bubs' advertising sign a short distance away from his stand. 

The metal detector activates here, and it's not hard to find a decidedly non-metallic treasure -- a poster from the very last Two-O Duo concert.  The band apparently consisted of Bubs and Coach Z.  Showing the poster to Bubs is not an option, though, this is just a collectible for background and bonus cred.  We can also find a pair of weirdly stylish Hollywood Boulevard shoes, and after that Strong Bad won't deploy the detector again so our treasure hunt here is finished.

Let's head to Marzipan's and see what Cool Tapes might offer in the way of puzzle-solving possibilities.  We can acquire a Zen rock from Marzipan's Zen garden, and use the detector to find another Limozeen shot glass.

Entering the house, we get an alert about an incoming email (we'll have to return to the House of Strong to read it) and find Strong Sad in the living room.  A few messages on the answering machine indicate that Cool Tapes is going to be playing at Bat Aid, and someone named Wade needs a publicity photo of the band, preferably with just the guy with the baseball bat (?) as the other members of the band tend to freak out the locals.

Strong Sad is here to cover the band's Bat Aid activities, in his capacity as snooty rock journalist, and he's trying to pick up any news about other cool new underground bands.  We can try to convince him that the Security jacket is a tour artifact from an up-and-coming band of the same name, but Strong Sad demands further evidence, like flyers or other street-team doings.  In a cage is an endangered Lithuanian Albino Vegan Bat, whose species is the intended beneficiary of Bat Aid this year.  Marzipan confirms this, and tells us the bat's name is Pasquale.

There's nothing else to do here at the moment, so let's go back home and check email.  This one's just a question about which era of rock rocked the hardest, and with more than his usual wisdom Strong Bad defines it as the era when the person thinking about it was 18 to 24 years old.  I take time to review the album cover design, now that we've explored a bit, and it looks like we need to ignite the oil around the cool car, put the star on its antenna, get a girl to hold a sword on the hood or roof, and put some kind of dinosaur in the foreground.  With the Brothers Strong out of the house, we can borrow the camera, the fake sword, and, with some hesitation, put the bat hutch into our pants-o'-inventory as well.  We can also open the other side of Strong Mad's closet to avoid the scary painting and acquire a stuffed toy dinosaur.  Progress already!

Let's go out to the car and set up the props we have so far.  We need a hot blonde, or a blonde at least, to hold the sword, and Marzipan is our only real option so that will have to wait.  We can use the lighter to light the oil, which will presumably stay burning until we can arrange the rest of the picture, attach the star to the car's antenna, and and put the dinosaur toy in place so the magic of forced perspective will make it look huge in a 2-D photo.  Close, but not quite there yet.

I stop by the Concession Stand to see if Bubs has anything new happening, and discover a Wesley Willis reference in one of Bubs' parting lines: "Rock over London! Rock on Chicago!"  I always admire jokes that only a few people are going to get and I had completely forgotten about this one.

Can we disrupt the Cool Tapes rehearsal by introducing the fruit bats?  Strong Bad doesn't think the Von Blaubluds are going to want anything to do with Pasquale.  And if we offer the sword to Marzipan, she refuses to be involved in the album cover project.  But Strong Bad says, "She's not the only blonde in town!"  Hmmmm.  Should we check out the photo booth and see if there's a wig available?  Or is the furry Cheat the blonde?  Ah, yes, he is!  And he'll be at the shoot, in a bikini, as required.

Let's get that out of the way, then -- and voila!  With added bats for extra coolness!

Now let's see about this Security thing.  Can we spray paint with aerosol cheese on the fence in Strong Badia?  Yes!  And Strong Sad shows up just in time to accept "SECURITY" as the next big thing he can be snooty about.  Bubs sees him in the Security jacket, hands him a billy club, and we're ready to mount Strong Bad's Battle Royale of the Bands!  After we mail off the album photo and win the contest, of course, assuming it's still going on -- the flyer seems to be about ten years old.

And, of course, in the blink of a transition, Strong Bad is the winner!  It's time to talk to Bubs about booking some bands.  He suggests the Cool Tapes, of course, plus Pom-Pom's band at the club (now on our map).  Strong Bad asks about Two-O Duo, but Bubs will have none of it and storms off, though we now have the track on our map so we might be able to arrange a reunion by talking with Coach Z.

Marzipan's been cleaning her aquarium when we arrive, and there's some smelly gravel lying in the front yard.  We can set the Zen rock in the pile to set a good example for its smaller relatives, though it's not clear why we are doing this.  Inside, we can grab a glossy publicity photo of Cool Tapes.  Marzipan would love to participate, but the Battle Royale is the same weekend as the Bat Aid concert.  Hmmmm.

Well, let's talk to Pom-Pom.  I'll wander around first, acquiring one of his albums ("Food Related Love") and talking to Homestar, who we are finally seeing in this episode.  Homestar wants to audition for Pom-Pom's band, but he forgot his accompanying music.  It seems Pom-Pom wants to make his piano act a duo, and it would probably serve our interests to help Homestar get the gig.

Pom-Pom is too busy looking at glossies of potential bandmates to listen to Strong Bad.  He has a slow cooker, for making victory chowder after he gets his band going.  Interesting.  We can squirt some aerosol cheese into it to make a nice fondue.

Ah, here's something tractable.  We can put Pom-Pom's album on the club's turntable, and Homestar gamely goes out and starts singing.  But he stumbles on the lyrics, and we need to help him out by pointing out various objects in the club to inspire him.  I always like these kinds of puzzles -- they're something new that point-and-click games with audiovisual timing made possible, or at least a lot more fun than text alone could have managed.

There are a number of food possibilities in the club, though this puzzle throws a few curve balls our way.  It's easy enough to rhyme "sing" with "buffalo wings," but Homestar doesn't recognize "escargot" and calls it a "plate of snails."  We fare better with the Merlot, then the snails, and then I have a little trouble with the fondue.  It turns out I was just standing in the wrong spot, and the retry lets us pick up at this last bit, so we're all set now.  Pom-Pom loves Homestar's audition, and accepts an entry form for the Battle Royale.

Let's go talk to Coach Z now, since I don't have any new ideas for convincing Marzipan to enter.  He apparently has a heavy crush on her and is too depressed to think about anything else.  He needs an encouraging "sign" from her, but the standard glossy in Strong Bad's inventory just goes into his collection.  We can acquire an unbent wire hanger from the shower, where it appears it is being used to clean the drain.  Coach Z won't let us take his Z-branded toilet paper or the bottle of bleach in a locker, but we do find an old Cool Tapes poster as a collectible.

The Snap Shak photo booth is fun but doesn't contain anything we can use outside, it seems, so let's talk to Marzipan again.  I check email also, but it's just another fan letter from someone who's being creeped out by a coworker, which Strong Bad misreads as "cow worker" to comic effect. We can get Marzipan to autograph a glossy -- she reluctantly agrees to sign it for Coach Z, even though he's been sending Cool Tapes some disturbing fan mail lately.

Coach Z is overjoyed at getting "all her best," and Strong Bad encourages him to go over there and tell her about his feelings.  This allows us to grab some toilet paper and bleach.  Can we bleach the bats somehow?  Strong Bad can't combine inventory items, but he does remark that the bleach should only be used in "laundry-type situations."  And yes, we can put the bleach and the bats in the washer, making them look a lot more like Pasquale.

Before we go inside Marzipan's house, though, we'll talk to Coach Z.  He can't even get Marzipan's attention and wonders what he should do next.  We can suggest he do the John Cusack Say Any thing by holding a boom box over his head, but he has tried and failed that before.  And his attempts at romantic poetry are just embarrassing.  We can suggest he throw some pebbles at her window, and he throws the Zen rock through it (so that's why we wanted to do that earlier!)  She is not happy, but Bubs is impressed that Coach Z has demonstrated some delinquent chutzpah, just like the old days, and a reunion may be in the offing.

We can release the bleached fruit bats to convince Marzipan that the species is not so endangered, and she lets Pasquale go to join his simulated brethren.  With the Bat Aid concert unnecessary, she agrees to enter the contest.  Two down!  (The early Telltale games often follow this long-time adventuring tradition of puzzles coming in three parts.)

Now we need to get that third band going -- Coach Z is not at the track, and to my surprise Bubs is not at the Concession Stand.  Where could they be?  If we try to steal the diamond-plated album, Bubs' new security robot kicks in and we're prevented from doing so.  But we can see Bubs is building the stages for the concert next door, however rickety they appear to be, and give him the signed entry forms for the two bands we have lined up.

Talking to Bubs about Two-O Duo gets us a peek at the cover of the old album, and one of the things they used to rap about was "TP'ing the stick."  With Coach Z's branded TP, we can convince Bubs that Coach Z is an O.G. again, or at least take a step in that direction.  The album cover also mentions "stealin' stuff from my own dang store," and while we can't steal the album from Bubs' stand (it's glued permanently in place), we can steal the alarm itself and shut the robot down.

Now we need to frame Coach Z for the theft.  The shower's not a suitable place to plant the evidence, but the trophy case is closer, though still not right.  Let's try putting it in his office... and yes, Bubs homes in on the stolen artifact, and is impressed by Coach Z's return to the wayward ways of his  youth.  Two-O Duo is back in business!

We have three bands now, and are almost set to go -- but after expenses, Strong Bad's profit on the Battle only adds up to half a big sack o' cash.  So he decides to form his own band -- with the remaining available characters, Homsar and the King of Town.  This does not bode well for success, but we're into the final act of this episode.

Cut to rehearsal and the naming of the band, where each member contributes something based on the player's selection of indistinguishable dialogue options, and I end up with "Deluxe Omelette Ink Machine."  Okay, I guess it will do.  The bigger problem is that D.O.I. sucks, and so Strong Bad's only hope is to sabotage all the other bands, who are now added to our map at the three stages Bubs has built for the event.

As I go to check out the Cool Tapes, I run into a technical bug -- none of the dialogue can be heard.  I save, go back to the main menu, and restore -- and now I can hear the voices, but Bubs' eyes have gone missing!  Time to relaunch the game, and everything appears to be in better shape after the restore.

We can obtain Strong Sad's billy club, as he prefers to engage using rational discourse, but he won't let Strong Bad onto the stage, tasing him for his trouble.

Limozeen has "arrived" in the form of a cardboard cutout with webcam and cheap speakers, while they cruise around in their tour bus and judge the contest remotely.  They like Cool Tapes' sound but not Marzipan's preachy remarks about the environment, so maybe we can provoke a little more of that in the act.  (I also discover that we can use Strong Bad's microphone to "rock out" in various locations, and sometimes a box will materialize, in this case containing a page from the game manual -- but as I have not been doing this earlier and some locations are now inaccessible in the game's final act, I'm not going to worry too much about it.)

We'll check out PomStar's rehearsal next -- Homestar is wearing earphones.  Suspicious earphones, Strong Bad thinks, as normally Homestar can't string two words together and now he's sounding smooth as silk.  We might want to interfere with his prompting.  Hmmmm.  We can't use the wire hanger on Homestar, but the talkative whale speaker is here (trust me, in the Homestar Runner universe this all makes some kind of sense) and we can use the wire as an antenna to aim its audio into Homestar's headphones, causing him to spout inanities and lose his audience.  Sabotage #1 complete!

The Two-O Duo are firing on all cylinders as we arrive.  How can we disrupt them?  The metal detector turns up a game manual page, but nothing useful for the challenge at hand.  There's a box of records on the stage that we can reach, being used as sample sources.  The names all suggest choreography -- "Slide to the Right," "Roll wit' Da Punches," "Left Shift Alt Delete" and "Doin' the Wigglie."  We can influence the order of the set by swapping the records around, so maybe we can sabotage the act this way.  Yep -- by moving Coach Z far to his left, then a bit to his right, then rolling and punching Bubs... well, it's not quite that simple.  We need some different elements to work with than what's available here, and we find those back at the House of Strong in Strong Sad's record collection, conveniently left in the living room.

Adding the "3 O' Clock Twist" lets us get Coach Z turned 90 degrees.  "Hugo Left Me Miserable" heads left, but not quite as far as the other record does.  Getting Coach Z to dance to his left, turn 90 degrees, shuffle left again, and punch does the job, and the assaulted Bubs leaves the stage and the act.

Now what about Cool Tapes?  Political discord seems like the right thing to inspire.  If we try to bleach the pond by Two-o Duo's stage, Strong Bad talks about Marzipan's wrath if he were to do so.  These puzzles have been fairly self-contained so far but this one seems a little more complex.  Marzipan's song is about wetlands pollution, apparently, so can we pollute the pond in a different way?  Ah, yes -- we can put the bleach bottle in the cardboard Limozeen's hands, and the auto-rocking arms dump it in!

Marzipan doesn't know this has happened, but we can take an instant photo of the pond with its dead fish and "Limozeen" holding the incriminating bottle of bleach.  But she won't look at the photo while performing, and Strong Sad still won't let us up on stage.

What to do?  Marzipan is also talking about the exploitation of women in the music industry, but we don't have our old album cover handy.  We need to get her to take a break, somehow.  We can't seem to show the photo to anyone else at the Cool Tapes stage, either.

Can we do anything new at the D.O.I. stage?  Homsar and the King are still making strange noises on the stage.  Oh, I hadn't noticed that the Limozeen cutout is here too, far off to the left.  And there's an official, unspoiled Limozeen coloring book sitting nearby.  Strong Bad is eager to take it home and "improve" it, so let's do just that.

At the drawing table, this becomes another Teen Girl Squad adventure, without interactivity this time, an optional exercise that became a little repetitive in the first two episodes.  The underlying original comic book is quite hilarious in its own right ("The band knows that publicity photos are all about doing different stuff with your hands!") and as usual, the girls meet violent, accidental ends along the way.  Maybe Strong Bad's "Teen Girl Squad Meets Limozeen!" adventure will be enough to draw Marzipan's attention... but we can't interrupt her with that, either.

We haven't been back to the PomStar stage in a bit, so let's go there and look around.  Ah, right, Marzipan is here when we're here.  We can show her the photo and the coloring book.  She is reasonably forgiving after seeing the first item, but is more upset with Limozeen after the second.  But she's still only at about two-thirds dudgeon.

I tried to attach the billy club to the Limozeen stand-up at the Cool Tapes stage, and the band expressed enthusiasm, but they have no arms at that location so I couldn't actually do anything.  Here, their right arm is waving, and... yes, with the coat hanger inserted in the whale speaker, the resulting photo gives the impression they are doing anything but saving the whales.

Now Marzipan is indignant enough to forgo entertainment value in her act, and sing an anti-Limozeen anthem -- with the audiences and the judges insulted by the catchy tune, we're the front runners!  Well, that is, until the crowd consisting of people in bands Strong Bad has just sabotaged shows up, driving his score on the contest meter to rock bottom.

D.O.I. genuinely needs to rock now, and Strong Bad has prepared some kind of impressive heavy metal prop that he can release by pressing a big red button at the other side of the stage.  Easier said than done, of course.  A big fan at stage right is blowing hard and preventing us from reaching the ladder, but we can advance just far enough to grab a spiked helmet from the nearby coatrack.  The wind blows Strong Bad across the stage on his knees, a cool if unintended move that scores a few points with the audience.

Next, I find that the button is freely available at stage left, but of course it's not working, because the King of Town has chewed through the wires connecting it to the release mechanism.  There's a fog machine here that's not creating the intended heavy metal atmosphere, due to the fan, so we  have a couple of reasons to disable it.

Experimenting, I put the spiked helmet on Homsar, who is playing an oversized theremin called the TheremAxxx by hovering and circling around it, and the audience likes that too.  We can use the metal detector here, but whatever it's picking up seems to be offstage, so I'll put it away again.

Introducing the King of Town to the crowd gets him to swing his guitar around and knock his last remaining snack lobster out of its bucket.  We can use it to cut the rope holding a speaker in place above the stage -- or achieve the same net effect, anyway, as the lobster's claws aren't sharp enough to cut it but the King of Town pursues him, knocking the speaker down and trying to hit the lobster with his guitar, much to the audience's enjoyment.

It's actually going well, if accidentally so.  What about the fan?  We can "conduct" Homsar around the ThereMaxx, raising him higher and circling wider until his spike lodges in the fuse box, shorting it out.  The bleached bats choose this opportune moment to arrive, circling the stage in a cloud of fog.  The crowd is going wild!

Now we can unleash the prop to end all props -- but it can't be seen as it's blocked by fog and bats!  The lobster bucket is one of the few unused items left onstage.  Pouring its buttery sauce into the fog machine butters the bleached bats, inspiring the King to leap into the air and eat them.  It's a fantastic and thoroughly metal intro, even though the band hasn't played a song of any substance, and the crowd carries the King of Town away on their shoulders, leaving Strong Bad victorious but alone on the deserted stage.

But all's well -- the Fun Machine is back in hand, with a few oversized bandages applied.  Except... it's still not in working order, until Strong Sad notices the wad of aerosol cheese stuck on the end and fixes the problem.  So this whole crazy rock'n'roll adventure was entirely unnecessary, but thoroughly entertaining.  Victory is ours!

The end credits roll over a nice medley of Homestar Runner songs, and after the credits there's a preview of SBCG4AP Episode 4: Dangeresque 3!  I'm actually falling behind on the Telltale games now, my five-year self-imposed embargo threshold having been crossed by several late-2000s titles, so I'll probably try to finish up this series this year.  Thoroughly entertaining in my book.

No comments:

Post a Comment