Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free! (2008)

This week, we're tackling the second episode of Telltale Game's 2008 series based on the Homestar Runner universe created by the Brothers Chapman.  This time around, in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free!, our masked hero and frequent emailer Strong Bad is placed under house arrest for flouting the King of Town's email tax -- one Creamy Ding Snack Cake for every email sent.  In response he launches a revolution against the "---- of Town" (refusing to recognize or utter the royal title.)  I'm playing the PC version here.

Telltale's licensed adventure game series have done an impressively consistent job of honoring the source material, and this one does the Homestar Runner universe justice, in part because Mike and Matt Chapman were heavily involved in the writing, with Matt voicing most of the characters as he has always done.

If you want to fully experience the joys of Strong Badia the Free! (if it fits your sense of humor it's a very funny game, and much of the pleasure comes from its dialogue) I strongly advise playing this game before proceeding with my playthrough notes below.  The series is still commercially available at Telltale Games' site and via Steam, as well as on the Nintendo Wii download store.  As always in this feature, I'll be discussing my playthrough experience in significant detail for the sake of historical documentation.  That is, there are bound to be...

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

As "the worst day in the whimsical history of wrongful imprisonment" gets underway, most of the rest of the cast is outside protesting the situation.  Strong Bad is a political prisoner trapped in the House of Strong, and the King even ate Strong Bad's trusty map used for navigating the landscape in the previous episode, so we're really starting from scratch.

We can enter Strong Sad's room in this game, unlike the previous epsiode, acquiring a red towel in the bathroom.  Strong Sad sympathizes, but can't be talked into aiding and abetting an escape -- though he does suggest shorting out the invisible fence's transformer before thinking better of it.

We can acquire a costume eye-patch from the box of Cheats Commandos-Os in the kitchen, for use in the photo booth, and a cardboard fast-food restaurant crown (methinks a King of Town disguise is in the works here.)  The Tarantula Black metal detector returns from the first episode, now with a built-in shovel attachment, so we won't have to track down a digging implement separately as in Episode 1.

The Fun Machine in Strong Bad's room hosts the educational video game Math Kickers --Featuring The AlgeBros, a Double Dragon-style arcade game where the brothers must add or subtract to match the number of attacking ninjas on either side, and then beat up a more complex equation to solve for X (requiring a series of button presses but no real understanding of the algebraic processes at hand -- an exaggerated but credible dig at vintage educational software.)

There's an overstuffed "big fat pillow" in the basement, and a pair of garish costume pants in the dryer.  The Trogdor arcade game cabinet is still broken, and the TV is only receiving the History Unleashed Channel, but we can gather some loose stuffing from a leak in the couch.

It seems like we've done most of what can be done in the house, but trying to leave the premises triggers Strong Bad's house-arrest exploding collar, knocking him back into the house with a serious but not fatal case of charhead.

Can we dress up as the King of Town and sneak out?  The collar will still be in effect.  What else?  The assembled protesters outside have placed a rather basic and unevocative effigy of the -OT near the exploding gates.  By tossing the pillow, fluff, towel and crown down, with a little assembly help from The Cheat, we can incite the protestors to burn the King of Town in effigy and take out the invisible fence along with it.

Now Strong Bad can rally his friends to the cause, as he gives a rousing speech and declares Strong Badia (the small plot of land occupied by a flag and an old tire) an independent nation -- but by the time he finishes his crowd has dispersed, each rebelling to establish his or her own country.

There's a Maps & Minions game board on the ground, which we can use to plot a course to world domination, passing through the "countries" established by other characters -- Bubs likely rules Concession-Stan, and The Cheat has absconded with the old tire to establish his own secessionist territory within Strong Badia, entitled, erm, The Cheat and Tirerea (Strong Bad: "You might want to rethink that one.")

Even the local landmarks are getting in on the act -- the Cool Car flies the flag of Hatchbackistan, the Photo Booth is SnapShakLand, the fence has organized itself under the banner of the Back Fence Revolutionaries.  Page 3 of the Math Kicker/AlgeBros manual is under a box out here; we don't really need to master the game, except for bonus points, but if we want to we will need to collect these pages to discover special fighting moves.

Local entrepreneur Bubs is running Concession-Stantinople, and conversation establishes that certain goods are available only on the "Black Market" -- that is, right around back of the concession stand.  But Bubs has no weapons or human organs in stock, and will only trade his illegally recovered artifact for something of value.

Bleak House is Strong Sad's nation, based in his room at the House of Strong.  The cover of the Math Kickers manual is in the mailbox, and there's a toy airline souvenir medal hidden under a cardboard box.  Strong Sad has been hard at work writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights for his Constitutional monarchy.  We can snag his roleplaying sword ("never before have duct tape and PVC pipe forged so mighty a weapon!") as well as a souvenir inaugural flag (producing 2000 of which consumed Strong Sad's entire life savings.)  We can also find a "tar pit" idea card for a Teen Girl Squad comic -- another optional activity in which we must pick the right props and concepts for each panel to ensure maximum carnage.

Pom-PomErania is based inside Pom Pom's Club Technochocolate, where Bubs tends bar and is totally not embezzling money from the club.  To impress Pom Pom into joining his empire, Strong Bad has to be seen with the right drink and impress the Shogun (Pom Pom) with his dancing.  The Bull Honkey energy drink definitely doesn't impress, nor does the outdated glowy green bottle; the Cold Ones Stout ("ten pounds of wheat in every bottle!") doesn't visibly arouse Pom Pom's ire, at least, but isn't impressive either.

Page 4 of the Math Kickers manual is under a box at the end of the bar, revealing the mysterious Divide by Zero move.  Strong Bad can also acquire a glowstick from the DJ booth, which may come in handy.  Moving to the dance floor suggests (courtesy of Bubs, as Pom-Pom's bubbles don't make for intelligible speech) that Strong Bad looks "too empty-handed" -- venturing out with a Cold One Stout in hand solves that problem, but our hero's moves are still not fresh enough.

Giving the TPA (I like to think this stands for Trans Port Airlines but it isn't spelled out) souvenir pilot wings pin to The Cheat reunites The Cheat and Tirerea with Strong Badia proper, and recovers Strong Bad's lighter.  We can also swap Strong Sad's fake sword for the sharp samurai sword hanging in Pom Pom's club.

The lighter is diplomatically useful, that is to say, burning Strong Sad's documents and flag disappoints him, but he is now willing to have his throne usurped by Strong Badia.  (As a possibly unintended but very funny visual, if we ask Strong Sad about his nation after burning these documents, closeups of the now-empty tabletop are shown as he proudly describes them.)  Conquering Bleak House also opens the path to the Homsar Reservation.

Is Bubs interested in the samurai sword for his black market business?  Checking in at the legal side of the Concession Stand allows us to buy a defective toy Strong Bad at half price, using quesos (Bubs accepts all the local nations' currencies.)  But Bubs isn't interested in the sword, as he recognizes it as Pom Pom's.  We can use the metal detector to dig up an old power strip in the Strong Badia plot, a tuning fork and Strong Bad's grandfather's old military medals, and yet another cardboard box conceals the Logarithm Attack page from Math Kickers.

Homsar is as unintelligible as always, but there's a mysterious pylon on the reservation with colored crystals and a "suspiciously obvious hole in the top."  Strong Sad is also here, whining about why we can't just go around the Homsar Reservation, but he has his trunk with him which may prove valuable.  A cave painting provides workspace for a prehistorically-themed Teen Girl Squad episode; the deeper cave is blocked by stones, but the mysterious floating and moving boulders near Homsar suggest he can clear the way if we can get through to him somehow.  Strong Sad has a thermometer in his first aid kit, but any time we approach he uses it to take his own temperature, monitoring his health for good measure while we are in foreign lands.

We can put the tuning fork and power strip into the pylon -- now two of the four colored crystals are glowing, and we can understand part of what Homsar is saying.  The metal detector helps us find a three-ring binder, lighting a third crystal.  There's a hint available here if we're having trouble finding these items, but in my playthrough we had already hunted up the three artifacts depicted in a cave painting near the pylon, finding these artifats near the Stick, the cinder block in Strong Badia, and Strong Bad's mailbox.

Strong Sad is clearly concerned about his health.  We can't substitute the glowstick for his thermometer, but conversation establishes that a high temperature, uncontrollable shaking and difficulty understanding language are symptoms of acute aphasic pretendicitis, requiring removal of the prentendix, which would give us a human organ to trade to Bubs for what is likely the last remaining Homsar artifact we need.   Yep -- heating the thermometer up with the lighter, putting the toy Strong Bad in Strong Sad's fanny pack, and conversing nonsencially with Homsar convinces Strong Sad he really is sick (not that that's very difficult.)  Fortunately, the Homsar Reservation has subsidized health care, and Strong Sad shortly returns with his pretendix in a jar, which Strong Bad can grab for "safe keeping" and trade to Bubs for the final artifact, a pottery shard.

Conversation with Homsar after fully enabling the translation pylon establishes that Strong Bad is the prophesied young boy yadda yadda, and now Homsar's people are aligned and we can access Marzistar or Homezipan, depending on whom one is asking, the nation in Marzipan's back yard.  We can hunt up another Math Kickers manual page and the Marzistar souvenir flag, but the main event here looks to be filling the Strong Badia slot in Marzipan's Model UN display with something representative of Strong Badia.

Strong Bad keeps hinting about Pom-Pomerania when we wander around aimlessly too much, so let's see if we can finish things up there.  Putting the glow stick in the Cold One Stout isn't helpful -- it's too thick for the light to shine out -- but putting a glow stick in the already glowing green drink blinds Pom-Pom to the point that cool dance moves are not even required to make a positive impression.  Another nation brought into the fold!

Now we can get to big/strong/none-too-bright older brother Strong Mad's country, elegantly named "Country," and attempt to enlist his help.  Strong Bad must prove he is a mighty warrior by battling the Taranchula, that is, a stolen heavy metal concert standee with taped on heads supposedly breathing fire breath and ice breath, blocking the bridge to the lands beyond.  We can use the samurai sword to cut the cardboard beast's heads off (as Strong Mad hilariously uses a ketchup bottle to simulate spurting blood from the neck), but the heads regrow!  This is largely a physical timing puzzle -- we can use the samurai sword to cut off the ice head, and while Strong Mad is repairing it, knock the fire head into the river below so it can't regrow.  Similarly, we must light the stack of papier mache skulls standing nearby for visual effect on fire and then knock the ice head into the fire.  Now Strong Mad is on board as well.

We still have to deal with Marzistan before we can proceed to the Of Town's castle.  Marzipan is resolutely peaceful, but Homestar can be talked into calling a Peace Draft for the Homestarmy.  The UN display functions as a spin-the-wheel draft picker, but even with Strong Mad's heavy friend Tony Stony slotted into the Strong Badia slot, the wheel always picks Homestar himself.  We need to shift the "balance of power" somehow to draft a fifth soldier -- Coach Z is on the wheel, and placing the stone in the right slot adds him to the assembled forces.  The battle is on!

.... And doesn't last long.  Even though a few of Strong Bad's allies desert him in his hour of military need, The King of Town surrenders in about five minutes, and now Strong Bad finds himself stuck with the throne.  But what is this?  Sent email history discovered on the King's Snacky 186 computer reveal that this was all an elaborate plot to get Strong Bad to take over the kingdom!  The floppy disks nearby contain recipes suggested by Peasant's Quest (the P. Quest on the disks that I mistook for a Police Quest reference in Episode 1.)

There's a Deluxe Maps & Minions board in the castle which Strong Bad can use to command his troops.  The King of Town also uses email templates, one of which we can use to impose an outrageous tax on Creamy Ding Snack Cakes and arouse his ire against King Strong Bad, sparking a counter-revolution. 

As it turns out, by turning the game board around, Strong Bad can command the other side's forces, as we play a proper round of Maps & Minions to restore the King of Town to his throne.  We can neutralize Strong Sad's depressing conversation by blocking him with Homsar, and Strong Mad's might can be balanced by his good friend The Cheat.  But if Homestar confronts the King directly, all is lost, so we must keep those two separated.  The Poopsmith leaves an odorous cloud behind him, which we can use to conceal the King's whereabouts for a move -- all we really have to do is get the King one move ahead of Homestar and keep a route clear so he can get back to the castle.

Victory is the King's, which mean it's really Strong Bad's, that is, ours!

The Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episodes are pretty solid across the board, and like a lot of Telltale series it seems to hit its stride more confidently in this second episode.  I really enjoyed some of the puzzles in this one -- they're not too difficult, but the design is a nice blend of conversation, object, and timing situations, and the strategy game at the end ties the whole story together appropriately.  We'll tackle the next episode (of five) before too long.

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