Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People – Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner
It’s extremely rare that I find a game that I can’t peg instantly. I’ve been writing about video games for a long time. I can usually pick about six or seven things that I like or don’t like about a game within the first half-hour or so. Not so with Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People – Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner. In the three hours that I spent with it, I felt like I was always waiting to be impressed, waiting to be knocked off my chair from the humor that Homestar Runner has become known for, and while I did enjoy playing the game for the most part, I still felt skeptical by the time it was over. Maybe I felt like this because the game is a three-hour short episode in a series of at least five that are promised from Telltale Games and maybe it didn’t have enough time to find it’s stride. Whatever the reason is, by the end of the game, I felt unsatisfied and that’s the bottom-line.
Homestar Ruiner is an episodic point-and-click adventure game. It follows in pretty much the same vein as the Sam and Max games that Telltale has made for over the last couple of years or so, but the characters and setting differentiate the game enough that fans of Telltale’s other work shouldn’t find it too familiar. However, those characters and that setting make Homestar Ruiner feel much more constrained and limited (as far as source material goes) than Sam and Max. While the dog-and-rabbit crime fighting duo can head to different places and locales and meet up with new people, Homestar Ruiner relies solely on the source material that’s been laid out for it over the years. There are no new characters, no real surprises. The graphics are identical to the series’ traditional look. It’s extremely clear that this game stands below the Homestar Runner website in the creator’s minds.
The storyline will be very familiar to Homestar Runner fans. The game opens with anti-hero Strong Bad checking his computer for his latest email. The writer suggests that he go and beat the snot out of his nemesis, Homestar Runner. Taking up the author’s suggestion, Strong Bad heads to the track to physically assault his foe. However, before the pummeling can commence, Strong Bad discovers that Homestar is training for the Free Country USA Triannual Race to the End of the Race. His desire for fame, glory and a sweet silver trophy inspire him to try to enter the race (for some reason, the top prize is a silver trophy).
Try as he might, Strong Bad isn’t allowed to enter the race, having missed the registration deadline. His desire to compete, win the trophy and to pummel Homestar sets in motion a series of events that eventually lead to Homestar being dumped by his girlfriend Marzipan and becoming a fugitive for being caught nude in public. While this may seem like a victory, once Homestar’s life is fully destroyed, he takes up residence in the House of Strong and becomes more of a nuisance than he ever was. After that, it’s up to Strong Bad to repair the damage he’s caused.
The storyline lends itself to quite a few laughs, though I have to say, I feel the material is better suited to random five minute flash cartoons than in a three-hour block. There was nothing really stand-out, either. While I distinctly remember a lot of Strong Bad’s emails on the Homestar Runner website, there was nothing that clever or memorable here. The laughs are there, yeah, but it’s not as funny when it’s expected. When Strong Bad wants to kick people out of his house on the website and puts a banana peel on the floor and watches everyone fall out the window, yeah, that’s funny. When you spend five minutes trying to set it up and it’s painfully obvious that that’s what you need to do, it just isn’t as fun.
Most of the gameplay is your typical point-and-click stuff. As you explore the environments, you’ll need to click on every possible object in sight. After you do that and listen to whatever one-liner Strong Bad comes up with about the object, you then talk to the various characters that make up the Homestar Runner universe. They’ll often reveal certain tips to help you out. For example, after you examine an unkempt bush at Marzipan’s house, she reveals that her hedge trimmers are in the shop. Once you head to Bub’s stand and pick them up, you can then use them to acquire a mask you can wear to disguise yourself as Homestar. It’s all extremely logical, which I appreciated. I’ve often had difficulties enjoying this genre of games because I’ve found the puzzles to be too outlandish, but the puzzles here felt reasonably straight-forward.
But what it comes down to is this: I don’t feel that this game lives up to what it could be. The series is funnier than this. Maybe it doesn’t help that the same jokes are repeated over and over again as you try and fail. In one particular scene, I had to mess with Coach Z’s video camera in order to restart the race. This required that I watch a scene showing Coach Z going for the tape, finding it destroyed and then calling for Homestar to come run again. While funny the first time, it wasn’t so much the second or third time as I figured out new parts to the puzzle. It would have worked better if I just told Strong Bad to mess with the camera and then it skipped the scene after I’d seen it.
There is hope: this franchise is just way too funny to imagine that it won’t hit its stride in the next few episodes. I have to say, the teaser preview that you unlock for Episode 2 at the end of this episode did look really funny. But it’s clear that there are going to be some growing pains along the way as the developers figure out how to make the humor and style of Homestar Runner translate into a video game. Fans of the franchise probably won’t be too disappointed if they pick this up, but people looking for a series point-and-click adventure game are probably going to want to go elsewhere.