Version tested: Wii
Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Wii Points: 1000
- In Real Money: GBP 7.00 / EUR 10.00 (approx)
Point-and-click adventures are making a comeback. If you're a follower of the genre, this won't come as a revelation, and you may even argue that they never really went away. My own response to this revival has been muted, and I've been accused many times of being some lunk-headed FPS addict for my less than ecstatic response to some recent examples.
If I'm tough on adventure games, it's a tough love - born of a desire to see the genre not only return, but to thrive and evolve and make the same forwards strides that other vintage genres have managed over the last decade or so. For all my affection towards the episodic Sam & Max series, I could never shake the feeling that it represented something of a creative cul-de-sac - familiar, comfortable, predictable. Preaching to the choir, in other words, by playing on nostalgic affection for a particular control scheme rather than taking a step back and seeing how things could be made more accessible for those who didn't grow up in an era when LucasArts meant innovation.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that with Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People, Telltale Games has finally delivered on the promise of their Sam & Max episodes. This is a point-and-click adventure - a very good point-and-click adventure - but it also feels refreshingly free of the restrictions of The Way Things Have Always Been Done.
If you don't know anything about Strong Bad, or his do-gooder nemesis Homestar Runner, then you're going to be at a disadvantage since the game makes little to no effort to ease players into the bizarre world these webtoon characters inhabit. If that's you, head over to www.homestarrunner.com and get yourself acquainted. Suffice to say that Strong Bad is an arrogant, delusional buffoon and your goal in this introductory episode is to humiliate Homestar Runner to the best of your ability by defeating him in The Race To The End Of The Race. This ignoble quest has unforeseen consequences, and the second half of the episode deals with your efforts to set things right.
Obviously it's not difficult to recreate the visual style of the original animations, so what you get is essentially an interactive cartoon that looks and sounds just like the real thing. More than once I was reminded of the old Don Priestley ZX Spectrum adventures, with their enormous colourful characters and cheeky humour. Control is as you'd expect, with the Wii remote highlighting the things you want to examine or interact with, and the A button acting as a mouse-click. New locations can be added to the map - you even get to choose where to place them - and you can leap from place to place with a single click.
Telltale's scaling hint system remains from Sam & Max, allowing players to decide how many nudges in the right direction they want to receive. None of the puzzles are terribly tricky, mostly the expected array of inventory quests triggered by talking to the right characters, but it's a definite boon to those who do get stuck. Where the game earns additional praise is in its slightly non-linear construction - there are multiple tasks to be getting on with, and the game happily lets you advance each one piece by piece, in whatever order you fancy. There are also a host of hidden items, bonus trophies and other secrets to uncover, all squirreled away in the scenery, as well as mini arcade games to play (Snake Boxer 5!) and prank phone calls to make.
There's even online functionality, as you can take a photo at any time - or pose in a photo booth wearing an assortment of unlockable costume items - and then send the resulting picture to people on your Wii Friends list. Whereas most point-and-click adventures don't exactly exude instant replay value, I found that after my first playthrough of Strong Bad (about three and a bit hours, by the way) I'd only discovered a fraction of the secrets. Just as well that completing the story opens up an Extended Play mode where you can keep looking for everything you missed.
Strong Bad is funny, varied and just the right length for an episodic game. The puzzles aren't particularly strong - though they're as good as anything in the recent Sam & Max games - but this is balanced out by the additional stuff to find and muck about with. There's more here than the usual adventure game Easter eggs, where you click on everything you see to hear some funny quips. The only downside is an annoying freezing bug - it occurred for me while using the photo booth - that apparently has something to do with the Wii's widescreen settings. Flip it to standard display and all is well, at least according to the internets. Even so, naughty naughty.
That aside, this is an extremely promising start for another episodic game and I'm holding out hope that this one can avoid the repetition that slightly marred the later Sam & Max episodes. Wherever it takes the series next, Telltale clearly isn't sticking to a proven formula, and that can only be a good thing for the adventure genre on the whole.
- Developer: Hudson Soft
- Publisher: Hudson Soft
- Wii Points: 500
- In Real Money: GBP 3.50 / EUR 5 (approx)
It's tricky to know how to grade something like My Aquarium, given that it's more of a simplistic software toy than anything we'd recognise as a game. Like the name subtly suggests, it's a virtual aquarium that lets you watch digital fish swimming about to the strains of classical music.
You can change the scenery and ornaments in the tank, select the type of gravel at the bottom, and wiggle the remote to shake food into the water. Clicking on a particular fish zooms the view closer, and follows the fish in question. You can "tap" on the "glass" and some fish will investigate while other swim away. Keep checking back each day and more fish are added to your selection. Oh, and you can set specific dates as special. On these days, the fish will do a "dance" for you. You can also send aquariums to friends.
That really is all there is to it, so it's a good thing it clocks in at the bottom of the WiiWare price range. There's more to it than the broadly similar (but twice as pricey) Pokmon Ranch, but even judged as an interactive distraction, it still feels a little light. The whole appeal hinges on how well you're able to customise the aquarium - it is called My Aquarium, after all. And it's here that it falls flat. The decorations are minimal and uninspired. There's not even a plastic treasure chest or bubbling deep-sea diver model, let alone anything more innovative. Why not let people use their own picture files as the backdrop, for instance?
I'm certainly not averse to this sort of thing appearing on WiiWare but My Aquarium feels like half an idea, lazily executed. If you like the idea of a virtual fish-tank, and don't mind that your input is minimal, then the price is about as right as it'll ever get for this sort of thing.