Strong Bad returns in what is quite possibly the first time an episodic console title has actually arrived on time: Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free has come to WiiWare a month after the release of the first episode. Needless to say, fans of the original will find more to enjoy here. Compared to the first one, does Episode 2 continue to deliver a relatively laid-back but enjoyably humorous romp through point-and-click adventuring?
One subtle aspect that players may not notice immediately is that the element of saying nice or mean things has been removed from Episode 2 -- everything you say to characters is related to some specific topic. This is actually a good thing because the amount of dialogue is the same, it's just more focused and easier to navigate. For the most part, the gameplay is pretty simple and effective. This one may be easier than the first, but it probably has more to do with the fact that I have gained a better grasp on the way the mechanics work and the sense of "logic" inherent in Strong Bad's world. In either case, I found the second episode to be somewhat more enjoyable than the first.
Strong Bad is checking his e-mail (as always) when he receives a message asking him what he thinks is the dumbest law The King of Town has ever passed. Immediately thereafter, the King of Town bursts into his house and places him under house arrest for neglecting to pay his "e-mail tax." This initiates the first puzzle of the game, which involves Strong Bad trying to escape his own house. Strong Bad decides that the time has come for Strong Badia (ie a batch of dirt next to a white picket fence) to declare war upon the King of Town -- or rather, the "of Town," as Strong Bad refuses to acknowledge his royalty. The result is political unrest which divides the land into many "countries" which Strong Bad must either conquer or ally with in order to spread the rule of his empire. Homestar, of course, takes out that good ol' bowl and spoon and reinstates the draft for the Homestarmy, much to his girlfriend's dismay. You can't keep a good soldier down.
It is, as expected, quite ridiculous and nonsensical: exactly what fans want from this intellectual property. You can tell that the Brothers Chaps (the creators of Strong Bad) have been fully involved with the production of these games, as everything genuinely feels like an extended, three-dimensional, interactive episode of their online cartoon. It's truly impressive just how many voices can be produced from one throat -- almost all of the voicework (and there is plenty of it, hence the hefty file size) is performed by one man. Once in a while, the dialogue can fall a little flat, but as a whole, it's even better than Episode 1, I would say. One specific section, in particular, had me chortling after every sentence spoken, and was possibly one of the greatest moments in Homestar Runner history, a veritable (and surprising) treat for fans.
What about the puzzles, you ask? Well, admittedly, some are very easy. Others are less obvious, but even then, they're really not that difficult unless you are specifically unwilling to experiment. I found myself scratching my head now and again, but things usually clicked together nicely after some experimentation, and being able to figure out a series of puzzles in a row is a good feeling when one does it on his/her own, as if finally finding a use for X item you've been hauling around forever. Of course, really, the puzzles are in place more to offer the player an interactive gateway into this world, and a very comical one it is. Gameplay takes a relative back seat compared to most other WiiWare titles out there, and it's not a bad thing, at all. As far as point-and-click games are concerned, this series is one where many players will WANT to try using items incorrectly just to hear what potentially witty dialogue Strong Bad will let out. "While I would love to see that not not on fire, I would like to see it NOT not not now."
There's also some bonus stuff going on, too, as was the case before. There is a "boss battle" of sorts thrown in (and it is appropriately pathetic and amusing), as well as an alternate version of the Teen Girl Squad to tinker with, and yes, a new cheesy Videlectrix title: this time, a spoof on Double Dragon with a mathematical theme. There's new costume items to add to Strong Bad's collection for photo shoots, too, for those interested in sending those to their friends. Lastly, there is a "strategy" board game at the end. This was actually more or less the game's finale, and I must confess that while immediately intriguing in concept, it felt a bit lacking in potential. It seemed oddly one-sided, as if there was only one specific way to approach it, and none of my "pieces" seemed to ever be able to win against any of the opposing sides'. The potential for this minigame was great and it ultimately disappointed me, overall. Like the episode before it, Strong Badia the Free's ending felt a tad too rushed, as well -- not to mention a segment two-thirds in which seems to completely disregard a key event occurring. Lastly, one somewhat irritating issue that has been around since the first episode is moving around: invisible walls will often present themselves where, visually, they are not expected and don't make sense half the time. The point and click nature of movement can occasionally be hindered by this factor, which is a shame and a problem that I don't expect will be fixed, but it would be a nice touch of polish.
In the end, this series is really about supporting TellTale Games and the Brothers Chaps and enjoying some extended, interactive episodes of Strong Bad. Anyone who had fun with the first episode should definitely play the second -- it's more of what you will want but with a more amusing set up this time around. Lastly, I experienced multiple instances of graphics glitching out and even one case in which the game outright froze on me. They are relatively easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things, but from a technical standpoint, they really need to be ironed out.
Final Verdict - 7/10
Strongbadia the Free isn't a leap forward over the first episode, but really, this is more like a full-length game split into chunks, and as long as they keep coming out every month, it will prove to be a pretty solid set of adventures. The humor is still here in all its random glory, the plot is better than the first (in this reviewer's opinion, at least), and the gameplay is mostly casual and smooth. While it sometimes suffers from things being too rushed and a couple of puzzles not quite feeling like they meet their full potential, the second episode definitely provides more of what those who enjoyed the first will want. TellTale Games and HomestarRunner.com have developed this project in tandem very well. For what it is, it's worthwhile for fans, for sure. Technically speaking, there are some issues which could use attention, but overall, it is executed well. If you're not part of the "in-crowd," either get yourself acquainted with it or pass, as there really isn't much here for anyone not in the know of the Homestar Runner lore. This series is definitely a product of passion for its fans, and it's a pretty good one despite its flaws and shortcomings.