Stay on target
For too long the definition of “Game of the Year” has been unfairly narrow. How boring is it to see every website shower the same stale AAA games with praise at the end of each holiday season? So at Geek.com we’re doing what we can to put a stop to this in Game of the Year, a new column celebrating worthy alternative picks for the year’s greatest game regardless of genre, platform, year of release, or even quality. Here, any game can be Game of the Year!
Ever since The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has received critical acclaim for its Serious Games with Strong Emotional Storytelling and Mature Themes. They make games for adults based on properties like Game of Thrones and Fables and Batman. But honestly, it’s been all downhill for the developer since 2008 after they adapted the best franchise in the history of the internet: Homestar Runner. This week’s game of the year is the point-and-click’em up adventure Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People.
But first, some context for those of you unfortunate enough to not know what Homestar Runner is. For like twenty years brothers Matt and Mike Chapman have been entertaining cool kids on the internet with their Flash cartoons. Dim-witted but beloved terrific athlete Homestar Runner may have the site named after him, but the real star is Strong Bad, a vaguely Mexican wrestler who achieved cult classic with his show about checking emails.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Homestar Runner so funny, beyond the usual difficulty of explaining a joke. Yeah, the characters all have amusing designs, but the humor is more rooted in a sort of gentle Gen X appreciation for weird wordplay and pop culture references and a general chill vibe. It’s a little too heady for children I’d imagine, but it’s not some filthy Seth MacFarlane cartoon either. It’s just a website full of great cartoons featuring dulcet Casio keyboard tones and text adventure parodies and a love of cold ones and blue-haired anime characters. Plus, the characters themselves, from depressed little brother Strong Sad to old and creepy Midwestern hip-hop head Coach Z, have become extremely well-defined over the years. They’ve moved on from collections of quirks and weird voices to rich personalities with shocking comedic depths.
Across its five monthly episodes, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People (or SBCG4AP) does an admirable job capturing the breadth of the Homestar Runner universe. The first episode starts with a classic Strong Bad vs. Homestar story but later episodes move onto explorations of Strong Bad egotistic politics, a celebration of the cartoon’s love of fake bands, an action movie parody that pays off a long-running joke from the emails, and a classic 8-bit video game-themed season finale blowout.
The plots are all hilarious, but the real joy of the game comes from hanging out in the Homestar Runner world, talking to characters and making Teen Girl Squad comics. The visual charms translate well to the simple 3D art style. Point-and-click games have never been my favorite genre, and here I only tolerated the mechanics because of my love of the source material. But I can’t deny the brilliance of this pairing of property and genre. Poker Night at the Inventory is a strong runner-up. The Brothers Chaps don’t do too many outside partnerships, but with its focus on laidback absurd humor and memorable characters, SBCG4AP at times feels like the best game LucasArts never made. Meanwhile, playing the game with a Wii remote, and turning it on its side NES-style to play the fake retro games, just felt right.
We didn’t know it at the time, but SBCG4AP was pretty much the end of the Homestar Runner golden age. Since 2010, the site has been on hiatus as the Brothers Chaps have moved onto other projects, mostly at Disney. There have been new Homestar Runner cartoons since, but they appear sporadically. On the internet, it’s a Big Deal when a new one releases, like this gem from the holiday break.
So if you, like me, are keeping Flash installed on your computer solely to watch Strong Bad emails and want to immerse yourself in the Homestar Runner universe even more, check out Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People on the Wii, PS3, PC, and Mac. Any game with Senor Cardgage is overqualified to be the game of the year.
Check back next week to read about the next Game of the Year!