If the many claims about adventure being a dead genre were indeed true, then the last couple years have been nothing less than a full-scale gaming zombie invasion as many great genre iterations have emerged onto the scene. Whether youíre looking at the creepiness of the Penumbra series, the courtroom brilliance of the Phoenix Wright series on the Nintendo DS, and the revived hilarity of the Sam and Max series, the state of adventure gaming is as strong now as it has been in a long while. Indeed, the same fine folks who cranked out Seasons One and Two of the recent Sam & Max episodic titles have been toiling away on the equally amusing Strong Bad adventure efforts. With vast improvements being made between the initial episode and this most recent one, Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free, this series is already shaping up to be another feather in the genreís cap.
This time out, it seems that the local monarch/gourmand, the King of Town, has turned dictator, instituting a vile retroactive tax where the sending or receiving of any email must result in a snack cake, payable to the King. Given that this is Strong Bad's snark-and-absurdity-laden claim to fame, he soon finds himself seceding, and in short order, every other resident follows suit. In no time, each forms their own independent nation, and it's up to you as the Glorious Leader of Strongbadia to crush and subjugate all enemy nations as you blaze a path across the new map to your sworn enemy-state: The "of Town" (as Strong Bad refuses to recognize the Kingís authority.) Itís a great idea that plays on Strong Badís natural soul-crushing goofiness, and allows for a ton of great gameplay moments.
If youíre looking to take a breather from standard adventure gameplay, there are plenty of great opportunities to keep things interesting. Like Boscoís ever-changing shop in Sam and Max, Strong Badís Videlectrix has given way from Snake Boxer in the first episode to Math Kickers Featuring the Algebros. This Double Dragon-styled brawler makes use of combat and basic math Ė a classic combination, to be sure Ė to defeat the Great Ninja Threat. If that wasnít enough, the game eventually introduces you to Maps & Minions, a simple enough boardgame that is actually a puzzle in its own right. A prehistoric version of Teen Girl Squad makes an appearance, which is good for a few laughs, and as you find random clothing scattered throughout the game, you can slip into a photo booth and play dress-up for your own screenshot entertainment. Between these and any number of other mini checklists to sift through, thereís actually a fairly decent amount of material here that goes above and beyond the usual point-and-clickitude of most adventure games. Whether itís enough to encourage additional playthroughs is debatable, but itís definitely enough to enhance even a one-time experience.
Perhaps because it's moved past the always-awkward introductory phase which posed the original episode as a mildly amusing stumbling block, this second episode features both laughs and actual plot from the get-go. Whatís more, unlike the overly vague muddiness of the first episode, you're presented with clear and concise goals. How you go about achieving those goals may fluctuate between blatantly obvious or painfully obtuse, depending on how experienced you are with some of the silly vagaries of the genre. Either way, this particular episode has a terrific sense of style and plays the absurd political humor right to the hilt. There are tons of great jokes involving communism, 1950ís style propaganda, questionable democracy, military deposition, and the list goes on. Those not inclined towards the political will still get a great solid kick out of the goofiness deeply ingrained here, however, as Strong Bad swings from dance to battling paper mache monsters to get what he wants, and there are any number of great laughs along the way.
All in all, Strong Badís Cool Game for Attractive People, Episode 2: Strong Badia the Free is a great addition to this new series and does away with many of the doubts that were instilled as a result of the lukewarm first episode. Many of the things which work have been improved upon, the plot is sharper and more focused, and the goals are almost always clearer. There are plenty of great opportunities for silly political humor which have been taken advantage of here, and the humor is a great deal more hit than miss. Itís becoming pretty clear that the designers are becoming a great deal more comfortable as the series moves forward, making the future of Strong Badís adventure persona a great deal brighter. Anyone who had any doubts after the first episode should find their fears laid to rest with Strong Badia the Free, which is a few hoursí worth of great fun and certainly worthy of any adventure gamerís time.