If you’d told me that I’d be writing about Strong Bad in 2016, I’d probably take that opportunity to reevaluate my life choices up to that point. As it stands now, I’m stuck with this present reality, wondering why I just played a poker game for two hours.
One of my fondest internet memories was when I first visited Giant Bomb and watched them play Multimedia Celebrity Poker. It’s one of the more charming relics from the CD-ROM era, starring an already irrelevant Joe Piscopo and Jonathan Frakes in full not-giving-a-shit mode. Morgan Fairchild (or, at least, a mannequin resembling her) also made an appearance. I remember very little about the actual poker segments, as the game was more about the inane banter that would occasionally spout from the players. I suppose the folks at Telltale got wind of this and figured they could improve upon the concept. In fairness, they did, but didn’t exactly need to try very hard to do so.
Starring Max from Sam & Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, The Heavy from Team Fortress, and Tycho from that web comic I stopped reading, Poker Night at the Inventory does everything in its power to distract you from the fact that you’ve actually spent money to play virtual poker. There is a novelty to seeing all four characters rendered in their own art style, interacting with one another across the table. I imagine there was probably some very careful scripting at work to make sure that dialogue didn’t go completely off the rails. It works for the most part, though I quickly learned that the game got confused whenever I interrupted or tried to move things along. At one point, The Heavy stopped in the middle of telling a story to fold, waited stoically for the hand to finish, then snapped back into life to finish the rest of his lines.
Maybe it’s because I only like half of the cast, but the act wore thin rather quickly. Lines already started repeating themselves by the second game and playing with the banter turned off made for an extremely awkward experience. I suppose I should thank the game for teaching me how to play Texas Hold Em, which is a life skill that will surely take me places, but I can’t imagine someone playing for the simple pleasure of poker against an AI, especially one that’s so easily fooled by bluffing. I won a lot of my games by simply making bets so high that everyone at the table folded out of fear. I may or may not have even earned a few Team Fortress 2 items in the process. From what I tell, that’s the primary reason most people touched the game to begin with.
Part of me wishes they hunted down Joe Piscopo and put him in Tycho’s seat, completely unaware of where he was, simply content to make Bill Clinton jokes over and over until you anted up. If we’re going to make something as sad as a single player poker game, I want to go all in, no pun intended. Give me something surreal and terrifying. Make The Heavy toss Strong Bad through the wall after having too much to drink. Have the camera linger far too long on Piscopo until he realizes the room is empty and he’s reduced to a sobbing wreck. Have Max open the doors to hell when you change the graphics quality.
It’s okay if you don’t get that reference. That one was for me.