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Sam and Max

The ten best videogame detectives EVER!

Sep 12 // Chad Concelmo
There are two things I love in this world: dolphins and menu-based point-and-click adventure games on the NES. And the movie Babe. Oh, and Souplantation. Okay, there are many things I love in this world. But one of these things is definitely menu-based point-and-click adventure games on the NES. There may be only a few in existence, but they are all grand. One of the best in the bunch is Déjà Vu, a surprisingly dark and challenging adventure that follows around Ace Harding as he tries to solve the mystery of who he is and why he is being accused of murder. Players never get to see the main character since the game is entirely in first-person, but if the box art is any indication, Ace is one slick (and narcissistic!) detective. Trench coat review: Very Carman Sandiego-esque. Love the bright color and sharp fedora! Grade: B+   One of the most underrated and sadly forgotten PC games of all time is Blade Runner. The game is gorgeous, moody, and a perfect extension of Ridley Scott's original science fiction universe. In the graphic adventure game, you play as Roy McCoy, a gritty, hardened detective who, like Deckard in the film, is assigned to track down a group of potentially dangerous replicants. If you haven't played Blade Runner, track it down. It's a real gem. Trench coat review: Disappointing. You would think a trench coat from the future would have some glowing TRON lights on it or something. Or at least a less frumpy silhouette. Grade: C   Sissel is not technically a detective, as much as a [SPOILER] coming back to [SPOILER] his [SPOILER]. But I love him (and Ghost Trick!) so much that he had to make this list. Plus, he is a phantom detective, which is inherently cooler than a regular detective. Trench coat review: The stark red is unconventional and super fashion-forward. Grade: A   I love Hotel Dusk on the Nintendo DS. I really do. It is one of the most interesting and original games on the handheld. But, man, is it depressing. The sad story, gloomy environments, and morose characters, combined with the black and white art, make for one downer of an adventure. A pretty great adventure, don’t get me wrong, but one that takes itself very seriously. Main character Kyle Hyde is just as serious. But he has a right to be! When he was a child, his father was killed. Years later, when he became a detective, his partner betrayed him and sold inside information to some bad people. So Kyle shot him. And then the body disappeared, leading Kyle to the mysterious Hotel Dusk, where some really crazy things happen. He’s had a tough life. Time for someone to get a puppy! Trench coat review: As disjointed and messy as the inner-workings of Kyle’s tormented mind. Grade: C+   Sonny Bonds, main character from the classic Police Quest series, starts off as a simple traffic cop, but eventually (and rather quickly) works his way up to narcotics detective,  tracking down a homicidal drug dealer and saving his girlfriend's life in the process. He is also constantly ridiculed in the game by his superiors, called a "pig" by every rowdy citizen he meets, and dies -- yes, actually dies -- if he tries to walk out of the police station locker room naked. Not that I tried that or anything. Trench coat review: What Sonny Bonds lacks in trench coat, he makes up for in one beautiful head of hair. Grade: N/A   Oh, Inspector Chelmey, you are such a bumbling, endearing detective. While you are trying to solve mysteries, Layton and Luke are rearranging matchsticks, sliding around blocks, untangling rope, and still end up beating you to the end goal. PULL IT TOGETHER, CHELMEY! Trench coat review: Surprisingly dapper. Also, bonus points for that bold purple tie! Grade: B+   Tex Murphy is a private investigator and star of a series of adventure games in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Well, “interactive movies” would be the better way to describe them, as they feature real-life actors playing the parts of all the characters. In fact, Chris Jones, the actual designer of the game, plays Tex Murphy himself. How awesome is that?! I think this whole concept needs to make a comeback. Can you imagine Cliff Bleszinski as the star of Gears of War? Or Miyamoto with a flower on his head as the mysterious and feared Pikmin King? Classic. If you are wondering why Tex Murphy is so great, just watch this hardboiled trailer for The Pandora Directive and bask in all its glory. “Where the line blurs between loyalty ... and desire.” Trench coat review: Well, it’s a trench coat! It also looks like something my dad wore to a Halloween party when I was a kid. Grade: D   If my parents named me Dick Gumshoe, I would ... well, first thing I would do would be to hug them for naming me something as awesome as Dick Gumshoe. But after that I would become a detective. I mean, what else is there to do with a name like Dick Gumshoe? Porn star? Candy store owner? Porn star/candy store owner? Nah, detective is the best option. Fan favorite detective Dick Gumshoe from the Phoenix Wright games may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but he is such a loyal and lovable guy that you can't help but love him. Trench coat review: Popped collar? Check. Loose fitting tie? Check. Is Dick Gumshoe a bro? Grade: C-   Pennington is a penguin detective from awesome GameCube RPG Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. And he has a magnifying glass and a cute little hat. Now, I am often accused of overusing hyperbolic, all-caps statements, but, seriously, HE IS A PENGUIN DETECTIVE! LOOK HOW ADORABLE HE IS! Calm down, Chad. Breathe. Trench coat review: His flippers wouldn’t fit through a trench coat, but look at that bow tie. And his little messenger bag! AND THAT HAT! MY GOD HERE I GO AGAIN! Grade: A+   To not put Sam and Max as the number one detectives on a list dedicated to them would just be cruel. Luckily, they actually earn this spot by being two of the most memorable videogame characters of all time. Sam may be the one that does all the crime-solving, but Max is there to ... well, Max just likes to do terrible things to everyone he meets. But he is hilarious. And that makes everything okay. Trench coat review: Simple, clean, and stylish. I also love the ... OMG MAX IS NAKED! Grade: (Sam) A-; (Max) N/A   ----- Since there are so many great videogame detectives (and almost all from adventure games, weirdly enough), here is a list of characters that almost made the final cut.   ----- What do you think? Do you agree with my picks for the best videogame detectives of all time? Are you a fan of the Sam & Max adventure games? And, seriously, what is up with all the trench coats? I understand they are detectives, but sheesh!
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Trench coats!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Sam & Max series. It was 1987 when the very first Sam & Max comic was released, inspiring one of the greatest and most charming adventure game series ever. Everyone is celeb...

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GOG.com welcomes Sam, Max, and Guybrush


Jun 26
// Fraser Brown
GOG.com has been my go-to site for adventure gaming for quite some time. It used to just be for the classics I remember from my misspent youth; whiled away with pointing and, indeed, clicking. Now, more and more modern titles...

The grand adventure: Making a comeback

Mar 30 // Fraser Brown
I was something of a late adopter when it came to digital distribution. I clung to my boxes and physical media for as long as the world let me. Everybody has a price, though. It turned out that my price was the complete Space Quest collection on Steam. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that it was far from the only example of a classic adventure game on the platform, indeed, there were plenty of new ones as well. Steam already had a massive user base and it offered a great space for promotion.  Telltale Games is no stranger to digital distribution; its games can be found on all manner of digital platforms, including those of the console variety. CEO Dan Connors explained, "Digital distribution allows independent publishers to reach the customers without taking on the costs associated with building and marketing a retail title." Telltale sells directly to their customers via their own site, as well. "We're going to be relaunching that soon, because we've learned a ton and we're really going to start making that a big part of our mission again, to get a community there and get people excited and offering them things they can't get in other places. It's a way you can test experiences, try new things, message however you want, position product however you want, provide information on products, and let people participate." Along with Steam, indie bundles have been a massive boon to smaller adventure game developers. The first three titles in the Blackwell series and Gemini Rue were both featured in indie bundles, last year. Those games were the work of Dave Gilbert and Josh Nuernberger, respectively. Dave told me, "It was like launching the games all over again. I think more people have played Blackwell in the [week since it featured on the bundle] than they have in the last five years. My inbox and forums have exploded since the Indie Royale launch, and the association also gave Blackwell the final push it needed for Steam to accept it. We’ve been trying to get the series on Steam for two years but they always said no. So we’re very grateful for that." One of the largest problems for adventure game developers in the years since the golden age of the genre was publishers' lack of faith in the products. When they were willing to invest in such a game, it was lazily marketed and rarely got the support it needed. With promotion and direct access to players, developers have been able to show that there's a healthy audience out there, which will hopefully lead to more publishers investing in these types of titles. Better tools have also made it easier for small developers to make a finished product. Adventure game studio (AGS) is a free development kit inspired by Sierra's interface for its adventure titles and it's been used to create a vast number of games, including many commercial ones. Most of Wadjet Eye's catalog used AGS. "The creation of third-party tools like AGS enable idiots like me to make these games, so more of them are being made every day." Although AGS games frequently favor a retro aesthetic, that's a design choice rather than limitations imposed by the software. Dave explained, "It’s a big misconception that AGS can only handle low-res games. It can actually go as high as you want, just most people prefer not to. So the decision to use AGS has nothing to do with aesthetic choice, but it has everything to do with money and time. Right out of the box, it has everything you need to make a point-and-click adventure game. Not having the experience or knowledge to make an engine of my own, it was the most logical choice." Dave's own games have a distinctly retro look and thematically they are similar to the much-beloved Gabriel Knight series. Playing the Blackwell series instantly transported me back in time to the days when Sierra were still blowing my mind with new adventures. It's a wonderful feeling. "Blackwell is very much me trying to do Gabriel Knight. The story of Joe Gould and Joseph Mitchell was my Jensenian attempt at merging real-life historical people with supernatural events." As Al Lowe reminded me, these smaller teams using AGS are a lot like the teams that developed adventure games in the '80s and early '90s. "I think that's great because it brings back the small team concept of one or two people working closely together on a project and actually putting their own personalities into it. I think that so much of what we see that's wrong with games today, that there is no key personality that comes through." While cost is obviously a concern, I do think that there's a tendency for adventure game fans and developers to be incredibly nostalgic and thus gravitate more towards retro design. I'm guilty of this, myself. My love of the genre classics means that I'm immediately more interested in titles which are inspired by those particular art styles or certain mechanics. In Telltale's case, Dan defends nostalgia, believing that older franchises still have much to offer. "Well I think that for us, with having Sam & Max as our flagship, we looked at the content as being so rich and relevant in the modern day... [It] needed to be brought up now. Having Sam & Max in 2004, and 2010 and all the times we've been able to use them as characters ... I mean they're just great characters and it's a great franchise. So for us introducing that content to a new audience was a huge thing." Expanding into new markets such as consoles and handhelds has also increased the userbase. Adventure games used to be pretty much a PC only affair, with the occasional shoddy console port. While PC is still the focal platform, titles like Phoenix Wright, Ghost Trick, and 999 made the DS a must for lovers of strange adventures and interactive stories. PSN and XBLA have also seen their share of adventure ports, most of Telltale's games can be found there, for instance. Fans of the genre can even get their adventure on with their phone or tablet. Machinarium on iOS is fantastic and might be even better than it was on PC, thanks to it becoming a more tactile experience. Dan seemed to be willing to embrace new platforms and technology. "It can bring more imagination to how you interact with the characters in the world and how you experience the story." He acknowledges the risk of doing that when it comes to traditionalist fans, though. "It moves away from traditional stuff and is a bit risky. So you have to be pure adventure game or you're in this vanguard story game type of place." When I recall playing most of my favorite adventure games, I remember pouring countless hours into them. Getting stuck on a puzzle meant that I was going to be doing a lot of trial-and-error experimentation, exploring loads of areas, doing a lot of pixel hunting and then finally leaving the computer to go and contemplate it elsewhere -- maybe in a dojo or on top of a mountain. Failing that, I'd pester my friends. Now there's a strong temptation to just go online and find a walkthrough, even if you've only just been stuck for a couple of minutes. It can ruin the pacing of the game and rob the player of their satisfaction at being able to think of a solution. In an effort to keep gamers immersed, or at the very least to stop them alt-tabing every time they get stumped, many modern adventures contain an in game hint system or simply less taxing puzzles. This can certainly frustrate old fashioned players, like myself, but one cannot deny it has lowered the bar for entry and possibly increased the genre's fanbase. Dave doesn't think this is really anything new, however. "You often hear that gamers are less patient these days. I’m not sure if that's true. Back in the '80s, I would spend several months playing the latest Infocom game and never think of ordering the hint book unless I was desperate. But then I got the game Enchanter, which mysteriously shipped with the hint book. I finished that game in less than a week. If I got stuck for maybe ten minutes I'd reach for the hint book, because it was so accessible. The only thing that has changed since those days is that we all have instant access to that hint book via Google. There's no reason to force hard puzzles on people, because everyone can solve them. So the trend has moved away from difficult puzzles and more towards making the experience of playing an adventure game more enjoyable. It's a very hard balance to strike." The importance of story in adventure games cannot be overstated. It's what drives the exploration forward and it's the motivation for completing the puzzles. One of the positive aspects on these titles not relying merely on head-scratchers is that there's even more effort put into the narrative. Josh Nuernberger's Gemini Rue contains one of my favorite stories in the genre of late. It's a tale of loss and identity set in a bleak neo-noir future. Even though it's an understated adventure built using AGS, it's gained a lot of attention and you'd be crazy for not checking it out.  Josh advocates the importance of telling the story through gameplay. "What I'd really like to see is games that make these complex stories your experience in the game -- e.g. you are hunted by a mysterious oppressor, or you must face your alternate personality in physical form. Many games today are unfortunately sequences of simplified gameplay strung together by cut-scenes that provide context for your actions (see many first or third-person-shooters). Great games tell stories through their gameplay -- you understand the world and the story by the way you interact with them as a player." Gemini Rue also has several action sequences: cover-based gun fights. "Although in adventure games you can't always go the route of totally removing all cut-scenes, you can at least integrate other aspects of gameplay so they don't just turn into quick time events. I knew when incorporating combat I wanted it to be meaningful and to work on its own as a mechanic. The ultimate goal is to give players a unique experience and a quick time event doesn't really capture a gunfight in the same way that a developed combat system does." I personally think that the integration of interesting mechanics is something the adventure genre desperately needed to continue expanding its audience and I think we're starting to see a lot more of that. A great example of a game that does this is Double Fine's Stacking. It was built around the delightful premise of controlling a matryoshka doll and jumping inside larger ones to gain their abilities and overcome puzzles and obstacles. It was incredibly inventive and its unique gameplay mechanic really made it stand out. Double Fine seems to have had more success with the downloadable market than it did with Psychonauts or Brutal Legend. Their use of Kickstarter to fund their latest project seems to have paid off, as well, with fans almost throwing money at the company. It will be interesting to see the long-term impact of Kickstarter on independent developers as more start to use it to secure funding. Along with shorter downloadable titles like Stacking, episodic adventures have become increasingly common in recent years. It has always struck me as a perfect fit for the genre. Most classic adventure games can be completed rather quickly if you know the solutions to the puzzles. The games' lengths were augmented by the challenge of solving the puzzles yourself. It also meant that each episode could fund the next one, making it financially more viable. It's far from an automatic route to success, however, according to Dave Gilbert. The Blackwell series has been going since 2006 and contains four games, but not all episodic series are so fortunate. "The most obvious thing that can go wrong is that the game flops. What then? Do you forge on ahead and finish the series, knowing that the first one didn’t do well? If you do, then you run a much greater risk of the sequel doing just as badly. If you don’t, then you lose a lot of faith and goodwill and that is hard to get back." Episodic games require a big investment from players as well as developers. Dave continues: "The main problem with episodic games is that isn’t a lot of faith in the format yet. Only Telltale has managed to pull it off successfully and gained the trust of the consumers. While opinions on their games vary, nobody doubts they will finish what they start. By this point, the gaming public probably has a bit more faith in my ability to deliver than most, but I still get a lot of emails from people saying they don't want to get invested in Blackwell not knowing if it will ever be finished. I can totally understand that." It's not just independent developers and publishers working to bring adventure games to a new audience, though. Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain, an interactive thriller that reminded me a lot of FMV titles from the '90s, made some big waves a couple of years ago. While it enjoyed both commercial and critical success, it also got criticized for being more movie than videogame. Our own Jim Sterling is far from a fan. However, its success may lead more publishers to take risks on games with such a strong focus on story. The now-defunct Team Bondi made quite the impression last year with their investigative adventure (and driving simulator,) L.A. Noire. It made an even bigger impression with its implosion, some might say. The game itself, if not the treatment of the people that worked on it, still deserves praise, however. Before the genre started to have problems, it was ahead of the curve when it came to animation, so it's good to see so much effort being put into making believable game worlds and characters again. If you'd asked me, back in 2005, if I ever thought big studios would be designing AAA adventure games again, I would have laughed. Now it doesn't seem nearly as absurd. I'm not going to be dramatic and suggest that we're seeing an adventure game renaissance. I wish I could, but it's simply not true. We're definitely seeing it making something of a comeback, though. There's a lot more faith in them, both from publishers and players and that's gone a long way to start bringing them back into the mainstream. The fact that the market is growing at all is a massive step forward and looking back just five or six years, we can see how far the genre has come. There are a lot of talented developers out there bringing us more and more experiences to enjoy. It might not be a renaissance yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.
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Check out the first part of the feature, here! The last few years have been an interesting time for the adventure game genre. After a decade of disappointment, fans finally started to see more and more titles appear and most ...


The grand adventure: Adventure games through the ages

Mar 29 // Fraser Brown
The 80s through the mid-90s have been called the golden age of adventure gaming -- it's easy to see why this period gained such a moniker. It's hard to think about the genre without taking note of Monkey Island, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, or Indiana Jones, just to name a few. The adventure giants, LucasArts and Sierra Online, offered us an absurd number of challenging, witty, and frequently hilarious games as well as gripping mysteries and psychological horrors, in which we could immerse ourselves for far too many hours. Although I've never been one to play a single genre exclusively, back then, I could have probably just played these games and been more than content. Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games -- a success story I'll be looking at in our forthcoming second half -- emphasized how important these titles remain today and how dissatisfied gamers still look to them as the high points of the medium. "From a creativity standpoint, it was a golden age then of just all this young, super talented, super brilliant people who had all this time to invest in creating these amazing characters that are totally perfect for the space, like Guybrush.... [It's] so deeply ingrained in the gaming culture and the gaming ennui." A significant portion of my youth was swallowed up due to the creations and contributions of Al Lowe. While at Sierra Online, he worked on such classics as Kings Quest and Police Quest, but he's best known as the creator of Leisure Suit Larry, a series chronicling the misadventures of one Larry Laffer, a sleazy, horny, double entendre-loving wannabe womanizer. Adventure games were still in their infancy; it was a time of experimentation and risk taking. "I remember going to a video store with Ken [Roberts, co-founder of Sierra Online]," Al reminisced, "We walked down the aisles and looked at all the headings above the shelves, and he said, 'Why are there no mystery games? Why are there no western games?' And so that was one of the things he tried to do, to get Roberta [Williams, creator of Kings Quest and Phantasmagoria and co-founder of Sierra Online] to do a mystery product and Jim [Walls, creator of Police Quest] to do a police product and me to do a western game [the hilarious Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist]." Al calls this the baseball strategy -- Ken would look at what was missing from the game space and he'd try to fill it, like hitting a ball to where there are no fielders. It certainly served Sierra well, as their products filled many niches. Most of these games were written and developed by people who had to teach themselves. There certainly were none of the classes, courses, or workshops that we have now, and there wasn't much in the way of a previous generation to learn from, either. "You have to understand, when I started, there were no computer classes available to me. This sounds impossible to anyone growing up in the 80s, but when I started in 77, the only courses available were in COBOL and Fortran; BASIC was just a joke. I learned to program in BASIC merely by reading books, but Ken said my BASIC code wasn't good enough and I'd have to learn assembly language, so I bought a bunch of books... I couldn't take a class, there weren't any." That meant there were a lot of design choices that would seem like shortcuts or attempts to make the game artificially longer today, but it was that trial-and-error approach that allowed them to perfect the genre. Being about the same age as the Leisure Suit Larry franchise, I'm young enough that my first foray into the series -- and into adventure games in general -- occurred right as the art, animation, and mechanics started to evolve into something more recognizable to the modern player. Simple sprite art was on the way out, and gorgeous hand-drawn art started to take center stage. FMV titles like Phantasmagoria and the Tex Murphy series gave players a whole new perspective to enjoy; while they didn't age particularly well, back in the 90s, they made me feel like I was interacting with the real world and not just with a videogame. Although the FPS genre is often cited as the catalyst for the technological leaps in gaming, adventure games advanced the medium by leaps and bounds long before then, especially in terms of how we interacted with the environments. I still have a soft spot for parsing, typing in commands, and hoping for the best, or at the very least, discovering an Easter egg or hidden joke. But that was eventually dropped for more convenient interfaces which involved more clicking and a lot less typing. That's not to say that gamers didn't develop a case of rose-tinted glasses. Even back then, people wanted to return to the old ways. In Larry 7, parsing was actually included as an alternative feature, but it never took off. "The problem was," Al explained, "in Larry 7, people tried it once or twice and thought it was cool, then ignored it. It just proved to me that whatever group of people said to bring back parsers were wrong. They didn't really want to do that, they were just enamored with the concept." Unfortunately, during the mid to late 90s, adventure games started to lose popularity. Even the big titles weren't bringing in many players. The future looked bleak for Sierra, as Al reminded me, "When 3D graphics cards came out, it looked like the future of gaming was going 3D. With the rise of the shooter genre, the money and interest had to come from somewhere, and it really came from adventure games. Plus, a lot of the games stole a lot of the ideas that made adventure games work, like inventories, puzzles, and conversation trees, and those became integrated into those other games." What I found most surprising about the way other titles adapted adventure mechanics into their gameplay was how so many people completely forgot where they came from. It was a sad time for fans like myself. "Larry 7 was the last adventure game that really sold well. I remember when Grim Fandango came out after Larry 7, it was at a time when LucasArts was producing these great products and everybody loved the game, the gameplay was great, but it sold like crap." Grim Fandango's failure was something of a tragedy, really. Such an immensely clever game, with memorable characters, a wonderfully told story, and a unique art direction, deserved to succeed. While the critics and those who actually played it loved it, it went by generally unnoticed by everyone else. It is somewhat fitting, however, that this tale of a Grim Reaper would herald what many felt was the death of the pointing and clicking. The focus shifted from stories and puzzles to action and graphical fidelity. "Suddenly, these games where you'd sit and pound your head and try to figure out what to do next looked antiquated and old and slow. But the more I played the new games, the less I liked them and the more I appreciated puzzle solving. And also, I really liked humor -- I love Monkey Island and Space Quest and those games that made you laugh, where there was a big pay off and a belly laugh coming in. Man, that just went away completely. There were no products that had any sense of humor back then." Al's love of humor in videogames is something we share, perhaps because it is so rare. A game that makes me actually laugh is something I cherish, even if it's just because of some terrible puns or a bit of slapstick. That's not to say there weren't any developers trying to bring humor back into our wonderful hobby. Seven years after Grim Fandango felt the sting of an apathetic market, the game's designer and LucasArts alumnus, Tim Schafer, gave gamers the gift of Psychonauts, a unique experience that merged action and platforming with the storytelling and puzzles of the adventure genre. People still talk about it today, but it's just a shame that few people were doing so in 2005. Psychonauts' combination of styles is something that I think fits adventures very well. Story and puzzles are at their core, and there's no reason why players cannot experience those things through action and platforming or even driving and shooting. It was this sort of thinking that almost brought us the action/comedy Sam Suede. Al Lowe formed a new team to create a console experience which attempted to combine 3D gameplay and action with the comedy and narrative of golden age adventures, but it was never finished. It's clear that Sam Suede is still a sore topic for Al. "Psychonauts came out and sold 50,000 copies or whatever and went immediately to the bargain bins. It was like every publisher looked at our stuff and said, 'Well, what are your comparables?' We said there really aren't any comparables because we've got sexy girls, a lot of funny conversation, and they said, 'Well it's an action comedy and the only action comedy we know is Psychonauts, how did that sell?' Oh shit. So we evidently got tarred with the Psychonauts brush and we just could not find a publisher who would take a risk." Even when the developers tried to bring gamers back into the adventure fold, publishers lacked confidence in the genre. It would be easy to just pin all the blame on the publishers -- after all, we do that a lot with other things. But when their biggest concern is the bottom line, if they don't see anyone buying these types of products, then there's no reason for them to take these massive risks. By the second half of the 2000s, things were changing. After LucasArts cancelled the long-awaited sequel to 1993's Sam & Max Hit the Road, a group of designers left to form their own studio, known today as Telltale Games. Their first titles were Telltale Texas Hold'em, a couple of episodes based on the Bone comics, and a series of CSI spin-offs. After securing a round of investments, they were eventually able to work on adventure IPs like Sam & Max and Monkey Island, something old adventure game fans like myself had been waiting on for a very long time. CEO Dan Connors believes that this had a large influence on bringing the genre back into the public eye. "Certainly, the adventure genre seems to have grown, as far as the size of the audience is concerned, since we started in 2004, and I believe Telltale has had a roll in that. Tales of Monkey Island and Sam & Max succeeded in capturing the essence of what was great about the original games and modernizing the experience." Dan recalled, "I think we built games that allowed a new generation of gamers to experience franchises that were considered legendary but weren't the type of thing the average gamer was going to dig up and play. With Back to the Future, we built a game that used adventure mechanics and was received well by a mass audience." By securing their own funding and taking out the publisher middleman, they were able to bring these games to a new audience despite the risk involved. Publishing these titles themselves was far from the only reason for their success, however. The rise of digital distribution and episodic content has had a massive impact. This is something I'll be looking at in greater depth in the second part of this feature. I hope you'll join me, but until then, go and play some adventure games!
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There's a second part, too! For almost a decade, I used to hate being an adventure game fan. It meant that I had experienced some of the best writing and most inventive gameplay the medium had to offer, only to have that take...

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Sam & Max are back with dancing corpses


Mar 09
// Victoria Medina
This time Sam and Max star in Night of the Raving Dead and will head to Germany where they will go up against an emo vampire and zombies who like to get their freak on. The third episode in Beyond Time and Space&nbs...
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Free Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse with Netflix trial


Mar 22
// Jordan Devore
Telltale Games has a bit of a deal going on right now, if you're in the market for some videogame adventuring and enjoy the occasional movie. Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse is being offered for free to those in Canada a...
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Telltale Games has announced what it's calling "the Citizen Kane of poker games," and it might be right -- Poker Night at The Inventory sounds like the best thing ever. The game will star Penny Arcade's Tycho, Max of Sam &...

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Telltale teases something, awesomeness almost guaranteed


Aug 28
// Matthew Razak
If you've been a fan of almost anything Telltale Games has ever done (and really you should be) then the teaser trailer above is going to get you pretty darn randy in your nether reasons. The teaser is short and sweet, bu...

Review: Sam & Max in They Stole Max's Brain!

Jun 30 // Conrad Zimmerman
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse episode 32: They Stole Max's Brain! (PC [reviewed], Mac, PSN, iPad )Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: June 26, 2010MSRP: $34.95 (season of five episodes) At the conclusion to the previous episode, we found Sam discovering the empty cranium of his little buddy. This launches him into a despair-filled rampage through the city to find out who stole Max's grey matter. Filled with rage, we see a side of Sam that's completely new as he ruthlessly interrogates local lowlifes for information. This introductory section of the game is all wrapped up in a dialog tree puzzle. At points in conversations, the player is given an opportunity to interject and change the course of discussion. Options include pressing for more information on a specific topic, physical violence and "noir." That last one launches Sam into a monologue that betrays the comic bleakness of his soul without his partner by his side. If that isn't enough to encourage you to make this the first thing you select in every possible scenario, you're going to miss out on the very best part of this episode and quite likely some of the most amusing writing in the series to date. While novel where Sam & Max is concerned, this form of gameplay simply wouldn't be sustainable for an entire episode. Fortunately, right about the time the player is realizing this, the sequence draws to a close rather quickly. The downside of this is that you'll never feel as though you're seeing something nearly as new or interesting for the rest of the episode. In fact, once the game moves back to its more traditional mechanics, Telltale's old enemy of repetition rears its ugly head once again and with a vengeance. They Stole Max's Brain! suffers terribly in this department with pretty much every puzzle coming down to performing the same tasks with very little variety. Part of the reason for this is that the psychic powers which are the primary tools for solving puzzles are exactly the same ones featured in the first episode of the season. Future Vision, teleportation and rhinoplasty (an ability which allows Max to transform into objects transferred onto Silly Putty) all return without any new powers added.  The plot is actually fairly interesting, as it brings together elements from the first two episodes ably and ups the ante in the villain department when General Skunkapé and Paperwaite team up to use the Devil's Toybox in galactic conquest. Sam teams up with the brain of a forgotten Pharoah to free Max, only to have everyone become double-crossed. The problem here is that much of the series' entertainment value comes from Sam & Max having a clearly defined relationship, but they're never together in a way that's familiar throughout the episode. The second act of the game features Max's body running around with a the wrong brain who and, while the conversations are frequently amusing, never meshes with Sam's dry delivery in the same way. Likewise, the third act has Sam very much not himself and Max is a disembodied brain strapped to his back. Conversations between the two of them now wind up lacking much of the punch a fully-present Sam would likely have provided. Plus, with Max unable to move on his own, the opportunity for falling back on physical comedy is reduced to nil. As if sticking true to the concept of games presented in a structure derived from television in all possible respects, The episode has all the hallmarks of a mid-season slump. The game always feels like it's holding itself back, saving the really novel stuff for subsequent episodes. Surprising introductory puzzle aside, it does nothing to innovate and barely feels like its moving the plot along. Much as I enjoy this particular series, They Stole Max's Brain! -- nothing personal, Sam -- is for the dogs. Score: 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
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The third season of Sam & Max from Telltale has been chugging right along with two rather enjoyable chapters. Max has psychic powers, the duo have learned a bit about their ancestry and dealt with some of the most in...

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PSN has the new Sam & Max season on sale this month


Jun 09
// Conrad Zimmerman
I am really enjoying The Devil's Playhouse, the latest season of Sam & Max. The writing is sharp and funny as ever, and Telltale has been experimenting with some interesting mechanics in the first two episodes. It's all o...

Review: Sam & Max in The Tomb of Sammun-Mak

May 18 // Conrad Zimmerman
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak (PC [reviewed], Mac, PSN, iPad )Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: May 18, 2010MSRP: $34.95 (season of five episodes) The Tomb of Sammun-Mak picks up right where The Penal Zone left off, with Sam and Max in the boiler room of their building where they have made a grisly discovery: The skeletal remains of a dog and rabbity-thing. They also find a series of four film reels which tell the story of how the corpses came to be there in the first place and explain that the bodies belong to our heroes' great-grandfathers, Sammeth and Maximus. From a mechanics perspective, these four reels represent the game's four chapters. If you'll recall from the first episode of this season, Max has developed psychic powers. It's a genetic trait and Maximus gets their benefits as well. Instead of the future sight Max has, Maxeth can perform astral projection, which allows you to change reels and visit segments of the game out of chronological order. That's my problem with this episode, the astral projection. More than any other Sam & Max story, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak requires you to suspend your disbelief. Many of the game's puzzles are reliant on you gathering information from future reels to give to characters in earlier ones. No real attempt to justify this is made -- nary even a joke about how ridiculous the concept is -- and I'll admit that it bugged me more than a little bit through the course of the game. In addition to astral projection, Maximus earns two other key powers. The first is a magical can of nuts which Maxeth can pull himself (and Sammeth) into. It's most frequently used to hide from people who might not want to see their faces, but it does serve other puzzling purposes. He also gains "psychic ventriloquism," which is just like regular ventriloquism, except that he can literally make his voice come out of someone else's mouth, often with hilarious results. While the puzzles involving astral projection feel a little iffy, the rest of the game's challenges are both entertaining and ingenious. Of particular note are a family of mole people, each gifted with a unique curse they can place upon others. Through the course of the game, you'll have to become cursed by the mole people in order to use the effects they have to solve puzzles in unique and interesting ways. These puzzles are quite clever indeed, leading to a host of "ah-ha" moments when you discover the proper use of the curses. You'll meet more than just the moles, however. Everybody wants to get their hands on what lies in Sammun-Mak's Egyptian tomb. This includes the toy magnate, Lord Kringle, and his band of elves. Baby Amelia Earhart and a mysterious (and arrogant) tomb raider round out the cast. Everybody is entertaining, though some more than others. Baby Amelia Earhart in particular is sassy and charming, but the whole crew has something going for it. What results is one of the more entertaining chapters in the Sam & Max series. Everything is pretty clearly laid out for you and none of the puzzles are excessively challenging or logically obtuse, leaving you free to enjoy the humor and absurdity. Were it not for the astral projection, which is neither funny nor enjoyable, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak would be a grand slam. As it stands this is still an excellent continuation of this season and fans should be eagerly awaiting the next by the time they're done. Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)  
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The second episode in the third season of Sam & Max released today, entitled, "The Tomb of Sammun-Mak." We've already played it because we know how important it is that you know what you're getting into with these vi...

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Telltale teases new Sam & Max episode with art, details


May 10
// Brad Nicholson
Thanks to episodic gaming, we rarely have to wait for a sequel. Such is the case with Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse. The series is slated to pick up again "in just a few short weeks" with the release of the second epis...

Review: Sam & Max in The Penal Zone

Apr 16 // Conrad Zimmerman
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse episode 1: The Penal Zone (PC [reviewed], Mac, PSN, iPad )Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: April 2, 2010 (iPad) / April 15, 2010 (PC, PSN, Mac)MSRP: $34.95 (season of five episodes) In this new season, things are taking a potentially dangerous turn, in that psychotic rabbity thing, Max, has inexplicably developed psychic powers and the game thrusts you right into their use from the very outset. Placing the player in around the final moments of the episode, they then Tarantino it all the way back to the beginning to explain how it was that Max got his newfound power and how it came to be that the duo defeated the evil General Skunk'apé The situation is amusing and the script is packed full of sharp humor. I laughed more at this episode than I have any prior Sam & Max game since the series resumed. The humor seems a little bit more ribald than I'm used to, which isn't a complaint but it should be noted that some of the jokes are a bit more blue than you might be used to. There is still a good share of gags likely to make you groan, particularly the Rod Serling stand-in used to narrate the tale. He's not funny, even in an ironic fashion and he has the singular distinction of being the ugliest character model in the game. Thankfully, your time spent with him is limited. One note I would like to make about this game is that it shows off the continuity of the Sam & Max series better than any to date. Popular locations have clearly seen the effects of the Freelance Police's efforts to keep the city safe. While the changes in environments are obviously useful from a design perspective, offering plenty of new opportunities for puzzles, it would have been so easy for them to just fix things up and make a joke about how easy it was to repair the damages. Making the world of Sam & Max persistent gives a feel that the events you've participated in has been affected by your actions, which is neat and offers a little something extra for longtime fans (while encouraging new players to seek out earlier chapters). Max learns and uses several psychic powers through the course of the game. He can teleport and transform into other objects. Most importantly, he can see into the future. Most of the powers are used repearedly for various puzzles, but none is more important than his "Future Sight," as it gives necessary information that you couldn't possibly have guessed on your own to help accomplish tasks In a way, that's one of my favorite aspects of the game. Far too often in adventure titles -- especially ones of a comedic nature -- the solutions to puzzles can be pretty bizarre. But to give too much away would ruin the jokes. Giving Max the power to see beyond the veil of time both informs the player while making a joke out of the whole adventure gaming genre. Very clever. That said, it isn't all roses. As is often the case from Telltale, the game goes back to the well a bit too often for a game of its length, repeating puzzle solutions and making what were once novel tasks seem tedious. This is particularly true of traveling with Max's teleportation ability. There are a few puzzles which are utterly brilliant using this power that get a little beat into the ground, especially once its use becomes necessary to reach certain locations in the game. Telltale is known for constantly refining their gameplay engine and experimenting with new types of control for traditional adventure gaming. Sam & Max Season 3 doesn't vary too much from other recent titles from the developer, such as Tales of Monkey Island, but they do feel sharper than ever. This is especially true of their gamepad controls, which feel incredibly good. I used an Xbox 360 wireless controller and adapter when I played and was very happy at how intuitive even the default configuration was. I find it to be uncomfortable controlling characters in a 3D environment with WASD, though I realize that speaks more to personal preference than anything. Keyboard and mouse controls are serviceable, but you'll almost certainly want to use the keys for movement instead of the mouse, which can hiccup a bit when camers angles change or the environment moves and sends Sam somewhere you don't want him to go. With a six-hour running time, some great gags and intriguing gameplay, The Devil's Playhouse is off to an excellent start. They've set the stage for a truly amazing season if they can continue to build off of the momentum in The Penal Zone. Even if they should ultimately fail to capitalize on this one, it remains one of the sharpest, funniest and solidly built games Telltale has done yet. Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)  
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Sam and Max, Freelance Police, have had a busy few years. Between repeatedly saving the world, making new friends and taking control of the United States government, things have barely had a chance to slow down for the dog an...

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Sam & Max items come to Team Fortress 2


Apr 15
// Brad Nicholson
The third season of Sam & Max kicked off this afternoon for owners of PS3s and PCs, as the first digital episode barreled its way onto PSN and PC digital delivery services. But Steam users, specifically Valve enthusiasts,...

Sam & Max teleport in The Penal Zone

Apr 14 // Conrad Zimmerman
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The new season of Sam & Max, The Devil's Playhouse, premieres on PC this Thursday. To get a hint of what we're in for, Telltale released this new video of footage from the game. In it, Sam & Max travel using one of M...

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Telltale's Sam & Max 'The Penal Zone' hits iPad


Apr 02
// Nick Chester
Yeah, I'm just as sick of all of this iPad game talk as the next guy, but here's a good case for the device -- a new way to experience point and click adventure games. Telltale Games has launched "The Penal Zone," the first e...
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Sam & Max season 3 poaches pre-order price cut on PSN


Mar 19
// Joseph Leray
Alright, let's be frank here -- I'll take any chance I can get to pimp Telltale Games' Sam & Max games. The justification this time is that some new-fangled PlayStation Network pre-order starts today. As in right now. If ...
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Sam & Max season three outed as The Devil's Playhouse


Feb 09
// Jim Sterling
It would appear that Telltale Games is preparing a brand new adventure for Sam & Max with a third season of mindbending puzzles and faintly embarrassing witticisms. It's called Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse. A...
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Take a survey, get a free Telltale game


Jan 29
// Conrad Zimmerman
Seeking some input on the next Sam & Max season, the fine folks at Telltale Games want to know about what kinds of games you're playing and have set up a survey to ask exactly that. They're not only fine, but they're smar...
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Dear Telltale: I love you, but ...


Jul 22
// Chad Concelmo
For helping make point-and-click adventure games popular again and for single-handedly proving that episodic gaming could be a successful and creatively fresh way of releasing videogames, I will always love Telltale Games. Th...
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Sam and Max Save the World gets an XBLA release date


Jun 13
// Joseph Leray
Telltale Games have been burning both ends of the wick recently: they just launched the first episode of Wallace and Gromit on XBLA, announced Tales of Monkey Island, and are about to release Sam & Max Save the World. The...
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You read that headline right -- Telltale has announced that Sam & Max will be coming to Xbox LIVE Arcade this year. Season one and seasons two -- already released for PC and Wii -- will be made available as full-seas...

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Symbiote Studios announces the Sam & Max statue


Jan 28
// Colette Bennett
I've kept an eye on Symbiote Studios ever since they took the commendable step of transforming Dr. Tran into a collectible I could actually buy and decorate my desk with, and it seems that they are aiming to please even more ...

Destructoid review: Sam & Max Season One

Oct 28 // Conrad Zimmerman
Sam & Max: Season One (PC, Wii [reviewed])Developed by Telltale GamesPublished by The Adventure CompanyReleased October 14, 2008Since some of the episodes in Season One are over two years old by this point, I'll try to keep my thoughts on the game's story and humor to a minimum. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of funny in Sam & Max and it ranges across a fairly wide spectrum. Numerous comedic devices, including parody, dry wit and slapstick combine to form a clever and hilarious series. Some of the jokes reference pop culture elements which might wind up dated before long but, for the time being, work quite well.When you fire the game up on Wii, you are presented with the full six episodes in a menu. Each can be played independently, but they feature a cohesive story arc and you will almost certainly find yourself confused by some jokes and reoccurring characters if you choose to skip ahead. Sam and Max have always been fairly straightforward as characters go, following in the footsteps of classic comedic pairings like Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. They trade quips like boxers exchange punches and are often wry, cynical and brilliant. The supporting cast, however, really steal the show in a lot of instances. Whereas the titular characters maintain their roles with little variation throughout, I found myself looking forward to seeing the new career path Sybil Pandemik was on and what Bosco's next, fruitless attempt to disguise his identity would be.Puzzles are a big part of adventure gaming and this is no exception. Most of them are not particularly challenging and, even with some stumbling, the game can easily be completed in ten to twelve hours. There are a few instances where you may be madly clicking, trying every combination of inventory items and the environment to progress, but most challenges can be approached in a logical manner. In addition to the standard gameplay of trying to pick up everything that isn't nailed down and trying to figure out how to make it work for you, Sam & Max features a more action-oriented mini-game or two in several episodes. These simple diversions serve to enliven the pace of the game a bit, but are not really anything special. Car chase sequences stand out as being the most intruiging but are also the most simplistic, usually requiring only a click or two to complete. It's unfortunate that there isn't more to these, as the potential is there, but keeping them incomplex does assure that the games are accessible to just about anyone. The Wii remote is a pleasure to use, as one would expect from a system that can literally produce a point-and-click control scheme. Particularly nice is a new feature which allows the use of the d-pad to scroll through dialogue options, eliminating the annoyance that comes from accidentally selecting the wrong response. The only time it ever felt awkward came when I wanted Sam to run somewhere. Double-clicking the A button to make him run was unresponsive at times, but it's a minor gripe when everything else works so well.Not all is rosy, however. Sam & Max: Season One runs into some rather annoying technical issues on the Wii. Framerate issues occur with a surprising frequency during utterly mundane moments such as walking from one place to another. Voice dialogue often cuts out in the last half-second before its conclusion, which is a bit jarring and noticeable enough to take the edge off of jokes. And, in rare instances, the game can completely crash the console, making it totally unresponsive until you've cut power to your Wii. Telltale tossed a couple of bonus features on the disc in the form of a gameplay tutorial and concept art. The art is quite cool, particularly the images showing how the design of certain characters evolved. The tutorial, on the other hand, is completely pointless. Aside from Sam breaking the fourth wall in explaining controls a bonobo could grasp easily through experimentation, the tutorial consists entirely of the first puzzle in episode one, something you're just going to wind up doing anyway when you start actually playing the game. It is a missed opportunity to provide some additional value to the Wii release. At the end of the day, Sam & Max Season One is an excellent game with enough punch to overcome its deficiencies. If you have yet to experience the episodic adventures of this dynamic duo, you really should pick up the first season and give it a whirl. While the improvements to control are nice, however, I'm inclined to recommend that you snag the PC release instead, if possible. The glitchy feel on Wii makes it feel a good bit less polished, making it harder to suggest in light of a superior product being available. Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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Games that strictly approach from a comedic angle are rare these days. In a time when interactive entertainment predominately consists of badass protagonists wielding large guns, it's refreshing to see that there is still a p...

PAX 08: Hands on with Sam and Max Season One ... for the Wii, OMG!

Sep 01 // Nick Chester
Playing the Wii version of the title you’ll only be using the remote, pointing at and clicking (with the A button) various objects in the environment with a paw pointer, similar to that seen in the classic, Sam and Max Hit The Road. It’s fairly simple, works well with the Wii remote, and really doesn’t feel much different than the PC version which only utilized the mouse. Some tweaks have been made to the controls, like the ability to hold down A and move the point to have Sam follow it, or double tapping it to make him run. The cardboard box icon in the corner of the screen remains and can be opened by interacting with it, but you’re also able to tap the minus button and then scroll through your items with the d-pad. I found myself gravitating towards clicking on the box, only because I was used to it from playing the PC games; it seems the minus/d-pad combo is a quicker, more efficient way for item selection. Visually, the game doesn’t look quite as sharp as it would on some high-end (and maybe even some "low-end") PCs, but it doesn’t look awful running on the Wii; Telltale’s quirky style and visual comedy still comes through. It should also be noted that the game will support widescreen mode, something that the PC version of Season One did not. I did notice some slight frame rate issues while moving about the environment, which was troubling considering the version that was available to play was final code, recently submitted to Nintendo for approval. Considering the game isn’t entirely about twitch action, this really isn’t a huge issue, but it’s definitely something to note. Curious, I asked Telltale’s Emily Morganti why they made the decision to bring Sam and Max Season One to retail rather than deliver it episodically to WiiWare. She notes that it would be possible to bring to the episodes to WiiWare, but with another episodic title of theirs, Strongbad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, already available, they want to bring something to the retail space. Additionally, she likens it to a television series coming to DVD; using The Sopranos as a reference, she questions how many people were watching single episodes on re-reruns, rather than simply picking up the DVDs and watching them as a whole. Many personal nights (and full weekends) of plowing through television show seasons I missed makes her point seem pretty valid. There’s no release date set in stone, but with the game about to ship off to Nintendo for final approval, it should be within the next few months. It’s likely we’ll be seeing Sam and Max Seasons One come to the Wii in October or November of this year.
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After its PC debut on Gametap nearly two years ago, the entirety of Sam and Max Season One will be making its way to the Wii this fall. And considering the game has been rumored to be coming to Nintendo’s console for ju...

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Sam & Max Season Two getting a collectors DVD, other stuff


Jul 23
// Justin Villasenor
Telltale Games announced today that Sam & Max, everyone’s favorite pair of anthropomorphic animal investigators, will be getting a collectors edition DVD for their second season of downloadable episodes. This DVD wi...
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Sam and Max Wii trailer and screenshots


Jul 17
// Brad Nicholson
We’ve known for a good while that Sam and Max: Season One was headed to the Wii. What we still don’t have is good indication of a release date. The newest information that we have is that the gmes is still slated ...
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Sam & Max coming to the Wii this August (now with box art!)


May 23
// Chad Concelmo
As someone who has the worst PC on the planet (seriously, it barely runs Notepad), I was more than excited about the news that Sam & Max – Season 1 would be coming to the Wii. As everyone was enjoying ...
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Original Telltale developed games in the works


Apr 14
// Nick Chester
So look -- Telltale Games' Sam & Max Seasons are consistently pretty awesome. And the forthcoming WiiWare title, the hilariously-named Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episodic series, definitely has our atten...
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Sam & Max season finale available today


Apr 10
// Topher Cantler
Sam & Max Season 2 finishes up today, with the conclusion of the five-episode season now available on GameTap. Episode 205, What's new, Beelzebub? finds the duo de la awesome bargaining with the devil for control of Bosco...

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