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 place for a dog wearing a business suit and a psychotic bunny wearing his birthday suit to run amok. Of course, they too are wielding large guns.
I've been a fan of Sam & Max since their first foray into gaming, the 1993 LucasArts adventure, Sam & Max Hit the Road. It was delightfully strange and quickly became one of my favorite entries into the genre. Yet, my fear that I had an inadequate computer to handle the new, episodic series from Telltale Games prevented me from purchasing them. Imagine my excitement when the first season was announced for Wii.
Now, the promise of Sam & Max on the TV in my living room has finally come to fruition (forgetting, of course, the mediocre Saturday morning series in the mid-nineties). How does it measure up? Hit the jump for the full review.
Sam & Max: Season One (PC, Wii [reviewed])
Developed by Telltale Games
Published by The Adventure Company
Released October 14, 2008
Since 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.)
reviewed by Conrad Zimmerman