You crack me up little buddy! Though not as much as your older brother.
Forget about the one-liner for the time-being. I loved this game! Because if there was a list of Sam & Max fans out there I am sure that Telltale Games would be on the top of it. Because first and foremost these guys are big fans of all things Sam & Max, certainly much bigger then you or me. Which actually brings me to the next question, was it enough to create worthy sequel to a beloved 1993 classic? Well… Yes and no. Let’s go through this step by step, shall we?
Visually Sam & Max: Season One is spectacular. Period. There are many 2D games that suffered much from their transition to 3D, adventures being the most unfortunate case. Look at Simon 3D or Broken Sword 4 for example. Just don’t look too much or your eyes may hurt. Now Sam & Max is a perfect example how such an ambitious artistic style that was present in the original game could be painlessly converted into 3D and even amped up a bit. The level detail is so high, so you always feel like a child who enters a toy store. Together with Art goes Animation and this game still keeps up to its older brother . All the motions are so fluid and effortless that after a long time visual gags in a 3D game are actually very funny.
But of course the soul and spirit of any Sam & Max game are its characters. And as expected in the spotlight is always a famous duo. Gentlemen of extraordinary talent and outstanding verbal capacity. Each action, event and even object is commented upon by Sam, Max or, most often, both of them. While not the same as you may remember it in original game (more on that in Bad section) the elusive vibe that tied together these so different … for the lack of a proper word, creatures, is present in here as well. A lot of a screen time is given for the arguing, recollections, idle talk and expression of affection in different forms between these two characters. Sometimes you may get a feeling that Sam & Max are actually more interested in talking to each other and doing stuff together than actually discovering the devious plots of their adversaries. No wonder there, eh? The other characters are no letdown either. None of them is boring, all of them are brilliantly voiced. And being of episodic format and featuring a main cast of characters the show… uh… I meant the game introduces quite a nice feature. Each time starting a new episode you’ll be wondering what changes happened to our well-known friends. What new job a-very-short-attention-span Sybil found for herself? What new disguise a-conspiracy-buff-Bosco is hiding in now? And you’ll be impressed by the answers more often than not. As for the villains, they are evil and mad enough to warrant a lot of healthy laughs. Though I can’t reveal too much about them without spoilering. The identities of the villains are always covered in a shred of mystery here.
While each episode features a unique and separate plotline all of them are connected into a massive masterplan by an ultimate evil, yet unknown (up to the last episode) force. And right here I want to stand up and applaud Telltale for a brilliant idea. The point is that every episode in Season One is actually a spoof on a certain pop-culture phenomena. That makes every episode fresh, interesting and unusually relevant. During the course of the six episodes the developers have managed to comment on sitcoms, talk shows, former child stars, mafia, politics, election campaign, Abe Lincoln, Internet, interactive fiction, lots of conspiracy theories, and even some philosophical views. And mind you, I’m not talking about an occasional remark by Sam or Max. I am talking about a major plot element, a integral part of the gameplay, so to speak.
Now if there’s at least one area in which a new game beats the old one fair and square it would be the music. Starting from a hot (but it is) theme song and ending with a humorous Broadway-like musical number “War” by Secrete Service officer the music is coherent, professional and very cool! I haven’t heard soundtrack of such an exceptional quality as that of Sam & Max: Season One for a long time. Heck, even Sam himself will step up to the microphone with that banjo of his. Now to the puzzles.
Some major sites game reviewers commented upon a lack of difficulty in puzzles, especially in the earlier episodes. Now for me there are always two criteria when judging puzzles in an adventure game. They are difficulty and entertainment. So that the high difficulty doesn’t warrant any entertainment in solving puzzles, and vice versa. That ruined a Monkey Island 2 for me and elevated Full Throttle to unreachable heights (among other more obvious reasons). For example getting a key stuck in a drain with rubber duck, a pair of pliers and a piece of scotch tape may sound difficult but hardly entertaining. On the other hand describing one dream so that a doctor would find an exact symptom of a disease you want him to find (being actually inside that dream) while essentially very easy for a seasoned adventurer is actually very entertaining. So although a difficulty is amped a bit towards the end of the season (still not on par with the original game) the puzzle-solving process is very entertaining. The solutions to the puzzles are extremely elaborate and funny. And that’s why we are here, to get funny and… uh elaborated.
Well all good things must come to an end. More so the good section for my Sam & Max: Season One review. So what’s the problem with the new incarnation of the Freelance police? The answer is that it is simply worse than Sam & Max Hit The Road. Not WORSE in the big sense of the word. Just not as good as the original was.
First of all let’s speak about the writing. Compared to the games of its own time period Season One receives a strong A, but merely a B when it comes to the outstanding quality of writing in Hit the Road. The point is that where it takes about 10 seconds to get the joke to the audience across the sophisticated and intertwined character speech in Season One, the old game just uses one or two carefully chosen words. Just think about what exactly separates a high-skill amateur and a professional. It’s exactly the same case here.
The second problem is the one that I mentioned a bit earlier in the review. The point being that Sam & Max from the Season One are not the same Sam & Max from the Hit the Road. Those two from 1993 were so sarcastic, violent and unspoiled by anything resembling humanism that the guys from 2006-2007 seems like a pair of little angels sitting on the cloud engaged in an idle talk. Here’s a little example. What the first thing Sam & Max do when they enter the Bosco’s store in the original? They (Sam too) beat up the thug stealing the money right after they enter a store. And what do the new guys do? They lazily take their time while in the end coming up with an elaborate plot to knock out the offender with some kind of the dubious anti-theft system. They’re Sam & Max, for god’s sake! Only then a Freelance police. There’s more. Whereas Max still retains an undeniable love for violence and all sorts of ugly business, he doesn’t actually do much. He just talks and talks and talks. Now in the first game he really kicked the butt around. The same goes for Sam. He looks like a older version himself now. He’s always a bit tired and embarrassed for Max. Sam I knew back in 1993 didn’t mind to join Max for a bit of fight and always encouraged the inappropriate behavior of his friend-like rabitty-thing. So sorry Telltale, I know you tried hard, but in our age of political correctness such a thing as a toned-down violence, especially in a comic adventure, is not a welcome sight.
I really know how difficult it must be to create a new content every month or so, but the way Sam & Max: Season One overuses the same locations and characters is a bit unnerving. I know that idea of starting every episode in the office is kinda cool. But why there is so little change around, all the same objects with the same responses certainly take the fun out of exploration with each new episode. The same goes for the characters. They’re cool and fresh and all, but how much can you take of these Soda Poppers guys, for example. They’re featured in three episodes with little or completely no change at all. The last episode is a complete disaster in that regard. It is called Bright Side Of the Moon, and features about a dozen of different character. But (Surprise! surprise!) all of them are taken from the first five episodes. There’s no excuse for that, except that Telltale Games ran out of gas right at the finish line.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of everything I said in the bad section the Sam & Max: Season One was a one hell of ride. And considering the state of comic adventure market in 2007, with so few games around and even those are either lame (Runaway 2) or amateurish (Al Emmo, Ankh), it was certainly a welcome change. Beautiful artwork, professionally written music, colorful characters, intricate satiric plot and enjoyable puzzles make up for the toned down violence, not-so accurate portrayal of the main characters, and lack of the new creative content in the later episodes. The game certainly deserves the proud Sam & Max logo upon it, it’s just not as Hit and Roadish as some people (including me) wanted it to be.