Sam & Max: Season One
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 80% (based on 59 ratings)
Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 70 ratings with 3 reviews)
I played Lucas Arts Adventure games throughout the 1990s. Sam and Max, much like Guybrush Threepwood, helped to define the point and click, adventure gaming genre.
Now, after a bit of a hiatus, the dog and rabbit detectives are back! This time they are solving a mystery on the Xbox 360. The first episode has our quirky, free lance sleuths coming face-to-face with a wacky cult of former child stars, lead by a goofy guy stuck in 1973. Woowsers!
The player takes control of Sam & Max as they explore the city, speak with various locals and solve inventory puzzles. If you are familiar with Lucas Arts Adventure games, you will quickly figure fit right into this episode.
The game play mechanics are responsive and user-friendly. The game features some bright and colorful, cartoony graphics, with some amazing voice talents. All in all, this is one of the funniest adventures on the Xbox 360 available. A must play for adventure game fans.
Sam and Max is a fun adventure game, but it's not without its flaws. I notice the occasional, minor, glitches in the game. Nothing serious enough to hault gameplay, but the glitches are noticeable and can sometimes hurt the delivery of jokes.
The entire package features six episodes - with an ongoing story, as well as the plot of each episode. The quality of the episodes ranges greatly. While number of them are bad, some of them feel like they could have been a bit more developed.
The first episode is one of the best, but the episodes set in a local TV station and a mafia-run game room both feel like much more could have been said and done with the concept.
Frankly, I wish that all of the episodes were longer. I realize that shows how fun the game is, but I cannot help it: when I finished all six episodes, I wanted more!
The Bottom Line
Sam and Max: Save The World follows the point and click, adventures of two quirky, detectives who face off against new age cults, hypnotized talk show hosts, mafia thugs, virtual reality villians, dead presidents, and more wackiness. It's funny, well designed and harkens back to the golden age of adventure gaming. I would recommend buying the entire game, all six episodes.
Xbox 360 · by browned (118) · 2018
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.
Windows · by St. Martyne (3644) · 2007
Lots of reviewers describe Sam and Max by pointing at the franchise's "crazy humor". This description surely isn't wrong, but it's often forgotten, that this whole craziness is only so funny, because it appears so familiar. However deformed and exaggerated it may be, the world of Sam and Max is essentially nothing but our own one. The places our protagonists visit, the people they meet: it all is an extremely distorted, grotesque mirror image of what we already know. In its way of reflecting reality, the franchise was and is a prime example of satire. It exaggerates and taunts the normal, until it appears strange and funny. Indeed, Sam and Max are funny, but the reason is not so much that they are just crazy, but that they illustrate the madness of the world we live in.
Of course, the game's portrayal of our world is everything but naturalistic. The setting is full to the brim with antagonisms, dissonances and strange phenomenons. The most implausible thing are probably Sam and Max themselves: an anthropomorphic dog in clothes and an always naked rabbit-thing, who work as self-employed detectives. The paradox, that surrounds these characters, is perhaps best described by Max personally: "We're here to keep the peace – by violence, if possible".
As I'm quoting him from memory, the phrase may appear somewhat different in the game, but in any case this line describes the absurd nature of the protagonists almost perfectly. Although Sam and Max may regularly save the world from the evil plans of evil thugs, they are clearly no heroes. Their ethical values, if existent, are more than questionable, and their violent attitude is clearly at odds with our conventions of civilized behaviour. The latter is especially true for Max, but Sam isn't really that much better. A hilarious scene from the first episode has him knocking out an unfortunate, annoying, little kid by the well-aimed throw of a bowling ball, for example. As they seem to follow no rules, one could actually consider Sam and Max anarchists. Wherever they go, they cause chaos and mayhem – yet they indeed always save the world in the end. Their motivations for this remain a mystery, by the way.
The characters of Sam and Max aren't sufficiently explained by pointing at their chaotic spirit and violent behaviour, however. Their verbal humor is perhaps even more important. The dog and the rabbit are in fact two extremely sarcastic intellectuals, who never run out of sharp remarks about the mad world, that's surrounding them. Like most adventure game protagonists they are constantly commenting on everything they see. The difference to most other video game characters is, however, that Sam and Max may come up with something surprisingly insightful from time to time. Actually they are studying the world in an almost analytical way. They deconstruct things, places and people with their intellectual rhetoric, as if they were looking at it from a remote distance. This gives the game some subversive potential, since the protagonists can (and sometimes subtly do) deride common ways of living and thinking with their ironic remarks. All in all they do it much too seldom, but listening to how Sam and Max perceive their world is at least very funny.
Speaking about humor: the puzzle design actually is an important part of it. As weird as the world of Sam and Max is, as weird are the tasks you have to fulfill – gameplay and narrative in perfect unity, so to speak. One of my favourite sequences comes from the second episode, where Sam and Max get caught in an incredibly brainless TV sitcom called "Midtown Cowboys", where they not only have to improvise a totally absurd scene, but also must place a product placement for toothpaste in it somehow. This hilarious sequence is completely interactive, all done via fairly traditional adventure puzzles. It surely is a highlight in terms of humorous puzzle design, but the season is generally strong in that regard. I even think of the puzzles as superior to those in the old predecessor "Sam and Max Hit the Road", since they are much more balanced and less likely to frustrate you. Don't get me wrong, though: it's still part of the fun to throw conventional logic overboard and resort to quite odd ways of thinking.
The episodic nature of "Season One" clearly is the most striking change towards the predecessor. As it was the first time I ever tried my hand at an episodic game, I wasn't so sure about what to expect. However, after playing the whole thing, I have to say: the idea works. The briefness of the episodes actually never bothered me. Since stretching a comedy is seldom a good idea, I actually liked the idea of finishing an episode in one funny evening. A really clever thing is, how each of the six parts has a self-contained plot, but at the same time connections to other episodes. Actually all the cases, which Sam and Max have to solve, somehow involve the theme of hypnosis. No matter whether the criminal nemesis of the day is a former child star, a living statue of Abraham Lincoln or a mafia mob: in some way or another they all try to hypnotize the population. As it turns out, each of these incidents is indeed part of a bigger plan and the real mastermind, who stands behind every crime committed, is revealed not before the final episode. So, while each episode is basically understandable on its own, only together they form a more complete story. To maximize the fun, my advice is therefore to play them in the proper order.
Last but not least I should mention, that the season has excellent production values. Particularly outstanding are the voice actors. I played some episodes in English, others in German: they were in both versions almost perfectly cast. Often enough you get the impression in video games, that some actors hadn't had a clue about the roles, they were performing. In this case the actors obviously understood not only their roles, but also the specific kind of comedy, that Sam and Max is. The performances are all completely over the top, just how they should be. Graphics, animations and music are also quite nice, by the way.
There are certain aspects, where the old "Sam & Max Hit the Road" is still superior to Season One. For example, the aged classic was constantly surprising you. New locations kept popping up on the map, new characters were introduced, one insane situation was followed by another. The small episodes of Season One are pretty much straightforward and predictable in comparison, especially since certain key elements are repeated again and again. The similarities in the structure of the episodes and the continuous recycling of already known locations and characters can actually get quite tiresome.
Another thing is, that Sam and Max are often hilariously funny, but there's mostly not much behind it. Some may consider this a very stupid criticism, but what separates this game from a really brilliant satire is, that it is only interested in laughter. The protagonists deal out blows in all possible directions, but they are doing it more or less randomly. Basically Sam and Max are just nihilists, who put on a nice farce, while they waste their analytical skills on mostly meaningless targets. They are indeed very funny, but you ask yourself no questions, while you laugh.
The Bottom Line
I would have to play it again to say this for sure, but I don't think that "Hit the Road" was really so much better than "Season One". At least Sam and Max haven't changed: they are exactly like I remember them. Surely we all tend to glorify the past a little, but I think Telltale's take on the franchise is by all means a worthy successor to the old classic. It's witty, entertaining, funny and already available as a bargain...
Windows · by micnictic (387) · 2009
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