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Sam & Max: Season One (PC) artwork

Sam & Max: Season One (PC) review


"While their looks and sounds have been updated, both Sam and Max retain all the personality they boasted in 1993. Deadpan and noir-inspired Sam is the canine shamus with a love for Bogart-like wordplay and overloaded sentences, while Max, the psychotic shark-toothed rabbity-thing, revisits his role as the hyperkinetic, deranged sidekick. They thrive in a familiar setting, too; each of the six episodes has the expected smattering of insanity, mindless violence and laugh-out-loud moments housed within a simple and accessible point-and-click interface."



You readers got lucky. Originally in place of this introduction stood a multi-paragraph history lesson on Sam & Max. It delved Ė in great and wordy detail -- into Steve Purcellís fantastic comics, the outstanding 1993 PC adventure game, Hit the Road, the corresponding rib-tickling cartoon series and the heartbreaking cancellation of the 2001 title, Freelance Police. This would all lead into their curious episodic resurrection by Telltale Games in 2006.

It was a very interesting history lesson but it wasnít really very relevant. Whatís more important is that Telltale took a gamble on buying the rights to the iconic detective duo from Lucasarts, then furthered the risk by publishing a new episodic casebook each month rather than release a full game. Six episodes later, the first season is complete, and the finished product is solid enough to make even us cynical oldsters not mutter bitterly about new voice actors or the graphical jump from 2D to 3D.

While their looks and sounds have been updated, both Sam and Max retain all the personality they boasted in 1993. Deadpan and noir-inspired Sam is the canine shamus with a love for Bogart-like wordplay and overloaded sentences, while Max, the psychotic shark-toothed rabbity-thing, revisits his role as the hyperkinetic, deranged sidekick. They thrive in a familiar setting, too; each of the six episodes has the expected smattering of insanity, mindless violence and laugh-out-loud moments housed within a simple and accessible point-and-click interface.

Even at the very start of the very first episode, the pair engages in wholesale dairy product slaughter, the torture of rodent hoodlums and bouncing bowling balls off the heads of washed-up small-screen rejects scrawling graffiti on the face of their office. This first episode, Culture Shock, breaks the pair's enforced retirement by throwing at them deranged ex-child stars promoting optical work outs (known here as eye-bo) that have undesired hallucinogenic after-effects. Mass-marketed hypnosis becomes a containing trend, with Situation: Comedy demanding the rescue of a [literally] captive audience at the screening of the Myra show. The pair must battle through trite B-programming such as cook shows on the tightest of budgets and sitcoms featuring classically-trained poultry before they can earn themselves a great enough celebrity status for Myra, a Frankensteinian hybrid of Oprah and Jack Thompson. Thereís a reason behind why her audience is so enthralled with her motherly lectures and verbal attacks on the pop-culture loving youth of today. And it's a sinister one.

Max uses her show as an excuse to recount a heart-warming tale of how he tried to cripple a purse-snatcher with a broken parking meter while screaming ďDIE! Why wonít you DIE!Ē over and over. Sam nods approvingly in the background.

While the aftermath of vandalising the graffiti under your office window to force the tagger to return and repair it so you can bounce said bowling ball off their skull is predictably satisfying, it doesn't contain the fiendish challenge present in Hit the Road and the other graphic adventures of its time. This remains true of the third entry (The Mole, The Mob, And The Meatball), but the inclusion of some sharper writing and a better crafted script certainly help reduce the problem. Called in to infiltrate the infamous Toy Mafia, Sam and Max pay a visit to Ted E. Bearís Mafia Free Playland & Casino. Donít believe the establishmentís fine title? Just ask any of the pin-striped suited, heat-packing mobsters sporting giant teddy bear heads, and theyíll chastise your cynical ways. Doubt even their word, and a trisecta of cuddly critter faces adorning the wall happily sing you a catchy ditty that makes it very clear that thereís not even the tiniest trace of organized crime to be found!

Better things are to come from Abe Lincoln Must Die!, which builds from the previous chapterís new-found script strength but elongates the play time and ups the previous episodesí flagging difficulty. It also continues the seriesí scathing under-the-breath attacks on elements of Americana, this time putting politics firmly in the crosshairs. Featuring puppet presidents, secret agents with door fetishes, Dakota on the brink of civil war and a theatre-fearing Abe with laser vision all playing a large part of the proceedings, the madcap adventure marks the steady progression of the series. Reality 2.0 does much of the same things right, supplying memorable moments from angry and bitter outdated computer equipment (including a 1980ís arcade cabinet with anger issues) and a virtual mock-up of the main street that serves as overused home base in all of the episodes. Within the neon-green Tron-like lines of the copyedited world, Mario, Zelda and Dragon Warrior are all merrily sent up in digs that we know weíre nerdy enough to understand and be amused by.

Banishing pop-up ads and surviving one of the best endings to an adventure game ever produced leads you to the concluding episode, Dark Side of the Moon, which wraps all the cases together by putting the pair into lunar orbit. On the face of the moon, they uncover the brains behind the hypnotic attacks running through the series, and in searching for this, Telltale finds excuse to bring back all the reoccurring characters used throughout. While Episode 6 simply isnít as good as, say, the previous two titles, thatís because it acts as a solid conclusion and works hard to bring about a satisfying end, not only for the series as a whole but also for the majority of the impossible-to-dislike cast. Still, you find yourself trying to matchmake Canadian royalty with decapitated and debunked American heads of state, finding that your traitorous goldfish (which lives in the office water cooler and is the official Vice President of the U.S.A) has jumped ship and swum to the other side, and utilising a giant spork to punish violent alter-egos that refuse to keep their arms and legs inside a moving roller coaster. Playing the series in order is a joy, and everything is cosily concluded in a manner most fitting.

In bringing all the chapters together under one banner, Sam & Max: Season 1 eliminates one of the problems in episodic gaming by having a full title that canít be beaten in one reasonable sitting, but it also serves to highlight others. The lack of new areas is made obvious as chapter-specific locations drop away with each episode completed, and it drives home the overuse of the Ďhome baseí street, consisting of Sam and Maxís office, Boscoís Inconvenience store and Sybilís ever-changing profession hut. Youíll find that a lot of puzzles need these areas to be solved in one way or the other, be it via Samís jealously-guarded telephone or Boscoís less-than-appetising food preparation area. The episodes werenít primarily made to be played back-to-back, and a few things throughout will serve as a reminder to this.

But before you notice this, youíll notice that Telltale has managed to do what a lot of people didnít think they would: successfully resurrect the madcap styling of a detective dog with a love for his banjo and a killer shark-bunny existing on the wrong side of sane. The quick-fire back-and-forth banter between the two never gets old because the writing behind it is fantastic and the settings, lifted straight from the comics, burst at the seams with zeal and life.

In the future when I talk about how great Purcellís graphic novels are, or about how much I loved LucasartĎs Hit the Road, I can now also add how TelltaleĎs Season One outdid all my expectations and delivered a heart-warming, gut-busting reminder of past brilliance.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 29, 2007)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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