Sam & Max: Season One (Wii) review
"But you’ll find nothing on the Wii quite like Sam & Max: Season 1."
The year was 1993. Lucasarts only thought about T.I.E.-fighters every other day and adventure games were single-handily keeping the PC gaming scene alive. If you think you’ve read this intro before, it’s because my current count for Sam & Max reviews stands at an oppressive twelve so far. Then they released the first season of the episodic franchise on the Wii. This makes thirteen.
Stringent website quality checks stop me from slightly editing the review of the full season’s release on the PC, so I find myself stuck. The answer when you’ve long since run out of originality yet can’t rely on pure rehashing?
Pure panic and unemployment. Start again.
Sam & Max: Hit the Road was a cult hit back in the misty days of pointing and clicking, and rightly so; the puzzles may have been the standard Lucasarts blend of madcap insane and head-scratchingly cerebral, but it was the genius source material lifted straight from Steve Purcell’s fantastic comics that cemented its place in nostalgic lore. The game was undeniably hilarious; Sam’s loquacious sleuthing playing the straight man to Max’s sadistic and surreal psychosis which lent itself to every edifice of the title. Success followed: the pair enjoyed great popularity as their game flew from shelves, toys were manufactured and a cartoon show that managed to appeal to exactly everyone did the rounds on weekend mornings. Life looked good for the giant canine shamus and the homicidal rabbity-thing.
Then it all went a little wrong. A second game, Sam & Max: Freelance Police was hyped online. The original team was assembled, the original voice actors hired and the anti-heroes taken out of their once-comfortable 2D realm and introduced lovingly to the third dimension. A trailer was released and all were happy. Then Lucusarts decided that people would rather see Dodgy Jedi FPS With Obligatory Shaky Flight Levels v8.2 instead and that was that. Sam & Max were promptly retired and many feared they’d been sent to the slaughterhouse to next star in a McDonald’s happy meal.
But! Some years later, from the skies on wings of pure white descend Telltale Games who distracted their Lucasarts overlords with a cardboard cut-out of Vader on fire then fled through the sewers. They bought the series back from oblivion, but took one hell of a risk in doing so. Still a company in its infancy, Telltale's only real foray into the world of videogames had been a well-received CSI game made for Ubisoft and two episodic releases of another fondly-remembered comic-based franchise, Bone. One day they may go back and make episode three.
But I digress.
Episodic gaming was nothing new, but it wasn’t something that inspired much confidence. Valve had been doing an awful job of releasing great games in anything even slightly resembling a sensible schedule, and Telltale’s bravely boasted of giving the gaming world a brand new snippet of Sam & Max flavoured insanity each month.
The year is now 2009. You’re all up to date. And you’ve just read the most overblown intro known to man.
Telltale made good on their claim and in the space of half a year, the first season of Sam & Max stood proudly on their website, available for any and all to download at a reasonable price. The episodes were bite-sized and increasingly brilliant, starting at the respectable foundation of Episode 1: Culture Shock gave gamers hope, even if the more finicky of them complained about how the voice actors weren’t the originals (from either game or cartoon). The battle against hypnotised ex-child stars using an ocular workout called Eye-Bo to drill right into the watcher’s subconscious was all the excuse needed to trick stumpy miscreants beneath open windows so bowling balls could be dropped on their heads and buying off phone-stealing rodents with counterfeit Swiss cheese. The schedule started to show in the next few instalments, though, as puzzles never found the courage to step away from being a shade too easy, but Telltale learnt from their mistakes and gleaned feedback for the fans and the reviewers.
I like to say that because I can claim that I single-handily made Sam & Max mighty again.
The second episode poked fun at day time TV, throwing an overbearing alternative chat show host darling, but it wasn’t until the third episode introduced an army of cunning Mafioso disguised in huge teddy-bear heads popped up in the third episode that the script started to show the same sharpness the series had previously been famed for, but it was the shortest chapter of the season, displaying puzzles far too easy and relocations far too recycled from previous titles. Then came Abe Lincoln Must Die. And all was well.
Telltale swept their satirical eye over fitness crazes, daytime television and stereotypical Italian gangsters in unstereotypically cuddly attire, but it was when it settled on politics that both their scripts and gameplay married up to produce brilliance. After disposing of the literal puppet president with the Whitehouse-approved method of random decapitation, a footrace is on to become the leader of the United States of America. The old one was unpopular enough thanks to bizarre policies on government-enforced group-hugs and an insane notion of limiting the populace’s free availability to hoard firearms and small-scale nukes. This brings about a chaotic campaign race between a reanimated Lincoln and a largely indifferent Max, who takes the moral highroad with slur campaigns and orbital death rays.
Then, just as it seems Telltale have run out of things to mock, they turn the satire on their very own fan base with Reality 2.0.
Goaded on by a quintet of obsolete sentient electric goods, the pair take to the virtual reality world where you, the geeky video game geek, are routinely mocked. Little mocking niggles that you -- yes, you -- are nerdy enough to understand litter the virtual reality world most of the game takes part in, from the infamous “you’ve got a new item” sound clip from Zelda to the blue slimies from Dragon Warrior dripping from squishy machines. The game dabbles in turn-based combat, flips back the clock for some old-school text adventuring and send ups the several million of you far too hooked on World of Warcraft.
The entire series wraps itself up with The Bright Side of the Moon, drawing conclusions on paranoid shop owner, Bosco’s range of shoddy disguises to keep him safe from “The Man” and tying all the episodes together in a succinct and sarcastically satisfying ending. Telltale cement their trade as the episodes progress, each building from the foundations from the last and never forgetting the little touches, returning to tidy away loose ends and and kidnapped poker players kept bound and gagged in the office closet. It’s a welcome revival of a classic title and it’s a welcome addition to the Wii’s growling library of PC point-n-click ports finding their way onto the system. Pixel hunting with the remote is never going to be as smooth and convenient as it is with the mouse, and seeing as the PC game is low res enough for any computer made post 1990, there’s not a great deal to recommend this port over the other.
But you’ll find nothing on the Wii quite like Sam & Max: Season 1.
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