Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sam & Max: Season One
Video Game review by Sombrero Grande

Never having been particularly into comic books growing up, my first exposure to the characters Sam and Max was in the excellent 1993 computer game Sam and Max Hit the Road. The game was created by Lucasarts during their golden period of point-and-click adventure games, released amid such other great titles as Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Monkey Island series.

Now, thanks to the folks at Telltale Games (the people behind Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People) Sam and Max are not only back in all their point-and-click glory, but they're now on my favorite home video game system and a platform ideal for a point-and-click adventure revival, the Wii.

The six episodes that comprise Sam and Max: Season One (yep, that's "episodes" and "seasons," just like a TV sitcom) were initially available as individual downloads for the PC at $8.95-a-pop in late 2006 and 2007. The entire Season One package has recently been released via a single disc for the Wii for under $30, giving fans a real cause to celebrate. Now, not only can you now play all six hilarious episodes of Season One on your TV, but you can get them at a great price, nearly half the cost of a regular new video game release. All in all, this is a fantastic value as Sam and Max: Season One will provide fans with hours upon hours of gaming enjoyment.

For the uninitiated, Sam and Max are self-proclaimed "freelance police." Sam is the "good cop" of the pair, a six-foot, anthropomorphic dog who's a cross between Jack Webb and McGruff (if McGruff ever carried a giant gun to intimidate crooks with, that is), and Max is the "bad cop," a crazed, bunny-like creature with teeth like a bear trap and the mind of a psycho.

In Season One, these colorful characters find themselves involved in solving multiple crimes with an overarching common thread of hypnotism. I won't go into any more details, as getting lost in Sam and Max's crazy world and discovering the unique plots is a big part of the fun. Let's just say there are some cool surprises in store, and anyone who enjoys humor that's a bit "out there" will really get a kick out of them.

While Season One sports great gameplay for fans of the genre, there is a flaw in the package: the visuals can be quite distracting at times. The episodes really show their age in the graphics department. Nintendo's Wii has never been (and will never be) known for great graphics, but many of the visuals in Season One really stand out as being sub-par even for the Wii. Billboards and signs throughout the game are blurry and pixelated (like a really low-resolution web graphic blown up), making them sometimes impossible to read. The simplicity of the objects and characters in the game are fine, but the heavily pixelated textures applied to them just come across as sloppy and distracting, like the player is accidentally witnessing a bug or something he or she wasn't meant to see in the final game.

While the graphics are the game's low-point, the writing is where the game truly hits its heights. I was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of humorous audio clips stemming from exhaustively large dialog options throughout the game. For example, when talking to Bosco, the owner of the "Inconvenience Store" next door to Sam and Max's office, about what he might have for sale, the simple command "Do you have any..." elicited numerous hilarious queries for odd items used in previous point-and-click games such as "an eggplant in the shape of a famous naturalist" or "fine leather jackets." There always seems to be plenty to do and talk about in the game, allowing for a wondrous sense of immersion into the wacky worlds the episodes present.

If you've got a Wii and you're a fan of point-and-click adventure games and/or of Sam and Max, buying Season One is a no-brainer. It's a fantastic collection of games that will give you hours upon hours of entertainment for an equally fantastic price.


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