Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space
Video game review by Sombrero Grande

The main reason to purchase Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space on Xbox Live Arcade is that you've already played through Sam & Max Save the World (also known as Season One) and you want more. If you have not played Save the World yet, I urge you to. Not only is it a hilarious compilation of six episodes of adventure and puzzle-solving fun, but also, Beyond Time and Space is pretty much dependent on having the player be familiar with everything that happens in Save the World for a significant portion of its stories and gags.

I raved about Save the World in my review of it, so if you're reading this you'll be wanting to know how Beyond Time and Space stacks up as a follow up. Well, it's more of the same: more hilarious writing, more outlandish cases to solve, more obtuse puzzles, more wacky characters and more souvenirs to clog the Freelance Police office.

Beyond Time and Space comprises five episodes this time around (compared with Save the World's six), encapsulating "Ice Station Santa," "Moai Better Blues," "Night of the Raving Dead," "Chariots of the Dogs," and "What's New, Beezlebub?" Sam and Max are thrown into even stranger cases than in Save the World (where everything ended up revolving around hypnotism), traveling from the North Pole to Easter Island, from a zombie rave in a German castle to a flying saucer in outer space, and throughout time only to end up in Hell. The Freelance Police must face off against zombies, babies, mariachis, Santa, Satan, boxing rats, piranhas in the Fountain of Youth, a demonic "Shambling Corporate Presence," and a giant, killer robot who quotes '80s pop music lyrics.

Telltale Games continues to create entertaining adventures to play through, and in Beyond Time and Space they've added some fun new twists. In "Ice Station Santa," Sam and Max must travel backwards and forwards in time, revisiting a case from Save the World and jumping ahead to help themselves out of a jam in a later episode. In "Chariots of the Dogs," the duo must again gallop through time, this time attempting to fix paradoxes, Back to the Future-style. There are other fun game play surprises that pop up, but I don't want to spoil them.

Beyond Time and Space sports a few improvements over Save the World, such as a now shortened main street that makes Sam's slow saunter from one location to the next not as time-consuming, thankfully, but there are also areas where Beyond Time and Space seems like a step down from what came before.

It's a good thing the writing is still top-notch in Beyond Time and Space, because, well, some of the puzzles come up rather disappointing. A large number of puzzles in the game fall into one of two camps: either painfully obvious or achingly frustrating. There were numerous times when I felt like I was just trying to use every item in my inventory randomly with everything in the environment until something finally advanced the action, resulting in a "why did that work?" reaction, which isn't particularly fun.

In previous Telltale Games, there always seemed to be scattered instances of instructing the main character to walk one way, yet he trots off in the complete opposite direction, and in this game it seemed to happen more frequently than ever. In fact, I found that Beyond Time and Space seemed to have more glitches than in any of Telltale's other games I've played. All too often the animation would freeze for a second before moving on, and a few times a character would be speaking but no audio would play. There were also instances of important items not appearing in the animations, such as when Stinky is scrubbing the diner counter with her hand wrapped around air instead of a sponge. I deleted some other games off my 360 hard drive, thinking that perhaps my hard drive and memory were too full for the game to work optimally, but it didn't seem to help. While none of these glitches break the game, they're still annoying imperfections that are very noticeable.

Glitches and all, Sam and Max Beyond Time and Space is a still well-worthwhile compendium of five episodes of Sam and Max zaniness. Just do yourself a favor and play through the slightly better Save the World first in case you already haven't.

Beyond Time and Space is a good deal at 1600 MS points ($20) on Xbox Live Arcade, though not quite as much of a steal as Save the World is at the same amount for six instead of five episodes. If you hunger for more after finishing off Sam & Max Save the World, Beyond Time and Space makes a great second course.


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