Much has been said about episodic content in recent years, and none more so than the titles released under Telltale Games; their most recent contribution being collaboration with Lucas Arts to reboot a series based on the seminal point-and click adventure game ‘Monkey Island’. However long before we were getting lost with monkeys on Islands two of video games most unlikely heroes were burning across the greater United States, solving crimes and generally making a mockery of the status quo.
After Lucas Arts failed do anything with the aging series in 2001, Telltale Games; comprised of ex Lucas employees no less, cut their teeth by releasing a new Sam and Max on computers in 2006 through an initiative called Gametap that promised a new episode every few month.
Three years on and released through Xbox Live Arcade, how do our daring duo fare? A lot easier actually and this is perhaps the biggest flaw.
The idea behind episodic content is that short easy to digest level of gameplay are offered months apart allowing the consumer to play through just enough to entice them back for more.
The initial release via Gametap worked exceptionally well, enough to allow two more seasons and a number of additional games to be built on the same model.
However, translated to XBLA, Sam and Max Save the world’s six episodes are available all at once. This sounds good until you relies that each episode follows the same structure of introduction, adventure and conclusion, reusing characters, models and material in an attempt to pad-out four or so hours per episode. Every month this would have been a welcome comfort, each episode being so familiar to the next, but back to back- as one long ‘story’ it can begin to wear. The game runs so smooth on the console and loads so quick it’s simply a matter of sitting back, point-click, repeat. Pace yourself, and try to play it as it was intended with a break between each chapter.
Fortunately, the redeeming backbone that Sam and Max is built on is its esoteric sense of old world humor intact from the original through to today. For a game that can be played with one button, the comedic actions of a lunatic rabbit and his dog friend are an essential part of keeping the player hooked as they go about their business unraveling a fiendish plot to take over the world by hypnosis. For anyone too young to remember the original a lot of the asides and jokes may be hit and miss and for those old enough to have played it some of the simpler elements seem just that, simple.
This is a new Sam and Max for a new generation, softer and cuddlier and generally a whole lot less violent than their predecessor and with a much more stripped down interface. The single A button controls all your actions as you guide Sam around the various locations clicking on things and collecting objects. Back in the days of yore, such action may have seemed like a chore, hunting through pixels to find an illusive item to combine with something else in such a way that it could only be used for one specific purpose within the game. Nowadays, all the objects you need are in plain view, and if you haven’t used one by the end of a chapter, then you’re not looking hard enough. This hit-and miss method of click on everything until something happens, sometimes with no direction at all, can become tedious though the witty banter between characters generally holds it all together.
Further- maybe it’s the quick turn around of the episodic content or the need to fit in every icon from Sam and Maxs’ past, but every single episode must have a driving section in it, apparently. However it’s basic at best and only hopes to fill the time between treasure hunting.
This time around, Sam and Max are joined by a supporting cast that generally does a good job; cracking jokes and providing clues. Boscos’ Inconvenience store and Sybil Pandemic the job-hopping philanthropist will provide enough relief from walking around in circles to keep things interesting. Bosco and Sybil become repetitive after the third or fourth time though and seem one dimensional in their jokes and personalities compared to the larger than life Sam and Max.
Considering their pixilated history, Sam and Max fair very well in the transition to 3D. As a showcase for episodic content, Telltale had a lot to live up to, to capture both the world and the characters that a defined a generation of gamers during the 1990s. Today, those gamers are older and Telltale has taken a very safe route to making sure the game is well represented. Brightly colored, with low polygons and simple lighting, it is telling why this collection was not released as a full retail game. But as an arcade title, Sam and Max make the cut and are well worth the value. Over the course of six episodes though, a number of the models, scenes locations and textures are simply reused while it is now all too obvious to see exactly what to ‘point and click’.
Again, the dialogue system has been simplied and although you can sometimes also choose Maxs` dialogue options, this variation is few and far between and with little consequence. If you care enough to read through all the words there are nuggets of gold; quintessential one-liners that frame the personalities perfectly against a mad cap caper of twists and intrigue.
Or you can simply skip each one till you find the answer you’re looking for.
Some things in the game though just feel thrown together. Telltale seems intent on sticking to a tried and true method, established in the first episode and carried through. Every episode has a ‘theme song’ which you either love or you don’t’ while the over complicated words and lyrics, can at times feel too smart for their own good.
In many ways this is six games in one which adds up to a whole lot of value when you factor in the time it takes to play. Each episode lasts abut 4-5 hours and for 1600 MS points you can’t really complain. Some might argue, it’s six very similar ‘mini’ games but to experience the full feature-length story the investment is well worth it. There is no option to purchase individual episodes however and any replay value is solely based on unlocking achievements. That said, can you really place a price on the wave of nostalgia that comes at seeing Sam and Max ride again.
Telltale has seeming done the impossible with Sam and Max, resurrecting a genre some thought long dead. With their manic rabbit and bumbling canine as poster-boys for the new generation of point and click adventuring- some might say they could do no wrong. After two seasons and another two games following suite have they done too much too soon? Have graphics and gameplay evolved beyond the need for just pointing and clicking? This reviewer says: No.
With a third season rumored on the way, this is one show that fans keep coming back for.
AAG Score: 8/10
1. Dry humor and witty dialogue!
2. Sam and Max
3. Theme songs
1. Gameplay is a little repetitive
2. Sybil and Bosco
3. ‘Driving’ sections
1. The legend of Monkey Island
2. Day of the tentacle
Reviewed and Written by Ian Crane