Havoc's Reviews: Sam and Max (Season 1 AKA Sam and Max Save the World)

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Havoc's Reviews: Sam and Max (Season 1 AKA Sam and Max Save the World)

Post  Havoc on Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:48 pm

Hoooo-boy... Here we go! Very Happy Bit of history before we begin this one!

Back in the heyday of 'adventure games' Lucasarts (prolly best known now for ever-repeating Star Wars entries for the game market) had a division dedicated exclusively for these sorts of things. A number of surprisingly well-written games that forced the player to really think about what was going on before they made their move. And most importantly, they were funny. Well, most of them. Especially the "Monkey Island" series, but that's another review.

Anywho, as time progressed, Lucasarts axed the adventures division and it's been a while since anyone saw them. But! There was a group of them that formed their own studio, Telltale Games, and have been for quite a few years now, producing bite-sized helpings all cumulating into an interesting and unique game played out over several months. The first title they did that got a lot of attention was when they got one of the original IPs from the Lucasarts division and gave it new life. The entity in question was the stories of two freelance police officers. One a six-foot tall straight-man of a dog, and the other, his short, hyperactive and likely psychopathic lagomorph (read: rabbit) sidekick.

That's how this game came into being more or less. Or games, since season one is six in one you could argue. That's the big bad news right there about this package. It is episodic. That means each game is fairly short, wraps up fairly completely and you get a pinch of a cliffhanger, and if you want the entire arc, you gotta shill out all the cash for it (roughly 35 USD). However, there is still plenty to like.

Sam and Max live in a vivid and silly characiture of New York City and are more or less private eyes who have a pile of adventures that seem like they come right out of the TV on a Saturday Morning. And that's the key of it. The humor. Besides, what else do you think you could do with a giant straight-talking dog and crazy gun-wielding lagomorph (read; rabbit) anyways? Season one chronicles their wacky adventures, going from basic vandalism to brainwashing cults! Because of the nature of the series, each 'episode' will be getting its own review.

As a note, I will try and avoid spoilers as much as possible since it is definitely story-heavy, but given the fact all episodes link together with an over-arching plot, it might be a pinch tricky. Since gameplay though is more or less completely unchanged throughout the series, I'll just cover that right now.

Couldn't be simpler. Just use your mouse to click and point where you want Sam to go while Max wanders all over. When the cursor shows a name, click and Sam will make a comment, or you can talk to someone. You have an inventory of items to use to solve puzzles and there is only one solution to each. They're not 100% intuitive, but if you think like a Saturday morning cartoon character, you'll have a better time. Clicking on the car will prompt Max to ask where you wanna go. Sometimes you will have to take the car to other places, or just drive around to solve other puzzles.

And that's the other big downside of this series. Because there aren't other answers to the puzzles, when you figure it out once, then it's over and there's little replay value, save for the writing and sometimes using things in ways they aren't meant to can reveal hilarious results.

Sam: I bought that VCR at the supermarket!
Max: So you know it's a good one.
Sam: Still smells like asparagus, though.

EPISODE 1: Culture Shock

Consider this the pilot of the entire series, since, well, just like a TV series, there's an opening title and credits and all that fun stuff. When you get the chance to control Sam and Max, you first must discover where your phone went before you can start on the case. It's a little tricky, since a tutorial would've been nice here, but it's still simple enough to figure out. Anyways, in episode 1, Sam and Max must unravel a mystery involving wash-uped celebrities from the 70s! As the introduction to the series, episode 1 does a fairly good job at introducing you to the strange world of Sam and Max. The locations aren't too varried, but the characters sure are, and the humor ranges just about the entire spectrum, but it's the dialog between the canine detective and the crazy lagomorph (read: rabbit). Like the quote before the episode review.

Though the last puzzle and story are prolly the weakest here, it does at the very least set the foundation for the rest of the series, which, thankfully, has a turning point.

Max: (1st message on answering machine) Sam, it's me. Open the window, I'm trapped on the ledge again!
Max: (2nd message) Sam, come on, I have to pee! And the PTA is here, and they're carrying signs!
Max: (3rd message) Hey Sam, it's me again. I found a way to solve all three of my problems at once, buuut I'm going to be needing bail.

EPISODE 2: Situation: Comedy

A bit weaker then the first one, but now it seems this wacky world's version of Oprah, a woman named Myra, has gone mad and is holding her audience captive (literally) and giving them absurd gifts! Sam and Max head off to the local TV studio to try and sort things out, ending up on a gameshow, a sitcom, an American Idol knockoff and (finally) Myra's show. And as expected, it's full of puzzles. This one is weaker then the first though due to the simple puzzles. One it doesn't matter what you do really as long as you put in at least one object, and you really gotta put your mind to work on some of the puzzles (one involves a lot of runnin' around and you don't get any hints unless you're paying attention to what the characters are talking about). Story-wise, they could have done better. Some of the jokes fall flat sadly, but still, not all bad.

Sam: It says cloning rights activists are cloning themselves to create a bigger voting bloc.
Max: It works for locusts.

EPISODE 3: The Mole, The Mob and The Meatball

Episode 3 I think is the weakest in the entire series. (Including season 2) It just feels a bit like an oddball episode. You start off going to rescue a mole who has worked his way too deep into The Mob and have to get him out by getting into the mob and retrieving a meatball sandwich! The overarching plot still appears here, but there's not much to really say. A part you have to tag-team with Sam and Max each working into a 'Yo momma' joke to crack a criminal (Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! Or cool and unusual... Depending on your stance on yo momma jokes.) into confessing something he did. The most frustrating part of this episode though I would have to say is the car chase. You have to hit it just right to get it to work.

Sam: No Max, we have a far more bloodthirsty adversary this time... The president of the United States of America!
Max: Who?
Sam: The man's gone nuts! He's enacting all kinds of crazy new laws.
Max: What else is new?
Sam: Federally mandated group hugs before, during and after all major sporting events!
Max: So?
Sam: He's curtailing civil liberties! Threatening the environment!
Max: Hey! That makes three of us!
Sam: And he's about to introduce mandatory gun registration!
Max: *suddenly serious, pulls his pistol* Get the keys.

EPISODE 4: Abe Lincoln Must Die!

Yes, episode 4 REALLY is titled that. And, it's FREE! You can download the entire episode for free from the Telltale site.

Anyways, other then being a very good trial to see if you like the game, episode 4 is the turning point I mentioned. The writing comes together, the jokes and curious satire all come together as Max enters an emergency election against... Abraham Lincoln brought back to life in the stone statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial! Honest Abe isn't exactly squeaky clean right now though, so it's up to Sam and Max to win the election. Though one thing working against this episode is if you figured out some of the earlier puzzles from the earlier episodes, then you can quickly figure out just what's going on and solve them. But the humor is why you are here. It's so absurd you have to laugh at some of it.

Sam: Stand back, Max. It sounds like Sybil has finally cracked.
Max: It's about time! Her relative stability was making the rest of the neighborhood look bad!

EPISODE 5: Reality 2.0

A bit of a big joke about internet gaming, which, let's face it, is an acceptable target, especially when these two are involved! Unlike the others, your locations aren't going to change too dramatically, save for a sort of reality-flipping puzzle that is a big play with this one. There are two phases. Reality and the computer game, and you'll have to flip back and forth between the two to set things right once more. There are some bits that don't make a whole lot of sense, but again, cartoon logic is your friend here, as is knowledge of video games in general. How do you get through a crack in the wall? Find a way to make yourself paper thin! Can't deal a hit to an enemy? Look at their defenses. Better-written then some of the earlier ones, but still, could have been better.

Max: Don't drown, Sam!
Sam: Thanks, little buddy!
Max: That's such a boring way to die! Try to get cut in half instead!
Sam: Thanks, little buddy.

EPISODE 6: Bright Side of the Moon

It all comes together as Sam realizes who has been behind the entire season's cases and the pair hop in their car and drive to the moon! I won't give away too much due to spoilers, but suffice it to say alone, this episode doesn't work as well as it could have. With the rest of the season, it's a great way to end it! The puzzles are fairly straightforward enough and clever that they're rewarding to solve. If you've been paying attention too you'll realize who the villain is before this episode, but still. It all gets wrapped up neatly especially if you've been following the series from episode one, and comes together and ultamitly it works with the craziness of it all.

Sam: Tampering with the mail is a federal offense, punishable by fine and imprisonment.
Max: As we found out after the incident with the garden hose! Ahh, memories...

Alone, they're not anything incredibly special, and the later episodes are definitly better then the first ones, the puzzles only solutions makes replaying not as entertaining as it could be, but the writing is probably the best part and voice acting is spot on, though Sam does seem a little surreal given how calm he comes across sometimes given the craziness they encounter. Also, graphics aren't too much either, mostly due to the fact that 1) this was released in 2006, and 2) each episode was originally downloadable and thus, small in order to fit everything together, but that's a small chip in the rest of it.

My recommendation: If you're looking for a zany, clever, humorous and well-written puzzle game, then this is what you want. You might not get all the jokes or enjoy them, but there is no doubt that the series is an experience.

Stay tuned! In July I'll review Season 2 (AKA Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space) and August/September, the latest in the series, Season 3 (AKA The Devil's Playhouse)!
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