Dog and Rabbit Versus the Volcano
It’s quite possible Telltale Games may have tapped into a potentially endless comedic goldmine with its anthropomorphic detective series starring the fedora and trench coat toting canine Sam and his frenetic rabbit partner Max. Now moving deeper into its second season of bizarre episodic cases, the “freelance police” duo’s momentum shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. Episode 202: Moai Better Blues is an excellent follow-up to a great start in what looks to be a promising season ahead.
Transitioning from the chill of the North Pole in Ice Station Santa to a sunny, warmer climate in Moai Better Blues seems a natural progression, but the methods used to bring about this change in scenery are nothing short of the wackiness we’ve come to expect from this fun-loving franchise. No sooner have Sam & Max exorcised Christmas from the clutches of a demonic, shambling corporate presence than they return home to find more trouble afoot. This time it’s their tattooed pal Sybil high-tailing it down the street – past the hollowed out shell from the 80s pop-tune singing robot from the last episode – with the malevolently swirling vortex of the Bermuda Triangle in hot pursuit. When Sybil and her unlikely boyfriend (the giant talking statue head of) Abe Lincoln are sucked-in the treacherous triangle and then spat-out on Easter Island, Sam & Max are quick to dive headlong into what will soon become one of their more unusual cases. Not that any of their previous adventures could be considered mundane in the least.
The island turns out to be a nice temporary vacation spot for a picnic, except for the Moai prophecy foretelling a volcanic eruption which will obliterate its inhabitants. Sam & Max may not be properly equipped to stave off lava enhanced end-time prophecies, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past. No case, however seemingly impossible, is too crazy for the duo…clearly. Fortunately for players who enjoy the antics, the weirder points in this tale are yet to come. Lets just say a mechanical surfboard, triangular mini-portals, the fountain of youth, makeshift musical instruments, the return of “augmented reality,” and Banang (a powdered banana drink) are only a few of the things needed to persevere in this wacked-out adventure.
Perhaps sensing players might be getting mildly tired of running around the office and the other same old streetscape locations frequented heavily in past episodes, the developers chose to focus the action more on Easter Island. Overall, it was a smart move, but the underutilization of some places could be a minor disappointment for some players. You can still check out all the favorite haunts; they just come into play far less in Moai Better Blues. Bosco’s store, an important location and a source of humor in every installment thus far, barely factors in this time aside from a few brief moments, none of the story involves Sam & Max’s office, and Stinky’s Diner only gets a couple of minutes in the spotlight. The strangeness encountered on the island more than makes up for this, and the puzzles found there are a great change in pace. New locations to explore and the wise decision to steer clear from packing too many re-use characters into the script keep the episode feeling fresh. Amazingly, this is a Soda Popper-free episode; those brats wore out there welcome long ago. The bulk of the returning characters from previous episodes that do make an appearance are given minor parts this time around to make way for some hilarious interactions with the new kids on the block.
As the series goes on, the storytelling and dialogue continue to improve along with the jokes. The gags are still plentiful, yet the humor is a little more thoughtful. It’s all been funneled down into a concentrated form for this slightly shorter-length episode. Though some of Sam and Max’s wisecracks will surely spur a mixture of a few chuckles and an occasional grimace, the game’s funniest moments come from interactions with some of the characters. Sam and Max’s baby-talk while dealing with the diapered form of a diminutive, pistol-packing Jimmy Hoffa is a riot; the primitive clan of “Ocean Chimps” and their foot fetishes, and the musings of a clearly “stoned” Moai statue under interrogation are among many other quality moments you’ll find in several hours it takes to plow through the episode.
The puzzles are still pretty challenging in some spots, although the optional hint system will help you through most of the tougher spots without having to resort to a walkthrough. Some useless items are scattered throughout the game to throw players off track, and it can sometimes get tricky figuring out just the right combination of things required in certain areas in order to progress. Those with the patience to click on every examinable item will be rewarded with plenty of laughs, and the eventual solutions to some of the game’s tougher challenges. Incorporating the triangular portals as a new puzzle mechanic was a nifty way to shake things up a bit; it’s something the developers would do well to expand on in future episodes.
Moai Better Blues sticks with the same point-and-click control interface from every other title in the series. Little has been changed in that regard here except for the option to use the keyboard for controls during the requisite driving mini-game (which is a great deal more entertaining this time around thanks to having to run over bagpipes). The ability to make Sam run by double-clicking the mouse (a feature added in Ice Station Santa) still makes a noticeable difference in navigating the game. Despite the change in scenery, the graphics are largely untouched from past episodes. A few cool visual effects are added-in during the Ocean Chimp sequences, but that’s about it. Essentially, consistency in the gameplay is crucial here, and Telltale elected not to mess with the solid underpinnings of the series.
The initial six episodes of Sam & Max earned solid marks and praise from critics for good reason, but so far the second season is already moving well beyond early successes by leaps and bounds. Right out of the gate, Ice Station Santa was a great start to what promises to be a good year for the furry detectives, and Moai Better Blues keeps the laughs coming without losing a beat. Each subsequent episode in this new season obliterates expectations with even more unfathomably ridiculous plot twists and endearing characters. The gameplay stays pretty much the same throughout every episode, but the content continues to improve. Moai Better Blues may be one of the shorter offerings in the series, but it’s a fantastic time nonetheless.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The same good-looking 3D cartoon visual style found in past episodes. 4.1 Control
The same point-and-click controls found in past episodes. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The same quality voice acting found in past episodes. 4.0 Play Value
A little shorter in length, but still packing a good punch. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.