When it comes to sleuthing, no detective team is more irreverent, comical, and simultaneously endearing than the anthropomorphic Sam and Max. At a whopping six feet in height, Sam is a cool-headed, suit-wearing canine whose personality contrasts sharply with his high-strung, diminutive rabbit side-kick. Prior to late 2006, when Telltale began releasing a series of hilarious Sam & Max adventures in episodic format, it had been many years since the pair of “freelance police” first leapt off the page of comics and onto computer screens. Sam & Max: Season One compiles all six quirky episodes into a single package on the Wii and amply proves that the furry detectives still have their chops.
For those new to the franchise, Sam & Max got their start in the late 1980s with Steve Purcell’s comic book series about the uniquely funny detective duo. Purcell then worked with Lucas Arts to release Sam & Max Hit the Road in 1993. The DOS-based game saw the pair traveling across America in a zany, 2D point-and-click adventure searching for a Sasquach who was kidnapped from the Hall of Oddities. Sam & Max later appeared on television in their own Saturday morning cartoon series in 1997 and, after several years of inactivity, they returned with a new web-comic in 2005. With its return to the PC, the 3D Sam & Max series retained much of the same outrageous antics, quality storytelling, and charm that initially drew players to the game. Wii owners now get a crack at solving the unusual capers.
As the title suggests, Season One plays much like a television series. Each of the six episodes starts out in Sam & Max’s run-down office with a call from the commissioner requesting their assistance in getting the bottom of some new crazy mystery. A brief explanation of the case is typically prefaced by Sam dishing out one of his excellent and bizarre exclamations such as, “great thundering jellyfish on the squishy road to mayhem!” From there, it’s up to Sam & Max, and players, to follow the clues and use their own calculated deduction abilities to get to the bottom of things. Though each episode is quite different, some of the characters will carry over from one case to the next. The theme of hypnosis runs throughout the entire season, and each episode offers a wacky new variation on the plot. Sam & Max will find themselves up against a variety of unlikely villains including the Toy Mafia, disturbed talk show hosts, washed-up former child actors, viral video games, the president, and more.
Sam & Max are controlled by selecting a location in the room where you would like them to go or by selecting something in the room for them to examine. The Wii controls are as basic as they come. Using a single Wii Remote, you’ll just point at the screen and hit the A button to interact with hotspots. It’s just as comfortable as using a PC mouse, but problems arise with the graphical interface. Frequent visual hiccups in the character movements crop up at very steady intervals. This diminishes some of the fun, as it’s an omnipresent issue – one that will be hopefully fixed if and when the series continues for the Wii.
Just about every major item in each room and location can be interacted with, and it’s worth taking the time to check everything just to hear the numerous funny comments the duo spit out. Whether it’s a gumball machine filled with anti-depressants, a plaque with the mounted and autographed hand of Jesse James, the sludgie counter at Bosco’s Inconvenience, or the demonic skull with glowing eyes on the “RELAX” sign at Sybil’s tattoo and therapy shop, you’re bound for more than a few laughs at their responses as you poke around.
Scrutinizing each scene for details also often yields clues that can help you figure out what needs to be done to move forward. The game is light on action, instead relying heavily on puzzle solving and interacting with characters to progress the story.
Most of the puzzles you will come across on Sam & Max’s adventures are not terribly difficult, but it’s fun unearthing clues and trying out different items in your inventory or other combinations to come up with solutions. Some spots may hang inattentive players up as you must backtrack a lot to figure out a crucial clue you missed out on earlier. Each episode has a reasonable number of smaller puzzles and a few complex ones towards the end.
The story itself is so well scripted and entertaining that it’s easily the shining point of the game. Every subsequent episode pushes the envelope of weirdness even further without ever managing to get too outright ridiculous. The story is enhanced by a saxophone laden, jazzy soundtrack, rounding out the detective-noir vibe, and extremely well-done voice acting. Visually, the transition from 2D to 3D is smooth and the graphics retain their cartoon-like quality. Each location oozes personality, and quite a few visual gags are buried into almost every area of the game.
Individual episodes are not overly long, but there are plenty of peculiar plot-points packed into every parcel. Each should take about several hours to complete, depending on whether you explore every possible nook and cranny or simple just seek to solve the puzzles required to advance the plot. Lately, point-and-click adventures have not seen the same level of popularity they once enjoyed on the PC, but Sam & Max is a wake-up call aimed at reminding players there’s still life left to the genre, despite many claims to the contrary. The Wii offers mostly the same solid experience found in the PC edition. The game looks good and plays well, and the voluminous humor and interesting characterization alone are well worth the price of admission.
With the success of Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People being released simultaneously via WiiWare and PC, we’re hopeful the upcoming season of Sam & Max gets the same episodic treatment for both platforms.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The graphics look just as good as its PC counterpart, but frequent visuals provide and unwanted annoyance. 4.0 Control
The Wii Remote works great as a mouse. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent voice over work and cool background music are still top-notch. 3.7
It’s a good package of short and amusing episodes for new players to dig into. Series vets may want to stick with the PC version.
3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.