Goofball Journey through a Cartoon-Flavored World
There is a serious lack of point-and-click-style games these days. Games with big budgets always go for a fusion of action and RPG conventions, and games with small budgets either have something to do with platforming, or they are at least heavily influenced by pushing the right button at the right time.
Back in the day, hunting for clues and clicking on them, without any sort of time limit, was the bread and butter of PC gaming. You could solve puzzles and enjoy a story, and there was no need for a huge studio to worry about going bankrupt if they didn’t have a blockbuster on their hands. This is not so much the case anymore, which is why it’s nice that a new Sam & Max “season” of game episodes will be available for download on the PlayStation Network (and from the official website if you want to play on PC or Mac).
Sam & Max chronicles the adventures of a canine detective and his sidekick, a psychotic bunny. If you’re rolling your eyes already, don’t worry, the other characters are… even more goofy. Traditionally, point and click puzzle-solving games have taken place in 2-D or fake 3-D environments. Sam & Max is fully 3-D. The player controls either Sam (the canine detective) and can access his inventory of found objects, or Max (the bad-attitude bunny) who happens to be gifted with psychic powers.
The control scheme is surprisingly complex. The term “point-and-click” may in fact be a huge misnomer for this puzzle-solving adventure, even though Sam & Max definitely comes from the point-and-click tradition. You walk about in a 3-D world; you highlight objects of interest; you interact with things. The psychic powers increase the lateral nature of puzzle-solving to a ridiculous degree. With powers like the ability to teleport using phones, and the ability to see into the future, some outside-the-box thinking will be required. Thankfully, the clever hint system will keep you from ever hitting THE WALL; that frustrating dead-end which is usually a staple of point-and-click puzzle-solving games.
A large part of the appeal of Sam & Max is the humor of the series. Plenty of people find Sam & Max to be laugh-out-loud funny. Personally, I was baffled at how every single one-liner could manage to fall flat; isn’t a broken clock at least occasionally on the mark? Humor has come a long way in the past few years, and while Sam & Max has a “humorous atmosphere”, it does little to push the art of comedy forward.
How can you know beforehand if the humor of Sam & Max is for you? The gags feel like “B-side tracks” from something like Animaniacs. In fact, it’s difficult to come up with anything similar to Sam & Max that was made after the 90s, because Sam & Max has a very 90s vibe to it. Much of the humor is drawn from the idea that cartoon characters “don’t go there” with their sassy attitudes and back-talk, constantly winking at the camera and nudging the viewer. If you’re a high school principal and you once made a student leave early because he wore a forbidden Bart Simpson t-shirt, then Sam & Max is going to seem beyond cutting edge. Brace yourself! But if you’re more into, say, the journey through a hellish American strip-mall landscape like you might see in Tom Goes to the Mayor, or if you like the social commentary of South Park, or if you’re into the strange glimpses afforded into the lives of outsiders and fools like you can find in videos and sordid .jpg’s passed around on the internet, then the humor of Sam & Max is most definitely not for you.
Is Sam & Max worth playing? Yes and no. While it’s enjoyable to solve puzzles and uncover a story in a genre that doesn’t receive a lot of mileage these days, it’s a little unfortunate that the themes and humor borrow from this ancient Looney Tunes-meets-90s-attitude rather than create a new world and identity all its own. So on the one hand, Max’s psychic powers add a very, very interesting dynamic to gameplay, but on the other hand, Max is a “psychotic bunny” – get it? If you think that’s funny, don’t worry… Sam & Max have a million of ’em! In fact, the jokes never seem to end…
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Whacky character designs that pay homage to established cartoon conventions, and an unnecessarily sedate, not-too-vibrant color scheme. 3.6 Control
Think “point-and-click” but with moveable characters in a 3-D environment. The addition of psychic powers to the Sam & Max series heralds some great outside-the-box puzzle-solving. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voice acting is over-the-top and can be intensely repulsive to those who prefer serious drama. It’s perfect for a light-hearted story filled with anthropomorphic characters, though. 4.0 Play Value
First chapter does not stand well on its own, but is a nice introduction to a promising series. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.