Friday, May 11th, 2007...4:09 pm

My Season with Sam & Max

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Sam & Max Season 1
From Telltale Games (
Available for download now

All six episodes of Telltale’s first season of Sam & Max are now online and available for purchase and download. So what’s the official Toy Vey verdict? Let’s sum up.

The Good

  • The graphics and animation — Hardly a pop, sizzle or fratz (I may have just made those terms up). The character models were solid, the designs spot-on and the animation smooth and cartoonishly lifelike (lifeishly cartoonlike?). Extra kudos for all the great face and body movements during the dialogue. The emoting really helped to solidify the Freelance Police and their supporting cast as “real” characters.
  • The voice work — Every casting choice was pretty much perfect. Sam and Max themselves were great despite having to live up to the voice actors from both the original game and the TV series, and all the other character voices were well chosen and acted as well . . . even if some of the characters themselves were kind of annoying.
  • The writing — That was some great, snappy dialogue. Steve Purcell should be proud of the job these guys did.
  • The score — Every chapter had its own catchy tunes, and the new version of the old theme music was a great twist on a classic.
  • The musical numbers — One of the things I found myself most looking forward to with each successive episode was stumbling
    upon the full-blown musical number. They weren’t all major hits, but when they were good (especially in episodes 3 and 5), they were *great*.
  • The nostalgia — The Telltale team knows their stuff, and they didn’t miss a beat in recreating and even improving upon the classic style of games. This old adventure gamer was well and truly pleased.
  • The in-jokes — It was good to see that the game’s creators didn’t let a little thing like not actually making this game at Lucasarts dissuade them from including plenty of references to the original Sam & Max game and other Lucas titles.
  • The craziness — I complained in an earlier review about insufficient insanity in the first few chapters, but the last few more than made up for it.
  • The trophies — It was always fun to try to guess what souvenir from the current adventure would turn up in the Freelance Police’s office the next month.
  • The extra stuff — Who wants to burn straight through a great game? I found myself deliberately choosing the “wrong” dialogue path or action constantly, just to see what the characters would do or say, and my efforts were consistently met with copious unnecessary-but-welcome dialogue. I’m sure there were a bunch of easter eggs that I missed in there, too.
  • The other extra stuff — The game makers kept fans provided with a steady stream of videos and other fun stuff on the Telltale website throughout the season, keeping us coming back for more on a regular basis. An excellent touch.
  • The payoffs — From punchlines to puzzle solutions, you really felt rewarded from start to finish for playing each episode.

The Less Good

  • The voice direction (rarely) — This is a pretty minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things, but occasionally a piece of dialogue would have totally the wrong inflection for the context of the conversation, and it jumped out at me.
  • The locations — I was pretty sick of the office neighborhood by the end of the season. Let’s have a wider range of new settings next time around. Unless the budget won’t allow it, in which case just opening a new store or two in the area might help.
  • The supporting cast — Sybil and Bosco grew on me, but the Soda Poppers tended to grate, Hugh Bliss was pretty annoying, and a lot of the others were kind of generic. I would have liked a bit more diversity and weirdness in the characters from episode to episode.
  • The partnership — A couple of episodes let you select one or two dialogue choices for Max, and you could talk to him for vague hints, but in general this was Sam’s show and the bunny was just there to tag along and quip. I would have liked a little more utility for Max, whether it be more speech paths, more wanton acts of senseless violence, or the ability to make use of him as an inventory object as in a few puzzles from the original game.
  • The continuity — It won’t be spoiling too much to say that a war starts in Episode 4, but despite a background reference in the last two chapters, it’s never really addressed again. Is it still going on at the end of the season? What happened to the characters involved, especially given what later happens in the final chapter? While one major plot event does continue to pay off (and how!), there are a few things that happen in certain chapters that seem like they should have been brought up again later on.
  • The story arc — While the individual chapters were written well, it didn’t always seem like the overall season story was thought out that much in advance. There’s a recurring theme of hypnosis that carries through the whole season, but it never really feels like all the individual crises are part of one overarching storyline, and the conspiracy revealed at the end feels a little more wedged-in than pre-planned.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention “the puzzles” in either list. It’s a hard one for me to label — I found most of them pretty easy, but still enjoyed figuring them out. The first few chapters were a relative cakewalk, but the last few each tended to have one conundrum that I got totally stuck at for a while, and I’m not sure if that was just my own gamer mentality or Telltale making things a little too nonintuitive. At any rate, I made it through the whole season without needing to look up any solutions, which made me feel pretty good about myself, but may make other gamers complain that things were too easy. The game could have been a little more challenging, I’ll admit, but I’m pretty satisfied with the degree of puzzle-solving overall.

And I’m more than satisfied with the season as a whole — in fact, I’m downright ecstatic. Petty complaints aside, Telltale did a fantastic job, and they deserve plenty of praise and cash. Even though I’ve played the whole thing through, I’m definitely going to fork out for the retail collection when it hits stores later this year, just to have a shiny box and the ability to replay the season whenever I feel like it. I recommend that you do the same.

. . .So when do we get Season 2, again?

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