Sam & Max Save the World

From way back when point and click adventure games ruled PC games, there was a dog and a rabbit. These buddies went around as private investigators solving stuff. I'm not sure which stuff in particular, because I missed the boat. The series wasn't a blockbuster take-over-the-world smash hit, but it had a dedicated following.

"Screenshot of Sam in his office during hypnosis."

Fast forward to the good old days. Years before that, LucasArts, once a huge competitor of the point and click wars, had laser-focused on creating StarWars games exclusively. It dropped everything else it was doing, like adventure games. Most of those who were let go from the adventure game division formed Telltale games. In fact, there had been a Sam & Max game in development when the reorganization cancelled it. There had been an outcry among the targeted demographic, and that was one of the reasons for Telltale's founding.

Unlike some games, adventure games live and die on two things: puzzles and writing. I enjoyed the writing, but the puzzle difficulty was all over the place. Plenty were obvious, others weren't. Others made me dig up the old King's Quest habit of clicking all the inventory on everything else, only for the solution to involve timing. (Timing puzzles always trip me up!)

In these games, you play Sam (for the most part). He's an anthropomorphic brown dog wearing a suit and hat. He's pretty level headed, and expresses surprise with verbose alliterative exclamations. Max is a white lagomorph (rabbit) that follows Sam around. In a later episode, the constituent components of Max are scattered: violence, gluttony, and sloth. Those three things sum him up, with a heavy dose of darkness. You only get to play Max in specific dialog lines, which is a let down. There is no Broken Age switching here.

The supporting characters are interesting, too. Bosco is the paranoid proprietor of the neighborhood inconvenience store, who sells overpriced "technology". Sybil is a serial entrepreneur who is in a different business in each game. You can see the history by the crossed out signage out front, and the eclectic equipment collecting inside. Jimmy is the rat who makes his home in Sam and Max's office, but he's around the block sometimes. (He's my favorite!)

The first episode involves a free DVD giveaway about eye exercises. It's a ruse to guarantee that you're looking into the presenter's eyes as he hypnotizes everyone. The standard procedure to knock someone out of hypnosis is to knock someone out, and tell them to destroy the invader in their mind. Through some quirk Max is immune, but Sam needs to fight it off. He buys an overpriced colander to defend himself (in later episodes, it's integrated into his hat). You discover that a grown-up egomaniacal child star is responsible, and take him down.

"Screenshot of Sam and Max as contestants on Who's Never Going To Be a Millionaire."

For the second episode, you spend almost the entire game in a TV studio. Max is a judge on a American Idol ripoff, and Sam bribes the judges to win. Who's Never Going To Be a Millionaire is somewhat accurate, because a million dollars of food stamps doesn't quite cut it. There's a cooking show that somehow makes cakes with any ingredient. The real reason you're there is because a daytime talk show host has managed to take her audience hostage for 3 days straight!

You pay the mafia a visit in episode 3. Who else is running the Ted E. Bear's Mafia Free Playland and Casino? After infiltration, it's a front for a hypnotic toy factory. Bringing it down was the only time that I remember "pixel hunting" in the series.

"Screenshot of Max and Abe debating."

Abe Lincoln Must Die is the oddly named fourth episode. I remember that for a time, this episode was free, but I didn't get too far, because the whole premise was a bit silly. After knocking off the current president, an emergency election is called (no VP?), pitting a robotic Abraham Lincoln against Max. After some cue card magic and Sybil's help, Abe goes on a rampage. It's a war! The Secret Service agents are suspiciously exited about war, and perform a Broadway musical number.

"Screenshot of Sam and Max outside Sybil's place in Reality 2.0."

Episode 5, Reality 2.0, is my favorite episode. Everyone's addicted to this new VR thing. After knocking Sybil out (again), she tells you that she got the goggles from next door, where the cops moved in. Wait? Aren't Sam and Max the freelance police? You find out that it's the C.O.P.S., the Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society. It's a group of old computers sitting around a room like alcoholics anonymous. (If I saw Strong Bad anywhere, it wouldn't have surprised me.) Being a fan of chiptunes, I thought the soundtrack was especially well done.

The last episode takes Sam and Max to the Moon. They make it clear that they've been here before (in the original game, maybe?). After infiltrating the Prismatology top secret retreat facility, you need to take down the hypnotic machine that's going to hypnotize the entire world! Whoops! Too late! Now Max has to go around punching everybody.

"Screenshot of the final showdown."

The graphics in these games seem to hold up OK, though I can see the origami-ness of the models. The music and voice acting were good. Someone probably didn't set the MP3 encoder high enough, because I can hear those annoying metal artifacts in the sound.

I guess if you're into point and click adventures, Sam & Max seems good, but this is only the first episodic season. I have another two to get through.