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Sam & Max

I’ve been meaning to post something about the Sam & Max games for quite a while now, but never seemed to quite get around to it. But I’ve recently been reminded of it, as I just received word of some great deals available briefly. So let’s get the advertising spiel out of the way first:

In celebration of Telltale Games’ fifth anniversary, Sam & Max seasons 1 & 2 (and incidentally also the new Strong Bad season) are available at 50% discount from Steam — but only until May 18th (US time) — which suggests that I probably ought to have posted this earlier, since that’s later today :)

Another offer comes from Telltale themselves: if you use the coupon code EPK-9VX-3ZN-WRH at their store then you can get any individual episodes for US$5 instead of the regular US$9ish. (Note that this doesn’t apply to the full-season packs though, sadly — though it does work on more than just Sam & Max.) This one lasts until June 17th (US time).

Ok, now that that‘s out of the way, let’s move on to a discussion of the games themselves.

With the Sam & Max games, Telltale essentially invented the whole episodic game concept. Well, ok, that’s not entirely fair — other games before them (including a couple from Telltale themselves, and several from other companies) have claimed to be episodic — but Telltale were the first (and as far as I am aware still the only) company to get it really “right” on a regular basis. (“On a regular basis” being the key thing that they’re getting right.)

In terms of structure, each season has consisted of five or six games released approximately one per month (approximately, because both seasons were released across the Christmas break, so there was a two-month gap between the first and second episodes). They’re sold both individually and in a season bundle, priced such that the whole-season bundle is significantly cheaper than buying every episode individually. They have, however, made two additional decisions that I believe are really good: firstly, you can buy one episode individually to try it out and see if you like it, and then upgrade to the whole season set by just paying the difference. And secondly, if you have bought the season set then you can get it on disc as well as download for “free” (aka “cost of shipping only”). Very user friendly. (The download versions require online activation; the disc versions do not. The bad news: savegames tend not to be compatible between the two either.)

Each episode is relatively short (two or three hours — basically Portal length), but the season as a whole adds up to a fairly decent length for an adventure game, and at a comparable price.

The games themselves fall smack into the adventure genre (story based, third person, inventory); controls are mouse-based point & click for the most part, although each season also contains at least one “arcade” segment that is better played with the keyboard (though the mouse still works). Each episode is complete in itself (the “mission” is introduced, pursued, and wrapped up within a single episode), and they fit together to create an overall plot that links the whole season together. Season 2 does follow on from Season 1; though you can probably enjoy S2 by itself it does contain quite a few references to events in S1, so playing them in order is probably best.

The stars are of course Sam & Max themselves, probably best known from their appearance in the earlier LucasArts game Sam & Max Hit the Road (you know, back when LucasArts games were actually good). Sam is a suit-wearing anthropomorphic dog; Max is a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”. Both are “freelance police”; essentially private investigators who are prone to excessive displays of property damage and violence — and yet it’s all very good-natured and played (successfully) for humour. They’re a lot of fun.

So, that’s probably enough of generalities. I’m just going to post a quick synopsis of each of the episodes, and my lasting impressions of them — it’s been a fair while since I’ve played some of these, so the details are a little vague in places.

Season 1

  1. Culture Shock
    The duo investigate a case of hypnotism, seemingly being pushed by a group of child stars. There’s nothing particularly spectacular that I recall about this episode, but it does provide a decent introduction to the series.
  2. Situation Comedy
    A crazed talk-show host keeps her audience captive; it’s up to the duo to get them released. Again, a good game but nothing spectacular.
  3. The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball
    Sam & Max must infiltrate the Toy Mafia. The puzzles in this one were a bit lacking (and the initial release was plagued by performance problems, although those have since been corrected) — but it did introduce the “Ted E Bear” musical number, which remains my favourite.
  4. Abe Lincoln Must Die!
    The president has gone insane, and it’s up to Sam & Max to sort him out. Along the way, there’s another musical number (fairly gratuitous, I thought; I didn’t like it as much), Max runs for office (the horror!), and they face off against a robotic Abe Lincoln! Much fun to be had.
  5. Reality 2.0
    The Internet is on the blink; an aggressive virus has taken control. In this, Sam & Max actually have to enter the Internet (think VR or Tron) to fix the problem — and the whole thing finishes up with a mini text-based adventure. This is easily my favourite episode out of the whole season. (But then, I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to Tron-like environments.)
  6. Bright Side of the Moon
    A trip to the Moon (in their car, of course) leads to the final reveal and face-off with the main villain of the season (who I won’t name, to avoid spoilers). Fairly decent, and it ties the season off nicely. I can say that it was very satisfying to finally finish off the villain — they get really annoying.

Season 2

  1. Ice Station Santa
    A trip into Christmas Past, Present, and Future, in order to save Christmas. A little cliché, perhaps, but still fun. (And yes, Christmas Future gives a bit of foreshadowing for a later episode.) The strangely-warped Christmas toys are a particular favourite (“Torture-Me Elmer”…).
  2. Moai Better Blues
    Easter Island and the great Moai statues. What are they really for? Can Sam & Max win the support of not just the locals, but the gods as well? And what is up with that volcano?
  3. Night of the Raving Dead
    An army of zombies, led by an emo vampire. My least favourite of the series, although I’m not entirely sure why. (Resurrecting a Frankenstein’s-monster lookalike had some fun moments, though.)
  4. Chariots of the Dogs
    A search for the missing Bosco… perhaps there was some truth in his crazy conspiracy theories? My favourite in this season; the sheer amount of time-foolery is simply brilliant.
  5. What’s New, Beelzebub
    And the series closer: the final confrontation — in Hell itself! (And you’ve really got to see this depiction of Hell-as-corporate-wasteland. It’s quite funny.)

Supposedly Season 3 will be coming out sometime later this year. Something to look forward to! :)

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