“You crack me up little buddy…” Is something you’ll hear quite a bit in Sam & Max, and it never gets old or annoying.
For those like me without any idea on what Sam & Max was beyond easter eggs showing up in LucasArts games, here’s a little explanation. Sam & Max is a comic book by Steve Purcell starring the eponymous Sam & Max, Freelance Police, sort of Private Detectives but working for the Police Commissioner as extra cops, called in when needed, which is quite often to be honest. Sam is a 6-foot Dog in a grey suit with matching fedora, prone to over-exposition and long-winded exclamations, and Max, his trusty partner is a white “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”, with straight long bunny ears, a permanent manic grin and a fluffy tail and is a complete sociopath. Their office is in a rundown building on the corner of Straight and Narrow and they share the floor with a Noir inspired, more traditional PI called Flint Paper, who can be seen almost every time beating up a suspect for information. The office is also where you are at the beginning of most episodes, and with each episode and season, the office is funnier, as the boys enjoy keeping trophies in their closet, which more often than not come from living beings, or are actually alive.
As for the games, there was a Sam & Max game made by LucasArts, back in the days when LucasArts was known for its kickass adventure games such as, of course, Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. There was a planned sequel for the game but it was cancelled.
When the rights to the characters returned to their creator, Steve Purcell, he “aligned” himself with the good folks at Telltale Games to give it another shot.
Three seasons of Sam & Max episodic games have been made so far, all of them of fantastic quality and one better than the next. During the first two seasons, while there was an overarching plot, each episode was independent from the others; but the last season handled things differently, more in the way Tales of Monkey Island worked, where the plot spread around sequential episodes, each episode beginning where the last one left off.
The first game in the series, Sam & Max Save the World deals with Mind Control on a global basis and introduces a few characters that become regulars in future games.
The first of these is Sybil, a spectacled, raven-haired woman in Chinese clothing who works in the tattoo parlor at the end of the street, though not even in Season 1 Episode 1 is the shop a Tattoo Parlor as Sybil changes lines of work constantly, ranging from Tabloid Journalist and Dating Service Expert to Queen of Canada.
Then there’s Jimmy Too-teeth, a thug-like Rat, head of a rat mafia and several other shady businesses, that lives in the mouse hole in Sam & Max’ office. He greatly dislikes the pair and is usually screwed over by them. His wife and son show up in Season 2.
Next in line are The Boscos. The first one you meet is Bosco, the owner of Bosco’s Inconvenience on the same street as the Freelance Police Office. His shop is your typical convenience store, made atypical by Bosco’s general unpleasantness and paranoia. He appears during Seasons 1 and 2, providing an item, usually called a Bosco-Tech [insert
name here], to Sam & Max in exchange for an ever increasing and often ludicrous amount of money, starting and $10.000 and ending somewhere around the trillions. He is replaced by Momma Bosco, sorry, Doctor Momma Bosco during Season 3. She’s of course Bosco’s mother and shows up near the end of Season 2 as a Ghost and keeps this form during much of Season 3, during which Bosco’s Inconvenience is closed and you can find her at Bosco-Tech Labs.
Then of course are the Stinkies: Stinky and Grandpa Stinky. During the first Season you’ll Stinky’s Diner at the opposite end of the street from Sybil’s, right ne
xt to Bosco’s, but you can’t go in, but you’ll hear the characters talk about the…uhm…delights of Stinky’s cooking. From Season 2 onwards both Stinkies show up. Stinky aka Girl Stinky is Grandpa Stinky’s “granddaughter” and both of them hate each other with a passion.
There are other minor characters showing up, such as Harry Moleman and The Soda Poppers, the latter being an actual part of the plot in most cases and extremely annoying every single time. The Soda Poppers are former child stars and even now look like children, with beard stubs.
Season 3 is also the first and, so far, only to have a narrator, a man in black and white with a red rose on his lapel, inspired and styled to match the narrators and presenters from old shows such as The Twilight Zone, something quite obvious when he presents the first episode: The Penal Zone.
Back to the first Season. While each episode is completely independent, they all build on a central premise, throwing out answers and more questions, all revealed during the last episode. As I previously said, the main topic is Mind Control on a mass scale, and by the end you realize that all events in the season have been orchestrated by the main villain, except for the first episode which you discover was not actually in the plan. The season even involves a rigged presidential election and Max becoming the President of the United States, a position he appallingly keeps throughout the three seasons.
Season Two, aka, Sam & Max Beyond Space and Time, works in the same way, overarching plot with individual and independent episodes, with the last two providing revelations, but while season one’s plot and The Villain’s Master Plan are easily understood, Season 2’s plot is much more convoluted, and for fear of being spoilerish, I can’t comment more on it except saying it has to do with Hell and Satan, and just like in Season 1, the events of the first episode aren’t really part of the plan, but instead just a mix-up. The season involves travels through portals and even time, the latter involving some Mariachis and a fantastic music number. The season also includes a German Emo Vampire, and Sybil’s marriage to the statue of a former USA President…I know how that sounds, play the game to find out more.
Season Three, The Devil’s Playhouse, has a more direct plot, involving ancient Toys of Power, which grant the “enlightened” psychic powers. Sadly for the world, Max is one of the enlightened. After the toys is General Skun’ka’pe, a strange looking gorilla hunting through the galaxy for the Toys. This season also includes some Eldritch beings into the mix. The Toys themselves are actual real toys, such as Putty, a toy telephone and even a creepy ventriloquist dummy, and each possesses a particular and useful power.
One such item is the View-Master toy, which gives the power to see the future. At first I thought this would be a hint system, but no, seeing the future is an actual part of the puzzles, as the visions aren’t really clear and more often than not are extremely short, providing you with a new location or maybe a new keyword or conversation option you can use to progress in the episode.
The Toys of Power…some of them
The gameplay in all seasons is your standard point and click stuff. Pick up item, use item, and talk to people. The first two seasons used clicks on the screen to move the characters, while the third one used the Tales of Monkey Island approach where you could use your mouse to drag the character or use the keyboard. The games make heavy use of conversation as another piece of the puzzles, as well as trigger points for events, such as making NPCs turn around, allowing you to mess with them. Season 3 adds a new layer to this. Since Max has the Toys of Power, you can now control max, though in a limited fashion. On your screen there is a badge with Max’ face, click on it and you control max in first person mode with an inventory wheel displayed for you to use a Toy of Power. Click on the Sam Badge to go back to controlling Sam.
The difficulty level lowers with each season, until season 3 is easy by season 1 standards, though it still has its own fair share of head scratching moments. The puzzles in Seasons 1 & 2 range for the average difficulty puzzles to the “go check the internet for the answer” type puzzles. I usually measure the difficulty in how many times did I give up and go looking for the answer, and Season 1 and 2 gave me enough moments when not doing so required a great deal of willpower.
Season 3 screen. Includes notes to help you, the box with the inventory and the Max Badge…well in this case it’s the Maximus badge, and this isn’t Sam, it’s Sameth
The voice acting and writing are amazing. The game was made, as with most Telltale Games, with close collaboration with the creator, ensuring the humor and tone and dialogs are Sam & Max worthy. Dialogs, characters and story are smart, interesting and incredibly engaging. As soon as you pick up an episode, it’s highly likely you’ll only stop playing it after you’ve completed it. As for the characters, Sam is a responsible, honest and hardworking dog, and Max is bat-shit crazy and extremely protective of his best friend and incredibly prone to violence. Bosco is an ill-tempered bad mouthing black man with a terrible attitude and amazing levels of paranoia, often leading to hilarious conversations. The actors do such a fantastic job in conveying these extreme personalities perfectly and keep them believable, even if they are so over-the-top.
As for length, the first and second seasons have six episodes each, and the last one has five. Each episode is worth a couple of hours of gameplay, more if you’re stuck, as is usual in adventure games. Using two hours as the average for each episode, each season gives you somewhere around 10 to 12 hours, though it’s highly likely you’ll be playing for a lot longer.
With all the praise I give the game, I have to admit it’s probably not for everyone. As a game, it’s a fantastic piece of art, and should be played by everyone, but from a comedy perspective, from character and style and tone, some people might not enjoy it and even feel offended, as the humour is quite dark and cruel at some points, though Max enjoys it that way, and none dare oppose President Max.
I won’t speak of visuals because they don’t really matter to be honest. Beautiful visuals are irrelevant in most of these games, as the puzzles, the characters and the writing take center stage.
As usual, I don’t give points, but will just say…BUY THE DAMN GAMES, you’ll thank me later, once you can breathe again from laughing like a maniac.
As usual, I could go into details on each episode of each season, but that would mean I’d have to spoil the game, and that’s something I just don’t wish to do.
I leave you with the trailers for each game:
Sam & Max Season One
Sam & Max Season Two
Sam & Max The Devil’s Playhouse
- Sam & Max (wikipedia.org)
- Sam & Max Wiki
- Sam & Max Season One Review (gamespot.com)
- Sam & Max Season Two Review (gamespot.com)
- Sam & Max The Devil’s Playhouse Review (1up.com)