The Ultimate Epic Goliath Sam & Max Season One Review Page Two

In which the good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.


I'm going to bring this review to a close now as it seems to have spiralled out of control, and I'm sure a few of you have skipped to this paragraph anyway. I left out a general look at the highs (The War Song) and lows (Soda Poppers) of the series, but I have left something until last that explains the score.

Don't tell anyone, as it's a closely guarded secret punishable by torture, but Sam & Max Season One is very very very funny. Honestly, I haven't laughed this hard since I saw those two cats in that 'Why Judo Is Better Than Karate' video on YouTube. The writing is of a consistently excellent standard and the gag-to-laugh ratio is very high indeed. The odd misfiring joke never fails to at least raise a smile, and belly laughs are frequent. If I was reviewing this game on comedy value alone it'd score a perfect five.

The storyline suffers a lot at being seen as one complete whole and never really works. It also takes Telltale until Episode 4 before the samey feeling that was bogging the first half of the series down is eradicated. Sometimes even the puzzles are a letdown, either being too easy or not existing at all. And let's not forget the disappointment of Episode 6 after the wonderful 4 and 5, which felt rushed, had do-all Magic Talismans, an easy ending and an unfunny beginning (up until the introduction of the hysterically smutty unicorn).

But these criticisms pale when compared to the incredible amount of entertainment every single episode brings. With Sam & Max Telltale have accomplished what Valve, Ritual and even their own Bone series failed to do – deliver a regular and entertaining game series that keeps you coming back for more. They have created the first successful episode game season, and it's (despite some teething problems) a triumph. And it can only get better with Season Two. Not quite as good as Hit The Road I'd say, but damn it's close.

Okay, I'm done now. Now write in and tell me that 'Leonard and the Bug' would make a great children's book.

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Is it okay to say that I prefer Bone?

Don't get me wrong: I like Sam & Max, and I think that critically, Telltale has done a great job on those episodes. The writing, and the plots; the characters; the ideas; the enthusiasm; the animation -- the music. It's just that Sam & Max doesn't do as much for my imagination as Bone or Monkey Island or Grim Fandango does.

When I play a game I like to play it for what it is – but I also like to play it for the wider world where the game is set. That is, I play Grim Fandango for Manny Calavera: but also for the whole world of Aztec mythology, jazz music, art deco, grim reapers, monster trains, cities full of dead people.

With Sam & Max there isn't enough of that wider world. There's less than in Hit The Road, for a start. But it's more than that – this wider world is really just a version of America, and not as far removed as Monkey Island, Grim Fandango or Bone (for example) are. A lot of people will prefer that type of world, but I don't. And that's fine – “whatever rocks your boat.”

If I was going to give constructive criticism, though, then I would say to Telltale: show us more of the Sam & Max “world.” If Telltale paid as much attention to the outside of the game as they pay to the game itself, then I would get more into the episodes, and I would play, not just for the episode itself, but to be in another world.

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Sam & Max Season One isn’t a perfect series of games; some episodes are a bit more lacking than others and a few more characters would have added a lot to the overall experience.

Yet I still feel Season One ranks up there with some of LucasArts’ better adventures. This comes down to two things: Firstly, the writing is top notch. The dialogue feels fresh, and I will argue that certain segments (Max’s “death scene” in episode three for example) are some of the funnier things I have seen in a computer game.

Secondly, the game drips with atmosphere. Be it the camera angles, the wonderful cartoon-y look, or the soundtrack; it all comes off superbly well, particularly considering that this is more of an independent production than most games out there.

I prefer Bone the comic book to Sam & Max, but their roles are reversed when it comes to the games. Season One is pure adventure gold.

What Needs To Happen In Season Two?

Blimey there were a lot of complaints in that review! But how can Telltale banish them? I'm sure they will and Season Two will be superb, but just in case (and for fun) let's give them a nice handy list. You want a perfect 5 review Telltale? Come and get it! Okay, granted this is just personal opinion and some may not be feasible, but what the hey?

Here's the list, including some ideas from the Mojo community:

  • More puzzles using both Sam and Max. Max was used too sparingly in this season. Can we at least have more conversations where you can direct his speech as well as Sam's? That's his name in the title too, guys!
  • Change is good. Doing well so far, just keep it up and go further, otherwise people will lose interest. Is it possible to have episodes that don't feature the office, Bosco's, Sybil's or Straight Street at all? Use the TV series and comics for inspiration! Steve Purcell's webcomic was entirely set in England, for example!
  • A Run function for Sam. I've gathered this has already been implemented. Woohoo!
  • From Gabez: "A cliffhanger and “next time...” trailer at the end of every episode. Also, a more straightforward way of downloading each one. I think this is just me, but I got way confused trying to get the next episode. Downloading the demo and activating it didn’t work for me, for some reason - instead I had to download it from another link. It furrowed my brow."
  • Less recurring characters. Goes with the repetition/change thing. Episode 6 with absolutely no new characters is a perfect example.
  • More and better car chases! Again, I hear this is being done. Telltale reads my mind again.
  • From Murray The Chao: "what I think Season 2 needs is more mindless violence. You never really see anyone get clobbered in Season 1 (outside of the boxing glove scenes in the Ep. 6 ending), so it would be fun to see someone, be it Sam & Max, get beat up on screen, like in Hit the Road. I loved it when Sam & Max set off the alarm in Bumpusville, and get pummeled by Lee-Harvey. No reason this couldn’t have been done in Ep.4 - there are lots of windows in the White House for Sam & Max to appear at, and Chuckles even says “And stay out!”, just like Lee-Harvey." (this is by far the best suggestion on this list)
  • Overall story needs to be tighter. If Season Two is to have one every episode has to be written with it in mind and they all have to be carefully plotted. I get the feeling Telltale are already doing this one too.
  • The Continuing Saga of Mr. Spatula. Keep it up, I'm enjoying this weird sub-story!
  • From Metallus: "More plunging through space." (take that how you will Telltale!)
  • More effort with the Phone Gags. C'mon guys, I want some really elaborate fight scenes of those two trying to answer the phone. Episode 3 is a good example of how not to do it.
  • No Magical Talismans. They're rubbish and lazy. Keep it at least vaguely real, please.
  • More traveling locations. It's depressing going to the car and only having one place to go.
  • From Samandmaxfiend: "I would just like to see more out there characters more weird and zany situations and less repetition"
  • More swearing. Because swearing is good and it shocks America.
  • Unlockable Bonuses! You really shot yourselves in the foot with CSI: Hard Evidence guys, now we'll expect it in every one of your games!
  • From ThunderPeel2001: I’d personally like to see more “adult” humour. Not rude or crude or anything, just stuff with a bit more bite. I loved the few bits of really satirical humour in the first season and I’d love to see more of it.

    I would also like to see Max impeached (if he wasn’t already, at the end of last season, I forget). Actually, the idea of Max being impeached and trying to him “off” could be a great episode in Season 2! (Presumably you’d fail and the next episode Max would be in jail -- lots of jokes about jail that fit perfectly in the S&M vein, right there!)"
  • Episodes that begin somewhere other than the office. 'Nuff said.
  • More grime! Still too clean guys. Dirtier, dirtier! (as I once said to that girl with the webcam)
  • From S-island: "Bump the sample frequency of the speech up to at least 22 kHz to get rid of the lisping. If it makes the games too big, at least do it for the CD release."
  • Remember your audience. There's a reason many consider Reality 2.0 the best in the series. The audience are all geeks. Now make 'em laugh with more Mario jokes.
  • No more 'get money for Bosco' quests. I think Season One pretty much finished this idea off.
  • From Daltysmilth: "There were definitely some control issues that need to be worked on. There would be a few times, and for some reason Bright Side Of The Moon is the one where I had this happen the most, where I would click on something and Sam would walk in a different direction from what I clicked on.

    I’d also like to see smoother “scene transitions”. Am I the only one who, when the camera zooms up to the window after Sam & Max go back into their office building, wanted to see them through the window walking into their office?

    One last thing, wouldn’t it be great if they could get some of the actors from previous Sam & Max productions to guest star? I’d love to hear Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson again. And of course Denny Delk."
  • No Magical Talismans. Just in case you missed it the first time.
  • Remember the noose collection? Can we find out what happened to it? That's one of the great unanswered questions of Season One. Or are you going to keep this mystery going until Season Six, like Lost?
  • From Jake: "I’d like to see an open GTA style world where you could get into the DeSoto and basically drive through the ground floor of any building on the street ala the Blues Brothers to get from location to location." (trust the guy who actually works at Telltale to make the most unreasonable suggestion. It's like flogging your own back!)
  • A final thought from ThunderPeel2001: "Probably the main thing they should do is ignore requests from fans though, especially from their main site! Some of the requests on their forum are really dumb “The game would be SO much better if I could combine items in my inventory!” - Yeah, because Grim Fandango really sucked as a game because you couldn’t do this).

    I’m with Alan Moore on this one:
    “It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience want. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience, they would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.”(way to kill this entire article there, ThunderPeel!)

Will Telltale take these ideas on board? Will the overall storyline be better? Will Mr. Spatula be behind it all? Will there be wanton destruction? We can only hope!

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