[Insert the original theme to The Secret of Monkey Island here.]
LucasArts was great, back in the day. Their friendly, challenging, adventure games represented a kind of fun that few other companies really matched: Grim Fandango, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Maniac Mansion and, of course …
[Insert more of the original theme to The Secret of Monkey Island here.]
Every computer style of the era (and several consoles) experienced a slightly different game, not in terms of graphics like most modern games, but as sound. Just check out the two videos, and notice how the same notes make for completely different sounds.
This was a distinct subculture and fandom, and sadly, it was one that seemed to disappear with the 1990s during the rise of the first-person shooter, the Japanese RPG, and many other genres. It hasn't quite been entirely dead, even as its biggest companies have disappeared. The Adventure Company, a division of Dreamcatcher Interactive, has held up the banner of adventure games, with many excellent works. Classic mystery novel characters in new and old adventures, freak-out specialist-mandating super-puzzles in Evidence: The Last Ritual, and the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) tradition comes back too, offering a highly classic adventure game a worthy and enjoyable sequel.
Sam and Max Hit the Road was a classic, hilarious, and over-the-top adventure based on Steve Purcell's "Sam and Max" comic book. Sam is a dog who is also a freelance police detective, while Max, his partner, is a hyperkinetic rabbity thing, with homicidal tendencies and a comically severe case of ADHD and the memory of a skunk. In a universe of mostly humans, two anthromorphic animals are seen as nothing strange whatsoever, really, but their actions tend to be the source of reactions, more so than their nature. Let's just say that shooting out a car's taillights to fine them for missing a taillight isn't precisely normal police behavior.
Sam and Max: Freelance Police!!! was a 2004 LucasArts adventure that got canned and stuffed into a closet along with everything else LucaAarts-related that matters nowadays (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? What are you talking about?). However, Steve Purcell was not willing to just let the game die, so he brought the rights over to TellTale games. Using the then-nascent GameTap service as a platform, Sam and Max quickly became the model of how episodic content is done, offering six four-hour episodes over its first season, which were then gathered into a PC collection and now comes to the Nintendo Wii, bringing point-and-click adventure with plenty of laughs to a platform perfectly suited to both.
And what better topic to base your plot on than the Internet? The six episodes of Sam & Max: Season One lead up to your fighting the Internet, which in turn is serving the "Prismatology" cult. Each individual plot involves hypnosis somehow, entirely played for laughs. Whether it's a child star of a world-famous six-episode series, the Toy Mafia who hides in a Chuck E. Cheese's send-up, or the personified heart of the Internet itself, they're hypnotizing people, and you're out to stop them. And let's not forgot the statue of Abraham Lincoln, which has come to life ... and is running for President.
Play basics center on typical point-and-click mechanics. Just click on an object to use, look at, or grab it, click on a person to talk to him, and pull an item out of your inventory to use it on things. Put this together, though, and puzzles rapidly get rather complex but surprisingly, consistently intuitive. For example, you might use the bathroom to get an incontinent, hypnotized child actor to use the bathroom and then stuff cheese into his box, so that when he runs out, he's caught trying to steal it and gets knocked out by the store's overly elaborate security system.
Sam & Max: Season One features a few partial mini-games that involve minimal reflexes. The prime example of this would be driving. Max chewed off your police cruiser's brake line, see, so you can only stop by hitting other cars. Actual controls, however, are mostly a match for the standard gameplay, with you moving your car by pointing and clicking, and then pulling out inventory items to sue them. The first time you encounter this, you'll smack into a car, shoot out its taillights, and then have Max break out the megaphone and pull over the now-illegal car using a death threat. (I mentioned he was homicidal, right?)
And really, that's all there is to it. Hilarity, thinking, more hilarity, and general silliness as our two heroes stumble their way through just about everything but somehow manage to stop some of the strangest villains ever to grace a video game. It's just about everything that a LucasArts adventure ever needed to be enjoyed by anyone who's not immune to joy. The real question isn't whether Season One is a great game that everyone should get, but rather, how it holds up on the Wii.
And the answer is: quite well, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly. The cartoon-style graphics (no cel-shading either) port well to the Wii, and while some effects and poly-counts are dropped, the imagery remains and holds up wonderfully. At its worst, it's like watching someone play the PC version via a well-rendered Youtube feed, but the frame rate never really seems to drop. Further, the interface has been ported exceptionally well. Just take the Wiimote, point at things, and click with the A button. The plus key pulls down the menu, offering unlimited loading and saving of games (sorted by episode) and a few other basics, the minus key opens your inventory box, and that's really just about it. Admittedly, your arm may get a bit tired after a long play session; I ended up bringing the Wii upstairs so that I could use the armrest of my couch as a solution. Overall, though, this is a small quibble, and it's pretty clear that the Wiimote was practically made for point-and-click adventure games.
About the only thing I can really fault the title for is its voice acting and music, which falls flat every so often, sometimes killing some of the more subtle jokes and making the humor feel much more overt as a whole than the wide range it really is. This alone hints at the game having been produced on the cheap, favoring quick cycles that keep episodes coming every month or two during a season. The concept art and character bios represent modest special features to sweeten the deal a little; sadly lacking is the between-episode shorts that were released by Telltale between each episode. These faults, however, all persisted in the PC version of the Season One collection as well.
The soundscape may be imperfect, but the sheer sense of writing quality makes up the difference. Sam & Max: Season One looks just fine on the Wii, and the Freelance Police are back in glorious action. Any adventure gamer who hasn't yet enjoyed the game is advised to pick this up immediately. Check your sense of Euclidean physics and normal causality at the door, and be ready for humor.
More articles about Sam & Max: Season One