What is the most bizarre funny scenario you can imagine? Whatever just popped into your mind, I can assure you that Telltale Games has come up with something even crazier.
Sam & Max: Season Two – Beyond Time and Space is a point-and-click adventure game that was released on the PC in late 2007 via GameTap and early 2008 via Steam, but it's just now finding its way to the Xbox 360. The title relies entirely on its art style, humor and writing to appeal to the player, since the gameplay mechanics are stuck in the 1990s. The writing and humor won't appeal to everyone, as this game deals with time-traveling mariachis who live in a spaceship that looks like a sombrero.
Sam & Max gained popularity for having a reasonably successful formula of delivering a "season" of episodic games. Each episode comes out about a month after the previous one, and in a few months, you have a full game. Beyond Time and Space is the five-episode-long second season of Sam & Max. You can play any episode whenever you want, but you'll want to play them in order because although the episodes are functional on their own, they often have connections to other episodes and lead right into each other. Most notably, the final episode references the other episodes at almost all times, including a puzzle that would be impossible to solve if you hadn't played the prior installment.
As I've stated, the gameplay mechanics in Sam & Max feel extremely dated. It's entirely possible to get through the game by simply walking into a room, picking up everything that you can, and then trying to use the items on the things you couldn't take. There are some instances that feel like you're taking the most random item you can think of and doing something, anything with it. For example, one of the things that you must do in order to proceed is take a remote control and drop it out a window. There is absolutely nothing that gives you the slightest inkling that this is what you need to do.
When the game starts to stump you with its bizarre puzzle solutions, there is a somewhat hidden option in the game that will give you hints. It's a slider that you can turn off or crank up, and the hints come in the form of your crazy rabbit sidekick, Max, mentioning something about the next task or letting you know if there's anything useful in the immediate area. It's a wonderful integration into the gameplay that gives you major hints without making the player feel like an idiot. The biggest hint that I received was, "'I bet we can make that general look like a fool and make his train whistle without leaving the tiki bar."
Even if you don't usually enjoy point-and-click adventures, most of the game's value is in the writing. Sam, Max and company are all so ludicrous, insane and hilariously written that it's difficult to not enjoy watching the on-screen antics unfold. Sam & Max never ceases to amaze with its inventive scenarios, from attempting to save a possessed Santa from a demon known as the "Shambling Corporate Presence," saving Easter Island's Moai statues by becoming some kind of religious deity, killing a vampire with an army of raving (of the dance club variety) zombies, time travel, and dealing with the inner workings of corporate hell.
While the scenarios are very bizarre, the characters are just the right amount of crazy for Beyond Time and Space to be amusing. Sam and Max, who consider themselves to be "freelance police," like to shoot first and ask questions later; they probably belong in an institution, but they somehow end up saving the world on a regular basis. Frequently, the people they encounter in their adventures are borderline crazy, including Bosco, the conspiracy theorist; Sybil, the woman who's always changing jobs; Stinky, the amazingly awful cook; and the giant stone head of Abe Lincoln.
If you're remotely interested in the bizarre scenarios that I've just described, then you really owe it to yourself to give Beyond Time and Space a whirl. For the $20 price tag, you get about 15 hours of gameplay, which is more value than you usually get from a full $60 title these days. If the descriptions have left you cold, though, then playing the game won't make it a better fit. I may love the writing and humor, but many will not. I made several of my friends watch the game as I played, and of the five victims, only one actually seemed to enjoy it. The rest of them sat there for 10 minutes, told me, "This is stupid," stood up, and walked away.
While the visual style is a bit simplistic in its execution, it has an undeniable charm that actually amplifies and aids the ridiculous situations in which Sam and Max are constantly find themselves. Unfortunately, these are the exact same graphics that were seen in the first season of Sam & Max, and while they are charming, the graphics are starting to look rather dated. It doesn't help that there's an extensive helping of frame rate issues on the Xbox 360 iteration. The frame rate will constantly chug, there will be bizarre rendering issues with eyes, and there are a slew of other little problems that could have been ironed out with some more development time.
On the other hand, the sound is absolutely fantastic. Almost everyone's voice is acted to perfection, and the music fits the mood of the game perfectly. There are even a couple of hilarious musical numbers thrown in for good measure. These tunes aren't as good as the ones found in season one of Sam & Max, but it's still a fantastic effort.
That's really the major problem with Beyond Time and Space. It's been made to emulate the success of the first season of Sam & Max without really coming up with anything other than new scenarios to put the EXACT same characters into. The game tries to appeal solely to people who played and loved the first season. There are a lot of jokes in the game that seem to play out as inside jokes to fans of the first season. It's not funny to newcomers, and it's a little troubling to the Season 1 veterans that the folks at Telltale refuse to come up with new characters.
Sam & Max: Season Two – Beyond Time and Space is an enjoyable experience. If you can appreciate the bizarre style of writing and humor, there's a good, lengthy, old-fashioned, point-and-click adventure to be had. Many gamers will be turned off by the writing, the plethora of graphical and audio glitches and the clunky interface. The game feels pretty old-fashioned, and that's even within a genre that's been on life support for over a decade. The value for the game is good, but there are better point-and-click games on which to spend your hard-earned money these days. Even on the Xbox 360, you have better offerings with Monkey Island and the Wallace and Gromit series. However, if you can appreciate the absolute insanity and love point-and-click games, it's really hard to go wrong with Sam & Max.
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