The Sam and Max franchise is one of those franchises that people hold close to their hearts. It has been 16 years since Sam and Max Hit the Road released, and are now seeing their second season of their downloadable series become available on XBOX Live Arcade. With over 20 hours (spread over 5 episodes) available, you’d assume you’re getting a pretty sweet deal, and for the most part you are, but there are some certain things that Telltale have done wrong by releasing their product onto Microsoft’s console….. and do they outweigh the good?
Sam & Max are a couple of anthropomorphic freelance police animals. Max; a rather insane (and homicidal?) white rabbit with a smile that could terrify even the most criminally insane, and Sam; a shoeless trenchcoat wearing dog, and just like 16 years ago, they’re here to right some wrongs and ensure their city, nay, the whole world, is safe from evildoers. Each episode in the set deals with some new threat, and it’s up to you to guide Sam and Max through rather obscure puzzles on their adventures through time and space.
I say obscure because, quite simply, some of the puzzles you come across will require you to have the Telltale hint system turned on. While the majority of the puzzles can be logically worked out, there are the occasional ones that make no sense and you’ll only figure it out through trying everything in your inventory or by waiting for the right hint to pop out of Max’s mouth. I mean, I understand that the clues strewn around Santa’s workshop help me put together the right song to expel a demon, but why in the hell did a snowball help a cockroach with some kind of flashback disorder turn into his father? It made no sense at the time, but I had tried everything else…..
Graphically, I am at a loss for words. Telltale clearly have an engine they use across all of their titles. I’m not sure what limitations this engine may have, but it is in desperate need of either a rehaul or some new artists. The lighting used through 90% of the game is shocking and really shows off some shoddy shading on anything that moves, there are no shadows to be seen, and the lip synching is completely off. It sounds like I might be being a little harsh here, but if you’re going to be looking at the game for 20+ hours, you want it to not look like a student’s showreel.
I can understand that this is merely a port of the Wii version, and the graphics definitely suit the limitations of the Wii, but in HD on a console that is known for some extremely good looking downloadable titles it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Yes, they have short dev times between episodes, but if you’re going to base all of your projects on a single engine, then time should be put in to ensure every game you create doesn’t look incredibly basic.
Another sour point for me was the controls. Point and click adventures just aren’t made for a dual stick controller, especially one with scrolling backgrounds. Get Sam walking and you either have to try and hit the moving target you want to click on or wait for Sam to come to a halt, and since there’s no way to hurry Sam up when it comes to indoor environments it takes a lot longer than I felt comfortable with for him to stop. The only times I felt the controls were any good was in environments that involved the least amount of moving, and outdoors when I could double tap A to make Sam run.
In the end, what most Sam and Max fans are looking for is the humour, and boy does this set of episodes have that. Should the controls and graphics not deter you then you’re looking at one of the funnier games to surface onto the downloadable market in quite some time. The script echoes the original 1993 title and the voice actors bring it to life perfectly. Max’s urge to kill or destroy everything, Sam’s witticisms and the wide cast of characters (including my favourite: a small rodent with tourettes) really
I’m painfully aware that I’ll be looked down upon by even contemplating the fact that S&M: BTaS isn’t like the second coming of Jesus, but I’m not about to let that deter me from telling everyone the simple facts. The game isn’t a current gen looking title, the controls are horrendous and can get incredibly frustrating and clearly not enough time was put into animation and effects…. however… these are mainly cosmetic issues and if you can overlook the control issues you will find a game worthy of your time. Point and click adventures seem to be making a come back and I am all for that, especially if they utilise franchises that started it all. Great humour, great script writing, great to see the pair back in action.