Over the past twenty five years we’ve seen a lot of great video game duos. We’ve played with Mario and Luigi, Sonic and Tails and even Stix ‘N Bubba. But none of these famous video game duos can stack up against the crime fighting powers of Sam & Max, two private investigators on a mission to crack heads and right some wrongs. After 13 years Sam and Max have reunited to solve a few new cases, starting with this first episode: Culture Shock.
For those unfamiliar with this famous duo, Sam & Max were the stars of one of LucasArts’ best adventure games. In the early 1990s LucasArts released Sam & Max Hit the Road, an enjoyable little adventure game that introduced us to a couple of smart mouthed characters and offered an engaging (and often funny) story. It’s been 13 years since Sam & Max decided to hit the road, but that hasn’t stopped Telltale Games from finally getting around to developing the much-anticipated sequel.
Actually, this new Sam & Max adventure is part of a full season of adventures. Telltale Games has decided that instead of just doing one large story, they are going to release a bunch of short episodes to create a full season of Sam & Max. Culture Shock is the first such episode, and if it’s any indication of what’s to come then fans of adventure games have a lot to be excited about.
Culture Shock features our trusty heroes attempting to figure out why a bunch of former child actors have turned into brainwashed drones deadest on spamming the world with annoying exercise video cassettes. Could these washed-up former actors be part of a larger plot? Could these videos have some kind of mind control agent subliminally hidden in their tape? Will our heroes be able to solve the mystery and save us from these evil exercise videos? These questions and more are answered in Sam & Max Episode 1.
This new Sam & Max adventure plays almost exactly like the classic game from 13 years ago. You move Sam (a traditional private eye who just so happens to be a talking dog) around an over-the-top world while you investigate items, put clues together and ultimately solve the case. In true graphic adventure fashion, a lot of Sam’s world is interactive, when you click on an item Sam will usually walk over to it and talk about it. You will also be able to pick up items lying around, most of which have some sort of use in the story itself. The items are stores in a box that you can click on at any time, and no matter how many things you put in that box it never seems to get full.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on what you think of this genre), Sam & Max features crazy graphic adventure logic. This means that you will have to solve a lot of puzzles in crazy nonsensical ways in order to advance the story. Now don’t get me wrong, when you finally do get around to solving the puzzles they do make some sort of sense, but they aren’t the types of things you would normally do in the real world. If you’ve played other graphic adventure titles (such as The Secret of Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion) you’ll feel right at home, everybody else is going to have to realign their thinking in order to solve some of these wacky puzzles.
The reason so many people still remember Sam & Max is because of its sense of humor. The writing in the original 1993 game is still considered some of the best in video game history. The good news is that Culture Shock retains a lot of the sense of humor that the original possessed. The interaction between the two characters is often hilarious, and you’ll want to talk to keep talking with all of the memorable characters just to hear what our two heroes are going to say next. Humor is extremely difficult to do in video games, so it’s a testament to Sam & Max’s writing that the game so funny. I wouldn’t say it’s as humorous as the original game, but I found myself laughing out loud more times than I can count.
From this first episode of the new season, it appears as though each of the Sam & Max episodes will be self contained (rather than having one on-running story that stretches out over a number of games). While that’s a good idea, I can’t help but notice that this mystery was a little on the short side. Just around the time I was really starting to get into it Sam solved the case and the credits rolled. In all Culture Shock will probably last you no more than a couple hours, which may disappoint some gamers looking for a meatier experience. Thankfully a new episode will be ready shortly, and once the full season is released the game’s length will no longer be an issue.
The game’s graphics have undergone a major overhaul since the last time we saw Sam & Max. While the original game used sprite-based graphics to convey a hand drawn look, this new Sam & Max is rendered with 3D polygons. I was originally skeptical about how well this would work, but after spending some time with this new look I have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed. The game still has a funny cartoon look to it, but with this new graphic engine Telltale Games was able to get camera positions and reactions that the original game could only dream of.
The game does have one major problem, though. The puzzles themselves are a bit on the easy side, especially when you are dealing with the limited inventory. When you only have a few items it’s not hard to figure out how to solve the puzzles, which ultimately makes this game far too easy. This may be fine for those who are new to the series, but veterans of the graphic adventure genre will find themselves frustrated by how simple everything is. Hopefully Telltale Games will ramp up the difficulty as the season continues.
But enough about the bad, because Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock is a great way to reintroduce two of the best video game characters of all time. This is one adventure that offers a compelling story, great voice acting, great music and a whole lot of humor. We don’t see a lot of games like this anymore, and that’s yet another reason to seek out Sam & Max. Whether you’re the type of gamer who misses the days of the LucasArts point and click adventure games or you’re new to the genre, Culture Shock is a great game that is not too expensive. At $8.95 this is one case worth digging into. Of course, once it’s over you’ll want more … but is that a bad thing?