Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space
I can’t praise episodic gaming enough. It has given some of my favorite game franchises and a sadly forgotten gaming genre a second chance at life. The folks at Telltale Games have been quite busy in the past few years bringing the point-and-click adventure game back to PC gamers in small, reasonably prices episodes. Xbox 360 owners however, get to experience these games in one go, thanks to colleted season releases. This time out, they’re unleashing the second, five episode season of Sam and Max adventures in a collection titled “Sam and Max : Beyond Time and Space.” It arrives a few months after the wisecracking duo’s first set of escapades ”Sam and Max Save the World”.
In that outing, new and old players alike were thrown into the irreverent world of freelance cops Sam and Max, two unassuming looking anthropomorphic animals, who have a penchant for violence, wisecrack, and occasional lame pun. Series creator Steve Purcell was on board once again for this set of adventures, which now go into the titular realms of time and space. As in previous season, a story arc is introduced and gradually unfolded over the course of all five episodes. If you played the first season, you’ll know what to expect in both storytelling and gameplay.
Telltale didn’t tinker with the control scheme on iota which may be a good thing, if the first outing was to your fancy; however, if you didn’t like how this PC designed game translated to the console, you’ll find nothing has improved. The only frustrating aspect of the core gameplay I ran into was Max’s habit of getting in front of an object every so often and having to wait five to ten seconds for him to move. It would have been nice had they coded something to get him to move earlier, should the player however the pointer over his character.
If you haven’t played a point-and-click adventure, first, you should definitely start with season one, as there are many in jokes and characters brought over. In fact, I would say playing season one is nearly mandatory to really be able to appreciate the sly humor. Your goal in all five episodes is to complete a task, whether it be stopping a villain or escaping an area altogether. To do so, you’ll solve many mini-puzzles along with way and interact with a wide range of characters. The dynamic dialogue options return and while it’s possible to only speak with some characters once, having the ability to return and carry on small exchanges is often rewarding, if only for another reason to laugh. In the second episode, Moai Better Blues, players will encounter a group of babies that have some major historical relevance. You only need to speak one to two lines of dialogue to them to complete the task, but if you push on, you’ll be rewarded with some genuinely funny explanations for their disappearance, and in one instance, you may feel bad for laughing, if you know the true story surrounding one of these babies.
I will fault the game designers this go around for creating some truly nonsensical puzzles. I found the solutions in the first season of episodes to be devilish at some points, but they always made (sometimes twisted) sense. More than once here, I found myself growing very frustrated at solving some puzzles and when I stumbled onto the solution, a handful still didn’t make much sense. The player should be forced to think outside the box, but never driven to a sense of frustration that they consider skipping onto the next episode. There’s an in-game hint system that can be adjusted for frequency of hints, but I never found it to be useful and ended up turning it to the lowest setting.
The overall story arc is about as detailed as the one in season one, but at times seems a little less flushed out. Fortunately, the variety of environments the players will encounter is a huge upgrade. You won’t be confined to your home street and a few unique areas; this time you’ll travel to islands, castles, and even Hell itself. Additionally, the common theme of always having to buy Bosco’s latest invention for use in solving at least one puzzle is gone. I do applaud the designers for giving players more variety into how the episodes unfold.
Finally, I mentioned in my review of “Save the World” that I missed the little minigames from Sam and Max’s original PC outing. The designers tried to bring the minigames back, but the result is a very repetitive and frankly boring experience. In four of the five episodes, you’ll have a chance to earn upgrades for your car by completing some driving minigames. It definitely adds some extra playtime (probably 30-45 minutes), but only because your goals are unlisted and a lot of trial and error is involved. Fortunately, once you reach that episode’s goals, the mini game will end. Achievement junkies will be forced to endure these segments, as one achievement is tied to beating all four. In the future, I’d much rather see side attractions like Car Bomb from “Hit the Road.” It had nothing to do with the story of that game, but it was a fun diversion I sunk a few hours into.
Graphics and Sound
This season of Sam and Max looks and sounds just like the previous outing, so my assessment of that game’s audio and visuals carries over here.
The graphics in these adventures are a huge leap forward from the 2D animation of “Hit the Road,” but even in 2005 they were hardly cutting edge. The world retains its quirky charm, but this time is rendered in 3D. I would say the game looks more like a game this time, as opposed to the playable cartoon design of “Hit the Road.” Fortunately, there are no major graphical glitches and things run very smoothly.
In the sound category, things are much brighter. Although new voice actors have filled these big shoes, the performances from everyone involved have a lot of heart and bring this twisted world alive. I should note that the voice actor for Max changes an additional time following the first episode, but then remains consistent for the remaining five episodes. The score for the game adds to the atmosphere and like the verbal humor is a vital component to the game.
”Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space” hits the XBLA marketplace with another 1600-point ($20) price tag. I’ll contend, despite the mid-level graphics and simplistic gameplay, it’s worth the price, although as before 1200-points would probably be a better price point. I clocked about 10 hours or so completing all five episodes, but aside from a few hair pulling puzzles, I had a blast and walked away every time with a smile on my face. If you enjoyed Sam and Max’s first XBLA outing, this release is a no-brainer. If you haven’t entered their world yet, start with “Save the World.” Highly Recommended.