I have always cherished Sam & Max Hit The Road as the best point-and-click adventure of the “LucasArts years”, but I had no idea that it had started as a comic book, nor that it had spawned its own animated series.
And most of all, I was unaware that some former LucasArts employees formed Telltale Games to bring back those awesome games. They have built a new 3D engine that brings the classic mechanics to the 21st century. I discovered that just as I was moving to Toronto, so I decided that once I settled at my new home, I’d catch up.
I cut my teeth on the new stuff with Season 3 – mostly because it was available for Mac OS on Steam. Got a few spoilers, but instead of turning me off, they made me more interested in finding out what happened by playing the previous games than otherwise. I also needed a refreshment, so I gave the original game a spin on ScummVM (an awesome implementation of the LucasArts engine for modern computers.)
Once I was convinced that the new games had the soul of the original one, my wish was to start from Season 1, but it’s only available on Windows, Wii and XBox 360. But Season 2 was released on the iPad. Honestly, I was sure that a game so strongly based on mouse-hovering would flop without a mouse to hover with, but hey, it was only $3 per episode. Worth a try.
To my surprise, the “wheel” system (depicted as an actual car wheel, in-line with the series’ tongue-in-cheek spirit) is arguably better than the mouse. It gets rid of the annoying pixel-hunting that adds little to the challenge, and comes with a bonus: muti-touching the screen reveals all clickable areas.
Happy with that, I played the whole Season 2 in a couple of weeks or so. It gave me a fever, and the only prescription was, of course, more cowbell. Being a Windows-free person, the reasonable alternative to play Season 1 was to get an XBox 360 (and also a TV set – at the dawn of the on-demand video age, I had not yet bothered to buy one)
The biggest disappointment of the XBox 360 version (available online) was to find out that it uses the traditional point-and-click system, which doesn’t work as well on a gamepad. They could have at least added directional movement to one of the analog sticks. I also found the puzzles a bit too easy on the first few episodes, but overall fun. And at least I got to know how Max got his “career upgrade”.
But Sam & Max is not all about games: I’ve read Sam & Max: Surfin’ the Highway massive collection of comics on comiXology, written and drawn by Steve Purcel himself, and watched a couple episodes of the Sam & Max: Freelance Police cartoon on iTunes.
The comics are awesome – I can’t help but link Steve Purcell’s style with Wally Wood works at MAD Magazine, and the source from the zany ideas and humor on the games becomes clear. Not for everyone, but I found it quite entertaining.
For the cartoon, however, I had mixed feelings. First of all, the voices are quite different from the games – which also present slight variations, but always on recognizable styles. I also felt a certain washing-down of the tone which, along with the out-of-place characters, which smells like network executives “developing” the product. Still, it’s Sam & Max, so it’s good! :-)
Anyway, with several Season 1 and Season 3 episodes yet on the pipeline I still have some fun ahead (before joining the crowds asking for a Season 4), and I recommend the games (and comics) to anyone that enjoyed the original, and also for those with a taste for puzzle-solving and non-orthodox humor.