Santa going postal, staking an emo vampire, and taking the Soul Train to hell are just a few of the insane moments crammed into Telltale Games' absolutely hilarious Sam & Max Season Two. This outstanding compilation pulls together the last five episodes in the ongoing adventure series starring Sam, a McGruff-style dog sporting a suit and fedora, and Max, a murderous, smelly rabbit. Most fans have probably already played these games, as they have been released online over the past year, but if you missed these games when they were first released, the low price and ton of extras make this collection worth the purchase price.
Anyone who loves classic adventures will have a great time with these surreal, zany shorts. Sam and Max fashion themselves as "freelance police," private detectives who get into one zany mess after another while trying to solve crimes in a zany cartoon world. This means that all of the tales here are laugh-out-loud funny, yet also dark and more than a bit disturbing. You should probably just enjoy the pop-culture jokes riffing on everything from The Exorcist to The Mod Squad and skip putting too much thought into the delightfully twisted minds who came up with the game's bizarre yarns.
But the puzzles themselves aren't as off the wall as the insane stories of the adventures included here. Your tasks are generally based on common-sense logic, even though the end goals deal with nutso objectives like exorcising Santa Claus, figuring out what Charles Lindbergh and D.B. Cooper are doing as babies on Easter Island, and checking out the absurdly bureaucratic Hell LLC. There is a structure to everything that Sam and Max do, so you don't have to fool around with nonsensical adventure game logic or collect a bunch of worthless junk to use at some future date. Tasks are always focused around picking up just a couple of key objects and using them in the right places, nifty conversation trees with consequences to each dialogue choice, and arcade minigames where you do things like box rats and race cars. Everything flows along at a great pace, and your duties are mixed up so that you never get bored with one style of puzzle. Even if you do get a little weary of the sheer strangeness of everything, machine gun pop-culture jokes about the real world keep you grounded and laughing. The biggest design issue is too much backtracking, in that you have to frequently drive back and forth between episode locales and Sam and Max's home office and surrounding neighborhood to solve quests.
The look and sound of the missions are striking. Visuals are done in a Saturday-morning-cartoon style, with lots of bright kiddie colors blended with sharp edges. Everything is just a bit askew, like you're viewing Sam and Max's world through a funhouse mirror. Style is everywhere, right down to the opening and closing credits of each episode. The only drawback to the visuals is the camera angle, which is a little too close to the action in many scenes and can't be manually rotated past its on-rails 2D position to look all around the 3D landscape. Audio effects are dead-on, from the restrained insanity of Max's voice to the 8-bit arcade music played whenever you have to deal with the obsolete computers that operate the Pimplecar Garage.
And when you finish up the adventures themselves, you can check out the extras that make this compilation something of a director's-cut version of the original download-only games. Over four hours of audio commentary are included, along with the "Sam & Max Nearly Save Christmas" cartoon short and a bunch of random collectibles such as trailers, outtakes, and concept art. None of this is absolutely essential, and the Christmas short is already available free online, but taken altogether you've got a sizable grab bag of extra goodies for collectors.
The only disappointment in Sam & Max Season Two is that it ends too soon and leaves you wanting more. Each episode can be played through in just a couple of hours, although you would be best advised to drag out the experience and check out everything you can click on for the extra laughs. This series is a great example of how much creativity, intelligence, and humor can still be poured into this classic genre. So, bring on season three.