Sam and Max first made the transition from comic book characters to adventure game stars in the hilarious 1993 LucasArts adventure, Sam & Max Hit the Road. While they continued to dispense their unique brand of vigilante justice in comics and even had their own TV show for a little while, it wasn't until the first in an episodic series of adventures hit GameTap in 2006 that the duo returned to computer screens. Now, all six episodes of the first season of games starring Sam, the canine detective, along with his partner, the hyperkinetic rabbity-thing Max, have been compiled and released on the Wii. While a few technical issues make this version less recommendable than its PC counterpart, the laugh-out-loud funny writing makes this an adventure worth playing.
The real attraction here is not so much the gameplay as it is Sam and Max themselves. The memorable assortment of former child stars, mafiosi, moles, rats, masters of disguise, sentient arcade games, and US presidents that they meet on their adventure are also a big attraction. Throughout the course of the season, Sam and Max will rig a game show, become sitcom stars, join the Toy Mafia, win an election, destroy the Internet, and travel to the moon in their DeSoto. Each of the six episodes has a self-contained story arc, which makes playing the game in shorter bursts satisfying. But they also play into an overall plot that runs throughout the season, so you'll want to play through the episodes in order. You're free to jump into any episode at any time, though, so if you've already played certain episodes on the PC or just get plumb stuck in your current episode, you can move on to something else.
The writing is so funny and so elaborately wrought that the gameplay feels a bit simple by comparison. In typical point-and-click adventure game fashion, Sam & Max is played by clicking on objects that you want to interact with or pick up, and by conversing with the characters you meet by selecting options from a dialogue tree. While there are a few stumpers here and there, the majority of solutions to the game's puzzles are somewhat obvious. That is, at least, once you accustom yourself to the zany logic of Sam and Max's world, keeping in mind that ketchup--that most versatile of condiments--is readily available at Bosco's Inconvenience. And even when you're fumbling to find the answer to a puzzle, your failed attempts at progress will still reward you with some funny wisecracks from the duo.
The office of Sam and Max and other locales are used repeatedly throughout the season, but they never feel stale. These environs include Bosco's Inconvenience and the office of one Sybil Pandemik, professional career changer. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of starting a new episode is finding out what new line of work Sybil is trying out this time, as well as learning what outrageous weapon Bosco has designed for our boys and what outrageous price he's charging for it. At the same time, each episode introduces enough new locations to stay fresh and interesting. While the first few episodes certainly aren't bad, it's in the second half that the season hits its stride, with episodes four and five being the real standouts. They feature especially memorable characters, hilarious concepts, and a couple of terrific musical numbers.
It's unfortunate that a few technical issues interfere with all the hilarity. There's often a brief but noticeable pause before Sam interacts with something, and occasionally, the last syllable of a line of dialogue will get cut off, which breaks the comic timing of the delivery. There are a few chase sequences during which the frame rate takes a real beating, making the sequences more difficult than you might expect. And at one point in our time with the game, the sound got caught in an excruciating loop that took about two minutes to correct, though when we went back to play this sequence again, it performed smoothly. Also, while the Wii Remote is an adequate substitute for a mouse most of the time, it can be a tad tricky to pinpoint the tiny objects with which you occasionally need to interact.
These technical issues aside, the simple but charming 3D graphics of the PC games translate well to the Wii, and the terrific, expressive animations of the characters are often as funny as the dialogue. Solid voice acting is hugely important in a game so focused on comedy, and Season One has it. The voices for Sam and Max fit the characters perfectly while the supporting cast is just as strong. The jazzy soundtrack is also great, providing an outstanding accompaniment for the story, as well as the grimy urban landscape where Sam and Max make their home.
Aside from a few concept sketches that are available to you from the outset, there are no special features here, so if you've already played these games on the PC, there's no incentive to pick up this version. Also, there isn't any replay value to the game, aside from the possibility of stumbling on a few funny lines of dialogue you may have missed the first time through. Each episode will take first-time players roughly two hours to complete, and with a $30 price tag, there's a good amount of content here for those seeking a surreal journey through the seedy underbelly of has-been child stardom, American politics, the information superhighway, and the terrifying realm of a self-help guru.