sam & max season 1 has more than met my expectations.
the sam & max games are based on a comic book by steve purcell featuring a pair of vigilante crime investigators, or "freelance police". sam is a laid-back, humanoid dog, dressed up in a 50s-style detective getup, which is to say he wears a blue suit, white shirt, black tie, and a fedora-like, oversized hat; max is a hyperkinetic, violent-minded rabbit. max is the yang to sam's ying, the crazy, violent partner to the...less-crazy and not-as-violent crime fighter. though very different in demeanor, they share a sense of humor, which tend to be tickled by the nihilistic and dark and malicious, and their deep friendship is very much obvious despite the rough and often uncivil manner by which they address or refer to each other.
you, the player, mainly control sam, as he acts as the voice of reason and logic (at least, logic according to the wacky world of sam & max), with max often providing the humorous commentary in suggesting solutions to problems that are often overly grim and unnecessarily violent. the space in which the characters move around is, for all intents and purposes, 2-dimensional, which may irk some but is very much practical in its functionality and for the purposes of this game. you move by clicking the mouse with the curser pointed away from sam, which causes sam to move to the location of the curser. there are various objects strewn about, and if a descriptive name of the object pops up when you mouse over it, you can click on it to get an amusing description of the object or, if the object is something that sam is to use to solve puzzles, pick it up to add to your inventory. your inventory is accessible by clicking on the box icon on the lower left side of the screen, which will cause the box to tumble to its side and spill its contents across the screen. to use an object in your inventory, you click on it and click on whoever and whatever you want to use it on, and sam will either remark that he can't use it, or give hints as to what has to be accomplished before he can, or use it to accomplish a task and move the plot forward. to interact with a character, you simply click on whoever it is that you want to talk to, and a list of dialogue options become available; you choose whichever option you want, and your character and the character with whom you're interacting discuss on the topic chosen. oftentimes, the actual words that your character speaks is different from the text in the list, which gives you something more to listen to than a simple word for word recitation of what's written.
the characters in the game are varied and very interesting to get to know. the two main recurring npcs are bosco and sybill pandemic:
bosco is a paranoid shopkeeper who thinks everything is a conspiracy against him. his paranoia leads to his convenient-store-type store to being very much 'inconvenient'. he has wacky and convoluted security systems set up in his store, and they become even more convoluted with each episode as he vainly tries to combat whatever conspiracy he feels is targeting him. in the first episode, he comes as himself, but in the subsequent episodes, he is UN-cleverly disguised as someone else, such as as a british person or russian, with only a hastily put-together costume and a terrible accent to mask him.
his store is interesting to explore, because he has items for sale that no one in their right mind would purchase or even take if given out freely. but most of all, it's delightful 'speaking' to bosco, because the interactions are often hilarious. there's one type of dialogue that recurs in each episode in which sam asks bosco a series of questions regarding whether he has particular items in store. of course, sam doesn't inquire about the potato chips or sodas that a normal patronage of a convenient store would; instead, he asks for the most ludicrous and often disgusting things that a person can think of, and the series of inquiries end with some sort of conclusion to the dialogue which is quite often laugh out loud hysterical.
sybill pandemic is an eccdentric, ...new age-y...career opportunist, who owns a store on the other side of bosco's in the street in which sam & max' office is located. she's always looking for new opportunities to pursue, which results in her changing her occupation in each episode. though the interactions with her aren't nearly as funny as those with bosco, there are some genuinely funny moments, especially in how ridiculous her career pursuits often are and how bad she is at the jobs, starting with being a psychotherapist in episode 1 to something far more unconventional and entirely preposterous in episode 6.
what i like most about the characters is that they are not just there to provide gags, but they're smoothly integrated into the overall plot. for sybill, each job that she pursues somehow (and often in weird ways) relate to the plot of each episode, and she always provides a puzzle that relates to her job for you to solve that just happen to advance the plot as well. and bosco sells homemade brand of 'high-tech' gadgets (most of which are weapons of some kind); there's one gadget for each episode, ranging from a tear gas grenade launcher to a truth serum, all of which are vital and must be purchased and used to solve puzzles. but bosco's stuff are ridiculously expensive, and you have to somehow find the requisite amount to pay for them. when you are able to purchase them, you find that the items are not exactly what you expected them to be, and it's amusing, and quite often hilarious, simply finding out what bosco meant by, say, a truth serum. and the way in which both bosco and sybill are integrated into the plot of the episodes and the overall season is effortless and feels natural and not forced at all, and it allows for immersion and for these characters to feel fully realized. too many adventure games feature characters that are simply there to give information, and it results in some tedious reading or listening, making you feel like you're back in mr. okin's history class. but sam & max season 1 finds a way to make them interesting and integral to the game.
same is true for all the characters in sam & max. they're not just the adventure-equivalent of fps cannon fodder. they're there with a sense of purpose and fit in nicely with the world and the overall story. there's the thug rat, jimmy two-teeth, who is most definitely not a 'rat', the soda poppers, who are a not-so-subtle spoof of child stars and teenage divas and 'heart throbs', the talk-show host, myra, who's an obvious shot at talk-show hosts and in particular oprah winfrey, hugh bliss, who's a parody of the likes of chopra whateverthehellhisnameis and other feel-good 'spiritual' leaders and self-help advisors. in fact, the world of sam & max is one large parody of american pop culture, with each of the characters representing a little niche and the things they do and the way you interact with them providing humor in that you're making fun of them and laughing at those that worship them.
sam and max, in a way, represent our cynical side, the side that's sick of american pop culture, that despises everything that's supposedly cool and hip, and that loathes our other side which secretly likes all that ****. you could say that max' problem-solving outlook that tent to be violent in nature is a reflection of our feelings; in other words, just as max wants to violently pummel the soda poppers, we want to strangle britney spears. the parody's subtle and, at the same time, quite obviously laced into the overall story of the game; it's a testament to the quality of the parody that you hardly notice it while playing. never do you see the jokes coming; never do you roll your eyes at the obvious; and never do you feel that this is simply a parody. rather, you feel like you're sam and max, and you're part of this world, and you have all these interesting characters to interact with, all these jokes to listen to and laugh at, and puzzles to solve and a plot to uncover and bring to its logical conclusion.
speaking of puzzles, no review of an adventure game is complete without mentioning its puzzles. in many adventure games, you often encounter pull-your-hair-out-and-gouge-your-eyes-and-scratch-yourself-till-you-bleed type of frustrating puzzles with nonsensical solutions, and they mainly come from either the rules by which the games' world is governed not being entirely coherent or the game designers being simply mind-numbingly stupid. thankfully, sam & max season 1 is victim to neither. the puzzles in sam & max, for the most part, are top-notch. and the reason they're so good is because you can understand the world of sam & max; it is a cartoon world, and many things that happen there would never happen in real life, but you can understand the world easily enough, because the world is fully realized and the rules which govern the world are easy to figure out. more importantly, the game's designers were smart to keep things as logical as possible; you won't encounter solutions to puzzles which require you to play mcgyver and assemble something out of 20 items that in NO WAY should fit together to create any type of singular, useable item, let alone THAT particular item that you're supposed to create; nowhere will you be pixel-hunting; and nowhere will you run into a dead end and, after 5 hours of trying various things, finally figure out that what you were supposed to do was answer THIS GUY that you met in the beginning of the game in THIS particular way and since you didn't you triggered a dead end and now you have to load a previously saved game and do it all over again. the puzzles in sam & max season 1 make sense to that cartoon world and are JUST challenging enough to make you scratch your head once or twice but never leave you bald. the mark of a game with good puzzles are those that often leave you confused initially and cause you to try different things and, by either luck or that light bulb finally turning on, allow you to stumble upon a solution and, upon realizing the solution, cause you to exclaim 'oh~, that's what it was' and then smack yourself on the forehead for not having realized it earlier. that's how logical and easy to understand they are. there were one or two puzzles that did frustrate me personally, causing me to go to gamefaqs to find the solutions and even upon finding out the solutions remain unsatisfied, but that just might be because i'm stupid and nonsensical or because they were the sole exceptions to the overall excellent quality of the puzzles found in the game.
as for graphics, this game is good-looking enough. it's no crysis or even team fortress 2, but it does have its own quality and it's something that can be easily appreciated by anyone, even norwegian graphic whores. all the items are easily identifiable and have a certain coherent style that's very much sam & max. what i most enjoyed about the graphics is the character animation; they weren't the best i've seen, but they were good enough to generate lots of laughs. in particular, some of the reactions by sam to bizarre events happening around him were hilarious; his look of horror is absolutely priceless. one gripe that some people may have with the graphics is that you can only set the resolution to 800x600 or 1024x768, which may annoy some who want to play games at their monitor's native resolution, but i personally didn't mind, since the game allows you to play in windowed mode. there also aren't any options for tweaking the visual settings beyond choosing either low or high setting, but i didn't find this to be a problem either, since the game has really low system requirements, which should mean that most people will have no problems running this game on the highest setting.
i can't speak intelligently about sound quality or anything else for that matter, but what i do know is there were some musical numbers by some characters in sam & max, and one of them was the funniest song i've ever heard (yes, even funnier than the portal song). the voice acting for all the characters are superb, with none of them standing out because it was simply excellent all around. one area of improvement over the original 'hit the road' was sam & max's voice acting; they were great in 'hit the road', with sam sounding exactly like a ny detective of yesteryear and max sounding like a ny street punk, but I prefer the season 1 voices, because they reflect the personalities of sam and max, instead of the characters' occupation and the ny setting; sam SOUNDS like he's a pretty laid-back guy; max SOUNDS mischievous and a little crazy.
you can pick up any of the episodes (via steam or from telltale website) individually and you can play any of the episodes that you wish without having played previous episodes; however, the best way to experience the game is to play each episode sequentially, because you'll miss out on some of the jokes in the later episodes if you play them first. the later episodes often allude to something that happened earlier or there'll be a requisite knowledge of earlier events to truly appreciate the quality of the jokes. for example, bosco's disguises are funny on their own; however, it's even funnier if you know who bosco is and are EXPECTING him to have some kind of disguise. so i would definitely recommend people to NOT try the demo, which is episode 4, in deciding whether or not to purchase the game and instead trust the review of this total stranger and simply pick up the whole season and play them in sequential order.
each episode is quite good; some episodes are substantially better than others. episode 2 is, in my opinion, simply brilliant and the best of the lot; episodes 4 and 5 are excellent as well. episode 6 had some puzzles that i didn't like and felt were a bit nonsensical, and episode 3 was pretty disappointing in that the puzzles were a bit lackluster and the jokes not all that funny, especially considering that the plot of this episode dealt with the toy mafia! but all in all, i heartily recommend this game to anyone who's even remotely interested in playing computer games, and it's certainly a must buy for those who are looking for an adventure game with an interesting story, great characters, challenging (and logical) puzzles, and tons of hysterically funny jokes.