doctor_kaz's Sam & Max: Season One (PC) review

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Especially worth playing for its brilliant humor and satire

If anyone tells you that video games aren't a valid medium for social commentary, then you might want to steer that person towards Sam and Max: Season One. On top of being a fun and competent adventure game, Sam and Max is one of the funniest games ever made. It also stands out as the only successful implementation of episodic gaming. Anyone with an interest in adventure games will enjoy it, and even if you aren't into the point-and-click genre you should check it out, as long as you have a sense of humor.

Sam and Max: Season One is a continuation in the adventures from the classic LucasArts adventure games. For those not familiar with those games, you play as Sam, a wise-cracking, floppy-eared dog with a sociopathic rabbit sidekick named Max. Sam is the intellectual, more detective side of the pair, and Max is there usually to interject comments and provide some comic relief. The gameplay is simple inventory and conversation-based point-and-click fare that has been standard for over a decade. There is nothing new in that regard, but it is still enjoyable. The game is mostly devoid of the pixel hunts, leaps in logic, trial-and-error, or extremely obtuse puzzles that victimizes the worst adventure games. It usually isn't hard, but it can bog down quickly if you get stuck on one puzzle. It is still a good idea to have a walkthrough nearby.

The gameplay is a great foundation for the best feature of Sam and Max: the humor. It is wonderfully written from beginning to end, brilliantly satirizing dozens of topics in our society ranging from sitcoms, daytime talk shows, the internet, and the media to the presidency of the United States. The game never takes itself seriously, allowing you to complete some absurd puzzles, like one that requires you to purchase an item costing a billion dollars. During your travels, you will also participate in a sitcom, battle a giant robotic Abe Lincoln, and infiltrate the insidious "Toy Mafia". With these types of adventures, Sam and Max makes fun of the adventure genre itself. The game is loading with cartoony and goofy characters, like a little cockroach that yells like a drill sergeant and an old Pong console that speaks in bloops and bleeps. All of them are brought to life with some terrific voice acting.

The writing is quick-witted and it usually works at a high intellectual level. It will appeal to people who enjoy nerd humor, a Matt Groening cartoon, and/or The Family Guy. One joke finds you talking to a rat on top of a broken parking meter. The rat informs you that people continue to put money into it, even though it doesn't work. Your pal Max replies "Just like an HMO!". This example is one of many where the humor provides some social commentary. Even the toilet humor works at a little higher level than normal – the bathroom in the convenience store has a color-coded terror alert scale that displays the level of "bathroom terror". Sam and Max is continuously funny, in large part because it is subtle when it needs to be. It doesn't grind one joke into the ground or repeatedly bludgeon you over the head with an obvious political agenda *cough cough* GTAIV *cough* .

One of Sam and Max's significant achievements is that it is actually a successful implementation of episodic gaming. Each episode is a self-contained detective story, and they are all tied together by one overarching scheme from the game's master villain. A few locations are used in every episode, but they change just enough to make them fun to explore every time. The local psychiatrist, for example, finds a new profession each time, and the convenience store owner has a new conversation tree and a few new items. Each episode takes about two or three hours to figure out, and there are six of them in the package, which makes this compilation a strong value.

Sam and Max presents a colorful, cartoony look that is technologically outdated, but decent-looking nonetheless. It is bright and colorful, and the characters and locations have a lot of variety. Good animation helps make up for the otherwise ordinary graphics. You won't be buying this game for its graphics, but the game isn't hard on the eyes, and it should run on an old computer.

Sam and Max is a great game. It combines a solid story, solid gameplay, and a healthy dose of hilarity to make one of the best adventure games in years. If there has ever been a game worth playing just for its brilliant humor and witty satire, Sam and Max would be it.

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