Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 10/14/2009
Adventure games were a reliable staple of my childhood, thanks in no small part to Lucasarts and games like Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Among these games was Sam and Max Hit the Road, an early spoof of gumshoe detective stories mixed with a fairly absurd brand of humor. I loved the non sequiturs and zany cartoon logic that made up the bulk of the series. Until the damned thing crashed (OK, maybe I broke the disc). Around October, 2008, Telltale released a serialized update to the series (which had subsequently media-jumped to comic books) called Sam and Max Save the World. I never did get a chance to check that out, which means that my review of Beyond is going to have to hold up to the unbeatable odds of nostalgia. So, will a sequel to a revamp of a series I loved in my childhood hold up? Or is it just another Transformers: Revenge of the Indistinguishable Robots?
Read on to find out…
In short, yes. Yes, yes, yes. The game holds up fantastically. The game, like its predecessor, is split up into playable episodes that run about an hour each, depending on how quickly you figure out the puzzles (or use the online cheat sheets). The games are absolutely filled with the absurdist humor that I remember loving as a kid. The episodes themselves are well-plotted, silly little numbers like saving Christmas from an evil demon, saving Easter Island from volcanic eruption, beating down a gang of zombie ravers (redundant, really), and rescuing your favorite local paranoid, Bosco. Although nothing rates high on the complexity scale, the brevity of the plot is countered with a plethora of absurd jokes, call-backs, and satire. Throughout much of the game, I was laughing out loud, which I am going to call “LOLing”Â because I am so damned clever. Seriously, I will patent that shit.
Story/Mode Score: Classic
For a 360 game, this looks pretty sub-par. Now, me, I don’t expect top-tier graphics from an XBLA game, but if you’re looking for a game to show off your system’s graphics chip, this isn’t it. Everything is bright and colorful, and certainly rendered far better than the old 386 game I remember and it still manages to maintain the hyper-kinetic cartoon/comic feel. Call of Duty this is not, but the graphics serve the story, and I think that’s about all that can be reasonably expected for an XBLA game.
Graphics Score: Mediocre
OK. So my last reviewed game was Raven Squad. That was a game I wanted to throw out the window based on dialog alone. Sam and Max are the welcome antithesis to that script. While Raven Squad claimed to be a parody of 60s war movie dialog (a claim NOT born out by playing it), Sam and Max manage parody and absurdity, often in the same line of dialog. The game is consistently very funny and the nonchalant vocal delivery of Sam mimics old Bogart gumshoe flicks well enough to make it intelligent parody. The soundtrack is a bit pedestrian, but functions well enough to enhance the scenes. The pseudo-jazz riffs work well over the gumshoe setting, but nothing stands out as particularly excellent.
Sound Score: Very Good
Control & Gameplay
Adventure games were made for mice. Mouses. Is it mouses? Whichever. Anyway, the game has only one real button, plus the left analog stick. This functions well enough through most of the game, but can make things a little tricky in spots where there is subtle distinction in interactive objects. Personally, I would have preferred use of both analog and digital d-pads to allow for fine-tuning movement. The control use of the analog stick isn’t detrimental, but it can get…muddy. As this game is in the spirit of old point and click adventure games, one button is definitely sufficient.
Control & Gameplay Score: Decent
Replayability has, alas, never been an area adventure games succeed in. Knowing puzzle solutions reduces the time it takes to knock out an episode from an hour to about 5 minutes. The only real draw to replay the game is to unlock some easy-peasy achievement points, most of which can be obtained the first run through anyway.
Replayability Score: Very Bad
You know…I’m not sure I’ve every played an adventure point-and-click style game with poor balance. When I was ten or eleven, I played and enjoyed them just the same as I do now. Beyond Time and Space is just as easy to get into as any other adventure game I’ve played – easy enough to get the basics right off the bat, and complex enough to produce some trickier puzzles.
Balance Score: Great
This is always a sad category for me on sequels. Yeah, it’s obviously been done before, but it’s still fun and unique. If I look at the overall premise, the combination of satire of schlocky gumshoe stories and the absurdist, gun-happy humor of the rabbit-like Max is definitely a new twist on the genre. But, pesky reality sets in and I realize that this is a second collection to what was an old game to begin with and that even absurdist humor is old hat in adventure games. I have to give you a crappy score, Sam and Max, but I still loves you!
Originality Score: Bad
I tend to be a somewhat finicky gamer – I’ll play for a bit, then wander off and play guitar, then wander back and watch the Wire, then maybe play with synthesizers and then I remember I was playing a game. So a game has to be immensely addictive to get me to play for hours on end. Alas, this game was not it. However, I think I should note that is not the original intent. Beyond Space and Time is a collection of episodes, and the episodes themselves are certainly addictive enough to warrant playing through until completion, although as a whole, not addictive enough to warrant playing through the whole thing at once. And I certainly sat for far too long yelling “them”Â at Bosco…
Addictiveness Score: Above Average
Easy to play? Check. Family friendly with a bevy of hidden naughty jokes that fly right over the kiddies’ heads? Check. What more do you need? Everybody loves Sam and Max! (except evil goldfish)
Appeal Factor Score: Classic
This game is funny. Really, really funny. I love both the satire of dry gumshoe language and stories and the absolutely bat-shit crazy stuff Max says (bat-shit crazy: fun in video games, hell in real life). The relationship between Sam and Max makes for a great dynamic. Sam is definitely the straight man, but even he seems gun-crazy enough to subvert the typical genre role, which makes for a much more enjoyable dynamic.
Miscellaneous Score: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Classic
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary:
This is an excellent XBLA game – fun, frivolous, and engaging. What the game (sorely) lacks in replayability, it makes up for in humor. Any fan of adventure games would enjoy Sam and Max, and this collects the episodes of season 2 into one neat little package.