Sam & Max Save the World – XBOX 360 (game review)


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Earlier this month, developer Telltale Games pulled off a real coup at E3 by wrestling away the spotlight from some of this year’s big-budget behemoths (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Halo ODST) with their own megaton announcement that Guybrush Threepwood and the denizens of Monkey Island had joined their growing stable of character-driven episodic adventure games. Fans of the old LucasArts adventure titles could now check another buried treasure off their Wish List and set their hopes high for a potential Full Throttle or Grim Fandango reunion.

Of course, it was Telltale’s expert handling of the beloved Sam & Max series – originally released on the PC two years ago – that paved the way for this return trip to Monkey Island. While PC gamers and Wii wagglers have had the chance to reacquaint themselves with the canine gumshoe Sam and his psychotic little buddy Max, Xbox players finally get to enjoy their hijinks in the recent release of Season 1, Sam & Max Save the World.

Sam & Max Save the World presents the entire first season of their new adventures. The pair have since starred in a second season, available via PC download. The first season is made up of six episodes, each of which spans approximately 3 to 4 hours. While each mini-adventure features its own stand-alone plots, some characters and jokes do make reappearances throughout the following installments.

The game stays true to its adventure game roots with players manipulating Sam & Max through pre-rendered environments as they use their ever increasing inventory to solve a series of puzzle and advance the plot. Although the various story threads that tether each episode stand on their own, there is an overriding theme of mind-control that ties the entire enterprise together, allowing the writers the opportunity to build upon jokes through the six-episode arc as well as providing the perfect entrance point for earlier characters to make reappearances throughout. While players could conceivably play through each episode in any particular order, the title is more rewarding if you start with the first episode and work your way through to the last.

I’m a big fan of the old school adventure titles so it’s been a real thrill to see these properties resurrected with the advent of digital game distribution. Therefore, a service like Xbox Live makes a natural fit for Sam & Max Save the World. That said, it’s evident that this title was originally designed with PC gamers in mind unlike the recently released Wallace & Gromit series as the control interface is clearly designed around a mouse and keyboard combo. It’s not a deal breaker but having to move a hand icon around the screen to highlight objects to interact with as well as to initiate character movement can grow a little cumbersome. The slower nature of this genre mitigates any real concern as you really have all the time in the world to soak in Telltale’s lovingly crafted environments and find every joke they’ve stashed through their virtual set but I can see the control scheme frustrating some console-centric users who are used to having complete analog control over their characters.

With all six episodes from Season 1 offered here, adventure game fans who have not played through the series are getting a tremendous bargain at $20.00 for the entire set. Each episode will run you 3-4 hours so you are looking at the mid-20’s in terms of game play, which is just right for an adventure game. While some of the puzzles adhere to traditional adventure game designer logic (why would you go to the corner store and buy Swiss Cheese when you can just shoot holes in cheddar), careful attention to your environment and most importantly, what each of the colorful characters says will usually provide you the tips needed to ferret out that insane solution. And you’ll want to talk to each character numerous times because quite often, they have something hilarious to say. It’s the witty repartee and humorous situations that marks the real appeal of this series.

While Sam & Max Save the World may not hit the lofty heights that the original Sam & Max Hit the Road scaled, by Episode 6 you can really feel the designers gaining traction. This was their first series out of the gate and their subsequent work in the Strongbad and Wallace & Gromit universes have really helped Telltale hone their craft, making me look forward to the inevitable release of Sam & Max Season 2 on XBLA as well as whatever beloved franchises they choose to resurrect in the future.

[games 4.0]