True story: Sam and Max Hit the Road was a classic 1993 LucasArts PC adventure game. Back then, when gerbils in cages powered computers and it took ten minutes to download a picture of a naked woman from the internet, adventure games were brilliant, and popular, too. Hard to believe, isn't it? Nowadays, if your central character isn't a gravel-voiced, chisel-jawed marine with arms the size of planets, you ain't shifting your precious million units. Sigh. Those were the days.
Well, actually, these are the days. And that's because the adventure game genre is enjoying something of a mini-resurgence on Nintendo's point and click friendly Wii. In January Nintendo fans were treated to the excellent Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, then there was the OK Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None, followed by the thoroughly decent Secret Files: Tunguska. Now, Wii owners have another point and click adventure game to sink their Wii Remotes into, and that's the previously PC exclusive Sam and Max Season One from Telltale Games.
It's entirely conceivable that you haven't got a clue what Sam and Max is all about, or indeed who they are, since they're probably both older than a lot of Wii owners are. Sam is a six foot tall dog who wears a suit and hat and Max is rabbit who loves violence and, well, just mental stuff in general. They call themselves 'Freelance Police', who round up bad guys and solve mysteries with nothing but their quirky humour and quick wit. In classic nineties adventure game style, you point the Wii Remote at bits of the background and press A to interact with objects and pick lines from dialogue trees. Sam and Max is, gameplay wise, a puzzler, but it's really a comedy. The two crime busters enjoy the benefits of some wickedly funny script writing, with one liners that'll have you LOLing all over your sofa.
The Wii port is a collection of all six season one episodes that have already been released for the PC. Each one will take a couple of hours to work your way through, which means that you get an impressive amount of gameplay for your £30. The puzzles are on the whole simple, and when you do get stuck and have to embarrassingly find the solution on the internet, you always kick yourself. If you don't fancy that, you can always skip the episode you're on and try another - they're all available to play from the get go. The motivation, however, isn't in solving these conundrums and advancing Sam and Max's madcap adventures. It's in listening to the lines and lines of dialogue the two spurt out whenever you talk to the various NPCs and interact with the game world's objects.
Sam is a straight-faced, polite and matter of fact dog who's plain talking provides a perfect counterpoint to Max, whose quirky, adult comments always provide the biggest laughs. He's always got something funny to say, whether it's in response to Max inspecting a road sign or a trash can. Some of the stuff he comes out with is comedy gold, and, while a lot of it is related to horribly violent things he wants to do to suspects, most of the time what he says is incredibly clever quips about modern life and pop culture. Sam and Max might be wrapped in kid-friendly cartoon clothes, but underneath it's an intelligent black comedy that's sure to tickle even the most po-faced Guardian reader.
As a straight-up video game, however, Sam and Max suffers from being, frankly, archaic. The gameplay requires loads of 'use this with this' trial and error in order to solve some of the puzzles, a mechanic that was acceptable in the nineties but will bore a lot of today's gamers. It's also an incredibly slow adventure. Sam's movement doesn't feel as fluid as it might - he casually walks to his destination unless you double press A, in which case he'll trot. It's the treading through treacle pacing, though, more than anything, that will divide opinion. For some, it will be a godsend, the perfect antidote to modern day gaming's porn-style action/cut scene dynamic. For others though, Sam and Max will feel more like a slog.
The graphics are, frankly awful, with character models that rekindle memories of FMVs from old Atari 1200 games like Theme Park. The environments are colourful will loads of objects to inspect, but on a graphical level they're not up to much, and certainly nothing compared to what the Wii can produce. The driving sections are rubbish, too, and are about as enjoyable as smacking yourself in the face with the Wii Remote. Here, Sam and Max's car hurtles straight forward along a never-ending city street, with left and right movement directed by pointing and pressing A. You can drive into the back of other cars and use a megaphone to force them to pull over, and drive up ramps, and that's about it. Despite the fact that the graphics in these sections are awful, the frame rate can suffer, too. And, while we're on the subject of technical deficiencies, the Wii's motion sensing technology predictably makes it difficult to accurately select objects and dialogue lines, especially if they're small.
There's also a perplexing problem with the audio. Sometimes the last few words of dialogue will inexplicably cut out. At first we thought this might have been a problem with either the disk or our Wii drive, but a bit of research proved this to be a fault with the actual game. It's not a game-breaking problem, but it certainly jars, and, occasionally, will ruin the punch line of a particularly side-splitting line.
If you can get over the gameplay issues and quite fancy a slow but considered puzzle adventure full of quirky humour, you'll be hard pressed to find better value Wii game. It won't be for everyone, and, in a way, it's a lazy port, but, overall, Sam and Max Season One reinforces 2008's adventure game mini-resurgence, and, with any luck, makes it even more likely that more games of its type will appear in 2009 and beyond - Sam & Max Season Two is lined-up for a 2009 release.