The adventure game genre is in a tough stretch. Lots of adventures get released each year, but, from my experience at least, the quality hasn't been great. I think the problem is that adventures are pretty easy to develop -- to the point where one person can do almost the entire game by himself (such as with Jonathan Boakes in Dark Fall). So if you're a development house, and it only takes you 3-4 months to put an adventure together, you don't really have a lot of incentive to make it great. You can just give it a splashy premise, create some nice visuals, and then throw it out there.
All of which is why I'm not surprised that a developer decided to try something different. LucasArts, once good for a quality adventure each year, released Sam & Max Hit the Road in 1993. Several years later, they green-lit and then eventually canceled a Sam & Max sequel, and they haven't created an adventure since. But Sam & Max didn't die. There is apparently a great following for the duo (not to mention comic books and an animated cartoon series), and developer Telltale Games finally got together with GameTap, a gaming publisher / environment / playground, to release an episodic Sam & Max adventure game series.
The first release in the series is Sam & Max: Episode 1 “Culture Shock.” In this adventure, Sam (a dog) and Max (a rabbity thing) discover that former child stars from the Soda Poppers television program are giving away “eye-bo” videos, which claim to provide instruction for “ocular fitness,” but which really have a more sinister purpose. Will Sam & Max uncover the fiendish plot? Will they track down the culprit to his evil lair? Will they make all sorts of bad jokes? Yes, yes, and yes.
The adventure is pretty short (it took me about three hours to finish it), and it's not exactly complicated (you probably won't need a walkthrough to figure out its puzzles), but it's a lot of fun to play. Sam & Max get into one kooky situation after another, the dialogue is odd and amusing, and there is a lot of detail to the world (like the “terror rating” sign above the bathroom of the local inconvenience store) that adds all sorts of offbeat humor if you happen to notice it. There's even a funny driving sequence where you're allowed to drive on the sidewalk (watch those parking meters fly!) and hand out bogus speeding tickets.
The first Sam & Max episode was released in October, and the remaining five will be released one per month starting in December. You'll have to subscribe to GameTap to play them, but at less than $10 a month, and with over 700 other games available to download and play, GameTap seems like a pretty good deal. We probably won't review all of the Sam & Max episodes here, but there's a good chance that we'll check back in with the pair in April (when their final episode is scheduled to “air”), and comment on the series as a whole.