The point-and-click adventure game genre may not top the best-seller charts anymore, but the Wii version of Sam & Max: Season One, a port of an episodic series of games released for the PC in 2006 and 2007, proves it still has some life in it.
As with previous games in the Sam & Max series -- a series that has spanned 15 years, but only four games (including the latest game, Sam & Max: Season Two, which should be coming to the Wii sometime this year) -- Sam & Max: Season One is essentially a puzzle game in the style of the old adventure games that date back to the days of DOS PC gaming. While the style of game was highly popular in the 1980s, with a decline in that popularity being felt by the mid-1990s, Telltale Games (which acquired the Sam & Max licence from LucasArts) has kept with the point-and-click style of game that many old school gamers will be familiar with.
As a single-player player game, the player uses the Wii Remote to guide Sam, a dog who is head of the Freelance Police agency with his bunny-like counterpart Max, through the levels. By pointing at a spot the player would like Sam to walk and hitting A, the grey-suited dog will move as directed. Likewise, pointing at an object or person on the screen and hitting A will push Sam (and sometimes Max) into interacting with it.
As the Wii Remote proves in Sam & Max: Season One, it works well as a mouse substitute, but the gameplay can be a bit flaky at times, with misclicks guiding Sam to an unexpected destination. For the most part, though, the point-and-click style of interface works fairly well. The player rarely needs to do anything more then point at the screen and tap the A button, although the B trigger will cancel actions and other buttons will access the game menu for saving/loading.
Some of the items to interact with can at times get hidden behind characters on the screen, which can make it tricky to select the appropriate thing. Max tends to get in the way more often than anything else, but that's usually solved by moving Sam to a different location and then trying to activate the item again.
Interaction between Sam/Max and other characters in the game is fairly basic and scripted. Just like adventure games of old, the player activates the character to interact with and then chooses what to have Sam say to the character from a short list. While the interaction is very limited, this is where the real humour of the game kicks in -- and it's humour that's worth watching. The writers were quite clever with their dialogue, and although some of the jokes are worthy of a few groans, much of it is funny enough to make gamers laugh out loud.
Really, it's the humour that makes the game. Without it, Sam & Max: Season One would feel somewhat dry and dull, and it would be left to being a very simple style of game with not as much interaction as modern gamers are used to.
However, that's not to suggest that Sam & Max is an easy game that players will walk through. The solutions to the various puzzles presented to the player are not always easily solved, and just like adventure games of the past, many of the answers come through trial and error. The answers are not always intuitive, but sometimes rely on the player just experimenting with the surroundings.
For instance, to get money initially in the first episode, the characters will have to send the heroes to the DeSoto Adventurer to go looking for lawbreakers. Of course, considering the humour of the game, it may not seem self-evident as to what the player needs to do at first, but with some playing around on the roads of the city (steering is done also through point and click, making for an odd experience that takes some getting used to), eventually the answer will present itself.
Each episode presents its own challenges, humour and fun -- and for the Sam & Max fan, it will be worth picking up and playing through. For those not familiar with the Sam & Max franchise, the game is probably of most interest to adventure game and puzzle game fans.