Review – Sam & Max Episode 202: Moai Better Blues (PC)

pc_sammax202_moaibetterblues_box.jpgSeason Two of Sam & Max has already hit its groove – the first episode was an absolute blast, and the laughs and crazy fun continue. I had it on my laptop during the vacation we took with my wife’s sister’s family to Disney World over Christmas, and there were loads of laughs for everyone. My kids have finished Season One and the first episode of Season Two and have just been dying to get their hands on this one. The new naming scheme that Telltale adopted for the previous episode continues – rather than the ‘Season X Episode Y’ naming convention they have simplified to ‘Episode 202’, indicating season and episode in a single number. Something that has not changed is the high quality of the writing and jokes.

Once again this season I will assume that if you are reading this review of Season Two of the Sam & Max series that you already have some passing knowledge of the episodes from the previous season. I still won’t pull a ‘Vader is Luke’s father’ moment that some people who hadn’t seen Empire before Jedi trailers started airing experienced (sorry if I just shocked you and welcome to 1980!), but I will likely drop some names and recurring themes and other minor references throughout. It won’t ruin the experience any more than my having said that Bosco would become a recurring character would have ruined the first episode for you. Please also forgive the repetition, which is necessary for getting readers who are new to the series up to speed – if you’ve read it all before then skip straight to the game quote further down!


For the full history of Sam & Max, check out our review of Season One: Episode 1 – but in a nutshell, the LucasArts game Sam & Max Hit the Road from 1993 was a great mixture of adventure and humor, and has become a deservedly classic milestone in gaming history. After a false start for a series revival by LucasArts and a passionate Internet campaign by the fans, TellTale Games (creators of the excellent Bone series) gained ownership of the license and got straight to work, crafting a series using their adventure builder to tell stories through a point-and-click adventure interface featuring full 3D animation. The move to episodic content was a concern, but true to their word TellTale continue to release new episodes on a regular basis, and in some ways it’s better to be forced to spread the experience out rather than wolf it down in one go.

The Sam & Max games use the TellTale tool that the company has developed and perfected over the years. Season Two looks very similar to the first season – perhaps a bit better as the artists have further refined their work processes, but everything looks quite familiar and you’ll immediately at home. The emphasis is on storytelling rather than delivering buzzword compliant technology, so expect loads of dialog and options, rather than the latest version of pixel shader models. This is actually a good thing, because so many games focus on delivering a great looking experience that they fail to deliver a great gaming experience. The TellTale Tool aims to do some of both – the game certainly is great looking, but in a 3D comic book style. This means that the world looks much like something out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit; everything looks real but exaggerated. The 3D styling makes everything look modern and the characters are all nicely animated, to the point where lip-syncing matched the dialog. The goal isn’t realism so much as believability – I mean, how real do you expect a detective dog and his psychotic lagomorph sidekick to be?! The realism is injected into the dialog – the voice acting is superb and gets better with each passing episode! The voice actors really bring a wonderful passion and humor to their characters that makes each of them leap out of the screen and adds tremendous depth to already great stories – and the timing and delivery of the humor is spot on throughout.


The storytelling is where things really shine – the interface just begs you to click things, talk to people and try all sorts of crazy things. Quite simply, this is one of the nicest interfaces I have ever used in an adventure game. Everything is easily accessible – options and game saves are quickly located in a screen-level drop down and the inventory system is an ever-present box in the lower corner of the screen. Little things help – saves are done nearly instantly, with each one providing a clear caption and image to illustrate exactly where you were when you saved. Interacting with items is equally easy; the mouse-capture range is adequate for discerning small objects close to each other and you simply click on things to interact. This allows you to talk, flip switches, pick up items and so on – and to use an item in your inventory on another item by simply choosing the item from the box and then clicking on the desired object to interact with. It is incredibly intuitive and friendly – and allows you to focus on laughing!

“What Paris Hilton is to celebrity blogs Max is to Ancient Prophecies of the Apocalypse.”

As I mentioned before, Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa was an amazing start to the new season – loads of laughs and send-ups of just about everything in pop culture. That trend continues in Sam & Max Episode 202: Moai Better Blues as the laughs continue nonstop from beginning to end. This time the pair start out faced with a crazy interdimensional triangular portal chasing Sybil up and down the street. After working through this seeming non-sequitor the pair get transported to Easter Island and meet up with a few of the Moai lava rock figures of Rapa Nui. Naturally, as you would expect when confronting inanimate stone figures, hilarity ensues.


If anyone was concerned that Telltale would have a difficult time sustaining the zany hilarity of the first season – rest assured, there are belly laughs throughout the game! While the game is noteworthy for intelligently written humor that kids and adults can enjoy, something that really stands out this time is the fart jokes. One in particular is extremely funny – they might as well just hand it the ‘best fart joke of 2008’ trophy right now. When I told that one to my kids they laughed themselves into such a state I was concerned they might require hospitalization. The second season continues the ‘edgier’ trend in humor, with multiple jokes that younger kids won’t get alongside the pee and fart jokes. Most of the same characters have returned, though the neighborhood has been remodeled and gotten some new additions. Everything is nicely scripted and the jokes work perfectly – in fact, I really have to stop remarking how the writing just continues getting better and better, and the voice acting and animated characterizations are improving in step with the writing too. But it does. This episode feels like rejoining the family you have missed all summer – albeit a bizarre and dysfunctional family.

Another thing that hasn’t changed in the second season is the length of the episodes. In fact the second episode feels even shorter than the first. The puzzles and situations are not very difficult to work out, and even exploring every area and every dialogue tree will only take about four hours. But given the extreme budget pricing, the laugh-per-dollar ratio is astounding. It is an interesting contrast having recently played Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the other (ahem) episodic game series – while Half-Life is more an expansion called an episode, Sam & Max continues to deliver true value on a regular basis in the way we would expect from our favorite television shows … only funnier. In fact, the regular delivery and high quality of episodes has alleviated my anxiety over the next episode and replaced it with anticipation … but I don’t worry much, because the next one will be here soon, and it will be great!

Score: 5 / 5 Stars

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