Sam & Max: This Time it’s Virtual (Oculus)

OK I’m going to tell you a couple of things about myself that you may or may not already know.  First, I’ve been blind in my left eye since birth.  It doesn’t keep me from doing much, but I can’t drive because my lack of depth perception and peripheral vision wouldn’t be safe.  I also can’t catch thrown objects to me very well, also due to the lack of depth perception, and I can’t see 3-D effects in movies and such.  This means I can’t see the full effects in VR games either.  Anyway, another thing about me is that I’m a big fan of Sam & Max.  Sam is a genial 6-foot tall talking dog wearing a suit, and Max is his maniacal rabbity razor teethed sidekick thing.  Together they dispense their wacky brand of justice as the Freelance Police, and have starred in comic books, point and click video games, and even a Saturday morning cartoon!  And now they have their own VR game with Sam & Max: This Time it’s Virtual.  Even though I can’t use VR to its fullest potential, I just had to play this game since I’m such a big fan of Sam & Max.  So thanks to the help of my brothers and their Oculus Quest, I was able to review it!

In the game, Sam & Max are recruiting a new member of their Freelance Police…YOU!  After a brief encounter out in the streets, you’ll start by doing some training missions in their office.  You know, mostly “Job Simulator” type stuff.  Although the fanboy in me was saying to myself, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I get to make Sam’s coffee and heat up Max’s breakfast corn dog in the microwave and give it to him?”  After you finish those, it’s off to more training missions out in the field.  Sam & Max have set up nine training stations in an abandoned theme park.  These training activities play out more like mini-games in other VR titles like Job Simulator or Carnival Games.  As long as you complete them, you’ll be able to move on, and you’ll be scored a grade from A to F depending on how well you do.  Three of these nine activities are obstacle courses, but you’ll do other things too like play Fizzball, a sport featured in the comic book.  Fizzball plays a lot like baseball, except you pitch shaken up cheap beer cans and the other player tries to hit them with a bat to see how they’ll explode.  Naturally that would be unsafe to play in real life, so it’s cool that you get to do that in the game.  Of course, since that one requires a bit of depth perception to play, I didn’t do too well at it (I got mostly F’s and D’s on the games), but at least I got to play it!

After doing three mini-games, you’ll be whisked away to a ‘boss battle.’  Here you’ll use all the skills you learned in the prior mini-games, so that’s kind of neat.  My favorite is when you have to cast out demons that were summoned in a convenience store, and you must use junk food items to get rid of them!  You don’t get to progress until you complete these missions, though, which brings up some of the game’s problems, but we’ll get to that later.  After you do the third set of mini-games, you’ll have to do battle with the main antagonists of the game: microscopic water bears!  You see, the abandoned theme park Sam & Max is using was actually an aquatic park featuring those indestructible microorganisms.  But now the water bears have found a way to enlarge themselves to take over the world, so now you must use point and click skills as well as the ”Job Simulator” and “Carnival Games” skills you learned in the mini-games to defeat them!

Easily the best part of this game is the humor, which Sam & Max are definitely known for.  And there are so many obscure references for Sam & Max fans.  Like the aforementioned Fizzball, a lunar shooting gallery stage with the title “Bad Day on the Moon” (also from the comics), and a box of Glazed MacGuffins in their office, which was the topic of one of the Saturday morning cartoon episodes!   But the game has so many problems that it’s hard for me to just ignore them, no matter how big of a Sam & Max fan I am.  And because of that, I really hated giving this game a bad review, but I have to do what I have to do.  Even though some of the problems I had with the game come from my disability, there were many other instances where my brothers agreed with me where the game is lacking.

The first problem is the controls, which my brother Nathan coined as having “too much jank.”  It also doesn’t help that the game is extremely buggy.  You can get stuck behind walls and one time I dropped a gun and it never came back, so I had to restart that battle again.  The game could’ve also used more clues so you know what to do next.  For instance, in the convenience store one of the demons must be defeated by making a red slushie and putting bottled holy water in it.  Then you must give it to him so he gets the ‘mother of all brain freezes’ then you open a cereal box with a dagger inside as the prize and throw it at the demon to defeat it.  But the game gives you no clues in that is what you’re supposed to do, so I had to look at a guide several times.  And that’s only one of the demons you have to beat in a crazy way, there are three more in that same area!  Plus some activities last way longer than what they should, and wear out their welcome, like shooting drones in another boss battle.  Really the game needed a few more months in the oven to iron out some of the issues.  Tweak the controls, fix some of the bugs, maybe a few more voice clips to give you hints on what you should do, and visual cues to lead your eyes to where you should be looking next.

Really I wouldn’t have gotten very far in the game at all had I not had help from my brothers.  I’d say this game is probably for advanced VR gamers only, as I have played other VR games before and didn’t have too much trouble with them.  It was a little disheartening to play this game and learn that I really can’t play VR games very well because of my disability.  When things go totally VR, that’ll be the day I have to stop playing new games, which makes me sad.  But on the bright side, if you folks with two eyes really depend on depth perception as much as you do in the game, maybe I’m doing a lot better for myself in real life than I think I am!

Kid Factor:

Sam & Max have no problems using guns to solve their problems, and you’ll use guns in the game, too, both realistic and silly.  But you’ll only use them to shoot cartoony monsters, cardboard targets, drones, and cockroaches.  There is some alcohol reference as you hit cans of beer in Fizzball, and the duo let loose a curse word a time or two in the adventure.  As well as a bit of moral ambiguity here and there.  But otherwise, I’d say the game is OK for older kids and preteens.  That’s about the time I was introduced to Sam & Max anyway (yeah they’ve been around that long).

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