It’s a good sign when a developer can describe its game without referencing any other titles, including those in the same series. So, when CEO Dan Connors described Telltale’s upcoming Sam & Max as a “hilarious, interactive cartoon,” it almost answered all my questions. Well, it and the live demonstration of a working build.
Simply titled “Sam & Max,” subtitled “Season 1,” and sub-subtitled “Episode 1,” the game comes after previous games using those characters, but is not connected to them. Telltale has licensed the use of the content from creator Steve Purcell. While they aren’t looking to previous games for guidance, their mission is similar: to take the comic’s sensibilities and transfer them to an interactive world.
Sam and Max are detective partners and exist in a cartoon parody of American society. Sam, a dog sporting a noir trench coat, is the sensible one, while Max is some kind of half-mad bunny, or not. It’s hard to tell. It is easy to tell that the game is possessed by a subversive and satirical sense of humor. I later got into a debate over whether a face being graffitied onto a convenience store was supposed to be John Kerry with a ‘fro or Bob Ross. Oh, did I mention it’s an adventure game?
“We want people to laugh at every click,” Connors said. “If you’re not solving something, you should still be entertained.”
That promise the game keeps. The player guides the two crime-solvers around town, solving puzzles big and small alike. While you may be trying to crack a case of rampant vandalism, you first have to get your phone back from a kleptomaniac rat. The puzzles look inventive, while the main story line is a twisted send-up of has-been TV child stars.
Released episodically, the game draws on TV shows for more than just its name. Sam and Max seem to inhabit a sitcom set, where you can move them around freely, but you generally don’t see the “fourth wall” where the camera is located. The camera gently moves with the characters, and cuts to close-ups of dialogue or details.
In conversations, players can often switch between lines for both characters. You can choose which one you want to speak next and have\three or four dialogue choices. In one scene we watched Sam and Max worked together in a good cop/bad cop routine to interrogate the rat. The conversation moved smoothly and showed off the elegant conversation engine used. That’s great, but what counted is that it was funny and the voice performances spot-on, although the lip-syncing could be improved.