Sam and Max - Episode 1: Culture Shock
Most reviews of the latest Sam and Max game (Sam and Max Ė Culture Shock) begin with the reviewer recalling his past experiences with the series. I donít have those experiences. Iíve never particularly cared for adventure games. The only one I ever bothered to play through was The Secret of Monkey Island and the only reason I did play through it was because I had a guide that held my hand the whole time. I can appreciate the storylines of adventure games and I find a lot of them to be intriguing (the Syberia franchise comes to mind), but Iíve never liked the cryptic puzzle solving that seems to be a necessity for the genre. I just donít have much interest in spending an hour trying to figure out how to progress through one room.
“I just donít have much interest in spending an hour trying to figure out how to progress through one room.”But, as a reviewer, itís my duty to report my opinions on as many games as possible, so when the opportunity to review Sam and Max Ė Culture Shock, the first episode in a series of new Sam and Max games, I took it. Sam and Max is a long-running franchise that has teetered on the brink of extinction several times only to surge back as an episodic adventure. The game features an independent detective team comprised of Sam and Max, a dog and a rabbit respectively, thatís out to solve the biggest problems of their fictional city. The series is widely known for its sharp writing and sense of humor and itís safe to say that storyline and humor have made it into the latest release. Culture Shock opens with a missing phone Ė Sam and Maxís office phone has been taken by an extortionist mouse looking for a ransom of Swiss cheese. Worse, the phone is ringing with a potential case.
This presents the first in a series of puzzles. Max keeps referring to a hidden trove of cheese that he happened to forget where was. You then, as Sam, have to search through Sam and Maxís disorganized and disgusting office using an easy point-and-click feature. Youíll never once have to touch your keyboard to perform any of the tasks that Culture Shock asks you to complete. This is actually a negative at times because during later driving sequences, youíll wish you were steering with the arrow keys instead of clicking to the left-and-right sides to move the car across the road.
Once you finish the phone recovery mission (which involves shooting blocks of cheese to create the illusion of Swiss), youíre given your real mission. There has been recent vandalism in the community and Sam and Max are to investigate. Leaving the office, youíre taken to the colorful, cel-shaded streets of Sam and Maxís world where youíll find three annoying little people (as in, very short and lacking in height) creating chaos in the town. One is walking around spraying spray paint on walls, another has taken a hostage, and the final is selling weird videos in a store against the owners will. Instead of just arresting these deviants and locking them away for good, Sam and Max have to go through extraordinary lengths to solve these (which involves more cheese, a boxing glove, a couple of car chases, and demanding a ridiculous fee from a motorist driving with a taillight that Sam and Max personally broke).
AestheticsSam and Max is a great looking game. The colors are vibrant and the look is unique. The voice-over work is also top-notch.These types of puzzles generally bug me. Iím not a puzzle solver and I hit a wall almost from the get-go that required me to search online guides to figure out the solution. As much as I wanted to solve them myself, I just didnít have the patience to and resorted to walkthroughs to get me through this brief game (even without the guide). I suppose theyíre necessary to work through the story; if it were really as simple as just arresting the criminals without silly puzzles, the game would be very boring and uninteresting. However, I also feel that the developers should come up with better puzzles that are a little more intuitive to the gamer.
Ultimately, if you like adventure games, youíll like Culture Shock. The storyline does feature some truly funny moments that I wonít spoil for you (this is a short game and I want you to enjoy as much of it as you can before you have to pay for the next episode), but being that Iím not a huge fan of puzzles, I didnít really get a lot out of this game. I can certainly say though that, from my brief experience with the adventure genre and reading peer reviews of this and other titles, that Culture Shock does offer what adventure games want Ė a hilarious storyline, easy-to-use interface, and a variety of challenging puzzles to keep you interested. If youíre an adventure gamer, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. Honestly, what else are you playing?
Seven out of ten
- Great graphics, sound.
- Smart sense of humor.
- Brief, even for an episodic game.
- I found some of the puzzles to be particularly annoying.