Having Sam & Max back in our gaming lives is gift-wrapped joy. The fact that Telltale can, in 2007, stay true to the original point and click adventure premise is probably the most remarkable thing about Sam & Max's belated comeback after an absence of some 13 years. Everything else - including the quality of the gags on offer - is one hell of a bonus.
What made us all the more giddy was how - for little over Ł4 - Telltale reunited us with our favourite fictional crime-fighting duo in such heart-warming style that managed to nail so many of the reasons why we loved the original. In many ways, it was like they'd never been away, complete with a long list of typically unhinged quips from Max, a faithfully updated visual style, spot-on voice actors (in the regrettable absence of the original cast), unobtrusive interface and even a jazz-tinged soundtrack. With three or so hours of chucklesome gameplay provided for the price of a rubbish cup of coffee, who could argue?
Well, evidently a few miserable sods in Nothing's Ever As Good As The Original land still had a few words to say against Episode 1 - Culture Shock. A few noted (fairly) that the puzzles weren't all that challenging, that there weren't enough locations (again, fair comment), while others opined (bizarrely) that it was Officially Not Funny, while others mused (strangely) that they'd rather have one long game than six short ones. Honestly, there's no pleasing some folk. Here's a small company that needs all the support it can get trying its hand at The Future, charging very little and still getting stick. Someone's got to try it, and what better than a game based around discrete, self-contained narrative nuggets?
Ok, fair enough. Not everything was great about Culture Shock. Yes, the Soda Poppers were a little bit whiny, and Bosco was perhaps a questionable inclusion, but, to me, they seemed like typical examples of the bit-part characters that you'd encounter in all the great adventures down the years. The point was, Sam and Max were absolutely perfect. In that respect Telltale have revived Steve Purcell's vision without compromise, and anyone even vaguely into the old LucasArts adventure classics will be glad to have a game like this back being released.
So. Boo and hiss: the Soda Poppers and Bosco are back, the latter as a bizarrely hammed-up English gent with a monocle and the former as part of the amusing Embarrassing Idol game show that forms part of the latter segment of the game.
As with Episode 1, Situation Comedy kicks off in Sam & Max's office, and after a disappointing period of location recycling (where you pay a visit to Bosco's Inconvenience Store again, as well as Sybil's shop) you don't actually come across any 'new' locations until about halfway in, which feels a bit on the cheap side. Fortunately, actually getting to the TV studio portion of the game still has enough great dialogue to distract you from what feels like a needless degree of retreading. After all, one of the laws of adventure games is to ensure the player is given enough new locations to visit, not to mention new characters, and the fact that a significant portion of Situation Comedy lacks either detracts slightly from the experience. Worse still, the initial 'puzzles' are also lacking - in fact there's little to do until you get to the TV studio apart from walk around familiar locations chatting to people you met in Episode 1. Hrm.
After this somewhat lazy beginning, though, things pick up dramatically. Tasked with three main objectives in order to get onto the set of a talk show, Sam and Max find themselves the star of not only a Pop Idol-style show, but a cookery programme, a hit sit-com starring a cow and a chicken landlord, and a rigged gameshow. It could only happen in a Sam & Max game.
From there on, it's consistently on form, laced with laugh-out-loud memorable moments, bizarre scenarios, and lines that we wished we'd written down that will shortly enter Sam & Max lore. There were a couple of almost-questionable "how did they expect me to know that?" puzzles where retreading old areas didn't seem especially obvious (until we ended up just revisiting all the locations to see if we'd missed something - at which point you curse your own inability to retain early clues), but apart from that it's the old trial and error formula, or being persistent with your dialogue choices. Anyone who's been here before knows the drill. It's a clunky old formula, but if you know what to expect you'll get on just fine.
But, again, it's good value for its US$ 8.95, so many of the criticisms levelled against it melt away against that backdrop. Yes, the lightweight episodic nature is starting to make us wonder whether a long form Sam & Max would be better (and allow for more complex puzzling and connected environments like the original), but it's still a bold experiment worth seeing through to the end before making a final call on. The choice is yours: wait for all six episodes to appear on one value-packed 15 (or so) hour game, or enjoy the cheap and cheerful drip-feed that we're getting now. Either way, Situation Comedy is another solid episode that bodes well for the next four - but let's have less of the recycled locations and more new characters next time, eh chaps?
8 / 10