Sam & Max Episode 101: Culture Shock Review
Sam and Max are finally back after a nearly fifteen year hiatus from the PC, and fans of the borderline psychopathic dog and rabbit private detective team couldn’t be happier. If you’re not familiar with Sam and Max, you owe it to yourself to become so unless you have a neurotic aversion to satire. With Sam and Max the case at hand always takes a backseat to their wry observations on American culture, slightly deranged non sequitur conversations, and proclivity for violence (at least talking about it anyway). A Sam and Max game should be more about grooving to the Sam and Max vibe than about beating the game, and Telltale Games does a pretty good job of capturing this spirit in Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock.
The look of the game is perfect for the world of Sam and Max. It has a pseudo 3D, cartoon-like look to it, and Sam and Max’s city will evoke thoughts of Toontown with its bright colors and shortage of right angles. Each screen is filled with little humorous details and you’ll enjoy your time spent looking at them all.
Culture Shock sticks to the classic adventure game format that made them famous in their cult favorite game Sam & Max Hit the Road. Before you go running for the hills screaming I have to let you know that this is not a bad thing in this case. Adventure games have become synonymous with eyestrain-inducing pixel hunts, frustratingly obscure puzzles, and hearing the phrase “I can’t use that there” a few thousand times. In Culture Shock you needn’t worry about those problems, though. It’s very easy to tell which objects in a room are interactive and clicking on one of them can lead to anything from an observation from Sam to an entire oddball conversation between Sam and Max. Your inventory never has more than a half dozen or so items in it, and it’s not too hard to figure out when and where they should be used. Culture Shock is not a difficult game by any means – some of the puzzles may stump you for a short time, but you’ll invariably realize the solution and then feel silly for not thinking of it sooner. Remember what I said earlier – the goal here is not to challenge your game playing skills but to give you the opportunity to soak in the goodness that is Sam and Max.
Of course there is a story here, and it takes aim at the trials of former child stars and the self-help industry. 1970’s star Brady Culture (not all the jokes here are subtle, that’s for sure) has released a self-help video of Eye-Bo ocular exercises. The problem is that it has the power to hypnotize anyone who watches it, making the poor viewer into a zombified, diehard Brady Culture fan. A trio of former child stars known as The Soda Poppers are the tape’s first victims, and Sam and Max must figure out a way to break them out of their hypnotic states if they’re ever going to find Culture.
The game is designed to be the opening episode in a collection of related games, but its story is still self-contained and there’s no cliffhanger designed to compel you to buy the next episode in the series. The game can be played through to the end in a couple of evenings but if you divide its price by the time you spend playing it, it comes out cheaper than a trip to the movies … and the story here is decidedly better than the one in the last movie I saw (*cough* Eragon *cough*).
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 86%. Welcome back Sam and Max, we missed you.