Sam & Max - Season 2: Episode 2: Moai Better Blues Review (PC)

The short introduction for the uninitiated: Sam and Max are a dog and big mouthed rabbit team of freelance police, the stars of the Sam and Max adventure games from TellTale tames and a comedic duo that cracks this reviewer up pretty much every time. Sam and Max 202 – Maoi Better Blues is their latest adventure, second in the second season, and eighth since TellTale took over the pair. There…that out of the way let’s get down to the game.

Sybil, Sygil…I can see how the portal got confused Giant stone head that isn’t Lincoln!

When last we left our dynamic duo they had just shipped Santa off to Hell with the hopes that the big man will make it back out for next Christmas. After a leisurely trip back the two arrive to their battered and beloved street where the body of the Maim-a-tron robot is Jimmy Two Teeth’s new home and Sybil is being chased by a “rogue semi-sentient inter-dimensional portal.” The portal turns out to be the Bermuda Triangle and hilarity ensues as Sybil and Abe get sucked in and Sam and Max jump through because they really have nothing better to do and the triangle is blocking the office. They end up on Easter Island, the home of really big stone heads, lost pilots who have had too much to drink from the fountain of youth, a terrible prophecy and Ocean Chimps who will kill them if Sam can’t prove that Max should be their high priest. Complicate? Naw…just a typical day for a shoeless dog and a mouth with ears.

Without giving too much more about the story away I have to say that I enjoyed Maoi Better Blues tremendously. The story telling is tight and the puzzles are very well put together. There are some great lateral leaps that really make you focus your thinking and try things that would be silly in any universe but Sam and Max, but make perfect sense here. The tighter script means that I finished it faster, but in the end I was much more satisfied with the quality of what I’d played. Locationwise most of the action takes place on the island, which is refreshing. Even when you do return to the office world the only locations open to you are Bosco’s, Stinky’s and the garage where the COPS are working and there is a lot of effort put to keep you from just having to go back and forth and back and forth, which I appreciated.

Maybe my favorite part about this episode is that there is not a Soda Popper in sight. The 1970’s child stars drove me nuts in the first several Sam and Max episodes and it’s refreshing not to see them here. I loved the stone heads on the island and the baby versions of such notables as Jimmy Hoffa and Glen Miller added a unique new element to the interactions. There were a lot of interesting, if sometimes heavy handed, hints about what happened to the old Stinky, and Flint Paper was seen for the first time since Ice Station Santa. I really hope there is more of a character arc for him planned. I’d love to see a show down between him and Bosco, and I bet Max would too.

Awww…isn’t he cuuute? Flint Paper. I so wish you had a story arc

As usual the voice work for all of the characters was excellent, from mumbling Maoi to Jamaican accented Ocean Chimps I was never bored by the sound work. The background scores were also fun and upbeat, with good change up between the various environments. The music for Stinky’s can get a bit droning, but fortunately you can change the jukebox there and listen to any of the special numbers from the previous episodes if you’re bored.

Graphically there are no real surprises. The visuals continue to be tight and expressive while staying true to their comic book roots. I played this game on two systems, and definitely prefer the higher quality version, but even the lower option wasn’t overly annoying.

There were two mini games in this episode and while they could have just been something to keep the player busy, both play in nicely to accomplishing points in the story line and they’re amusing on their own. The almost obligatory driving challenge allowed for the mindless destruction of bagpipes in a nod to popular rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock band, and I found myself giggling all the way through the resulting bagpipe version of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad.’

When it comes to paying homage to popular video game culture both of the past and the future Sam and Max excels. There was humor to be had from the get go, both in commentary and in interaction. Max’s obsession with wanting to keep the baby Jimmy Hoffa was almost disturbingly…dare I say it…cute. I also loved the use of portals and the connections made there with the popular Orange Box game.

If you’ve only just discovered the Sam and Max bandwagon it’s a great one to get involved in. The episodes are reasonably priced and most of them worth playing through more than once, which gives a bit of additional bang for the buck. Some folks may not find the humor to be their idea of funny, so that may be a personal draw back since the humor is the biggest driving force behind the game. The game is appropriately rated T for a bit of language use that I’m not sure I’d want repeated in front of the pre teen crowd.

Ocean Chimps ahoy! The Bermuda Triangle in Stinky’s, too bad it doesn’t suck up the food

All in all I’m thrilled with the progression of this series and anxiously waiting for the next daring installment. The writing is getting tighter with each pass and the folks at TellTale really seem to know what they want from the series and where they’re going with it, and I’m happy to be along for the ride!

Top Gaming Moment:
I admit it. I love ticking off the buried Maoi head and watching the lightening strike him, but my best gaming moment was definitely the bagpipe destruction. I played that part several times beyond the required, just for kicks.