In a surprisingly awesome twist on modern gaming the classic point-and-click adventure game seems to be making a triumphant return. Telltale Games appears to be at the head of the pack with their recent chapters of Monkey Island on the PC, and now with the emergence of the PC classics from last year Sam & Max coming to Xbox Live Arcade. If you already played through Season One of this hilarious episodic title you pretty much know what to expect. However, even if you have not the story relies enough on new content that knowledge of the original is definitely not a requirement. The adventure genre continues to push its way back into the mainstream and Beyond Time and Space is definitely another positive step forward.
The story picks up immediately following the events of the last game. Like I mentioned if you did not play the original (first off go back and download it, it was hilarious) you can still dive in with little hesitation. There are a few loose ends and jokes that will undoubtedly not make sense, but once the ball gets rolling things shift focus to the new dilemma at hand. Beware, spoilers are afoot. The game begins at the North Pole where a crazed Santa has gone postal threatening to waste anyone who comes near him. You can opt to play any of the episodes in any order you choose, but the story works best if you start here. Max is the president of the United States and there is a love affair with a presidential statue; yes this is the kind of humor that will persist throughout the entire game.
The gameplay remains intact for the most part with a few subtle enhancements to spice up the experience. The first thing that will stick out is that this game was designed to be played with a mouse. Working the puzzles and maneuvering around the environment with the controller just feels sluggish. It certainly does not break the experience, but if I had the option for a mouse on my 360, this would be the opportune time to take advantage of it. Puzzles are presented usually with the traditional theories in place. Objects can be collected and used on various other objects, and it is only a matter of time and logic until you figure them out. That is unless you go the more painful and tedious route of trial and error.
The new hint system helps aid you when things get too complicated by offering up subtle hints to solutions the longer it takes you to solve the puzzle. This is a nice feature for those of us with short attention spans, but it can also be completely turned off by purists who consider it outright cheating. The second half of the gameplay portion consists of mini-games that offer little in the way of actual playability. These range from simple deliver or collect missions to driving segments, all of which fail to deliver a really solid experience. Personally if the game relied solely on puzzle solving and communication between characters I would have been content. This extra effort feels more tacked on than worth the effort.
The simple gist of the matter is this port of the PC original really is the best bang for your buck. Instead of paying $35 for the entire second season, you get it all of $20 on a console. That extra savings makes up for the lackluster control scheme and other minor problems. My only gripe here is that you have to purchase it all in one bundle as opposed to being able to purchase each episode of the season separately. Granted you will eventually want to own the entire set, but the appeal of episodic gaming is offering bits and pieces at a time instead of force-feeding you the entire meal. Still the price is unbeatable, and if you haven’t already purchased the game and love the genre, there should be no hesitation.
Visually the game has the same cartoon-inspired look of the original as well as the same frame rate issues from the last port. The PC iteration runs silky smooth and is not exactly the most taxing game I have ever seen, which makes it even more puzzling why the XBLA version is so choppy. Outside of that the general art style and direction is absolutely fantastic. The exaggerated visuals lend themselves great to the quirky narrative, creating an atmosphere that is just as much fun to watch as it is to listen to. Each chapter in the season also carries distinct environments that mean you will never been forced to stare at the same stagnant backdrop time and time again.
Sound is equally impressive with a fantastic performance from nearly all the voice actors. The dialogue is as well delivered as it is written, and some of the characters are absolutely engulfing. The music numbers continue the trend of jazz-inspired tunes that really set the mood, and some of the musical pieces are downright a treat to listen to. Overall the sound team deserves a pat on the back for delivering such an epic package in what is still considered a bite-sized downloadable title.
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space is yet another step forward in the resurrection of the adventure genre. Xbox Live owners should be reveling in the fact that they get to experience these great collections for a fraction of the original cost. If you grew up enjoying these types of games on PC or are just tired of the same old shooters and sports games flooding the market I suggest giving these titles a whirl. Available in small doses on PC and one complete package at a steal of a price on XBLA, there is little to lose by checking out this genuinely funny and hugely entertaining experience.