Sunday, November 23, 2008

Culture Shock Review

With Sam & Max Season One finally getting released for the Wii this past October, it's a good time to take a look at the six episodes available on the disc. Culture Shock is the first episode of Season One, and starts things off with a bang.

Sam & Max must investigate a case of hypnotism, where a group of former child stars from a hit television show in the 1970's have been brainwashed to promote the maker of a self-help video. The three former child stars are raising a ruckus on the city street that is home to the office of Sam & Max Freelance Police. Fans of LucasArts' Sam & Max Hit the Road will be happy to see that the street is very familiar, with Bosco's grocery store and the cafe that sells bad food still on the corner. The cafe is not open for business, but we finally get to set foot into Bosco's and even get to meet the man himself.

Bosco is a very interesting character. He is an ultra-paranoid individual who seems to run his grocery store only to finance his various dubious BoscoTech inventions. Bosco's Inconvenience Store is littered with security cameras and various BoscoTech inventions that are present to keep people from stealing from the store. The other store owner on the block is Sybil Pandemic, licensed therapist, well at least this week. Her sign outside of her shop shows her to have had at least 3 previous jobs. The characters are all full of quirks and personality, and as the game progresses, these quirks become even more evident.

Humor has always been Sam & Max's main selling point, ever since the first comic featuring the duo appeared way back in 1987. Here, the humor is top notch. The humor is quirky, containing plenty of one-liners, especially from Max.

I'm not a big fan of action sequences in adventure games, so it must be said that there are two action sequences in the game in the form of car chases. It's very reminiscent of the chase scene in Out From Boneville, in that the DeSoto is moved across the screen and there is debris on the road that slows you down. This time around though, since it is a Sam & Max chase, Sam's gun can be used at any time during the chase, and a bullhorn can be used by Max to shout at other drivers.

The voicework in Culture Shock is very good, with three notable exceptions which I will get to at the bottom of this paragraph. Max's voice actor does a great job portraying the character, falling somewhere between the voice of Max in Hit the Road and Max in the animated series. Sam's voice actor chose to stay fairly true to the film noir feel of Sam's voice from Hit the Road rather than the gruff portrayal of Sam found in the animated series. Both voices sound really good, with Max as the standout as his voice is full of energy. Sam's voice actor does a remarkable job with the voice throughout most of the game, but sometimes his portrayal seems a bit stiff and lacking of emotion. All in all though, both main character's voices are great. Telltale had a tall order to fill to keep fans happy with the voices, and they managed to succeed in my opinion. The supporting characters also mostly have nice voices, with Bosco's gruff voice and Sybil's mid-range voice fitting their characters perfectly. The former child stars known as the Soda Poppers, on the other hand are quite grating. Their personalities are interesting, but their voices are much too falsetto to be enjoyable. I know exactly where Telltale was going with this, with the grown men trying to keep sounding like the little kids they used to be on TV much like Screech from Saved by the Bell. However, the characters are triplets, and each one of them sound this way. This gives them a lot of screen time, and their voices quickly become tiresome before the game is over.

The music in the game is great. The jazz intro is wonderful, very reminiscent of the Cheesy Understated Credit Sequence from Hit the Road, but unique enough to stand on it's own. The music that plays during car chase sequences is also very catchy. A sountrack CD is available for Season One, and I recommend purchasing it wholeheartedly. Each subsequent episode has music as good or better than this one, and it really does makes for some great listening pleasure.

Culture Shock is a fine return to form for the crime fighting (and causing) duo. With the exception of the voices of the Soda Poppers, there's not too much that I can say that can count against the quality of the game. Even with the grating characters though, it's still well worth the purchase for the game's many other redeeming qualities. It's really funny, the duo themselves are voiced well, and the music is wonderful.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Sam & Max Hit the Road (the first Sam & Max game, by LucasArts) ReviewEpisode Two Review

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