What is it?
Have you ever been to Easter
Island? How about the Bermuda Triangle? Ever been confused about which is
where, and whether the latter contains the former? Well, all these
questions, and more, (like what do Moai like to eat most of all), will be
answered in the next episode of Sam & Max, Season Two, titled
Moai Better Blues.
Okay, lets make an assumption here. You, the
reader, have never played a Sam & Max game before in your life. In
fact you haven't even checked out the Telltale Games website, or the
Sam & Max comics there. As you might guess from the fact there are
comics, the characters Sam and Max started life as drawings by Steve
Purcell. From there they graduated to the computer games genre in Sam &
Max Hit the Road some years ago... 1993 in point of fact! Since then
they've been the subject of an animated television series, and now they
are the heroes (I think) of two seasons of the episodic Sam & Max
Sam is a large dog that walks on
two legs, wears a homburg and an ill-fitting suit with an enormous kipper
tie. Max is a 'hyperkinetic rabbity thing' (although he prefers to be
known as a 'lagomorph'), but all he wears is a manic toothy grin. So, we
have a wisecracking detective with an ultra-violent sidekick, who're
together known as the Freelance Police. Now it's your job to use these
slightly-less-than-sharp tools to crack some pretty odd cases.
Is there a plot?
In earlier episodes, Sam and Max
have foiled the hypnotic plans of several bad guys, gotten Max elected as
the President of the USA, been digitised into a virtual reality nightmare,
and visited the Moon on numerous occasions. However, Moai Better Blues
begins with one of the stalwart extras in the series, Sybil Pandemik,
being chased by a huge red triangle, up and down the street outside Sam
and Max's office.
From there we have the usual locations of Sam
and Max's office, Stinky's, Bosco's Inconvenience Store, and the garage
run by the C.O.P.S., but somehow we've got to end up on Easter
Island...and before the opening credits run. Perhaps it's about time I
explained what the Moai are. The Moai (pronounced Moe-aye) are the
giant carved stone statues that are such an iconic image for Easter Island
(known by the natives as Rapa Nui). The bodies of many of the statues have
been hidden by soil movement, and so the heads are what are normally seen.
They are said to represent the honoured ancestors of the Polynesian
colonisers of the first half of the last millennium - they're from roughly
the same period as William of Normandy's conquest of England!
Enough of the history lesson already. On with
Needless to say, there is a disaster looming on
Easter Island - the (fictional) neighbouring volcanic island is about to
explode, destroying everything on Easter Island. Moai and all. So Sam and
Max have to investigate, whilst playing on a surfing simulator, writing a
new big band hit tune, and making a deity out of the most raw of
ingredients: Max. As if it wasn't enough that he's already POTUS!
Characters wise, we have the existing cast of
drop-outs, weirdos and rats (figurative and literal), plus a gallery of
new characters, some of whom I would not be surprised to see cropping up
in episodes 203, 204 and 205 of this season. Sybil, Abe Lincoln, Flint
Paper, Jimmy, Bosco and Stinky have their parts to play, but I'll not
reveal the identities of any of the new characters.
How do you play?
The Sam & Max
games are thoroughly based on the point-n-click principle. However Moai
Better Blues gives you the option of using keyboard controls (left and
right cursors) during the driving mini-game. You can still use the mouse
for this section if you prefer. This mini-game is the only timed element
to this game.
Single clicking in the environment makes Sam walk to the location (in this
episode, you only directly control Sam). Double clicking sometimes makes
him run. Single clicking on a labelled item (if you have the 'pop-up text'
option switched on) will either pick it up or describe the item. Your
inventory is in the usual brown box in the bottom left of the screen.
There are no inventory combining puzzles, but you can single click on an
item to pick it up and use it in the environment by single clicking again
on the intended target. Right click has no effect.
A left click on a
character causes Sam to talk to that character, with your dialogue options
presented as a pop-up list at the bottom of the screen. Generally
speaking, the dialogue trees are not deep, and there are few long dialogue
As with all the
Season One games and Ice Station Santa, the user interface is
full screen (though there is a 'windowed' mode in the options), with a tab
in the top left corner to bring down the simple menu (Save/Load, Options,
New Game and Quit). There are unlimited save slots, including an
Auto-Save. Each one saves with a picture of the current screen and a time
stamp. Options include graphics quality, a wide range of screen
resolutions (as listed by my graphics card), sound volumes (speech,
effects and music), subtitles, pop-up text and hint level (which has five
levels, from 'None' to 'Frequent').
Puzzles in the Sam
& Max games are strong on dialogue choices, and the reasonably logical
(though not always sane) application of inventory items to solve problems.
As I've already mentioned, there is a driving mini-game in this episode,
where the simple aim is to run over sets of bagpipes, but leave accordions
unharmed. Personally, being married to a Scot, I'd have preferred the
reverse. Variations upon the driving game seem to be an ongoing feature of
these games, so some people may find it handy to have a captive child on
hand to obtain that tricked-out Synthotronic Audio Enhancer (a.k.a. car
horn) for your Desoto convertible. There is also an even smaller surfboard
The game can be configured to
provide hints. These are given by Max, and usually consist of bringing to
Sam's attention some object or character in the current location, or
suggesting that there's nothing to do in the current location. Most of the
hints seemed quite subtle to me, until one hit me square between the eyes
as one of those "D'oh! of course that's what I should try!" moments.
The casting of voice actors appears to be
nicely settled now, with David Nowlin and William Kasten in the title
roles for the last seven episodes. Actually I can't imagine Sam and Max
sounding any other way now. The rest of the characters are well voiced by
the actors, in a manner that suggests they 'get' the stories in a way that
other games' voice-over artists sometimes fail to do.
The Sam & Max games are reliably
bug-free, in my experience, so I was surprised when on one occasion, the
driving game showed the car moving, but the road and background remained
static. However, this did not cause a crash -- I merely had to leave the
mini-game and retry.
The only other problem I found
was that there are annoying inconsistencies as to when you can make Sam
run, and when you can't. Excluding the undersea section, where it is
logical that Sam would not be able to run, there were several locations
where I wanted to make Sam run (by double clicking), but he wouldn't do
& Max Episode 202: Moai Better Blues is an
excellent presentation from Telltale Games, as always; the style has been
maintained, and the quality remains high in all aspects of the game from
music, to acting, story, and graphics. The couple of minor bugs put narry
a dent in the overall picture.
What do you need to play it?
OS: Windows XP / Vista
Processor: 800MHz (if
using a video card with hardware T & L), 1.5GHz (if using a video card
without hardware T & L)
Video card: 32MB
3D-accelerated video card