Best Gameplay: Sam & Max: Season Two
After the delightful rebirth of the Sam & Max franchise with Season One, it was difficult to imagine how another full season of episodes only one year later could avoid resulting in a bit of a letdown. All doubts were put completely to rest, however, when Sam & Max: Season Two delivered episode after episode of pure adventure enjoyment once again. The episodes balance the same simplistic gameplay design that is wonderfully nostalgic to veteran adventurers and perfectly accessible to rookie gamers, but surpasses the first season by significantly improving the difficulty (or lack thereof) that was a common complaint of the original episodes.
Not content to merely be outside-the-box, the new season's challenges frequently fall outside the space-time continuum altogether, even passing from life to death and back again. The puzzles are consistently imaginative--particularly in the spectacular Chariots of the Dogs--at a level that was never attained in the first season. The minigames feel fresh and new, exploring is always amply rewarded with hilarious commentary, and the overall creativity quotient (read: insanity factor) has been ratcheted up significantly. It seemed too good to be true that Telltale could outdo themselves with Season Two but they did so, creating a gameplay experience that is without peer in modern adventure gaming for that one element all too often forgotten: fun.
Runners-Up: Penumbra: Black Plague, Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Readers’ Choice: A Vampyre Story
Sam & Max may have conquered one vampire in 2008, but they proved no match for A Vampyre Story's Mona and her bat pal Froderick. The game's wacky inventory puzzles and stunning degree of optional interactivity withstood a fierce fight from the dog and rabbit and the more casual competition of... brace for it, traditionalists: Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst.
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Next up: Best Concept... the envelope, please.