Adventure Gamers Awards
Over and over again, Max utters this delighted squeal as Sam whaps him skyward in Season One. That sentiment was echoed repeatedly by fans during the PC-only release of the original six episodes, with an ever-increasing appeal for the Freelance Police to make their way to Nintendo’s popular console. It took a while for that wish to come true, but two years after the canine shamus and hyperkinetic rabbity thing triumphantly returned to gaming, Steve Purcell’s popular comic duo were finally ported to the Wii.
At this point, there’s little left to be said about the highly-acclaimed games themselves, which have been picked over, dissected, and analyzed every which way since debuting in 2006. If you’re in need of a series refresher, look no further than our very own extensive coverage:
- Episode 1 – Culture Shock
- Episode 2 – Situation: Comedy
- Episode 3 – The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball
- Episode 4 – Abe Lincoln Must Die!
- Episode 5 – Reality 2.0
- Episode 6 – Bright Side of the Moon
The only real question remaining is how Season One fared in its platform conversion, and I’m pleased to report that the Wii port is nearly as good as its PC predecessor. I can only say “nearly” because of a few small issues that shouldn’t impact anyone’s enjoyment but do prevent the game from holding up quite as nicely as the original version. Besides the odd momentary hitch in animation, the most noticeable issue that’s likely to cause annoyance from time to time is a tendency to clip off the last syllable of spoken dialogue lines. It only happens occasionally, and the lost sound nevers causes you to miss important information or even misunderstand the word being spoken, but it’s nevertheless a little jarring each and every time it happens.
Other issues are even more minor, and are really nothing more than concessions demanded by the inferior Wii hardware. There’s a distinct lack of graphical crispness on a larger screen, for example. The game’s simple but whimsical 3D art style is nicely suited to the Wii, and for the most part playing through Season One feels little different than watching a cartoon on TV. Still, the fixed resolution sometimes causes textures to be a little blurry, including any in-game signs. Watching Max avail himself of Bosco’s bathroom facilities doesn’t have quite the same comedic impact when the colour-coded warning lights move from “Lots of Terror” to “xxobxxle xerrxr” (where x = some vague, indiscriminate smudge). The longer transitions also have distinct load screens that weren’t present in the PC version, though fortunately these are rare and short enough not to be a nuisance.
On the plus side of the ledger, the Wii port does come with “special features” that include character bios and a generous selection of concept art. These are available right from the start, as there’s nothing to unlock in Season One. As an added bonus these are nice enough extras, but there’s certainly nothing here that would merit an extra look on their own.
And really that punctuates the bottom line when it comes to this release overall: it’s simply Season One on Wii. A no-frills port, no effort was made to make use of the Wii’s motion controls. Having played many a game where such activities were badly shoehorned in merely to justify a Wii launch, I’m quite all right with that. These episodes were designed with simple point-and-click sensibilities, and far better to faithfully carry that over to a new system intact than to arbitrarily adapt it with ill-conceived gimmickry. Still, it’s a shame that there’s absolutely nothing here to capitalize on the system’s most unique feature.
Of course, a point-and-click interface actually is unique among home consoles, and to that extent the port is a definite success. With the exception of the clunky-handling driving minigames, mouse controls have moved over flawlessly to the Wii remote, and the “run” option is available in all six episodes, which wasn’t true of the PC originals. The inventory and menu functions are recreated exactly as before, and they can now be accessed through buttons on the remote as well as their on-screen icons. With this new alternative, I’d have preferred that the icons be removed altogether, as more than once I accidentally spilled open the animated inventory box simply because I was trying to click on the ground too close to it.
While sounding a bit like a backhanded compliment, perhaps the best thing that can be said for the conversion is that it doesn’t get in the way of the games. The six episodes are the real attraction here, the protagonists the main draw, and it’s as much fun as ever to help them foil the ever-escalating mind control plot confronting them from one episode to the next. Instead of trying to reinvent the already-round wheel just for the sake of change, the games remain as they were meant to be played, with simple mechanics and easily accessible gameplay to supplement the often-hilarious hijinx of the comic crimefighters. That was more than enough on PC, and the formula is no less effective here, though it remains true that the less-refined early episodes reflect the original learning curve faced by the developers in evolving the first season on the fly.
If you’ve already played the PC version, this means there really isn’t much reason to pick up the Wii port as well. With no new content and no distinct Wii functionality, you’ll really just be getting more of the same, beyond the obvious ability to kick back in front of the TV with the games this time around. Instead, this is a release meant mainly for console gamers who haven’t yet been exposed to the lunacy that is Sam & Max. The good news here is that, its one sound quality hiccup aside, the Season One port is a competent vehicle for accomplishing just that. With surprisingly few traditional adventure options on the Wii to date, this release may just be the best available option for introducing the genre to a new generation, a new audience. The games aren’t perfect – they never were – but they’re head, shoulders, and large rabbity ears above a lot of other current releases, and Sam & Max: Season One would be a welcome addition to any Wii gamer’s collection.