Jan 10, 2008
Two episodes in, the second "season" of Sam & Max is already blowing the first six-game series out of the water. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that Episode 202: Moai Better Blues is the best game so far in the demented point-and-click series about a dog detective and his gruesome rabbit sidekick. It's certainly the funniest by a wide margin, being the first episode to actually make us laugh out loud more than once. And considering what a bunch of jaded humor snobs we are, that's no small compliment.
Moai Better Blues opens in Sam and Max's run-down neighborhood, which is even more run-down than usual since a giant robot stomped through it at the beginning of the last episode. The threat of giant monsters apparently hasn't gone away, however, as the duo's neighbor Sybil is being chased up and down the street by a giant triangular portal thing. Long story short, the portal is stopped, but Sam, Max, Sybil and the giant stone head of Abraham Lincoln she's dating all get sucked through and wind up where all vanished people and things go: Easter Island.
What follows is a weird cavalcade of whiny Moai heads, ancient prophecies, the obligatory threat of volcanic eruption and a bunch of long-disappeared celebrities who appear as highly marketable baby versions of themselves (turns out the Fountain of Youth is also on Easter Island). It's all pretty entertaining (although it's the quick throwaway gags that are usually the best), and it's almost enough to make us forget that the gameplay - which still alternates between simple point-and-click item hoarding and navigating simple conversations - is essentially unchanged from the first episode last year.
There are a few innovations, of course, the cleverest one having seemingly been inspired by Portal. Easter Island is dotted with gongs, and if you shoot or hit one, a blue or yellow triangle will appear above it. Stick something through the blue triangle, it'll come out the yellow one, and vice versa. Knowing this is key to solving several of the game's biggest puzzles, so it's more than a one-time gimmick.
The second cleverest innovation, meanwhile, involves taking to the streets and running over bagpipes that have been carefully spaced out so as to play "I've Been Working on the Railroad" if you hit them all. There's also a new minigame in which you'll need to balance on a surfboard while baby bottles are thrown at your head, but it's less interesting than it sounds.
Like the last episode, the game also features an automated hint system; turn it on, and Max will start spouting clues if you go too long without doing something productive. Thankfully, they're subtle and vague, gently nudging you toward a certain location or activity, so there's no real shame in turning them on if you're stuck. Unfortunately, you'll likely have to at some point, as one or two of the puzzles seem to be less about logic and more about clicking obsessively on everything you see.
Of all the episodes so far, Moai Better Blues comes closest to hitting the bizarre, pulp-fiction-y tones of the original Sam & Max comics, with a bigger emphasis on random spurts of cartoon silliness and fewer desperate stabs at hit-or-miss wackiness. Sprinkle in a few old faces, a mildly intriguing murder subplot, a little mild drug humor and the eerie appearance of a tribe of gullible Sea Mon… sorry, "Ocean Apes," and Moai Better Blues stays pretty entertaining throughout its two-to-four-hour run time.
Anyway, for $9 (available, as always, with a GameTap subscription or direct from the publisher's website), it's hard to find any real complaints. Fans of the series will love it; as for the rest of you, why aren't you playing this yet?