STAFF REVIEW of Sam & Max Save the World (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 24, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Sam & Max Save the World Box art If I had to name some iconic characters from early 2000 games, you can bet that Sam & Max would be up there on my list somewhere. Sam & Max has been around since the late 80’s, starting with a comic, eventually branching out to TV and games. If you played an adventure game in the 90’s, it almost certainly was from LucasArts, as they were undeniable king when it came to the then popular adventure genre. I’ve been a long time Sam & Max fan, as I even have some original artwork signed hung up on my wall, so you could say I was excited when I found out Sam & Max Save the World was getting the remastered treatment for current gen.

They had a bit of a break after their first game, but returned with another in 2006. Originally released in six separate episodes under the 'Season One' banner, Sam & Max Save the World was eventually what the collection name of Season One came to be when it was complete. Oh, you’ve not heard of Sam & Max? Sam is a six-foot suit wearing dog that has quite a vernacular, and Max is a frenzied rabbit that is always hyper, incredibly quick witted and always wanting to cause bodily harm if the opportunity arises. Oh, and they also happen to be Freelance Police, created by Steve Purcell.

Before Telltale Games really broke out with their The Walking Dead series, they were the ones responsible for Sam & Max Save the World, and as far as I know, one of the first episodic game releases that I can think of. Having released on Xbox 360 under the Xbox Arcade banner, it’s been a long time coming, but Sam & Max are finally back in the spotlight with this Remastered version.

More than a simple coat of paint, developers Skunkape (a clever nod to the Sam & Max universe if you know your games) along with a handful of original Telltale team members have taken the time to make this release special. All six episodes have been given quite an overhaul, and for a longtime fan like myself that has played through the game more than once, seeing the improvements was exciting as you could tell they put a lot of work into the smaller details, not to mention having Steve Purcell’s blessing. Given the recent history of Telltale shutting its doors, this Remaster was completely unexpected but welcomed.

Gaming back in 2006 when it originally released was quite different from now. For starters, 4:3 was a common aspect ratio and resolutions were nowhere near the common 4K quality standard of today. First and foremost, Sam & Max Save the World now supports your standard 16:9 ratio, 4K resolution, HDR and much more, so it’s going to look much more modern. There’s a few other major improvements, much coming from dynamic lighting and improved lip sync. Given that there’s quite a lot of dialogue across the six episodes, this was quite noticeable compared to the original release. The audio has also been remastered so that it doesn’t sound as compressed, another major improvement that is noticeable due to the heavy dialogue that takes place. Five completely new tracks from some of the original musicians were also made for this release, so there’s something new for original fans like myself as well.

Character models themselves have also been slightly tweaked to appear better, more resembling their comic counterparts. A couple puzzles were ‘fixed’, as it turns out quite a lot of players got stuck on specific puzzles, so they simply moved an item or two to make it more noticeable. One of the biggest changes though probably has to be with the recasting of Bosco, a pivotal character you interact with in all six episodes. This apparently wasn’t a decision taken lightly, as it was originally a white actor doing a stereotypical African American impression, so it was re-recorded with a Black actor with some minor changes to the dialogue, of which the performance was fantastic.

There’s actually quite a lengthy post by the developers outlining all the changes and improvements, as there are many more, and it goes to show that all of this work was done not just deliberately to create a better game overall, but to also balance while not changing too much of which the original team created at the same time. This is where Remasters become tricky, as too many changes might draw ire from old school fans, but simply putting a new coat of paint on top can come across as lazy as well. If I had one complaint for this Remaster was that there wasn’t any section for ‘extras’ anywhere that could be unlocked, giving behind the scenes footage, storyboards or anything else you might expect.

At the beginning of each episode Sam & Max will receive a call from the Commissioner to give you your next case that needs solving ASAP. Each episode has its own contained story and case that you’ll solve, but there’s also an overarching mystery that takes place across the six episodes that you’re working towards as well. To crack the cases you’re going to have to put your detective thinking hat on and talk to everyone you can to get clues on how to proceed with each obstacle in your way to the truth. You can expect some crazy situations and situations you’d only expect to see in a cartoon or comic, which is fitting given Sam & Max’s personality and zaniness. The overarching story gets crazier and funnier as you go, so make sure you take your time and enjoy all of the cleverly written dialogue throughout.

You mainly control Sam as you explore and interact with objects in each scene. Walking to certain objects will make Sam place it in his inventory, generally meaning you’re going to need it to solve some certain puzzle later on. Each episode lasts at least one to three hours, depending on your clever detective work or use of a walkthrough, though prepare to become stumped on more than a handful of occasions. Certain puzzles can be quite obtuse, almost forcing you to brute forcing a solution by trying to use every item with every object when you can’t figure out what to do. I surprisingly remembered quite a lot of the game from my original playthrough over a decade ago, but I too became stuck on more than a handful of occasions. Because of how over the top Sam & Max can be, sometimes the solutions are too completely ‘out there’.

The majority of the time I was laughing at the jokes Sam & Max would quip to one another, especially Max’s crazy antics and one-liners. The duo get into some very peculiar situations, and seeing them talk their way out of a situation had me snort laugh more than once. While some of the pop culture jokes will go over the heads of a younger audience, the writing overall is one of the wittiest and more humour filled experiences you can have. There’s so much voiced dialogue that you’ll want to explore every option with every NPC you come across, as I guarantee you’ll chuckle on more than a handful of occasions, many of which the jokes still hold up over a decade and a half later.

Returning to playing a Sam & Max game sure brings back some serious nostalgia, and I’m so glad to report that Sam & Max Save the World still holds up to this day. Keeping in mind this genre isn’t as popular as it once was, it’s a glimpse into what early Telltale Games’ experiences were like, one that I surely miss. While it’s all been but explicitly confirmed by Skunkape, I’m now waiting for Sam & Max Season 2 and 3 to release hopefully sooner than later to continue the wacky duo's adventures.

**Sam & Max Save the World was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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