By Marty Mulrooney
Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is a six-episode point-and-click adventure game (collected here as a complete package) starring everyone’s favourite six-foot-tall canine detective in a suit and his hyperkinetic rabbity-thing sidekick. That’s right, the Freelance Police are back, in a new – or rather, old with a fresh lick of rainbow paint – release that sees Sam and Max investigating a sinister plot involving hypnosis, the Toy Mafia and the bright side of the moon.
Sam & Max Save the World was first released episodically in 2006 and 2007 by the now defunct American video game developer Telltale Games as Sam & Max: Season One. Based on Steve Purcell‘s Sam & Max comic book series and following on from the classic LucasArts 2D point-and-click adventure game Sam & Max Hit the Road, its release somewhat softened the blow of the cancelled LucasArts follow-up Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Season One marked a glorious return for Sam and Max, whose bizarre case-based antics and superlative high jinks were the perfect match for the episodic format.
Two more seasons followed, but once the studio started focusing on interactive storytelling à la The Walking Dead – which was more about making difficult decisions than dropping bowling balls out of windows – it looked like Sam and Max would be joining Guybrush Threepwood in the ‘Gone-But-Never-Forgotten’ adventure game retirement home. Then 2020 arrived, turned our lives upside down, ushered us indoors… and out of the blue, like a careening, out of control DeSoto (on fire), Skunkape Games rose from the ashes of Telltale Games and announced a remastered version of Sam & Max Save the World.
For those worried that Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is a lazy cash grab… don’t be. Skunkape Games was born when four members of the original Sam & Max development team bought the rights to Telltale’s Sam & Max games following the studio’s heartbreaking closure in 2018. It can’t be stressed enough how bittersweet it is to see the words ‘from the archives of Telltale Games’ during the opening credits of each episode.
With the help of several other former Telltale employees, the Skunkape team has taken the first season’s six episodes and added 16:9 widescreen support compatible with ‘the highest resolution your hardware allows’, tweaked character models (with input from Steve Purcell), dynamic lighting, improved lip sync, a variety of control options (including gamepads!) and remastered and re-encoded audio from the original source files. Talented composer Jared Emerson-Johnson has returned too, writing five new jazz tracks performed by some of the original musicians. In short… this is how you do a remaster.
This gargantuan effort pays off from the moment you start playing the first episode. Sam and Max’s office looks absolutely wonderful, crammed full of little details that bring their madcap world to life. The goal of the Skunkape team was to create a remaster that looks, sounds and plays like a game from 2020, not one made in 2006… and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. Just try flicking that office light switch on and off a few times; the lighting effects are gorgeous.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve played through each of Save the World’s six episodes (around 20 hours in total) with my aging Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows, sent to my 4K television via Steam Link, and it has been an absolute joy. I experienced no bugs whatsoever – there has been some serious polish applied here – with the only frustration caused by some of the more obscure puzzles. Max does occasionally dispense hints, but you can’t rely on them. Thankfully, those old text walkthroughs on GameFAQs still work just fine (I only looked once or twice, honest).
Although the cases investigated in each of Save the World’s episodes are all loosely interconnected, Sam & Max has always been about situation comedy – it’s even the name of the second episode. The storytelling isn’t particularly sophisticated per se, but the writing sure is. Each line of dialogue has been lovingly crafted and while not all jokes hit their mark, there are far more hits than misses. Sam and Max are extremely likable and charismatic protagonists, perfectly voiced with great chemistry. They’re consistently funny even when interacting with characters that can grate; I’m looking at you former child stars Peepers, Specs and Whizzer!
Some things that probably worked better when Save the World was released episodically – visiting regular supporting characters Sybil Pandemik and Bosco over and over again, reused locations, the driving sequences – can easily be forgiven. After all, this is still a 2006 game at heart. However, what’s truly impressive in retrospect is how Telltale Games managed to do so much with relatively little. Each episode has only a handful of locations (time and size constraints were surely a factor back in the day), but the puzzles are structured in such a way that you’ll never get bored exploring and puzzle solving.
In fact, boredom is never really an option. Whether Sam and Max are infiltrating the Toy Mafia, starring in their own sitcom or trying to destroy the internet in virtual reality (sorry, Reality 2.0), there’s always something new to click on and examine. While Telltale’s early point-and-click adventures were certainly more streamlined than the LucasArts classics that inspired them, they were undoubtedly more interactive than the later narrative adventure games that would eventually become the studio’s bread and butter. There’s just something nice about having an inventory with multiple items in it, waiting to be unleashed on something (or someone).
Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is a constant delight. Admittedly, some episodes work better than others, but taken as a whole the fun factor is consistently high. Perhaps the most surprising thing about revisiting Season One is that voting for Max as President of the United States and destroying the internet doesn’t seem so outlandish anymore. £15.49 is a small price to pay to escape from the craziness of our current reality into the craziness of Sam and Max’s. They’ve aged rather well, and I can’t wait to see what Skunkape does with their remaining two seasons.
8.5 OUT OF 10
Upgrade My Sam & Max!
Do you already own the download version of Sam & Max Save the World (a.k.a. Sam & Max Season One) on Steam, GOG, or the Telltale Games store?
If so, until the end of 2020, Skunkape Games is offering a 50% discount on the PC version of Sam & Max Save the World Remastered to everyone who already purchased the original game through one of these three stores.
Simply visit: https://upgrade.skunkapegames.com/