Sam & Max have been left dormant for too long, 10 years in fact, an unfortunate consequence of the death of traditional adventure games. Thankfully, LucasArts alumni studios, such as Double Fine Productions and Terrible Toybox, along with dedicated independent developers, have managed to keep the genre afloat thanks to excellent titles such as Broken Age, Thimbleweed Park, and 2064: Read Only Memories. Now, former Telltale games staff, including co-founder Dan Connors, have reassembled to form Skunkape Games, all while bringing the freelance police back in style. Namely, a remaster of their first outing under Telltale’s wing in Sam & Max Save the World Remastered for Nintendo Switch and PC.
Sam & Max Save the World, originally released episodically in 2006 (and often noted as the first successful episodic video game release,) features the freelance police agents solving a series of local mysteries wrapped in an ongoing hypnosis conspiracy. While the six episodes included are completely standalone, each episode includes overarching narrative elements that tie together in the final episode, not that there is much incentive to play them out of order to begin with.
One episode you will be trying to join the Mafia to save an undercover agent, the next you’ll be trying to stop an animated Abraham Lincoln statue from winning the U.S. presidential election, held together by the fast and witty humour made a series staple by Steve Purcell’s original comic book series. It’s refreshing after all this time to see the two characters back in action (even if it is through replaying their previous adventures) as there are few video games nowadays as genuinely hilarious in both deadpan and immaturity. Not all jokes land perfectly, unfortunately; however Skunkape has taken extra care in this remaster to update the game’s engine (the decade and a half old Telltale Tool fans of the developer’s later games came to dread) to allow for better comedic timing, new camera angles, and new music cues, all adding to the impact of the game’s mostly excellently aged writing.
Being Telltale Games’ earliest adventure game, Sam & Max is free of all the choice and consequence dramatic storytelling the studio would become known for before its unfortunate closure in 2018. This is a tried-and-true adventure game, long-winded puzzles and all. Thankfully, Sam & Max has never been known for its soft-locking, painstaking puzzles as pretty much all of the puzzles found in Save the World and its sequels are pretty straightforward, making the game a perfect entry for series and genre newcomers. The number of locations found in each episode is never enough to make players too confused as to where to go next, nor the amount of items the player is given ever overwhelming.
Skunkape have done an excellent job remastering Sam & Max for modern PCs and the Nintendo Switch. While the core game and its animations are all left untouched, the updated visuals and lighting amount to a noticeably different experience, especially when compared to the 2006 original. The added colours and lighting leave the original game looking dull and overall give the remaster a presentation more comparable to Purcell’s classic 1980/1990s comic books. The titular protagonists have even received updated character designs supervised by Purcell himself. Characters still animate as well as they always have; however, the aforementioned changes to camera angles and comedic timing hugely improve the experience in ways even the most diehard of returning fans probably won’t even notice but, again, keep the jokes from aging under the engine’s technical limitations.
The only real issue with Sam & Max Save the World‘s presentation is that the human NPC characters still look out of place beside the anthropomorphic protagonists. While this isn’t the first piece of Sam & Max media to feature human characters, the designs of the characters feel like leftovers of the engine’s limitations, and the models haven’t aged perfectly despite their stylized designs. Frame rate issues found in the original PC and console releases are also completely erased, leaving an overall smooth and clean looking experience. The game’s music still fits the fun, 1970s buddy cop TV show style the franchise is known for, and the remaster even comes with new tracks from the game’s original composer, Jared Emerson-Johnson. The only character to receive a dramatic change in the remaster is Bosco’s Inconvenience Store owner, Bosco, who has been replaced to great effect with an actor who better represents the character.
Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is an excellent comeback from the cult classic icons, showing that despite their time away, the adventures of the freelance police still hold up a decade later. Skunkape Games have done a wonderful job lovingly remastering these six episodes for modern PCs and the Nintendo Switch while further leaning into the art style of Steve Purcell’s classic comic books with the visual improvements.
Developers: Telltale Games (original), Skunkape Games (remaster)
Publishers: Telltale Games (original), Skunkape Games (remaster)
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2nd December 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Sam & Max Save the World Remastered was supplied by the publisher.