Duty. Honor. Malfeasance.
Fun fact; my sons are named Sam and Max. Despite the youngest being nine years old, no one has ever asked about the video game franchise when I introduce them. And that’s fine because it’s just a coincidence. (They’re named after the two lead actors from Flash Gordon.)
I bring this up because although most gamers know Sam and Max’s name, they may not know from what. These anthropomorphic private investigators were introduced via comic books in 1987, and they got their first adventure game from LucasArts—Sam & Max Hit the Road—in 1993. A planned sequel was cancelled, and the characters would mostly disappear from the gaming world until they were revitalized by Telltale Games in 2006.
That game—Sam & Max Save the World—was a puzzle/adventure released in Telltale’s familiar episodic format for numerous systems, including the Nintendo Wii. This is that game, now available in one package and in remastered form. It’s certainly a fun time, but anyone with a knowledge of point-and-click adventures will tell you it’s not for everyone.
As characters, Sam and Max are fine. Sam is a laid-back dog, and he’s kind of the brains of the operation. At first glance, he appears to be the no-nonsense straight man, but he breaks from this role often enough to get quite a few laughs. Max is the hyperactive, mischievous rabbit (more accurately described as a “rabbity kind of thing”). He’s maybe just an evolutionary step or two above the Rabbids, really.
The two pair off somewhat like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and I don’t feel bad about dating myself with that reference considering the characters’ ages. They’re a comedy duo. Half of the game’s humor comes from Sam’s calm observations of adventure games and detective story tropes. The other half comes from Max’s bizarre and often malicious comments and actions. Whether you find this funny will depend largely upon your patience. It seems like the writers threw out no jokes, causing Max to get quite annoying after a bit. Now and again, however, a laugh-out-loud moment will make you understand why Sam keeps him around.
Gamers will also need to be concerned about the age of the gameplay mechanics. As you’d expect from a point-and-click adventure, solving the myriad puzzles involves finding objects and figuring out how to use them. Sam & Max Save the World is mostly pretty fair about this, as they never pile a ridiculous number of objects on you at a time. That’s important because a lot of the puzzles will require trial and error. More than once, I was only able to advance after exhausting most of my inventory options. And when a certain item and/or process did work, it often wasn’t the most logical approach.
This is fine, as it’s just part of what adventure games are. If you find this annoying, there are plenty of walkthroughs available online. Using them is a good idea because each location is jammed full of items with which you can interact. You can have the game mark these so you don’t waste time tapping around the screen, but navigating to each can be clunky. You may miss some of the better jokes if you let a walkthrough direct you to the answers, however, so it’s no fun to rely on them.
Over the course of the six episodes (sorry, they’re now chapters) packed into this release, Sam and Max will take on a self-help guru, a talk show host, the Mafia, Washington, D.C., the Internet, and finally…well, I’ll let you get there on your own.
Each of the chapters is self-contained, but you’ll quickly pick up on the thread that ties them together and leads to the climax in chapter six. The puzzles remain inventive throughout. Many of them are solved with slapstick violence, but that’s all part of the cartoony fun. The more clever moments are truly rewarding in this regard.
The chapters can each be completed in about two to three hours, so you’re getting a decently sized game by the time you complete all six. The good thing about the previous episodic release structure is that you were generally left wanting more when you reached each one’s end. With everything available at once, the game’s charm tends to wear off after a bit. As such, I still found it best to put some distance between each chapter.
I also think it helps that I didn’t play Sam & Max Save the World upon its original release, as there doesn’t appear to be much here to warrant a second playthrough. The game certainly looks better, with plenty of polish on the visuals. The audio is good, too, with well-recorded music and voices, some of which are new. The whole package is professionally presented, so it never feels like a re-release.
As with all adventures, however, there’s no real replay value. Unless you’ve forgotten how to get through the original, the only reason you’d want to tackle the game again is if the story or comedy really struck a chord with you. Of course, it’s also fun to help another player through it, much as I did with my own manic Max for this review. (As in the game itself, my Sam didn’t show much interest.)
So, Sam & Max Save the World exists mainly for those who either didn’t play it upon its first release or didn’t finish it. I imagine quite a few adventure gamers are in the latter category, considering the original option to purchase it one episode at a time. This is a fun, breezy game, with enough wacky irreverence to carry you through when the puzzles and comedy test your patience.
And if you meet my sons after completing it, feel free to ask if they’ve ever Hit the Road or Saved the World. We’ll get it.
Review: Sam & Max Save the World (Nintendo Switch)
If you’ve never played Sam & Max Save the World, this remaster is certainly worth investigating. It’s kind of clever, kind of funny, and appropriately priced. It doesn’t warrant a second playthrough, but few adventure games ever do.