Sam & Max Save the World Remastered (Switch) Review
Sam and Max Save the World is the kind of game you just don’t see much anymore. The original developers, Telltale Games, have gone the way of the dinosaurs and along with it a plethora of adult-orientated narrative gaming experiences. It’s not as if Sam and Max is some kind of bastion of maturity as such but it is biting and somehow still fresh in a market that rarely caters to this kind of audience.
Fittingly the game has now received the remaster treatment from a studio composed on former Telltale talent. Skunkape Games has imbued this Switch port with new life, snazzing up the game’s aesthetics while lovingly restoring the comedic gold at its core. Although it lacks some special features many other remasters deploy, Sam and Max Save the World is a welcome breath of recycled air.
Steve Purcell’s 1980’s Sam and Max comic book series, on which the games are based, still has the bones of a 2020 smash hit. This is thanks in large part to the core style of irreverent humour and pop culture teasing but deeper still is an inherent distaste for the establishment, specifically American government. If there were ever a year for widespread disillusionment with the powers that be, this would be the one and into that void this game slots beautifully. While some of the jokes are slightly dated, the tone permeates and gives the whole thing a timeless value.
You play as Sam and Max (it’s the titular role!), anthropomorphic self-employed detectives who would feel right at home in a Cartoon Network late-night series. Sam is the ever earnest canine who towers over everyone around him in a suit and fedora, backed up by Max, an erratic little rabbit with a penchant for violence, though also very earnestly. Operating out of a parody New York City that is a hair away from giving you a hot dog and telling you to “forget about it”, the two set out across six episodes to solve a variety of wild and bemusing cases.
In terms of remastering the original game, fans would be hard-pressed to find a better outcome than this. One of the benefits of Skunkape’s heritage is the obvious amount of care poured into this remaster. The most obvious upgrade is to the game’s visuals, now supporting full widescreen, HD textures and some freshened up character models and camera work. The glow up here is one of the better remasters I’ve seen in recent years too, giving the whole package a smooth and glossy aesthetic from UI to the gameplay.
The game’s jazz-infused soundtrack has also been adoringly remastered with newly uncompressed and re-encoded recordings. There are also five new tracks added to the score to really jazz things up. The updated visuals and fully realised score collide in an explosion of style and confident flair many games are missing; it leans all the way in on its Who Framed Roger Rabbit vibes and pulls off a wonderful detective noir schtick. My only gripe on the remaster side of things is the lack of special features, such as original concept art or developer notes, which could have elevated this iteration.
Sam and Max Save the World runs smoothly in both handheld and docked mode too. Some of the game’s better lighting work truly pops when put onto a nice TV but you’ll find just as many details to relish on the go. The point’n’click nature of the game nicely maps to the Switch’s controller thanks to a long history of bringing these games across to consoles but little touches (like holding down the left bumper to highlight interactable objects) are still a blessing. I would have preferred an option to skip the pre-recorded responses to items on repeat or accidental interactions though.
In terms of actually engaging with Sam and Max Save the World, not a huge amount has changed since the game’s original release. You’ll still be roaming around small but densely detailed locations, interacting with a wide range of items and characters to try and solve puzzles and progress. The solutions to these puzzles swing wildly between sensible and borderline dream-logic which can be slightly jarring to players unfamiliar with old school point’n’click sensibilities. For instance, the very first puzzle requires you to find some swiss cheese in your office but all you have is blocks of regular, solid dairy goodness. You also have a gun in your inventory so, naturally, you need to shoot holes in the cheese to approximate the iconic swiss look.
It’s undeniably funny to even explain but in reality, it took me far too long to piece this particular puzzle together and there are plenty more where that came from. A game forcing its player into a unique mindset is something I generally applaud in the medium and in that regard Sam and Max Save the World’s bizarro world rationale is refreshing, most of the time. There is no shame in needing a guide though and a hint system of some sort would have been welcome when dealing with the more abstract challenges. On the flip side of the puzzles are extensive dialogue trees that exhaust even the most lauded of Telltale’s later efforts in the best way.
Almost every line blurted out by the assortment of talking animals, sentient technology and US figureheads is certified gold. The dry humour and lack of emphasis on the obvious jokes make every exchange a delight to listen to and explore as you’ll often need to hear a lot of lines before reaching the required one for progression. Like the puzzle logic, this too can sometimes feel a touch too time-consuming but again, when the calibre of writing is this high it’s difficult to complain about an abundance of it.
Structurally speaking there are a couple of hiccups in the episodic presentation that can be mitigated a little with shorter playtimes. There is a larger story arc conveyed across each episode but individually you’ll be engaged in unique tales that only falter due to repetition of mechanics. There is a core loop of locations and investigating that never grows tiresome as such but across multiple episodes does become formulaic. Again though, if you’re playing in shorter bursts and on the go with the Switch this is largely sidestepped.
Sam and Max Save the World closes out this absurd year in a scarily appropriate way. It’s writing remains as whip-smart and irreverent as it always was, as do the bulk of its politics and tone. Skunkape Games has drawn on its personal legacy with the game to lovingly remaster its presentation and provided a Switch port that feels snappy and clean as well as stylish.
+ Snappy writing and beautiful presentation
+ The remastered score is fun and vibrant
+ Much needed return to adult orientated comedy in games
- No special features
- Puzzle structure can be repetitive
- Some puzzle solutions are a bit too oddball