In the world of point-and-click adventure games, there are a few names that stand out as icons of the genre, especially if you’re of a certain vintage. Monkey Island. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Walking Dead (more recently). Sam & Max Hit the Road.
The last of these was a 1993 adventure that’s considered something of a cult favourite these days, one that continues to win the hearts of most people who play it. The irregular crime-fighting duo of Sam (a friendly, large wolfhound who insists on dressing in full private detective gear) and Max (his cuddly but extremely unhinged and dangerous rabbit pal) have a compelling dynamic, with the permanently laid back Sam a perfect calming yang to Max’s anarchic, destructive yin.
For those unaware of it, Sam & Max Save the World was an attempt to reboot the Sam & Max brand with a series of episodic adventures, something that was a relatively new idea at the time. Released between 2006 and 2007 under the then-new Telltale Games studio, the new Sam & Max was praised for its bite-sized chunks of mirth and the full set of six episodes was eventually released on the Wii at the end of 2008.
This new remastered collection, then, takes those six episodes from the game's first season and gives them a new HD lick of paint. While PC owners have been able to play the game up to 1024x768 since it originally launched (although they too are still getting this better-looking version), the fact is the first time in 12 years that Nintendo fans will get to play the game again, and back then it was a fun but fuzzy, standard-def presentation. The difference here is stark.
The six episodes each count as standalone adventures, each with their own slightly bonkers plot. The first, Culture Shock, has Sam and Max trying to figure out more about Brady Culture, a strange chap who’s been hypnotising a group of former child stars and making them carry out a series of crimes on his behalf. The second, Situation Comedy, has our heroes travelling to a TV studio to confront a talk show host, who’s suddenly become hypnotised into taking her audience hostage.
Episode 3 is called The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball, and sees Sam and Max travelling deep within Mafia territory to try and find their mole and discover why they’ve gone quiet all of a sudden. Not to spoil anything, but there’s hypnotism involved: you may be noticing a theme here. After this, it’s Abe Lincoln Must Die, in which the pair have to travel to the White House to investigate reports that the president has been hypnotised (no topical political comments, thanks).
In the fifth episode, entitled Reality 2.0, a new internet trend is hypnotising the world’s population so Sam and Max decide the only natural solution is to destroy the entire internet. Finally, bringing everything together is the last episode, Bright Side of the Moon, where the pair discover the source of all these hypnotism cases and head to the moon to resolve the situation once and for all.
Each adventure is a little bundle of craziness, and each takes around 2-3 hours to complete, depending on how experienced you are with the point-and-click genre and whether you fall into that classic of the genre, the one puzzle you can’t figure out for some reason. Hey, it happens to the best of us, though we suppose the fact these games are 14-years-old means there are plentiful walkthroughs online, should you ever need them.
The remaster itself is a solid one, if a little straightforward. All the improvements have been designed to simply bring the game’s performance up to 2020’s standards, rather than completely revamping everything about it. For example, Sam & Max’s character models have been improved, their mouths have better lip-syncing when they talk, the game is now in widescreen, there’s new lighting and everything else seems to have been sharpened up a tad: all welcome changes but nothing that messes with the original art style or anything.
Everything feels a lot more stable too. The Telltale titles were all notorious for feeling clunky and jittery, almost as if the whole game was teetering on the edge and was always one stutter away from completely crashing. That isn’t the case anymore and everything feels smooth, especially on docked mode where the game looks nice and sharp. Things look noticeably blurrier in handheld mode during some shots (usually far away ones), but the option to play with touchscreen controls makes up for that to some extent.
The audio has been similarly improved. The original game’s dialogue was heavily compressed to help keep the episodes into smaller, more manageable chunks, but now everything’s been greatly improved and now all the voice acting is far clearer. The best thing we can say about it is also the most mundane: anyone playing the game for the first time would have no idea it used to sound rubbish. One of the voice actors has also been replaced: the actor who played African-American shopkeeper Bosco was originally white, but he’s been replaced by Ogie Banks (best known for voicing Luke Cage and Miles Morales in Ultimate Spider-Man), which is a sensible move.
It unquestionably looks and sounds better, then, but there’s nothing too drastic that makes it feel revolutionary or anything. If you’ve played it before, you know exactly what to expect here because 99% of the plot, the dialogue and the steps you need to take to finish each episode is identical. There’s the odd line tweak here or there but, for better or worse, there’s a reason they called it "Remastered" and not "Remade".
The chemistry between the two is still charming, although Max’s dialogue does still feel a little try-hard at times. When he drops a zinger it can be great, but when pretty much every single line is meant to be zany there will be times when it falls flat, a bit like those people you always overhear in groups at comic conventions who insist on trying to say something loud and funny every single time they speak and are incapable of saying a single sentence and for the love of God, Brian, can you please just shut up for a minute so I can price these bootleg Sonic plushes? Um… sorry, we were miles away there. Just having a bad flashback.
As the straight man, then (or the straight dog, we suppose), Sam is arguably the funnier of the two characters. He feels like the patient parent of a tearaway toddler, and while Max’s over-the-top wackiness can occasionally feel a bit forced, Sam’s pleasant nonchalance at everything is a nice leveller, a sense of “oh, don’t mind him, he’s always like this. I got used to it, you will too.” And you will.
Ultimately, this is a good remaster of a great game, and best of all it’s reasonably priced at £15 / $20, which works out at £2.50 / $3.33 per episode. Considering each episode originally cost $8.95 when the game first launched, with a full season pass available for $34.95, this is the sort of pricing we appreciate: the type of price point you’d have maybe expected a theoretical Virtual Console version of the original Wii game to sell for, but with the HD and audio improvements of a remaster giving it a more modern feel. They haven’t been confirmed (yet), but roll on the remasters of Seasons 2 and 3.
This six-episode compilation remains just as entertaining as it ever was, and the new remaster means it feels far more stable than before. It's not the truly jaw-dropping complete makeover some may have been hoping for, but the former Telltale staff behind this remaster have clearly decided that they shouldn't fix what wasn't broken. Except the broken bits. But they've been fixed.