Sam & Max Save the World
Sam, a no frills, 50s era detective; Max, a short, lovable, psychopath. They are the Freelance Police and the also happen to be a dog and rabbit respectively. Like many fans of the franchise, I got my first taste of Sam and Max from their landmark early 90s point-and-click adventure from Lucasarts, “Sam and Max Hit the Road.” I grew up with this genre of game and Sam and Max’s entry makes my all-time Top Three list for the genre. The duo’s original outing took the simple plot hook of a missing Sasquatch and took them (and the player) on an epic journey spanning the country into the seedy world of roadside attractions.
After a 12-year hiatus, creator Steve Purcell gave fans what they had been begging for, a whole new adventure. This time however, instead of one epic journey, Sam and Max popped up in regular mini-episodes, each following the traditional point-and-click gameplay format and each packed with the subversive humor that made the original so memorable. Six years after that, the first collection of six episodes, “Sam and Max Save the World” has been brought to XBLA and fans that were unable to play the PC version will be extremely pleased.
Unlike Telltale Games’ recent episodic adventure on the XBLA, Wallace and Gromit, Sam and Max retains the classic point-and-click control scheme. There’s no awkward movement of characters to bog you down this time. I personally found the control very simple and was able to select objects without a bit of difficulty.
The game itself feels just like a classic Lucasarts adventure. In each of the game’s six episodes, Sam and Max have a case to solve and they accomplish their task through puzzles and numerous sharp-tongued, verbal exchanges. I was extremely pleased to see the option to choose dialogue return, something sorely missed from Wallace and Gromit. It provides for an extra bit of replay value, should the player want to handle things less diplomatically (or vice-versa) a second time around. The end gameplay outcome will be the same, but honestly, some of the retorts from supporting characters are absolutely hilarious.
If there is one aspect of the game which feels like a letdown, its that, the episodic content loses the epic feel of “Hit the Road.” All six episodes feature a common plot thread, but the days of chasing Conroy Bumpus are definitely missed. However, considering the necessity for episodic content in the first, place I can forgive this, since nothing else about the game feels compromised.
I personally never encountered any glitches like I did in Wallace and Gromit and the overall playing experience was very smooth. The puzzles are challenging, but logical, even if in a slightly twisted fashion. Most of all, the game kept a smile on my face the entire time, from Max’s cheery threats, to the unmerciful jabs at pop-culture. Sam and Max not only saved the world, but also saved the point-and-click genre.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics in these adventures are a huge leap forward from the 2D animation of “Hit the Road,” but even in 2005 they were hardly cutting edge. The world retains its quirky charm, but this time is rendered in 3D. I would say the game looks more like a game this time, as opposed to the playable cartoon design of “Hit the Road.” Fortunately, there are no major graphical glitches and things run very smoothly.
In the sound category, things are much brighter. Although new voice actors have filled these big shoes, the performances from everyone involved have a lot of heart and bring this twisted world alive. I should note that the voice actor for Max changes an additional time following the first episode, but then remains consistent for the remaining five episodes. The score for the game adds to the atmosphere and like the verbal humor is a vital component to the game.
The biggest hurdle for most gamers unfamiliar with the duo will be the 1600-point ($20) price tag. Yes, “Sam and Max” enters that upper echelon of XBLA games and takes its place next to Puzzle Quest: Galactrix and Watchmen: The End is Nigh. The difference is, you actually get quite a bit of value for your dollar, despite this being a four-year old port. $15 would have probably been a more fair price, so for those on the fence download the trial and play the first episode if you aren’t hooked by then, save your points, but I think most people who haven’t experienced this on the PC or like myself are unable to (the joys of being a Mac user) will be satisfied with their purchase. The game didn’t take me the 20 hours the makers claimed it would to complete, but it definitely saw more playtime than many physical releases that cost three times as much and delivered one-third the enjoyment.
This is old school gameplay at its finest held together by clever writing and design. This new generation of Sam and Max has obviously been a hit with the PC crowd as just last year, they finished up another collection of episodic content that will hopefully find its way to XBLA too. Now, quit reading this and at least download the trial, otherwise you’re going to make the bunny mad. Highly Recommended.