Nostalgia is a funny thing. When the first episode of Telltale Games' Sam & Max Save the World debuted in 2006, fans of 1993's Sam & Max Hit the Road had waited years for the dog and bunny's return. Now, Save the World is old enough to have built up its own nostalgic fanbase, keen to once again revisit these lovable weirdos. Sam & Max Save the World Remastered isn't a new game, but the huge visual and mechanical improvements implemented by developer Skunkape Games (a team made up of ex-Telltale folks) make it a pleasure to revisit.
For the uninitiated, Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is about two freelance police agents: Sam, a loquacious, wry dog who acts as de facto leader of the duo, and Max, his psychotic rabbit pal. Across the six episodes included in this remaster, the pair gets caught up in a mass-hypnosis scheme, thwarting various enemies on their way to finally facing the season's big bad during the finale. While Telltale would eventually become known for its choice-focused narrative experiences like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Sam & Max Save the World is a far more traditional point-and-click adventure game--you talk to people, gather items, and then use those items in clever ways to progress through the story.
Each episode of Save the World follows roughly the same pattern: Sam and Max get a call about a new case in the opening cutscene, and they head out to start asking questions. Each episode is compact, running about two hours and featuring, at most, three locations. Over time, recurring themes and characters emerge, and before long the pair realize that there's some nefarious connective tissue running throughout all of their cases.
The plot doesn't take itself particularly seriously, which is a good thing, because the overarching story is a bit of a dud. While some side characters are fun (a chicken actor; a nearby neighbor who changes her job every episode; a giant living statue of Abraham Lincoln), many of the recurring characters are more annoying than amusing. There are only so many times you can talk to a squeaky-voiced child star whose gimmick is that he pees too often before you get tired of him. There are some fun individual moments and plenty of great scenes throughout the game, but most of the good jokes are saved for Sam and Max themselves.
The two heroes are a delight. Sam and Max's conversations are a mix of bon mots, puns, and allusions to wild adventures. It's easy to grow attached to Max's irreverent love of violence and Sam's unerring devotion to his little buddy, and the game's script is peppered with fun Easter eggs, meta comments, and absurdist jokes. Both characters are consistently amusing throughout the adventure.
The game's puzzles are, for the most part, enjoyable and clever. They tend to come in groups; once or twice an episode you'll be given three tasks to complete, all interconnecting in smart ways. The key is to remember that you're playing a comedy game that follows comedy rules--and many of the solutions end up being pretty funny. Logical leaps are rare in the front half of the game, and while the back half has a few circuitous solutions, there's nothing too obscure or ridiculous. While it won't give your brain a full workout, there's enough here to make you feel smart.
This remastered version of the game has been updated with widescreen display, controller support, uncompressed audio, and drastically overhauled visuals. Sam & Max Save the World wasn't a looker by 2006 standards, but it's now gorgeous, with reworked character models and a lighting system that adds a huge amount of depth and personality to the experience. Despite these major upgrades, the original art remains largely intact, and has been polished rather than replaced. Chintzy décor and ugly fonts abound, and you wouldn't want it any other way--the game's look and vibe are still unique all these years later. There's some subtle cel-shading to give characters a more cartoony look, which suits the overall tone perfectly. This is a significant upgrade and an enormous improvement over the flat graphics of the original release. It looks fantastic on Switch, too, although it can look slightly fuzzy in handheld mode.
You're now in direct control of Sam, rather than guiding him around with a pointer (as was the case in the original release), and it feels much more natural than before. The ability to highlight every object you can interact with by tapping the L button cuts down on frustrating pixel-hunting, and the controls have been streamlined to make this feel like a game built specifically with a controller in mind. You can also play with the touch screen on Switch, if that's your preference. Clicking and dragging to control Sam is functional, but I switched back to the Joy-Con almost immediately--still, it's a good option to have.
The game runs beautifully, which is a blessing for anyone who played the original release on Wii or Xbox 360. Load times are short and frame rates are stable, with no hitches or stuttering across the entire six-episode series. All of these changes are very welcome--it's enough to make you wish that Skunkape could go back and touch up all of Telltale's old games.
The development team has also changed a few camera angles, added new songs, and even changed the timing on some jokes. Bosco, the local convenience store owner and a major side character, has been re-recorded--he's a Black man who was previously voiced by a white actor, which has thankfully been rectified--but otherwise the dialogue is unchanged, for better or worse. While the game is mostly funny, some jokes have aged more poorly than others. At times, the game can punch down or lean on stereotypes for the sake of a gag, and while they're never outright hateful, these lazier jokes don't sit well next to the game's more effective absurdist humor. The fact that you're playing as two gun-toting, trigger-happy cops hits differently now, too, although the characters and situations are all strange and exaggerated enough that it's easy to disconnect from reality while playing.
In other areas, the game's advancing age can be kind of charming. The fact that there are jokes about Keanu Reeves being a bad actor certainly date the game, as does the chapter where Max faces off against the US president, presented as a robotic hayseed satire of George W. Bush who is threatening to introduce, among other things, mandatory gun registration. One chapter takes place inside a virtual reality version of the internet; seeing a pastiche of the web that contains no references to social media feels very strange, because things have changed so much over the years. These jokes date the game, but they also give it a keen sense of time and place: the heart of the original game is mostly untouched.
Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is more than just a nostalgia play. The season has held up well and still has plenty of great jokes and clever puzzles that have held up well over time. Even if the overarching plot is weak, and some jokes don't hit, the titular duo is still a delight, and the smart puzzles are even more enjoyable to solve now that the controls have been improved. This is the definitive version of one of Telltale's strong early efforts--hopefully Sam & Max Seasons 2 and 3 will receive similar treatment in the future.