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In 1993, Sam & Max Hit the Road became one of the most successful adventure games of all time. Creator Steve Purcell’s likable duo of Sam the dog (the straight man), and the hyper, unpredictable, Max the “bunny…thing”  were an instant hit when mixed with the creative minds at LucasArts Entertainment.  After LucasArts decided to scrap the development of the future Sam & Max titles, many developers left the company and formed TellTale Games in 2004, which led to the revival of the series.

Sam & Max Save the World is the same six episode compilation that was offered in an episodic fashion on the PC in 2006, and also hit the Wii in late 2008. The Xbox Live Arcade offering has quite a hefty price tag of $20, so read on to find out if it’s worth the price of entry.

Although the history of Sam & Max is quite detailed, I’ll explain it quite simply: TellTale has released two seasons so far, with six episodes each, and has a planned third season for 2009. This Xbox Live Arcade release is the first season.

The premise of the series’ story is pretty simple: someone, or something, has concocted a master plot to enslave the entire world using hypnotism. In each chapter, you’ll slowly gain more and more clues, and some insight as to who is causing it all. It’s highly recommended that you play the chapters in order, because the latter ones highly reference previous characters and locales. During your adventures, you will play entirely as Sam. Max will follow you around, providing witty banter and occasional help during interrogations.

You animate Sam through the use of a mouse cursor controlled by the left thumbstick, by pressing A to interact with items, and using the X button to open your inventory. Unlike Hit The Road, you can’t combine inventory items: the system is rather simple. Moving Sam around is a little weird at first, considering it’s with a pointer. You’ll get used to it, and if you double tap the A button towards a direction Sam will speed up his pace, which is convenient. Oh, and don’t worry if Max gets in your way, Sam will gladly smack him across the room in a hilarious fashion.

Sam & Max’s jokes will range from potty humor (bathroom terror levels, mimicking USA’s own terrorist alert model) to full on adult comedy (erectile dysfunction jokes). While the game does feature mature humor, don’t be concerned about the difficulty: it isn’t possible to die, and Max will supply you with hints if you pester him. Visually, the game isn’t a big improvement upon the PC and Wii renditions, which is a bit of a disappointment, but Steve Purcell’s visual style remains in-tact. There are also a few frame-rate drops here and there, but nothing major.

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The game’s puzzles are usually fetch quests that are solved by “going to X location, picking up an item, and using it in Y location to get the next clue”. As mentioned, you can’t combine inventory items, and you can’t fail, so there’s no harm in trying absolutely everything possible to solve the task at hand. In addition to item-based solutions, some of the game is furthered through dialogue, meaning you have to ask “the right questions” when interrogating characters: if you fail, you can simply initiate the dialogue again. Sam & Max Save The World’s difficulty can range from elementary to “I want to consult an FAQ” taxing. Sometimes, you have to use an item on a near unthinkable spot, or select a dialogue choice that may no make sense. No puzzle contained in the game is too frustrating, but youngsters may need a nudge in the right direction after a while, because Max’s hints aren’t completely explicit.

Story-wise, I found that episodes one through three were the weakest of the bunch. During the first half of your adventures, you’ll be doing minor crime work, you’ll find yourself on a TV set, and hunt down a dangerous mobster. While enjoyable, it’s the latter half that really shines. Episode 4 features a hilarious bid by Max to run for President, Episode 5 puts you directly in a virtual reality game (complete with Super Mario references), and Episode 6 rockets you straight to the Moon.

During Episode 1, I felt like the jokes dragged on a bit too much, and felt rather forced. However, as you progress through the individual stories, the pace becomes much more fluid, and you start to immerse yourself in the world’s colorful characters and locales. There are also a few mini-games to break up the action, like a whack-a-mole variation, and driving sequences. Overall, each episode lasts around 2-3 hours, depending on how quickly you pick up a few of the harder puzzles, and how much time you spend conversing with the game’s characters.

In Episode 1-3, you’ll be spending a lot of time on your home street, which includes your office, Bosco’s Inconvenience store, and Sybil’s Workshop. Bosco’s store is the central hub for a vast majority of the laughs found in this series. Bosco, an African American shopkeeper, is horribly paranoid that the Government is keeping tabs on him. As a result, each episode, Bosco will put on a different laughably poor disguise, and attempt to change his accent to suit it. For instance, in Episode 2, he pretends to be an English Gentleman (complete with monocle), and in Episode 6, he puts on a wig and makeup, calling himself “Mama Bosco”. Sybil is also a unique resident: after practicing psychotherapy in the first episode, she’ll migrate to various odd-jobs such as a tabloid printer, and a dating service provider. Episode 1-3 also have a few extra locales in addition to the main street, but Episodes 4-6 really take the cake (especially the video game world themed Episode 5).

Unlike TellTale’s other adventure series, Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Sam & Max has a bit of bonus content to leaf through. You’ll immediately have access to a small character biography section, and some content art unique to the game. Although it’s not much, it’s nice when the developer takes the time to put something extra in. Sam & Max also contains a myriad of easter eggs, and hidden conversations. You can replay each mission 3 times and still not see and hear everything there is to offer. TellTale has details on the hidden secrets contained on their website, in addition to extra “shorts” you can view that take place between each episode.

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All in all, TellTale took a lot of care with Sam & Max Save the World. It’s packed full of content, and contains the trademark humor of the Sam & Max series. Its major downfalls are that the first half of the game isn’t as great as the second, and some of the puzzles range from utterly simple to frustratingly hard. However, if you’re a fan of wacky, witty comedy, make sure you give it a try.

Editor’s Note: In order to fully understand Sam & Max’s humor, you have to see it firsthand:

Rating Category
7.5 Presentation
Sam & Max Save The World's cartoonish look has translated fairly well, but there are a few frame rate drops, and the graphics could have used some improvement when translating to the XBLA.
How does our scoring system work?
7.5 Gameplay
Sam & Max's gameplay is pretty solid, but feels a bit odd with an analog stick. Compared to other adventure games, there is a ton of stuff to do, and loads of unique dialogue.
8.5 Sound
Every character is voiced beautifully (Bosco in particular), and the game's jazzy soundtrack feels right at home in the detective atmosphere.
7.0 Longevity
For $20, you get 6 episodes, for a grand total of 12-18 hours of gameplay. If you wish, you can replay your favorite episodes and stumble upon more dialogue, and look at the extra biography and art gallery.
7.5 Overall
Sam & Max Save The World is sure to delight fans of the series, and long time adventure game lovers. Just make sure it's your cup of tea before venturing in.

  1. I some free points to spend so I may make an impulse purchase today. 1600 MS Points though. Jeez…

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