Fans of classic adventure gaming can mark the date of the re-birth of the genre: October 17, 2006. That is when the first episode of all-new Sam & Max adventures was released on PC to critical and commercial success. It was followed up by five other episodes and two additional entire seasons, all from the original creators of the series and somehow living up to (or exceeding) the original series’s quality.
Now that the first season has been released, I am thrilled to report that this remastered version adds excellent visuals without messing with the original games that captivated so many of us when they were originally released. I played the Nintendo Switch version, but it is also available for Mac or PC through Steam or GoG.com.
Because the episodes were released as individual games, I will walk through them individually; each brings 2-4 hours of gameplay and a unique and complete chapter that is part of the larger whole story arc for the first season.
The games are all available to play from a unified launcher system. The core contents of the games themselves are identical to the original releases. The only difference is the enhanced visuals, widescreen graphics, and controller support for the Mac & PC versions. At startup, you are greeted with a nice launch panel that allows you to select which episode to start. From there, you are sent headlong into whatever episode you chose – and by the way, the individual episodes are all as crazy, funny, and excellent as they were originally.
The overarching story behind the first season is … well, a bit weird and hard to explain without ruining the fun. You play as a dog named Sam and hit rabbity-thing sidekick Max, who are ‘freelance police’ and have been contacted to save the world! You will immediately meet many of the characters you will return to throughout the series and have plenty to discuss and explore.
Looking at Episode 1: Culture Shock reminds me of the reactions when it was first released. While many liked the new episodic gaming movement, others didn’t like how quickly the episodes were over. I would say that complaining about the length of the episode is a sort of backward compliment, since Sam & Max Season 1, Episode 1: Culture Shock lasts nearly as long as SiN Episodes: Emergence or Half-Life 2: Episode One, provides more genuine replayability and costs less than half the price of those episodes. And, of course, the end of the first episode sets up the second one – not in a “we hope to resolve this someday” cliffhanger but in a “tune in next month and see” lead-in.
Reflecting on the second chapter, Episode 2: Situation Comedy is full of even better executed jokes and setups, with loads of extra fun stuff to discover – but it is even shorter than the first. Regardless of the replayability, having a two- to a three-hour game just feels abruptly short. It is like having a DVR record a favorite show and realizing that without the commercials, the actual show portion was only about ten minutes long one week after being twenty minutes the week before. It doesn’t matter how good it is – it feels short. Fortunately, we no longer have to wait months between episodes!
By the third episode (Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball), the team had really hit their stride, with locations and characters that have become familiar, the duo work through a new mystery filled with familiar elements and techniques – yet it still feels fresh. I cannot stress enough the extent to which the writing just continues getting better and better as you work through the chapters, and the characterizations are improving in step with the writing, too. The actors have really found their rhythm in this episode, and you really care about getting as much interaction with each of the characters as possible – from the career-hopping Sybil to the ever-paranoid Bosco, you relish spending as much time possible exploring their dialog trees.
One place where the remastering helped is that aside from the graphics’ overall improvement, the quality of the animations was smoothed out for the entire series. Originally it took a few episodes to smooth out the rough parts, but now everything looks and feels great from the start.
Things keep getting weirder and weirder – Episode 4: Abe Lincoln Must Die! is the best episode yet! This installment continues the trend of the writing and jokes getting better each time and thankfully reverses each episode’s trend being shorter than the last. There are also new items around to click on, and some of the old items have been repurposed. Of course, most things are the same, but the added variety combined with a longer playtime and the best writing yet makes for the most enjoyable overall experience of the series so far.
While the team avoided taking too many easy pot-shots at politics in the previous episode, how could they resist having fun at the expense of geeks and technology? Episode 5: Reality 2.0 unfolds largely in the same manner as the previous four, but with a whole new twist – you need to infiltrate the ‘new’ Reality 2.0, which is a wild combination of just about every popular tech buzzword out there – Sam & Max are in a video game featuring Sam & Max in a video game! This provides a great new landscape for familiar territory, with puzzles that can bridge two sets of reality since some items behave differently depending on which reality you’re in. There are plenty of puzzles, most of which are fairly straightforward but add a twist by occasionally occurring across two planes of reality. The second reality really adds a tremendous amount – as does the very interesting ending!
The season finale certainly didn’t disappoint! Episode 6: Bright Side of the Moon brings it all together as the action in this episode is fast and furious from the very start right up to the end. The general feeling throughout Episode 6 is that even after having everything plotted out, the writers just started tossing in random jokes, references, and asides that they still had left over from previous episodes. The writing remains tight and sharp, but they allow for more of a rapid-fire joke style this time around, where you are hit with five jokes at once and perhaps three make you laugh – well, actually, most of the time, all five are pretty funny!
The episode is still rather short, but there is a ton of fun to be had and a sense of joyous overload throughout (yes, even compared to the other episodes). There are new settings and interesting new challenges, plus just about every character we’ve met thus far makes a glorious return. Make sure you stay through the credits, too, because there are some little treats along the way, as well as a reminder of some of the excellent stuff you have seen along the way during the whole season.
One ‘downside’ question came to me as I was working my way through the game – if you already have the entire first season purchased through GoG or Steam (or still have your downloads from TellTale), is this update worth the additional price? Maybe – but only if you haven’t played in years. And if you DO own the originals, you can get the remastered version for 50% off! (and if you had the originals through TellTale, you can upgrade for 50% off)
There are several amazing things I could rattle off about the triumphant first season return of Sam & Max, but the two that come to mind as I lavish in this wonderful remaster are quality and value. The quality and consistency of the writing and pacing and just plain fun contained in all six of the episodes is exemplary and all too rare these days. The quality of the gameplay and characters and the way the season unfolds neatly with each passing episode.
And the value – there are about twenty hours of game time in the episode, but there is so much extra stuff crammed into each episode to keep you laughing while you replay! As I commented in a review, some items had the same comments and descriptions in a couple of episodes and then suddenly got new descriptions later in the season! It is enough to send you back clicking on everything just to see what has changed!
Sam & Max are back – and have erupted in a glorious (and violent) fashion that has gamers everywhere rejoicing and anticipating another excellent season of episodes of the adventure of the Freelance Police.
Source: Publisher supplied review code
What I Like: Excellent story; fantastic characters; fast load times; great performance; feels completely modern; loads of extra fun items to explore; great gaming value
What Needs Improvement: Nothing