Sam & Max Save The World Xbox 360 Review
Point-and-click adventures seem to be a bit of theme over on Xbox Live Arcade, lately. We had our first dose of Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures back in May, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition has been confirmed for a supposedly imminent release, and the internet as we know it is rife with hushed whispers rumouring an XBLA outing for Telltale’s new five-part series Tales of Monkey Island. Sandwiched between these puzzle-based delicacies is Sam & Max Save the World, the first of two seasons starring everybody’s favourite anthropomorphic crime-fighting duo, once again from the folks over at Telltale. Originally titled simply ‘Sam & Max Season One’, it was released back in 2006 for the PC, and was lauded with critical acclaim, receiving a stonking great 9/10 in our review. But that was two years ago, there’s been a second season and a WiiWare version since then. Does an Xbox 360 incarnation deserve a look-in considering the crowded market? Of course it does, it’s Sam & Max!
This is a straight port of the PC version, so if you’ve already played it then there’s not a lot that needs explaining. For everyone else, it goes a little something like this: Sam is a six foot talking dog in a baggy ill-fitting suit, and Max is a ‘three foot hyperkinetic rabbity-thing’. They’re freelance police who go around dealing out justice, informed by a faceless commissioner and aided/hindered by a cast of unforgettable characters. The series begins with Sam and Max getting a call, but someone’s stolen their phone! Cue a story of epic proportions consisting of washed up former child-stars, paranoid shop assistants and giant robotic presidents of the United States. It’s more than a little quirky, often flitting between the realms of the zany and the downright ludicrous, but it’s presented with such an undeniably unique personality that it grabs players and sucks them into the anarchic game-world, never to let go again. This is partly because the mismatched pair are such lovable lead characters. A product of both a superbly-written script and some spot-on voice acting, the two complement one another so well that almost every line of dialogue results in chuckles-a-plenty.
Yes, Save the World is a funny video game, so much so that most of this review was written inbetween violent bouts of hysteric laughter. While there’s a good selection of supposedly funny video games out there, most rely on sight-gags and toilet-humour to provide the funnies. A lot of these also suffer from the age-old problem in which the comedy is separated from the action, often becoming disjointed and lacking any real fluidity. This is not the case for Sam & Max Save The World; the pacing is such that every line is delivered with perfect timing. The entire game is a deeply cynical parody of modern America, from its obsession with celebrity culture to its obsession with terrorism and then every other obsession inbetween, almost every aspect of popular culture is dryly dissected with the type of wit and intelligence that most TV productions would die for. That said, this heavy focus on current-affair humour is also one of the downfalls of the Xbox 360 re-release.
Almost everything in Sam & Max is a dig at real life. From the internet to the White House, nobody is safe from the game’s surprisingly dry sense of humour. Though it’s all still brilliantly funny, there are sections of the game that are specifically aimed at certain subject matters that, over the period of time it took the game to appear on Xbox 360, begin to lose their relevance. Take episode four, for example; ‘Abe Lincoln Must Die’ sees the duo solving the recent mental breakdown of the president of the USA. Most of the episode takes place at the White House, and although completely fictitious, draws heavy influence from the Bush administration. Playing the game post-democratic takeover, the scenes in episode four seem to lose their edge, and jokes that would have been classed as satire two years ago now rely purely on the context of the episode rather than their real life application.
Of further interest is the episodic structure of the game, or its lack of one, now that it has a home on XBLA. From the second the game begins, all episodes are accessible to play in any order the player wishes. Imagine watching Police Academy 6 before seeing Police Academy 1 - every subtle piece of plot and character development that went into those first five films has been completely lost, leaving the viewer dumbfounded as to why Mahoney is obsessed with women’s breasts, or why Jones can make those hilarious noises. That may have been a terrible example, but the point is this: When these episodes were made, they were made to be consumed in a certain order. There are numerous running jokes that just don’t work when viewed out of said order, and while I applaud the freedom of choice that the player is provided with, it seems like a pointless addition considering they’d benefit far more from a chronologically structured playthrough. And there’s another issue with all of season one being made available at once – the episodes can be played immediately one after another.
It may seem like a petty criticism, but like the aforementioned structure issue, these episodes were originally released with about a month between each one and as such, they’ve been written to take this into account. When played back-to-back there are certain missed gags that play on the fact that there should have been a prolonged break since the last episode. It’s not enough to detract entirely, but the anticipation of each successive instalment is greatly reduced, and factors that play on this are ultimately lost. Of course, this can be remedied by simply playing the game as it was intended, but when they’re all sat there ready to go it’s hard not to get carried away and have an enormous marathon play-session. This XBLA port also suffers from a few presentation issues, with dialogue often being cut short, and achievements occasionally failing to appear. That said, it’s hardly game-breaking, and hopefully something that can be solved by a simple update. In terms of interface, the lack of a mouse (or Wii remote) to do the pointing and clicking means that the trusty left thumbstick is the main method of control. It works as well as would be expected but fails to meet the grace of the former input methods. Oddly, both the A button and clicking the left thumbstick act as selection commands, allowing for one-handed play. If that’s what you’re in to.
Sam & Max Save the World is undoubtedly one of the funniest games I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It’s as easygoing a game as you’re ever going to get, and provides a superb change of pace from the barrage of space-marines-with-guns titles that seem to plague the Xbox 360. At 1600 Microsoft points it’s an absolute bargain, considering the PC crowd were paying half that just for a single episode. It has its downfalls; puzzles can often deteriorate into episodes of ‘try every dialogue option/item on everyone in sight until you succeed’, and once the game is complete there’s little replay value, until you force a friend to play it and get another opportunity to enjoy the brilliant dialogue. Between the lovably bonkers cast of characters, to the beautifully presented semi-3D environments (not to mention the excellent film noir style intros) it’s near impossible to not recommend Sam & Max Save the World. The occasional gripe aside, it’s a delightful game that deserves to be recognised as one of the leaders of the genre, and the fact that Telltale are now working on Tales of Monkey Island fills me with great anticipation.