Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sam & Max: Save the World (PC)

Developer:Telltale|Release Date:2006|Systems:Windows, Xbox 360, Wii

Today on Super Adventures I'll be having a go of Sam & Max: Season One, later retroactively relabelled Sam & Max: Save the World. Because I was asked to.

Save the World is the second of the Sam & Max games... or maybe games 2-7 depending on how you look at it, seeing as it's made up of 6 episodes, each released separately with their own executables. It's like a game entirely made up of standalone DLC. I'll be playing the first episode, Culture Shock, and I'm thinking that I might as well finish the thing if it's short. This means I'm going to end up SPOILING THE WHOLE FIRST EPISODE, puzzles and all, so don't actually read or glance at any part of this article.

Anyway, Save the World is/contains the second of the Sam & Max games released (after 1993's Hit the Road), but LucasArts had started work on an alternate sequel called Sam & Max: Freelance Police back in 2002. Production went well for 18 months or so, they'd gotten about two thirds through and everyone was happy, but then LucasArts was informed by an external marketing analysis group that adventure games were over and so they went and cancelled it. Couldn't be helped, the genre was dead and that was that.

A group of LucasArts developers who'd been working on Freelance Police decided that the best thing to do was to go off and start their own adventure game company called Telltale Games (not to be confused with Traveller's Tales, Tale of Tales or Tales of Game's). Actually their original plan was to buy the rights to Freelance Police itself and finish it off, but they couldn't make it happen. Fortunately for them LucasArts lost the rights to the crime fighting duo the following year and Telltale were able to get a damn Sam & Max game finished and released at last!

Save the World was a big enough success to get two sequel seasons so far, and Telltale are doing alright for themselves these days with games like The Walking Dead and A Wolf Among Us. I guess that means that one of the reasons adventure games weren't selling during the early 2000s is because LucasArts kept cancelling them all.

(Click on any screenshot to expand it to 1280x960 res.)

Man, Steve Purcell sure loves to draw his heroes car surfing. Not that I'm complaining, this is some of the finest painted menu screen art I've ever seen in a video game!

Right now though I'm sitting here with the intro on, shaking my head at this jazz theme music. I suppose it's technically fine in isolation... pretty good in fact and it does matches the tone well. But it sounds like a band trying to play the Sam & Max: Hit the Road theme from their fuzzy memories of the game on their old DOS rig and not quite recalling all the notes. It come off like a cheap sound-alike rather than a theme in its own right.

Here listen to 20 seconds of each with these handy YouTube links and see what you think:
Hit the Road theme
Save the World theme

I'm sure it was deliberate, I'm just not convinced it was a great idea.

The game starts like a typical Sam & Max story, with the heroes in their office killing time (and nearly killing Max) before dashing to answer the ringing phone. The twist this time though, is that the phone's been kidnapped by a rat, and he's not giving it up unless they find him some Swiss cheese.

Man the new voice actors sound so weird to me after playing Hit the Road. Well okay Max is fine, but Sam's really quiet and not all that hardboiled or detectivey at all. Sam's the dog in the fedora and Max is the rabbity thing in case you weren't aware. They fight crime.

I'm sorry the subtitles have gotten cut off by the way; the scene switches to a different angle before he finishes the line and I liked this shot better.

So here I am in Sam & Max's office, as seen in the first game, the comics, the cartoon and wherever else they've turned up. It's even got Max's little desk, the TV with a coat-hanger aerial and everything! Though the dart board's been moved to another wall in the meantime. And the rat hole. And the door.

Sam & Max: Hit the Road
Here's a shot of the original DOS game (stretched to the intended 4:3 ratio), for the purposes of comparison and stuff.

Man, video game graphics really did come a long way in 13 years... though you wouldn't know it from playing Save the World. The game didn't exactly look triple-A shiny even in 2006, as it was an episodic title made fast on a budget. They didn't skimp on the animation, but I guess shadows must have been a bit out of their price range.

Hit the Road was a mouse driven point and click adventure game, with Sam going where I clicked and interacting with what I clicked on. Save the World on the other hand... is exactly the same (on PC anyway), and thank fuck for that! Though now the game decides by itself whether Sam's going to 'look at', 'talk to', 'interact with' or 'pick up' the object I click on without even minimal verb selection from me.

So I'm going to have to start clicking on everything in here to see if I can make some Swiss cheese turn up.

The camera panned over to follow me to this side of the room, so I tried clicking the closet door and Sam opened it to reveal this massive stack of cheese. Convenient! Though the rat specified that he wanted Swiss cheese, so I'm going to have to ventilate the cheese pile with one of the three objects in my stash. But which one???

The cardboard box inventory from Hit the Road is back, but this time it empties out across the bottom of the screen whenever I open it. I guess I won't be collecting all that much in these short disconnected episodes.

Oh by the way, here's some pointless trivia for you: the box on the filing cabinet is marked 03-03-04, which is the same date that Freelance Police's cancellation was announced. The date's written on a note on the desk too, so I guess it was on their mind at the time.

I gave the rat his bullet-riddled cheese, but he still doesn't want to cough up our phone!

He has additional demands, so now I'm negotiating. Whoa I just realised that I'm choosing Sam's actual lines of dialogue this time, instead of picking from a list of icons like in Hit the Road. Not only Sam's lines, but Max's too!

Well they're not the actual lines, more like a hint at what they're going to come out with. For instance when I select "I'll torture your ears!" Max says:

Maybe you'd like it if we played you some music. How about Cat Stevens?
Fine. Jimmy Two-Teeth ain't afraid of no cats. Hey Dogface, yer partner's givin' me a headache!
You mentioned a headache, would you like some aspirin? And while I'm at it, is there anything else I can do to make you comfortable? Are you thirsty, perhaps? Lights too bright?
Well that's sportin' of ya. Now you mention it, I don't really like bein' up here so high. I got me a thing about heights, they make me nervous, you know?
Don't like heights, eh? How'd you like it if I dangled your greasy hide out of the window?
Heh. You wouldn't.

After a quick visual reminder from the window ledge that they're one floor up, the rat realises that he's beaten and literally coughs up the phone. Then Max realises he's got no further need for the little guy and drops him anyway.

If the writers had ended it there I'd have been happy, but the scene continues with the rat loudly yelling "Ow!" and an oblivious Sam asking where he went just so Max can make the tired old "I let him go" joke.

Anyway they've got the phone so now they can get our next job from the Commissioner. It turns out that there's been multiple reports of malfeasance in the neighborhood and we've got to get down to the corner store right away!

Hey it's the street outside of their office, I remember this place! I don't remember that Esperanto Bookstore being there though. In Hit the Road Bosco's corner store was right next to their office building without a shop between them.

Sam & Max: Hit the Road
This is as much of the street as we ever got to see in the first game; it really wasn't used for much. But in Save the World....

... I finally get to see what's on the left side of the building! I've found a former tattoo parlour, a can of spray paint, and their car. Wait, this isn't the same car! It's still a 1960 DeSoto Adventurer (which is a real car that actually exists), but this one's a convertible. Plus the red lines all over it are reminding me of the 1966 Batmobile.

I'm supposed to be investigating Bosco's corner shop, but I feel like taking this for a ride first.

Using the car took me to a minigame where I get to race down this endless New York street in the DeSoto, switching lanes with the mouse and watching the scenery pop up in the distance. I get to ram into motorists and pull them over for offences like speeding, driving erratically or having a busted tail-light, but I can’t find anyone out here who’s actually committing any crimes so I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing. I preferred the car surfing minigame in Hit the Road, which was just as pointless but slightly less boring.

Hey I just noticed what’s written on that sign I knocked over. The corner of Straight and Narrow is where Bosco’s store is and I’m sure I would’ve noticed if we passed that. My immersion is ruined!

Alright fine, I'll go back and actually do this job I'm supposed to be doing. Right after I've checked out Sybil's 24-hour Psychotherapy shop.

I guess Sybil didn't have time to redecorate after his tattoo business failed. Also he's dressed like he should be serving milkshakes in 'Back to the Future', and has "Peepers" written on his name tag. You know, I'm starting to wonder if this is the actual Sybil I'm talking to here. Especially considering I found the real Sybil locked in the closet.

Sadly I've lost the Max dialogue options now, so I can't really threaten fake-Sybil with violence to get the truth out of him. Though there is that gun in my inventory...

Man this weapon is a huge disappointment. I can shoot practically any inanimate object, but it doesn't leave so much as a bullet hole and the thing sounds like a BB gun. I can actually try taking a shot at Peepers, but he just darts out of the way like he's The Flash. Max suggested taking out his eyes so he doesn't see it coming, but I've been trying that and it doesn't work!

Peepers is actually a former child star from the 70s, part of a group called the Soda Poppers who had their own TV show, and real-Sybil theorises that he's been hypnotised to believe that he's her. Knocking him cold should clear the hypnotism, but all I've got on me is the gun, a bowling ball, a boxing glove and the spray paint, and he's too quick for them.

There's a million things to click on in here, but nothing seems to be helping, so I'm going back to the street.

Hey Bosco has changed his shop sign.

There’s another one of those Soda Poppers over there called Specs doing a little malfeasance by spraying graffiti all over the street, but he’s just as swift as the last one. The way he yells “Caffeine rush” whenever he makes his escape makes me think I need to pull a Day of the Tentacle and get him decaf coffee or something. Nothing more plausible is springing to mind anyway. I’ll just have to leave him for now and check out what's up at Bosco’s.

Damn, Sam’s a full 6’ tall? C’mon Max, get your ass over here, I want to get you next to this height chart.

The only thing I can take here is the cheese, but Bosco’s a paranoid lunatic and won’t let me buy it without multiple forms of ID and my grades from school, so I’ll just have to keep hold of it until I can figure out a way to smuggle it out. Yes I already have a closet full of cheese, but that’s no excuse to leave an item behind in an adventure game.

Oh right, I'm here to investigate malfeasance. I should go do that.

I’ve found the third (and final) hypnotized Soda Popper stocking the place with free Brady Culture Eye-Bo VHS tapes against Bosco's will! He's called Whizzer, which is incredibly cruel considering his serious bladder problems caused by years of drinking soda.

I also found some coffee here, but I can’t pick it up. In fact everything I can examine in this corner of the shop seems entirely unusable. Well, save for the bathroom door, which gives Max the idea to take a leak. Turns out that when Whizzer sees someone else enter the bathroom he has to go take a pit stop himself… leaving his crate unguarded!

The guy’s been going in and out with that crate, bringing in VHS tapes, so if I put my cheese in there while he’s gone he can smuggle it out for me! This is just like how I used to smuggle weapons around in Hitman: Blood Money...

... or not.

An anti-shoplifting boxing glove came out of nowhere just as he was leaving the shop with the cheese! I had no idea that was going to happen, but I’m kinda glad it did. That’s one Soda Popper inadvertently K.O.’d, two to go. I didn’t get the cheese in the end, but I suppose it's already done enough crime fighting for one day.

Now I'm confused though. If I can't take the coffee (or anything else) how am I supposed to take down the caffeine addicted Specs?


Huh, that’s interesting. I can look out of the office window that Max threw the rat out of earlier and there’s some of Specs's artwork right below it. I’m coming up with a plan here, but first I need to find some kind of spray paint or something I can use to screw up the art.

Oh duh, I’ve been carrying around a can since I first walked out onto the street. And a bowling ball. This is all too easy.

Phase one is a success. Now the graffiti vandal is compelled to fix the graffiti of his I just vandalised.

Then I just have to let the ball roam free out of the window and let gravity take it from there. That’s two Soda Poppers knocked cold now, and it wasn’t even accidental this time!

There’s still the guy in the 24-Hour Psychotherapy shop who thinks he’s Sybil though and I really have zero idea how I’m going to knock him out. I'm down to just a gun, a boxing glove and spray paint, and he's still fast enough to dodge everything he sees coming. 

Now comes the bit where I go everywhere and click everything to make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed. I’ve only got the one action I can do to anything, no list of verbs to go through, but there’s enough stuff lying around in the 4 rooms to make this take a while. Actually it’s Sam’s walking speed that’s going to make this take a while. Later seasons added the option to run around by double clicking, but Sam's determined to take his damn time in this one.


Okay I’m bored now. I’ve clicked on everything with everything and chatted to all four conscious characters (including Max) and still nothing. This is a game all about examining things and hearing Sam and Max chat about them, but even the funniest dialogue kind of gets old the third time you hear it (and to be honest, this doesn't always have the funniest dialogue).

Ah, this clock gets a close up when I click it, that’s got to be significant right? My scheme to distract this guy has to involve the clock! Or maybe the fan, or the cactus, or all three of them. I’ll move the clock to the other side of the room and set it to chime, then I’ll hide behind the fan and wait for him turn around so I can blow spray paint into his eyes. Then when he’s blinded I can push a cactus onto him to pin him and tell Max to beat him into unconsciousness!

Oh fuck it, I’ll just check a walkthrough.


Okay, remember this sign from Bosco’s earlier? Turns out that the overpriced tear gas grenade launcher isn’t just a background joke. I need to buy it and fire it at Peeper’s peepers to temporarily blind him.

I reckon I could’ve figured that part out, if I’d been a little more patient and chatted to Bosco a little more thoroughly. But I never would’ve worked out how to get $10,000 by myself.

Because you need to play the driving minigame to get it!

I was apparently supposed to figure out that if we pull someone over for an offence we can get them to pay us a fine. They pay the whole $10,000 in fact, which makes absolutely no sense to me. I feel like a reference has gone flying over my head.

No one’s on the streets is actually doing anything wrong though, so I have to shoot out their tail-light myself. I don’t know whether it’s a good sign or a bad sign that doing that never even occurred to me. Generally an adventure game puzzle should seem obvious in hindsight though and this doesn't.


I used Bosco’s home made ‘tear gas grenade launcher’ on my speedy spurious shrink and Sybil was able to successfully break the hypnotism and make him realise he’s a Soda Popper! A mysterious figure watching through the security cameras appreciated the slapstick violence but is less impressed by the way his evil scheme is falling apart. I’m just glad done with the little bastard now.

With his wits restored Peppers was able to reveal the last place he remembers being before the hypnosis: Brady Culture’s Home for Former Child Stars. His brothers were then kind enough to give me the location.

There was a bit of a car chase and some shooting involved mind you, but they eventually came around.

Alas, the home only treats patients with “artificial personality disorder” so now Sam will have to fake an artificial disorder to trick Sybil into filling in the form I need to get through the door. You’d think that being a former child star would also be a prerequisite, but nope.

So now I have to walk through one of Sam’s grotesque nonsensical dreams, lying about the things I see so that it matches the symptoms I’ve been told about.

The surreal dreamscape starts off looking a whole lot like Sam and Max’s office, and it stays that way. Telltale spent a lot of time and effort on these five or six locations and they’re going to get their money’s worth out of them dammit!

After a bit of psychoanalysis I eventually got my hands the form full of lies required for entry into Brady Culture's Home for Former Child Stars, and sent them inside. But Brady Culture was waiting for them and Sam immediately got his dumb ass hypnotized!

Now I have to enter his subconscious to destroy the intruder in his dreams and... okay this is really familiar somehow. Sam mentioned earlier that his dreams always start in the office and man he wasn’t lying. I’m going to start dreaming about this bloody office if the game takes me here any more times.

I don't mind Telltale reusing the office for a dream sequence, the game was made on a budget and they could only use the rooms they had, but TWO near-identical surreal dream sequences just comes across as desperate.

Still at least I'm not walking a maze of blood while a baby cries in the distance, or chasing a dead kid around a smoky forest. This isn't the worst recurring dream sequence in video games.

Plus I actually kind of appreciate being stuck in one place with all the pieces I need to solve the puzzle in the same room, instead them being scattered across America. Much less walking to and from the DeSoto at least.

Half the things in here are irrelevant, useless, and often funny too. Here I am trying to get Max’s head down from the ceiling and the game’s giving me a weird-ass dream interlude in a fish tank.

Wait... that's a water cooler! How did I only just get that joke now on my 50th visit to this office?


Now that Sam's de-hypnotised he can confront the mastermind Brady Culture (again) and put an end to his nefarious plot to brainwash the entire world into loving him (or at least everyone in this part of New York with a VHS player who shops at Bosco's).

This time though Sam's equipped with custom engineered anti-hypnosis headgear I put together in a short non-puzzle and he's got the Soda Poppers as backup… for some reason. They just kind of chose this moment to turn up, nothing to do with me.

They didn't think to come wearing mind-defence colanders though.

So now Brady’s got the Soda Poppers hypnotised again, but they’ll respond to Sam’s voice just as well as his. I just need grit my teeth and figure out what combination of commands will send the Soda Poppers to defeat Brady before he has time to verbally counteract them.

I started off with "become" and "attack" and with a bit of trial and error I got "worship" as well. Maybe I'm just irritable because of this unreasonable summer heat, but I'm really tempted to just look this up right now.

Worship seems like a good one as telling the Soda Poppers to 'worship me' gets Brady to flip out and demand they run over and worship him instead, putting them within punching distance. Now I've eight possible choices to follow that up with, and I can't think of anything better to do than try them all in turn. Actually I can, I'll check a walkthrough.

Well that was my plan anyway, until I got shouted at. My friend's hanging around to watch me finish the game, and he's absolutely stunned that I can't figure out simple Looney Tunes logic. But I really can't!

Turns out that the answer is to tell them to 'worship me' and then after Brady goes on his rant about everything being about "me", I tell them to 'attack me'. I could've sworn I tried that combination already, but whatever. The episode is finally over and now Max gets to knock everyone back to sanity again. The end.

And the game ends with the revelation that some other celebrity is doing a far better job at brainwashing their audience, but Sam & Max will never know because they used the coat-hanger aerial from their television to make an anti-hypnosis helmet. Or maybe they deal with it in Episode 2, I've honestly got no clue.

I'm just happy I never have to see those bloody Soda Poppers again. Oh hang on, I've just looked it up and it turns out that they show up in FOUR OTHER EPISODES!

Well, that's not actually so bad really. There's three seasons, so they only appear in a quarter of them, I can deal with that. Plus the next episode will have to take place somewhere else, as they can't just have me walking around the office and street again...


Sam & Max: Season One: Save the World: Episode 2: Situation: Comedy.
Aww dammit. Even their lines when I examine objects in the office at the same! And not just in the office.

You know what's weird though? Max was recast between episodes, so his lines were all rerecorded for the sake of consistency. They actually paid a different guy to say all the stuff I've already heard in the most similar way possible!


So what did I think of Sam & Max: Office Edition? Meh, it's alright.

It's lacking some of the energy and wit of the first game (and the comics, and the cartoon), and I feel like I spent half the two hour playtime slowly walking up and down that street. I realise I was playing with subtitles on and that might have hurt a few of the jokes, but they also really useful in helping me figure out what Sam was mumbling. The new actor they got for the character doesn't really seem miscast to me, he's just got his performance dialled way back for whatever reason.

The game feels incredibly limited, without enough locations or characters to even be considered a handful, and from the five minutes I've played of the next few episodes they like to retreading some of the same ground. It's forgiveable for sure considering that they came out only a month apart (and yet 7 years now we've been waiting on Half-Life: Episode Three), but that doesn't make them any less repetitive. They sure packed a lot of stuff to examine in those four main rooms though, with plenty of red herrings to drive me mad/come in useful in later episodes.

I think overall I liked the game, but I didn't exactly love every minute of it. Then again I got a bit sick of Sam & Max: Hit the Road when I replayed it last week, so I apparently don't appreciate true adventure game craftsmanship. I recently played Dark Seed as well though so I'm well aware of what a truly crap adventure game is like, and this isn't one of them. Telltale are still playing by LucasArts rules so it's impossible to get killed or make the game unwinnable, and even when I was hot, tired and frustrated it managed to get a smile out of me. So I declare it officially not-crap.

Did you know that you can get your very own episode of Sam & Max: Save the World for free from Telltale's website? Though not this one I just played. They're actually giving away the critically acclaimed and semi-universally adored 4th episode, Abe Lincoln Must Die: Official Telltale website link

I'll be curious to see if anyone can get the next game from the clue. I'm guessing someone will get it within 24 hours, but then again I haven't given you much to work with. Anyway, please feel welcome to leave a comment about Sam & Max: Season One, Culture Shock, episodic games, adventure games, my website, or anything else relevant.


  1. that awkward moment when i recognize what's in the 'next game' box but can't remember what game it's actually from

  2. The first season of Telltale's Sam & Max games, while certainly not bad, is also the weakest. I replayed all of the seasons back-to-back about a year and a half ago, and you can definitely see the developers learning as you progress through them. As someone who adores Hit the Road, I would say that the third season (The Devil's Playhouse) is just as good, if not better, than that game, and unquestionably the best of Telltale's Sam & Max efforts. The puzzles are clever, and the writing is sharp and incredibly funny.

    I'm inclined to excuse the asset reuse, since these were still relatively niche games made on a limited budget and tight schedule - Telltale was't quite as big as they are now when they made Sam & Max (though you may be pleased to hear that the office is actually entirely absent from season 3!). I also think Telltale also deserves props for being one of the first developers to actually do episodic content right, unlike some other developers who championed the episode model (you know who I'm talking about...).

    I guess what I'm saying is, if you're at all interested, it might be worth it to stick it out through the early episodes, as some of the later ones are real adventure gaming gems (or I guess you could just skip to a later season, but that will probably be a bit confusing story-wise).

    Also, next game: Far Cry?

    1. I'll definitely get around to playing through all the episodes at some point, especially now I've learned that everyone who reads my site has beaten them already. I'll feel left out otherwise!

      And yeah, the next game is Far Cry.

  3. The second season of Sam & Max is the only one I might consider replaying at some point, but I didn't enjoy the first and the third that much.

    The first season was only a collection of kind of amusing plots with jokes sprinkled on them and whereas in the second most of the humor was in the plot and surreal puzzles need to advance it.

    For instance: there is a point where you need to assemble a Frankenstein's monster for Sybil's matchmaking service. There are several wrong ways to align the monster's body parts and different hilarious dialog with Sybil for all the combinations.
    When the timetravel gets mixed in the story you run in to the past and future versions of the title duo. With the past Sam acting like he is being controlled by a complitely clueless adventure game player while future Sam has gone senile and is just endlessly repeating his "I can't use these two things together" -phrases.

    The second season's episode where the Sam & Max end up in hell was probably the best of the series. I won't spoil it, but if you have any interest in the series you will want to see it.

    The third season had it's moments (The first episode had some great plot twists and the "zombie apocalypse" episode was fittingly Sam & Maxed), but it felt kind of lacking to me. The second (I think) episode where you played as the Sam's and Max's distan't ancestors was really dull with tedious backtracking puzzles and could have been replaced with a single cutscene for all the plot it had.
    Also the season's story arc reaches it's conclusion in second to last episode making the final episode of the whole series feel more like a prolonged after credits epilogue with past characters making brief cameos and with the humour toned way back to make it uncharcteristicaly sad for the sake of being the final episode.

    1. The time travel sounds cool. Though when I get up to that bit, there's going to be a completely clueless adventure game player controlling present day Sam as well.


Semi-Random Game Box