It wasn’t that long ago that Skunkape Games released their remaster for Sam and Max Save the World on Xbox, and already they’ve turned around yet another remaster for that game’s sequel, Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space (originally called Sam and Max: Season Two). Originally developed by Telltale Games as further proof their episodic release model worked (until, well, it didn’t), Beyond Time and Space stuck fairly closely to the formula established in the first season, albeit with just enough changes and twists to make things just a little bit more challenging, and a lot funnier.
Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space consists of five episodes this time around, rather than Save the World‘s six, as the titular duo of Freelance Detectives find themselves embroiled in a series of cases dealing with the paranormal. You know the drill by now – Sam is the dry and overly-verbose player-controlled detective dog, while Max the hyperkinetic rabbity-thing is his foil. Together, they help solve a demonic possession at Santa’s workshop, avert a prophesised disaster at Easter Island, rise from the dead to battle a goth German vampire, contaminate the time-stream with alien technology and enter Hell itself, which is conveniently located right below their office building.
The premises for the various scenarios are stronger than Save the World, with lots of opportunities for comedy that’s taken in some strange directions. Meeting a baby Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart on Easter Island is about as left-field as you can get, but feels perfectly in line with the insanity which Sam & Max tend to bring. There are better set-ups for jokes which pay off later down the line, and generally the storytelling is a bit more confident and self-aware of what works and what doesn’t, with annoying characters like the Soda Poppers sidelined before being utilised in more appropriate fashion, than their constant premise in Season One.
The puzzles, too, are a little more challenging this time around. They still generally adhere to the same structure, usually being presented in rounds of three tasks that Sam and Max have to complete in order to progress to a final ‘boss’ scenario, although later episodes like Chariots of the Dogs do mix this up somewhat. Since there’s no combining inventory items in these Sam and Max games, the challenge largely comes from making sure you’ve picked up everything interactive in every location and presented them to the right people, which is made a little tough with the control scheme implemented on the Xbox version. Normally, Sam and Max is a point-and-click game on PC, but on Xbox you have to use the right analogue stick to cycle between options for what to interact with, which can be tedious even with a helpful button to highlight interactive elements on-screen. Occasionally, Sam can even walk around to the object, but fail to interact with it, leading to some frustration as you assume you’ve chosen the wrong element to interact with, when really the game has just had a bit of a hiccup.
Those niggles aside, I really do have to commend Skunkape Games for their remaster work on these Sam & Max titles. While certain other recent remasters have received rush-jobs filled with errors, Skunkape Games genuinely seem to have a love for the games they’re adapting to modern hardware, with updated character models that are not only sharper, but seem to fit Steve Purcell’s art style better, and textures lovingly upscaled or redrawn to keep gags intact, or add new ones. There’s even a reference to the ending of the original Gametap trailer for Sam and Max back in 2006, included in the extended intro that plays at the beginning of every episode. That’s a reference only a very specific genre of nerd is going to appreciate, and I guess I’m it.
If there’s one thing that Beyond Time and Space still suffers from, it is fairly blatant re-use of assets. Each episode will typically only bring one, maybe two new locations to the party, with the rest requiring frequent revisits to Sam and Max’s home streets and the businesses therein, including Bosco’s Inconvenience and Stinky’s Diner. Some locations from last season even get some replay, retrofitted as destinations in a time machine or dungeons where souls are tortured in Hell. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, and they are sometimes creatively used, but it does feel very much like Telltale back in the day had to use every part of the chicken to get the game across the line, if you catch my meaning.
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space is a tighter, more focused version of the game style established in Save the World, but it doesn’t quite change things up enough to make it a leap beyond the former’s quality. That would come with Telltale Games’ third instalment, Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, which is hopefully next on the roster for Skunkape Games, especially as their namesake features as a villain in that game. However, Beyond Time and Space is a lovingly made remaster of a good adventure game, that is definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre and new Sam and Max fans converted from the first game’s re-release.
-More challenging than Save the World, with some better jokes -Creative set-ups, daffy situations and some highly unique and bizarre comedy
-Controls on Xbox can still be clunky -Re-use of locations is understandable, but very noticeable this time around