Sam & Max Hit the Road

Posted by David Olgarsson.
First posted on 15 August 2006. Last updated on 25 August 2010.
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Sam & Max Hit the Road
Max is the hyperkinetic rabbity thing and Sam is the canine shamus.
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Wak-A-Rat is among the mini-games included.
Sam & Max Hit the Road
How many Snuckey's are across America?
Sam & Max Hit the Road
The Freelance Police visits The World's Largest Ball of Twine.

Lucasfilm Games has long been considered as among the elite developers of adventure games, a title it has secured since the early 1990s with game series like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Indiana Jones. In 1993 the company publishes a title that undoubtedly has become its most critically acclaimed adventure game of all time—Sam & Max Hit the Road. Based on Steve Purcell's surreal cult comic about the psychopathic little fur ball of a rabbit named Max and the more sensible canine shamus dressed in a suit named Sam, the game is a bizarre but amusing adventure across America in which the odd couple must solve the mystery of a runaway carnival bigfoot. Even today, this instant classic still stands as an enduring testament to adventure gaming's finest hours.

As odd as it is, the story begins with the disappearance of Bruno the Bigfoot. It appears that Bruno has run away from the carnival with his girlfriend Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl. This mystery is enough for the pair of Freelance Police to set on an odyssey which takes Sam and Max to places such as The World's Largest Ball of Twine, The Mystery Vortex, Frog Rock, Route 99 (not Route 66) and a lot of Snuckey's (not Stuckey's). Unfortunately, their quest is nearly foiled by the evil scheme of a semi famous country western singer named Conroy Bumpus, who together with his dumb bodyguard and assistant Lee-Harvey, tries to stop the heroes from succeeding in their mission. In the end, however, Sam and Max discover that nothing is as it first appears.

The production value of this game is simply superb. The game uses Version 6 of the proprietary SCUMM engine. The graphics are splendid. The backgrounds are gorgeously drawn in 256 colors, with many wacky palettes and details to study. The characters are equally beautifully sketched, though diehard fans may spot some odd similarities between characters from this game and those from Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. The similarity is particularly striking when comparing Snuckey's store clerk from the former with Bernard from the latter, who is just dressed in another costume with or without his glasses and moustache. The jazz music in this game is well scored and a pleasure to listen. The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM "Talkie" versions. The CD-ROM version contains 4 audio tracks and digitized speech not found in the original.

Despite its incredible visual appeal, the story is where Sam & Max Hit the Road truly shines. Purcell has managed to create a rollercoaster of a story, offering a marvelously funny mystery, a cast of zany characters (such as parodies of Woody Allen and Uri Geller), and an endless array of violent slapsticks which are sometimes mixed with Pythonesque humor. It is superbly crafted and well paced. As you get new clues and progress through the game, new icons appear on your map that allows you to continue on your search across America. The dialogs are brilliantly written. I cannot help but laugh each time when Sam starts crying after you repeatedly try to pick up an object which you supposedly cannot.

A major difference between this game and previous games from Lucasfilm Games is the interface system, which no longer supports the use of verbs as in earlier titles. Instead, the interface uses a combination of pop-up verb and dialog icons. Right clicking the mouse cycles through all the gaming actions available to you, such as Talk, Use, Look, and others. Left clicking the mouse carries out the action you have selected. Interestingly, this unique interface has since appeared in another adventure game title, The Dig. Even the dialogs are handled differently in this game than in others. Instead of having specific lines of dialog display on screen, several choices of icons appear that represent different moods and topics. This interface actually works quite well and it is never cumbersome to use.

Make no mistake, this is a difficult game. Some puzzles are so illogical to the point of being surreal, making them hard nuts to crack. Novice players may have great trouble finishing this game on their own without additional hints. Fortunately, since you cannot die in this game, you are free to try out all the wacky actions until you find a solution that works. The puzzles in this game are mostly inventory based. There are also 5 mini-games included (Wak-A-Rat, CarBomb, Sam & Max Dress-Up, Sam & Max Coloring In, Gator Golf). These mini-games are not just mere diversions but are actually integral parts of the main game. Perhaps the most original puzzle is the "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" sidekick Max himself, who can be used for a lot of things in this game—even as a tool, literally speaking.

Sam & Max Hit the Road is among the best (or may be the best) adventure games ever created by Lucasfilm Games. The game is not only a feast for the eyes with its beautiful graphics but a challenge for the mind with its clever puzzles. The twisted humor is sharp and pointed, true to the style of Purcell depicted in his original comic. In 2004, to the dismay of many fans, the company cancels in mid production the development of a sequel titled Sam & Max Freelance Police. Regardless of the fate of the series, this game is a still crazy road trip down the lane of insane comedy and mysterious enigma. It is both a classic and a must play for all adventure game fans.

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