42: Sam & Max Hit the Road

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1993
Platform: DOS, Windows, Macintosh

Review: A couple of the more popular heroes in the history of adventure games, Sam & Max, freelance police, spawned many rabid fans and eventually their own morning cartoon (that won an award, no less). Sam is a well-dressed, sarcastic canine that was pulled straight out of 40’s noir. Max is crude, narcissistic, and a self-proclaimed violent lagomorph. And they’re both dedicated to solving their client’s plights, as long as there is substantial monetary gain to be made.

The premise is yet another bulls-eye for LucasArts, and is apparent from the opening sequence, where Sam and Max rescue a damsel in distress from a mad scientist, by the simplest method available, a thorough butt-kicking. Shortly after, they make the following discovery:

Max: He’s not a real guy, Sam! Can I keep his head for a souvenir? Why do you suppose its ticking?
Sam: That’s no head, Max! It’s one damned ugly time bomb! Let’s leave this criminal cesspool pronto!
Max: Good idea, Sam. Maybe we can ditch the head somewhere while the credits are running. Mind if I drive?
Sam: Not if you don’t mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader.

The exchange would be funny enough in an episode of Police Squad, but is classic coming from these furry creatures. Further, after the credits sequence finishes:

Sam: Well, that was a pleasantly understated credits sequence.
Max: I enjoyed the cheesy retro ambiance.
Sam: What the hell are you talking about, Max?

This self-awareness remains throughout the adventure, with Sam and Max making comments to the player and to the game designers. In fact, how you feel about the game will rely heavily on your taste in humour, as you will be barraged with one joke after another, some subtle, some crass, and some intentionally lame.

As for the game itself, the plot is quite bizarre. Your case directs you to find a missing “Bigfoot” and a giraffe-necked girl that were kidnapped from a carnival by country-western star Conroy Bumpus. You’ll visit several quirky tourist traps, some based on real places, like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, with exaggerated effect. The characters you meet are mostly human caricatures intended to dig at pop culture, country music, and Western civilization in general. The interface itself is point-and-click and very intuitive. The graphics are sharply detailed, and the soundtrack is adequate. There are no dead ends, timed puzzles, or other such annoyances for the beginning gamer. And the voice actors for Sam and Max are excellent, with the supporting case up to the task, including a Bigfoot who has seen too many James Stewart flicks.

The puzzles are inventory-based, and few are of the lock and key variety. While you play the game as Sam, Max tags along causing trouble over the screen, but you can use him as an inventory item to solve any number of puzzles!  They usually involve gratuitously disgusting or violent acts, but not always. While nearly all of the puzzles are unique, they unfortunately require leaps of logic from the player on more than one occasion. They aren’t terrible, but slowed down the pace of the game considerably for me, which is the last thing I want in a comedy.

As typical for LucasArts, there are several amusing mini-games to play(including an entertaining variation of Battleship), Lucas films are spoofed (with a hilarious puzzle from Raiders Of The Lost Ark), and a few Easter eggs are present. I enjoyed many parts of Sam and Max, but was not satisfied on the whole. The characters seem more suited for a PG-13 or an R-rated audience, but their humour is necessarily toned down for the PG audience it was also aimed at. And while I laughed out loud a good half-dozen times, I feel as though their potential was never realized.

Thankfully, Sam & Max’s adventures didn’t end here.  They have three whole new adventures thanks to Telltale Games.  If I finished those, I am sure all three would hit the top fifty.  But despite enjoying them immensely, I sadly haven’t found the time to finish any of them.

Contemporary RatingHigh. While some of the puzzles are unfairly difficult, a quick trip to an on-line walk-through should eliminate most of the frustration.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful. Like with most LucasArts games, you can’t even die, let alone get stuck.

2 thoughts on “42: Sam & Max Hit the Road”

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