Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 2, 2006


The Cone of Tragedy: not recommended for pregnant women.

“I’d be peeing my pants if I wore any.” Remember that? Well, I certainly do! God, it feels like only last week that I loaded up Sam and Max for the first time. Oh, actually, it was last week. While many adventure fans may consider this sacrilege, especially for someone who professes to be a big fan of the LucasArts adventures, somehow Sam and Max has managed to pass me by over the years. I always meant to shell out for the double pack bundle (also featuring Day of the Tentacle, one of my favourites) but I didn’t. However, my sister did, and, ignoring the fierce sibling rivalry and mutual hatred that’s built up over the years, she slung her original copy of Sam and Max my way (along with a note saying “This means nothing. I have no brother”).

Actually, that’s a lie – ignore it. In fact, ignore the whole damn paragraph. I’ve played Sam and Max Hit the Road, and now I’m going to tell you what I thought about the whole experience. If this doesn’t appeal to you, then please feel free to shut down the goddamn computer and do something more worthwhile, like getting more involved with your local community; you know, by giving up just a few hours of your spare time, you could make a real difference. Or you could just point your browser elsewhere and let the internet rot your once-healthy mind with its dubious cocktail of mindless trivia, illegal filth and video clips of an old woman getting hit by a bus.

Ahem. For those of you who don’t know, Sam and Max are a dog/rabbit double act inexplicably operating in the real world as freelance investigators. In the game, you control Sam, the dog, and the more down-to-earth of the duo, and so all the more useful for performing all the general adventure-gamey stuff you normally have to do, namely wandering around, picking things up and asking people questions in the hope that you can progress. Meanwhile, Max, your sidekick, is a bundle of mostly-useless energy, capering around and making surreal and vaguely-psychotic comments who largely stays outside of your control. However, on the odd occasion, you need to employ Max’s unique talents to progress, and at any time he can be manipulated and ‘used’ on objects in the game as if he were part of your inventory.

Luckily for Conroy Bumpus, his burly henchman is more than a match for a dog/rabbit double-act.

The dynamic duo are called to a local amusement park to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of its main attractions, Bruno the Bigfoot. Frankly, it’s an odd kind of place, but then that sets the tone for the rest of the game. Without giving too much away, be prepared to cross paths with an oddball country music star, hit golf balls at a bunch of crocodiles, ingratiate yourself with the bigfoot community and visit the spanner-bending genius who hangs out in a café at the top of the world’s largest ball of twine. Even if you get your head around all of that, the ending will probably still freak you out a little bit.

Such oddities are part of the game’s charm, however, and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had throughout. Sam, with his general air of calm and willingness to go along with whatever weirdness occurs, is the perfect character to guide you through the game world; somehow, you get the impression that this isn’t the strangest case that he and his little rabbit buddy have tackled. In the manner of wisecracking, seen-it-all-before cops, the dialogue between the two is sharp and witty, contrasting markedly with the delivery of the game’s other characters, the majority of whom seem to be weirdos or dimwits (or both).

Perhaps not surprisingly given its cartoon origins, the game’s visual style, while bearing the usual LucasArts hallmarks, is particularly striking. Without wanting to hark back to the old days, or indeed start sniping at the new Sam and Max title, the 2D stylings of the former, while blocky, certainly have a little more charm than the flawless polygons we’ve all seen in pre-release screenshots of the latter.

I had that hairpiece in my hand…

As a game, the surreal nature of the world around you certainly affects the difficulty of the puzzles, although some may argue that the “adventure-game logic” (present in all adventures and responsible for making you accomplish tasks in the most roundabout way possible) is no more prevalent in this game than in any other, even those (such as Broken Sword) set in the “real” world. However, I still found it pretty tough going at times, and certainly harder than the likes of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. After experiencing frustration at the hands of arcade sections in other adventures, though, I’m pleased to report that the ones featured here are either optional diversions or simple, enjoyable sub-games (I have to admit to playing Wak-a-Rat more times than I needed to in order to progress).

If this is all coming across a little lukewarm, it isn’t meant to – Sam and Max is a great game. But there are people out there who think it’s one of the greatest of all time, for whom it will always have a place in their hearts. Perhaps it was the slightly juddery performance under DOSBox, the fact that I was playing it while feeling more than a little under the weather (in a dressing gown between frequent visits to the toilet, if you must know), or perhaps even that I never experienced it in its prime, that no little drops of nostalgia filtered into my brain and turned on “happy lights” because I remembered playing it as a kid, but for whatever reason, the fact is I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, or as much as some other adventures I’ve played.

All in a day’s work…

Perhaps in the end, it all comes down to personal taste. While it would be wrong to say that all LucasArts adventures are much of a muchness, generally you know what you’re going to get when you play one – the brand name is rightly associated with quality, and it’s hard to think of any genuinely disappointing titles. Even The Dig has its fans, and while I fully appreciate its shortcomings, I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot for Full Throttle (in a way that I don’t have for Sam and Max, even though it is technically the better game).

Still, it would be a bit of a cop-out to say that rating LucasArts adventures is purely subjective. Sam and Max, then, is a very good adventure game, just not one of my all-time favourites. But if you give it a try, there’s a very good chance it could be one of yours.