Sam & Max Hit the Road. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Who exactly are Sam and Max? Imagine the good-natured camaraderie of vintage Hope and Crosby crossed with the nineties dementia of Ren and Stimpy. Stir in plenty of cultural injokes, sight gags, and nutty animation, and you get the picture. The characters are actually based on LucasArts' own underground comic strip by Steve Purcell, whose unique style can best be described as Max Fleischer meets R. Crumb. Sam is a portly, good-natured hound dog adorned in Dashiell Hammett-style gumshoe apparel: ill-fitting suit, wide tie, and broad-brimmed hat. Max is his not-terribly-bright little buddy, a "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" with a penchant for wanton destruction. Together, they form an unlikely crime-fighting team, the Freelance Police, enthusiastically solving mysteries, pummeling felons, and eating almost anything.
The story, such as it is, finds our heroes hot on the trail of a runaway carnival Bigfoot. Hop a ride in their DeSoto squad car for a hilarious road trip across America. Visit historic sites like Mount Rushmore, where you can bungee-jump from the presidents' nostrils, Or check out less famous hot spots such as World of Fish, Mystery Vortex, and World's Largest Ball of Twine. Hidden at various locations are several amusing minigames, including Hiway Surfin', Gator Golf, Wak-a-Rat, and Car Bomb. There are even some zany creativity projects, like Sam & Max Dress-Up Book and Max's Wax Paint by Numbers Book, as well as a built-in screen saver. The dress-up sequence incorporates the game's absurd--but undeniably fun-- copy protection scheme. There's little about this game that isn't slightly bent and twisted, but therein lies its charm. The humor is both intelligent and relentlessly clever, yet never self-absorbed or insolent. Parents should be advised that despite the cute and fuzzy appearances, the jokes sometimes have a dark edge to them, making the game best suited for mature gamers.
Beyond Purcell's wacky cast of characters, the game owes most of its distinctive flavor to lead artist Peter Chan, whose abstract, angular style helped make Day of the Tentacle such a hit. Digitized speech--limited to the introduction on the disk-based version but featured throughout the CDROM edition--truly brings these wisecracking knuckleheads to life. Also worth noting is the excellent implementation of iMUSE, LucasArts' context-sensitive music system, this time featuring a collection of downright catchy jazz riffs. Puzzles are almost all visually oriented, ranging in difficulty from easy to moderately challenging. As with all of LucasArts' graphic adventures, there are no wrong turns or game-ending mistakes, freeing you to explore every sidesplitting nook and cranny. Interestingly, unlike previous efforts in the genre, this game offers little player-controlled choice of dialogue between characters. Story line interaction appears limited to decisions regarding game pace and direction. Those most likely to enjoy this game will find the adventure aspects secondary to the overall mood of hip and sometimes scurrilous humor.
With the right agent, Sam and Max could hit the screen with a series of successful road adventures. Hope and Crosby would be proud.
SCOTT A. MAY