Sam and Max and Brian Hit the Road

The Squadron of Shame recently undertook a mission of great importance:  Sam and Max Season 1 from Telltale Games, along with the original Sam and Max Hit the Road from LucasArts.

I just finished up a re-play of Sam and Max Hit the Road and it was pretty retroactively disappointing.  On an old episode of Retronauts, when Jeremy Parrish called the game to task about it’s recockulous puzzles, I chalked it up to him being an ass.  While this much is true (zing! I kid the Parrish, cuz I love em) , he was indeed correct on this particular point.  I definitely had to put my self in an “adventure game” mind-frame to resolve nearly every single conundrum, which basically entails a relentless dedication to picking up/using/clicking every single damn thing that the programmers programmed into the game, AND THEN clicking those things on every other thing in the game.  Boy, did I love doing that kind of thing when I was a kid.  Fuck, do I not love doing that now.

The story and dialogue are really the main reason to play this game in the first place.  Some of the comedy is so timeless and hilarious, go ahead and put it in the second place, as well.  Mr. Parrish talked about how the humor of Hit the Road successfully avoided being wacky purely for the sake of wackiness.  In my opinion, there are, indeed, many instances of things being what they are for no other reason.  The most prevalent example of this is the inclusion of celebrity look-a-likes.  Why does the fisherman at the World of Fish speak and look like Woody Allen?  Perhaps I’m just not enough of a Woody Allen fan.  Why does the chief of the bigfoots (bigfeet?) sound like Jimmy Stewart?  Wacky.  However, the game does maintain a level a self-awareness regarding its wackiness that allows it to skirt the edge of that type of humor while simultaneously deflating it for comedic effect.  Even when the game makes the requisite Star Wars reference, it follows it up with a wry “Well, that was gratuitous.”  As a parody of the American “road-trip” culture, S&M definitely succeeds.  There is also a sub-textual parody-y-ing of computer/adventure games in general that seems aimed squarely at people that have played every other LucasArts adventure.  Now that I think about it, this entire game seems to have been made for those people (me), and that’s kind of crazy, but God bless ’em for it.  In relation to that, during the end credits, Sam and Max enjoy the fruits of their labor at the Kushman Bros. carnival shooting gallery, blasting away at silhouettes of characters from all of Lucas’ various games and properties as they scroll by in the foreground.  Who the heck are the cat character and bobble-headed baseball player from this sequence?

I started playing the first episode of Season 1 and, at first, I really really really really missed the original voice actors, who seemed to have a much firmer grasp on the tone required to skirt that wackiness edge.  After taking a break and completely restarting, I was able to get past my misgivings, and enjoyed it quite a bit. There are still some problems, but I’m interested in continuing with the series and seeing where it goes. Hopefully, it doesn’t get too tiresome, as I was feeling a few twinges of repetitiveness just in this one episode. I wonder if I should wait a month or two before moving on to help curb some of that, as well as recreate the authentic episodic experience?

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Also, I hope they either up Sam’s walking speed or decide to re-evaluate their puzzle structure. I worked on some GPS-based adventure games, and one thing we learned right away is that back-tracking is bad enough when you have to click through three screens, but when you have to actually WALK the quarter-mile to another location, leaving behind a crucial item or clue could be game breaking. What we did was to make sure that any objects or clues required to solve a puzzle could be found at that location, and the player just had to put them together (or take them apart) in the right way. When Sam has to build the anti-hypnosis helmet, there’s no real reason why the coat hanger couldn’t have been somewhere in the Inconvenience Store, rather than making me trek all the way back to the Office. Sure, if I was in “adventure game mode” and clicked on every single object in the Office before I had left, I would of had it, but I also would quickly lost momentum and interest.

You can hear the Squadron of Shame’s thoughts and feelings by subscribing to their podcast.  Don’t forget to listen!

Bonus:

Here’s a scan of the original Hit the Road manual’s Sam and Max board game, perfect for cross-country road-trips:

samandmaxboardgame

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