After reviewing Nightshift Legacy: The Jaguar’s Eye, I was so glad to get on to reviewing Sam & Max. A coherent storyline! Beautiful art throughout! Logical puzzles (well, if riding a crazy life-threatening fairground ride can be considered logical)! Needless to say, it’s good to be back with LucasArts.
Sam & Max is the tale of a crime-busting duo of freelance detectives: Sam, the sensible dog dressed like something from a 1940s gangster movie, and Max, his partner, who is simply an insane destruction-obsessed white rabbit. The two work together well despite their differences, and although they may seem crazy, they do come up with a few nuggets of cleverness that will have you chuckling while playing through this barmy adventure.
The story goes that a frozen bigfoot has thawed out of its block of ice and escaped the confines of the fairground where it was being used as a sideshow attraction. Sam and Max take it upon themselves to solve the case of the lost bigfoot, and along the way, they come across a variety of bonkers supporting cast members who all contribute to the insanity that follows our heroes everywhere. They find themselves traveling across the United States to such locations as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.
Sam & Max Hit the Road saw LucasArts finally divert from its successful formula of placing verbs at the bottom of the screen for you to click then apply to items on the screen. Instead, they introduced the idea of using your right mouse button to flick through different actions, such as Use, Speak, Walk, Grab, and View. It’s a good and bad thing. Good because the designers were afforded more screen space to really bump up all the environments, but bad because it can feel very fiddly at times. Having to flick through three other options gets tiresome, and using the item box for the first time can be a bit confusing.
The environments are very similar to Day of the Tentacle’s, utilizing a cartoony style in both locations and the characters. It keeps the game feeling like a cartoon and means you’re never bored with what you’re looking at. And, of course, the characters all look unique and you’ll never feel like any of them are generic NPCs.
The gameplay is your standard LucasArts fare, using the right item in the right moment to receive items and progress the storyline. The puzzles are not as tricky as they are in Day of the Tentacle, however, so you will find yourself playing through the game at a much quicker rate than you’d normally expect from a LucasArts game. Sounds like a bad thing, but the experience is so much fun due to the zany dialogue and the great animation. As usual, the puzzle solutions don’t always present themselves immediately, but a keen eye will detect the hot spots and the keywords spoken by characters.
I can’t speak so positively about the soundtrack, because it’s definitely among the weakest of LucasArts’s. The tracks all feel very unrelated to your surroundings, and it sometimes seems like LucasArts simply bought them from an archive of midi tracks. Which is a shame, because the sound effects in the game are top notch, with plenty of crashes, bangs, wallops, and explosions to boot. So it’s not the usual A-class music we’d expect, but the SFX make up for the lack of scene-setting audio.
As for replayability, the game differs a bit from the likes of Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island 2, and The Last Crusade. There are no various team paths, no IQ points to work toward, and no separate difficulties to choose from. So one playthrough of this and you’ll be hard pressed to play again for a few years while the solutions are still fresh in your mind. Mind you, your first time playing the game will be so fun that you’ll never forget the great gags and the memorable characters that are stuffed into every corner of this little gem.
The game is not the best of LucasArts’s offerings, but it’s definitely up there. The only things that really hold it back for me are the poor soundtrack and the new way of assigning actions through the right mouse button. Other than these minor quibbles, you have a very solid point-and-clicker, which will provide you with quite a few hours’ entertainment.