[Throughout this project, I will be handing over this space to the viewpoints of others for guest posts. I’m excited to introduce a first one by prolific writer and all-round star Joshua Minsoo Kim, who has also made the gifs below]
A few months after the release of Day of the Tentacle, LucasArts found success once again with Sam & Max Hit the Road. While the game isn’t hugely different from the company’s previous point-and-click adventures, adapting a video game from Steve Purcell’s Sam & Max comics proved a wise decision. The titular characters — a bipedal dog and rabbit named Sam and Max, respectively, who work as the “Freelance Police” — were childhood creations of Steve Purcell’s brother, and the comics themselves were born out of parodies that Steve had made of them. This, in conjunction with noted influence from Penn & Teller and The Blues Brothers, would lead to the sort of sarcasm and wit that defines the franchise, and these elements are largely helpful in making a point-and-click adventure’s patient gameplay worthwhile.
Neither Sam nor Max are particularly fleshed out characters in the game, but it becomes a non-issue due to a quick establishment of Hit the Road’s sense of humor. The game’s odd premise is emblematic of the game’s absurdities: Sam and Max are asked to find Bruno, a bigfoot who’s escaped from a carnival alongside “Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl.” As one interacts with people and objects in the game, sardonic one-liners and rudimentary puns are given, assuaging the frustration that comes with trying to solve a puzzle. As such, it’s likely that one will attempt to click on as many things in the game world as possible to simply see the result, and this incentivization is important given that some tasks are challenging to figure out.
That the game encourages pointing and clicking as much as possible is crucial, and it’s bolstered by the most notable difference between Hit the Road and previous LucasArts games: the removal of verb lists and one’s inventory from the bottom of the screen. Players now cycle through various actions that are displayed with their cursor, and items can be accessed from a window that pops up by clicking an icon on the screen’s bottom left hand corner. This quality-of-life change also means more space for visuals, and this is especially beneficial given the game’s setting: various tourist attractions across the United States.
Purcell had noted that his inspiration for Hit the Road had come from roadtrips he had taken as a child, as well as a book released in 1986 entitled Roadside America. The book is essentially a guide to America’s lowbrow roadside attractions, the kind that are limited in depth to their mere novelty. A couple of places in Roadside America are referenced in the game — twine balls in Darwin, Minnesota and Cawker City, Kansas inspired the game’s own “Largest Ball of Twine”; the Oregon Vortex was the basis for The Mystery Vortex — and it’s the variety of these different locations that prevents the game from being visually repetitive.
Because of Hit the Road’s humor and peculiar setting, the game’s designers seemed to know they could get away with providing unconventional solutions to their puzzles. At one point, one has to combine multiple unrelated items to create a sasquatch costume which is then used to gain entry into a yeti convention. This task, as well as some others, can be difficult to infer. The linearity of the game further amplifies what likely awaits many players: tediously visiting every location to make sure you’ve done everything possible to advance in the game. There are a few mini games present that are meant to provide a break from the main storyline, but they’re too simplistic to warrant multiple playthroughs, and feel mostly superfluous.
While playing Hit the Road, I was most intrigued and surprised by the small bits of commentary the game provides on its various tourist traps. When visiting the Savage Jungle Inn, Max comments that it’s “tikirific” and that he feels “immersed in native culture.” It’s a snide remark that points to the hokeyness of such places, and is a reminder that a lot of attractions — like the ones listed in Roadside America — are culturally barren at best, and offensive at worst.
After completing the game’s final task, a large number of evergreen trees sprout from the ground across the United States, including various metropolitan areas. Bruno, and presumably other creatures at the yeti convention, are now free to live peacefully in the woods. As Sam and Max reflect on what’s happened, Sam comments that he thinks they’ve “foolishly tampered with the fragile inner mechanisms” of the planet. Max responds by saying, “If a few hundred years of civilization have to be totalled just to ensure that a bunch of smelly quasi-human creatures have a safe haven for their disgusting lifestyles, then so be it!” Suddenly, the game’s premise reveals itself as a long-term setup for a final sarcastic punchline: an indictment on humanity’s repeated destruction of nature, and the crude things — be they tourist attractions or not — that we’ve set up in its place.