SAM & MAX HIT THE ROAD / LucasArts / PC
While working as an animator at LucasArts, Steve Purcell was also publishing his indie comic Sam and Max: Freelance Police. Use of the characters as programming engine testing avatars and a cult following for the comic eventually led to this 1993 release, which has the wisecracking duo take a job tracking down a missing bigfoot.
The world of Sam and Max is the best part of the whole thing. It's this surreal, seemingly lawless warped version of Americana that takes place in an indefinite time that seems to span about 1950 to 1990. Sam and Max themselves are actually the weakness, or at least their dialogue is; their constant attempts to one-up each other with elaborate snark don't always land, and can be overwrought and grating sometimes. The game is thus roughest in the first 10 minutes or so, when it's just the duo on their own. The more of the game world that opens up and the more the other characters and goofy environments pick up the slack, the more enjoyable it all gets.
The quest starts with a job finding the escaped bigfoot of a nearby circus, but quickly spirals into a country-spanning adventure that somehow keeps leading the pair to the sort of weird roadside attractions that were common before interstate highways: the World's Largest Ball of Twine, Gator Golf and the Mystery Vortex for just a few examples.
It's the standard LucasArts deal of not being able to die or get irrevocably hung up. It's also in the LucasArts tradition of fine polish, with much of their "A" squad responsible for their biggest prior hits on it. What rough edges there are with Sam and Max's sometimes overly windy repartee and some random/obtuse puzzles are very well covered up by the aesthetics. The background art is gorgeous, the animation is top-shelf for the early '90s and something that ran on a 486 processor (and still holds up well today), and you get an excellent soundtrack by vet composer Peter McConnell. In the "talkie" CD version, even the voice acting is consistently very good even for the bit parts.
The puzzles on the whole really could be a little better, though. It's not a difficult adventure game, but it can get a little pixel-hunty and "just grab stuff because it's there" at times. Puzzles alternate between being really obvious (access to colored doors matching the color of lights you can adjust) and requiring some lateral thinking that just requires combing the available environments for whatever relevant items you can pick up (making a bigfoot costume from fur, tar and a hairpiece). There are only a couple that require combining three or so inventory items in a wacky way and are unintuitive and random enough to approach cat hair mustache territory.
Though I did like the ending, the game does end kind of suddenly and on a very random note, not long after I felt it had managed to really hit its stride.
Still, the first Sam and Max is a gem if for nothing more than the art and music. The dialogue oscillates between being genuinely funny / refreshingly intelligent and just plain trying too hard, and the puzzle design could have used some work, but there's still more than enough here to make it a must-play for fans of classic adventure games.
* Gameplay Video
* King of the Creatures