Monday, 6 July 2015

Sam & Max: Hit the Road (MS-DOS)

Developer:LucasArts|Release Date:1993|Systems:DOS, Mac

Today on Super Adventures, I'm finally getting a Sam & Max game onto my website! Took me long enough, though to be fair for the first few years of my site I was making more of an effort to stay clear of games I'd played before, and this I have definitely played before. It's probably the first PC game I ever owned in fact.

Sam & Max: Hit the Road is actually a licensed game, as the duo belong to former LucasArts artist Steve Purcell (he did the amazing box art for Monkey Islands both 1 and 2) and they had their own comic long before this. But you'd be forgiven for thinking they were owned by LucasArts, with the amount of sneaky appearances they've made in their earlier games; later games too, they're all over the damn place. I even teamed up with Max for a level in Jedi Knight. But Hit the Road was their very first starring role in a video game, and for a long while it seemed like it was going to be their last.

I'm going to be playing the CD version through ScummVM, which should be pretty much identical to what you'd find on GOG.com these days. There actually was a floppy disk release too, which surprises me because I can't imagine the game without voices, and even more shockingly it only came on seven 3.5" disks! The PC version of Monkey Island 2 came on five and this has to have more than 3MB extra art and animation in it, surely.



Anyway, the game opens with this sinister cartoon scientist reacting very badly to being dumped.

This might actually be the first time I've played the game with subtitles on, and it's so weird to be able to see for sure what his lines are meant to be. I mean I've seen this enough times now to be able to recite it from memory, but he's got a thick 'mad scientist' accent going on and I've never been entirely convinced I interpreted them correctly.

But then out of nowhere it's the Freelance Police! Man I love the animation in this game.

Don't worry, they're not actually leading to a romance between this remarkably undistressed damsel and half of our crime-fighting duo. I mean the game is about a cross-species relationship, but it doesn't involve any of the folks in this room.

Our hard-boiled heroes were actually aiming for the Lincoln Tunnel and missed, but they fight crime wherever they see it, and they see it everywhere.

By the way, the pale naked rabbit with a face like a shark is Max and the well dressed canine in the fedora is Sam.

Sorry about pretty much reproducing the entire intro here without audio, but I couldn't bear to leave any of these moments un-GIF'd.

If you're wondering, the music right now kind of sounds like it's from TIE Fighter. No seriously, have a YouTube link, listen for yourself. 

Damn, I forgot that this shows Max's fist dripping with blood as he beats the guy to death. I mean seriously, this guy's dead after this, the funny rabbit thing straight up kills him.

Though he does turn out to be kind of a robot.

Might have been an remote controlled avatar or LMD to stand in for the real scientist, might have been the actual guy's mind downloaded into a robot body, I guess we'll never know or care.

Man that DeSoto is a tough car.

I'm not going to say that's the best intro in the entire history of PC games... but I kinda want to. I loved it the first time I ever saw it and I still love it now.

Cut to the credits.

Believe it or not the best part of this image isn't Max choking a clown and beating him with a newspaper. Hey that clown's hat is totally Purple Tentacle from Day of the Tentacle... oh right, the best part of the image is that list of composers, as they're the folks responsible for the soundtracks of games like Monkey Island 2, Day of the Tentacle... plus TIE Fighter too now that I think about it.

Here have a link to the theme tune so you can hear them do what they do: YouTube link. Warning: it's jazz.

Did I mention that the actors playing Sam and Max are both really good? Because they are. Plus one of them played the Russian President on '24' and the other has been the voice of Goofy for the last 30 years, but I'm not telling you which is which.

The phone call was from the Commissioner, who has another idiotic and baffling assignment for them. But due to the arbitrarily sensitive nature of the mission they'll be meeting a bonded city courier out on the street for the details.

This is a low resolution DOS game by the way, so the screenshots come out in an 8:5 ratio and it's meant to be displayed in 4:3, but I ain't going to mutilate these beautiful pixels by stretching them.

Except for this next shot which I'll stretch as an example:

Alright I've reached the actual game bit of Hit the Road, which right now involves a lot of clicking around their office with my mouse to send Sam over to pick up everything he can get his hands on. I should be heading out to meet this courier, but I'm not leaving until I've filled my... hey where's the inventory gone? I've got a full unobstructed view of the level here, there's no inventory box taking up screen space. Well, except for that cardboard one in the bottom right corner.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (MS-DOS)
For six years, LucasArts adventure games had the bottom quarter of the screen filled with verbs and inventory items, along with a one line description of what the player's doing. Even Loom did it, and that game doesn't have any verbs to click on.

But Hit the Road is the game that finally ended that tradition, removing the verbs and hiding the inventory.

Though I guess the way they were shedding verbs every few years it was only a matter of time before they disappeared entirely.

I do still have a few different ways to interact with the world, which I cycle through by right clicking the mouse. It looks like my options are 'stare', 'punch', 'strangle' and 'spit', but they're really just the typical 'look at', 'pick up' etc. commands you'd expect.

Actually there's nothing typical about that icon on the bottom left; is that meant to be some kind of squidgy toy or something?

(Lines only vaguely point to the right month, especially for the earlier games.)
In case you're curious here's where Sam & Max: Hit the Road lies in the great scheme of LucasArts adventure games. It's the ninth game of fifteen but pretty much dead centre chronologically. Which means that LucasArts made its entire run of adventure games, both legendary and otherwise, in less time than it took 3D Realms to finish Duke Nukem Forever.

Fun fact: this list also doubles as a gallery of some of the best box art of the early 90s (sorry Indy, but you don't come close to making the grade). In fact I feel kind of guilty for reducing them to a tiny mess of pixels. It's... disrespectful.

Well I've found the courier, but he's being less than helpful. Plus LucasArts have gone crazy again and have replaced their traditional dialogue tree with Toonstruck-style icons! I get why they did this, because it means the jokes appear in conversation rather than being listed out beforehand, but it doesn't make me feel like much of a participant. Instead of reading through a list of dumb responses and jokes, weighing up my options and deciding what line I want to say, I just click through all of them and listen to everything the writers came up with.

Apparently the folks at LucasArts came to the same conclusion as me, as their later games like Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and Curse of Monkey Island went back to the original dialogue system.

You know, this game's a couple of decades old at this point, and I still have no idea why there's a duck on my conversation screen.

Oh it means non sequitur! Well that explains a lot actually.

I know my rules box on the right side of the website says that I never check manuals, but I already read this booklet a decade or so ago, so the damage is done. Also it's not a manual it's a 'Crimestompers' Coloring Book'.

Click the photograph to make it readable!
I'm pretty sure that Max-head Puppet page is reprinted from the comic, but the manual also comes with scruffy looking JPEG'd art of Sam and Max playing dress up for the floppy version's copy protection. Obviously the CD version doesn't need that though, because who could copy a CD?

There's even a thrill-packed and completely unrelated official boardgame in the center pages so you can have all the fun of a road trip without all that tedious car business. Though the book assures me that it works just fine in a car too, reading the licence plates off passing traffic and using the last digit in place of dice rolls.

Conversation wasn't getting me anywhere with the courier cat, so I Max'd him instead and learned that we're investigating a carnival! Joy.

Max is actually a helpful sidekick to have around; a bit like Joey the robot in Beneath a Steel Sky, except violent instead of whiny. Though he spends most of his time following Sam and chiming in whenever he examines something.

I couldn't think of any reason to hang around outside the office now that I've got their orders, so I put them into the DeSoto in the hopes that they can find their own way to the carnival.

By the way, see that shop in the background? Not the Really Bad Food one, the other one. That's Bosco's shop and I hear he's all over the Telltale sequels. In this one though, not so much. To the best of my recollection he's never seen or even heard in this, not even if you send Max in there to beat up a thief.

Wow, I forgot this game had a map screen. I could stop at one of those three Snuckey's Burgers to get crucial puzzle solving equipment, or do a bit of car surfing, but I feel like getting the plot started first.

Hang on, I'm no expert on the geography of the USA, but I'm pretty sure that if that carnival was any further north it'd be in Canada. I know Sam and Max are Freelance Police, but I figured they'd at least be operating in the same state. This is going to be a 400 mile drive (or 1000 miles if I stop for a burger on the way).


LATER, AT THE CARNIVAL.


Oh right, these two. I don't like these two. I don't like this carnival either. In fact I'm actually struggling to remember what I do like after this point. My interest in the game always used to fade a little after the first trip in the DeSoto and I'm getting that feeling now as well.

Conroy Bumpus on the left is the game's main antagonist, though we don't know that yet. He's just someone leaving the carnival as we're arriving. And we'll have to be leaving soon too if I can't figure out a way to convince this fire-breathing security guard that we're here on business.

Giving him our orders from the Commissioner should help I reckon.

I kind of regret having that text on top of my nice clean inventory screenshot, but I guess there's nothing nice or clean about this inventory box. Also I get why they use a cardboard box to carry all their stuff around, but why do they their keep their different cursors in there too... along with the inventory box itself?

Anyway, handing the orders got me in (and got them incinerated), so now I'm free to go inside and chat with the manager.

Or managers.

Turns out that a bigfoot called Bruno escaped his block of ice and ran off with another one of the attractions, and we've been called in to track them down.

See those icon on the bottom right? Those are the topics I can inquire about. First is ice escapee Bruno the Bigfoot, second is the Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl, who he allegedly kidnapped, and finally there's Conroy Bumpus who we ran into earlier. Turns out he'd come here to buy the pair of them for his own nefarious reasons and left disappointed.

The owners have given us a day pass to explore the carnival for clues, so I should probably go do that seeing as I've got nothing better to do. Except maybe car surfing.

I'm kind of running on autopilot now, working through the carnival puzzles from the fragments of the game left in my memory. Like I'd totally forgotten about this Cone of Tragedy, but I know I have to ride it to get some stuff out of the lost and found. What that stuff is I've got no idea though.

But the operator mentioned that one of the bigfoot's buddies is hanging out in the Tunnel of Love so I should stop there first.

I mean after I have a go of Wak-A-Rat, obviously.

This is just a pointless minigame to help a player unwind after an afternoon of bashing their head against puzzles, but it's here, so I feel compelled to play it.

Hey I got a flashlight out of it as a prize! A flashlight without a bulb, how totally... random. I just so happens though that I picked up a light bulb from the office before I left, because I'm in an adventure game and I have to take everything.

It might be a black light bulb but it's doing just fine at illuminating the electronics in the Tunnel of Love. Fortunately I already know I need to use Max on the box to get Sam to dunk him into the water and then shove him into the wiring head first, or else I'd likely be stuck here forever. I don't know, maybe the two of them start dropping big clues after the 15th lap of the tunnel, but this seems like a right bastard of a puzzle to me.

With the ride sabotaged, the detective duo are able to climb out and find that the door in the background is locked. Fortunately the solution to this one is relatively obvious: I just have to pull the animatronic king's goatee. Adventure games, man.

I found a bloke called Doug the Mole Man holed up inside the Tunnel of Love watching TV, and he's got all kinds of stories to tell about Bruno. Endless tedious stories. He doesn't actually know where the bigfoot is right now, but he tells me go visit the Largest Ball of Twine on the Earth and chat with his uncle.

Oh plus he offered to trade me the key to Trixie's trailer for some pecan-flavored candy, so I need to look out for that as well.

I got a fish magnet souvenir from the lost and found which added World of Fish to the map as well, so I should investigate that too. Trixie liked riding the Cone of Tragedy you see, so it might have belonged to her. I haven't exactly got many leads here so I have to make the most of what I've got, even if it does mean driving thousands of miles across the county.

First though I'm going to Snuckey's! Any of them, I don't care which.

Hey I've found Bernard from Day of the Tentacle! With a moustache!

Trans-franchise character flickering for illustrative purposes only.
Yeah that's definitely him, or his brother maybe. Actually there's one of them behind the counter of every Snuckey's in the country, so I'm thinking they're probably just clones. It's nice of someone else to come over and cameo in a Sam and Max story though, after all the games they've shown up in.

It also shows just how close the art style of the two games is. The main difference I've noticed is that Hit the Road isn't opposed to showing the occasional straight line.

I bought a game of Car Bomb from the shop while I was there, but it turned out to be Battleship in disguise!

It's been a long while since I've played a game of Battleship, but it hasn't gotten any more exciting in the meantime. He sinks my hearse, I sink his hearse, he blows up my camper, I continually miss and basically hand the game to him. Fun times.

Ah, this is more my level. It's easy to colour in between the lines when it's done automatically!

Okay enough screwing around, I need to either go to the Largest Ball of Twine or the World of Fish and get it over with. And then get the other one over with too.

Wow, World of Fish... more like Pile of Fish. I found a Bucket of Fish too, but I've got nothing in mind for it right now. I vaguely remember sneaking into the fish pile and getting airlifted away by a helicopter but I've no idea how to do that any more.

I tried some stuff, but this seems like a dead end right now so I'll go investigate the Largest Ball of Twine instead.

Oh oh, I'm remembering something clearly this time! I'm remembering how much of a pain in the ass it is to catch the tram every single time I want to get up to the restaurant at the top of the ball. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to walk over to the platform first. This dog needs to learn how to jog.

Doug the Mole Man's uncle I presume! Nope, I presumed wrong, he's just some maintenance worker who likes to bend his tools with his psychic powers and cuss like a sailor. There's a joke here involving his censored dialogue that makes a whole lot more sense with subtitles on, so it's cool that I can finally get it. Plus I got a bent wrench off him too, which I've got no use for yet.

Okay my memory's kicking in and it's telling me... to attach those exposed wires to the sightseeing telescope and use it to control the rotation of the restaurant so that I can scan the horizon for... something.

Damn, I can't get this twine restaurant to stop spinning on its own! I attached the wires, what else do I need to do? Feel free to jump in any time, brain. Nope, my mind is being absolutely silent right now.

I went back to the Snuckey's in defeat and despair, and there was the pecan candy just sitting there on the shelf! I must have neglected to thoroughly scrub my mouse cursor across the scenery first time around and walked right past it. So now that I've bought that I can get Trixie’s key off Doug the Mole Man at least.


LATER, BACK AT THE CARNIVAL.


Giving Doug the candy triggered a flashback! It turns out that there was no kidnapping here after all, as Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl and the fire breather conspired together to break Bruno out! Well that's one mystery solved, but I still need to find where they've gone. I guess.

Oh plus he gave me his key, so now I can get this trailer door open.

Using Doug's 'key' I managed into the trailer and find my next clue... another souvenir. This time it's a score card from the Gator Golf Emporium in Florida. I'm not sure I really want to drive all the way down to Florida just because Trixie played golf there once, but it's either this or bash my head against the telescope in the rotating restaurant again.


SOON, AT GATOR GOLF.


Uh... what? What just happened? Sam and Max lost a fight? Nothing makes sense any more!

The bodyguard set Max down on the end of the pier and Conroy took the shot, launching him right into the "Dunk the Beast" box over on the other side. I've lost Max! I've got no one to jump in with absurd punchlines to Sam's wry observations!

I can still go anywhere and chat to people but my double act is over. The game's so lonely now, well unless I leave it alone long enough for the screensaver to come on that is. Then the Maxs start to reappear.

They're few at first, but more and more walk by until the screen is practically filled with them. It's funny, you'd think that being around Max all day would drive Sam crazy but it seems like the opposite has gone and happened.

I really need to do something to resolve this.

People thought I was a lunatic for dragging a bucket full of fish around with me all the way from Missouri, but I have the last laugh now! Though I actually kind of feel like crying because this minigame is boring me to tears. I need to use the fish as bait to get the alligators lined up as a path, but I can never quite predict what those shifty gators are going to do. Sometimes they'll go for the food, then drift forward a little bit further, sometimes they'll swim right past, turn around and go at it from the other direction. Trial and error fish golf isn't as much fun as you'd think.

And my reward for getting Max out of the machine... I get my sidekick back! But also I got another souvenir, and another map location to check out. Guess I'm heading to the Mystery Vortex.


SOON, INSIDE THE MYSTERY VORTEX.


Oh, you tried to solve the telescope puzzle at the restaurant too then?

This is Doug the Mole Man's uncle, at bloody last, and he's not much use to me. He wants me to go get his ring from the Largest Ball of Twine on Earth. I've got a pretty good idea how I can go about getting it, but first I need something I can use to attach a fish magnet to an extendible ball retriever. I dunno, maybe I can weave a rope from all this bigfoot hair I've been finding...

I'm about at the point now where my memories have ran out and I'm being faced with the full force of the game's insane puzzles. I was finding it more fun when I knew all the answers. In fact I'm getting tempted to look up the next few solutions, so I think that's my cue to quit.


CONCLUSION

I still love Sam & Max: Hit the Road, I just don't like it all that much. Not as much as I should do anyway. I feel negligent in my lack of enjoyment. Some of that's down to having played it before though I expect. I know the broad strokes of the story, I know the ending, I know half the puzzles and most of the jokes. It's got no novelty left for me, just the frustration of being stuck on the other half of the puzzles.

Plus I dunno, maybe I just don't want to visit carnivals and kitschy U.S. tourist traps all that much. I don't much want to chase down a bigfoot either, especially now I know that Trixie and Bruno ran off together and no one needs rescuing. This whole set up has limited appeal for me.

It's hard for me to really explain why it's a bad game though, mostly because it's not. It's a LucasArts adventure, so you can never die in it and never make it unwinnable, and after playing the abysmal Dark Seed earlier this year I'm definitely appreciating that a whole lot more. The top quality visuals, music and voice acting doesn't hurt either, especially as the only thing really dated about it is the resolution and midi soundtrack.

So yeah this gets a gold star easily. I might not want to get any further in it right now, but there's no way I won't end up playing it again some time. Maybe with a guide handy though.


That's what I thought about Sam & Max: Hit the Road anyway. But you probably think other things, so why not share a few of your thoughts in the box below? You can also take a guess at what the next game is! Don't stare at the picture too long though, else it'll gaze into your soul.

4 comments:

  1. The boring explanation for Sam & Max being on seven disks and Monkey Island 2 being on eleven is that the Amiga used 880k disks instead of the PC standard of 1440k, so you'd need more disks to do the same thing. I'd guess that the PC version of MI2 comes on six or seven disks.

    Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In retrospect those lines really don't work do they? It was supposed to read something like 'I can't believe it's only on seven disks, it seems like it's a much bigger game than Monkey Island 2. Also I remember the Amiga version of Monkey Island 2 having an absurd number of disks.' but those are definitely not the words that came out of my brain.

      I'll go back and fix it, but let it be permanently recorded in the comments that I made a mistake and am dumb (though I do know the varying capacities of 3.5" Amiga and PC floppy disks).

      Delete
    2. The Angry Internet9 July 2015 at 01:16

      The PC version of MI2 was on just five disks.

      Delete
  2. Adventure games are a lot like camping. You're glad you went, you get to be clever and learn stuff, there are a lot of very interesting sights, it's just the day-by-day that makes you want to bang your head against a tree.

    ReplyDelete

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