#8: Sam & Max Hit the Road
"Ooh! Does this mean we get to kick some puffy, white, mad scientist butt?"
There's probably nothing quite as painful as failed humor. This has been my experience with quite a few amateur games that have attempted to channel the spirit of LucasArts, and also some of the Leisure Suit Larry games, among others. When the humor in question is subtle and cynical, sometimes it can just pass by harmlessly if it doesn't work. But when the humor is loud, abrasive, and way over the top, it either works beautifully or it crashes fantastically.
Sam & Max Hit the Road is, without question, the most absurd and ridiculous game ever designed. This point is driven home by every line of dialogue, every new location, every supporting character, and every absurd puzzle. The plot casts the classic Steve Purcell characters on a cross-country adventure involving Bigfoots, sadistic country singers, and...what, you want me to explain it? Sam, if you didn't know, is a "canine shamus" controlled by the player, and Max is, of course, a "naked hyperkinetic rabbity thing" that follows Sam around, and sometimes serves as a puzzle solution. They, the Freelance Police, meander their way across the United States, turning cats inside out and rescuing damsels in distress.
The game works so well as absurd humor because at first glance, it feels just like a kids' game. This dog and rabbit are just downright adorable! When they open their mouth, though, out comes a barrage of questionable language and insane humor, peppered with lots of big words thrown in for effect. Some of the things that come out of this fuzzy little bunny's mouth are still shocking to me (which may give you an idea why I use Max the rabbit as my forum avatar).
Before 1993, the game industry hadn't had a great deal of luck with the whole "sidekick" thing. I remember when InterAction Magazine ran a "reader art" section and they got nothing but comics of King Graham boiling Cedric the owl in a cauldron. Here, though, LucasArts created the single greatest sidekick ever in adventure gaming, who not only functions as constant comic relief and an absurd foil to Sam's—well, absurdity, but also serves as a part of the plot and an important part of many puzzle solutions.
The game did away with the standard sentence-formation interface of previous SCUMM games, and reverted to more of a Sierra-style interface that fit much better with the spirit of the game. The technical aspects were all standard LucasArts excellence, with brilliant cartoon graphics and animation that inspired many future games, and stellar voice acting. The only aspect of the game that frustrates some is the sheer absurdity of the puzzles; you have to really think in a different way to proceed quickly in this game, and often times it forces the gamer to resort to a walkthrough. This is the only thing that keeps Sam & Max from a five-star rating.
It's not easy to make a game so consistently absurd and bizarre, and have it never stop being funny. The jokes work at an amazing success rate, and although I would stop short of simply calling it "the funniest adventure ever" it almost certainly inspired the most sheer food-spraying belly laughs. Depraved, absurd, and brilliant all the way to the end, Sam & Max Hit the Road is the #8 adventure game of all-time.
Last time: Sam & Max checked in one spot higher, at #7. This doesn't really mean anything, it's just the way it played out this time.