Among the younger generation of adventure gamers, there are two words that will bring fond memories back for many: Humongous Entertainment. Co-founded in 1992 by Ron Gilbert, the company grew a reputation for being a staple of children’s entertainment, offering a variety of point-and-click games dubbed as ‘junior adventures’ for 3-10 year olds. One of Humongous’ original and imaginative franchises was Pajama Sam, whose gaming credentials span four adventure titles and several other puzzle games. Originally launched in 1996, the first game in the adventure series has recently returned to the spotlight with the Nintendo Wii re-release of Pajama Sam in ‘No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside’. Though this review focuses exclusively on the PC version, the game has lost none of its original charm, holding up as well today as it did when it was new.
Sam is an average kid, if you look past his turquoise skin and hair. The opening cutscene shows him lying in bed reading his favourite comic book, the mighty Pajama Man. The story is cut short when Sam’s mum opens the door, reminding him that tonight there will be no lights left on like usual. She flicks the switch, and Sam instantly becomes a trembling mess. Determined to overcome his nerves, however, he decides to capture Darkness, the personified version of the dark, just like his fictional superhero does. To achieve this, Sam plans to disguise himself, sneak up on Darkness, then shine light onto him and suck him into containment. But first he’ll have to locate his foe in an unfamiliar world full of bizarre surprises and various obstacles. It’s a plot based on a fear that many children can identify with, and Sam becomes a positive role model in bravely standing up to it.
Before venturing to seek out his opponent, Sam needs to collect three key belongings from his messy room: a mask, Portable Bad Guy Containment Unit (a lunchbox) and torch. At this point, players are allowed to move the mouse around, clicking on objects for Sam to check if anything is hidden beneath them. This scene acts as a tutorial stage, introducing the simplistic controls of ‘one click does all’. When all of Sam’s superhero items have been found they are stored in the inventory, opened by hovering the cursor towards the bottom of the screen. It’s a very accessible, clean interface which works well and avoids any clunkiness or frustration.
Finally kitted up with his trusty trio, Pajama Sam marches into the cupboard, which transports him to the Land of Darkness, a place surrounded by trees and bushes against the backdrop of a starry night sky. Sports equipment and clothes (also found in Sam’s room) are dispersed within the vegetation, hinting at a link between Sam’s imagination and this strange new world. Following a cobbled path, Sam is soon stopped in his tracks by a group of anthropomorphised trees. They introduce themselves as custom checkers, and swiftly confiscate all of Sam’s belongings and scatter them throughout the land. It’s now Sam’s task to recover his stolen items so he can defeat Darkness once and for all.
The trees are just a sample of the unusual characters that will make an appearance. Sam is the only human (if you can call him that) in this world, an innocent and friendly young boy who is keen to assist others. Along the way he’ll encounter a toaster, a coat stand and a fridge, to name but a few of the everyday items that have come to life. The most memorable are Otto the boat and King the mine cart, both of whom you’ll help out with their troubles. They act as modes of transport, and thus you’ll spend more time connecting with them than anyone else. It’s a shame other minor characters don’t play a bigger role, because everyone has a unique personality (such as the carrot trying to rescue his friends from being used in a salad and the over-worked water well) and I’d have liked to interact more with this colourfully assorted cast.
A key element for any children’s adventure game is voice acting – if the performances aren’t engaging, it’s likely that interest will be lost quickly. Thankfully, every moment you spend with these characters is a delight thanks to the brilliant and varied voices. Ranging from Sam’s high and chirpy voice to Otto’s hesitant and slightly wary style to the quiz show door’s enthusiastic zeal, each actor injects a highly distinctive personality into their respective roles. The music complements this perfectly, with upbeat tunes keeping the mood light while mixing in the occasional chime to add an unearthly air. Music even takes part in the game itself, with furniture dancing in secret and kitchen appliances singing about their functions.
There aren’t any selectable dialogue options when in conversation, as clicking on characters usually only produces a couple of different responses at most, but what is provided doesn’t lack in quality. The writing was done by Dave Grossman, currently with Telltale Games and another LucasArts veteran whose credits include highly acclaimed titles like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island, and here he managed to create clever, at times even sophisticated humour that will work on different levels for both children and adults. Sam is full of childlike remarks, such as asking a grandfather clock if he had cars or cable TV in his time, and dishes out slightly educational tips on various topics. Then there are blatantly hilarious moments such as the “gratuitous educational content" message flashing when Otto drags on in his explanation of a geyser, or "bureaucrats" being a selectable option to a quiz question about the name of the giant lizards who used to roam the earth.Continued on the next page...