Adventure Gamers Awards
Adventure games cover a broad spectrum, from text to 2D to 3D, from the serious to the comedic, from mind-melting puzzle-fests to story-centric endeavours. With such a wide variety available, it’s curious then that adventures for younger players remain underrepresented. This was problematic for me, as I wanted to introduce my two young nephews (ages 4 and 7) to the joys of adventure games. Fortunately, I found that Humongous Entertainment’s venerable Pajama Sam games are every bit as suitable for young gamers today as they were back when they were originally released near the turn of the century. Targeting children ages 3-8, there’s even enough meat on the bones of these 2D point-and-click adventures to provide a nice light snack for adults sharing in the experience. Having previously covered the series debut, No Need to Hide When it’s Dark Outside, this review focuses on the remaining three adventures, highlighting their similarities and differences in comparison to one another.
Players control the titular blue-coloured boy whose idol is the superhero cartoon character Pajama Man. Each game starts with a brief tutorial section where Sam has to locate his red cape before finding his way through the house and off to a fantastical new adventure. The formula is largely similar, but each game involves its own particular focus. Pajama Sam 2: Thunder and Lightning Aren’t so Frightening has mild environmental themes, showing, for example, that rainstorms are necessary for crops to grow. In Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat From Your Head To Your Feet, the importance of well-balanced nutrition is touched upon and even used to show tolerance of diversity. The series is capped off with Pajama Sam 4: Life is Rough When You Lose Your Stuff!, which is perhaps the weakest thematically as it speaks to taking care of one’s physical possessions – although for anyone around kids who break their toys, this may be an important message indeed. In all cases, the topical material is subtly woven in and never presented in an overbearing way.
Once properly equipped with his cape, Sam is ready to venture into the different fantasy world that awaits in each game. In Pajama Sam 2, he climbs through the attic to the World Wide Weather bureau located in the clouds above. Pajama Sam 3 sees him sneaking through the pantry into a land of food where he is promptly imprisoned and has to escape. Finally, in Pajama Sam 4 Sam is excited to learn that his hero is signing autographs at the local mall. He races to his room to retrieve his copy of the first-issue Pajama Man comic book, only to see it sucked into a pile of clothes, toys, and other detritus that he’s allowed to accumulate. Naturally, Sam follows the comic into another world based on the mess of his own room.
It is here that the respective worlds open significantly, with paths winding through the different cartoon locales. A good chunk of play time is spent exploring and finding areas where puzzles need to be solved, as well as the items needed to solve them. While the locations in all the Pajama Sam adventures are varied and interesting, younger children might be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of places and lack of direction at first, but experimentation is encouraged as there are no penalties for wrong choices.
While exploring the environs, Sam will eventually be tasked with completing three or four similar overarching goals. In Pajama Sam 2, he must find four anthropomorphic machine parts to fix various weather machines. Pajama Sam 3 tasks him with rescuing four food group delegates so they may attend the peace talks going on at the Food Pyramid. In Pajama Sam 4 he is again collecting items, this time searching for socks, shoes and a shirt to gain entry into the Grubby Corners Mall.
In Pajama Sam 2 and 3, the main goals comprise the entirety of the stories. Once Sam has restored the weather machine parts or saved the food delegates, an ending cut scene plays to finish off the adventure. The finale of Pajama Sam 2 is quite satisfying, with Mother Nature herself making an appearance. Pajama Sam 3’s ending results in the different food groups coming to terms with one another. While this does complete the story with a commendable lesson, the ending feels rushed and not as rewarding as its predecessor.
Pajama Sam 4 changes the pattern where the ending is concerned. Instead of finishing once the main goals are complete and access to the mall is gained, a final playable sequence is introduced. It’s a nice surprise just as it seems the experience is over, as it keeps the fun of the Pajama Sam world going a little longer. This sequence is not simply tacked on to extend gameplay, either, but builds to a nice conclusion in its own right.
The puzzles in this series tend towards the easier side, which is appropriate given the target audience. Most obstacles are fair and logical, generally requiring thorough exploration to find a needed inventory item. The design of Pajama Sam 4 suffers to a degree, however, as it has a number of stereotypical “adventure game-y” puzzles in it. One such challenge, involving an ice cube and a stuck lollipop, even has Sam explain why the solution worked. Another puzzle has the protagonist triggering a fire suppression water sprinkler system in order to clean the dirt off of himself. While he does say that he wouldn’t encourage his friends to do this, it is a moment that seems quite out of character for the otherwise polite, helpful, kind and responsible role model that Sam provides for children.
The Pajama Sam games are not long, each clocking in at just under two hours each for myself. My nephews completed Pajama Sam 2, with a little bit of help from their parents, in about three hours. This length feels right for the target audience, neither too long to bore children nor too difficult to discourage them. Play time can be increased in Pajama Sam 2 and 3, however, thanks to their replayability. Every time you start a new game, different puzzles are selected. In Pajama Sam 2 this selection is random, while in Pajama Sam 3 you can explicitly choose particular puzzles from the options menu, giving you more than just an arbitrary chance to get a different experience the next time around.
While the end goals are always the same in both games, the tasks along the way have a great deal of variation. For example, in Pajama Sam 2 one objective involves finding a lost machine part with a homing device of sorts. The first time through this part might simply be located in a room full of boxes and can be immediately picked up once detected. In another playthrough, the part might be hidden in a high vent in another room, requiring Sam to use a crane to reorganize stacks of crates to form stairs up to the vent. Along with the changes in puzzles, many of the characters Sam encounters will also say different things. When they do repeat things you’ve heard before, a quick keystroke will skip over the unnecessary dialogue.Continued on the next page...