In the early to mid 1990’s adventure games were king. While consoles focused on platformers about hedgehogs and plumbers (things sure change, huh?) the PC market was all about point and click. It was a glorious time in the short history of gaming, an era when storytelling was king and games lived or died on the quality of their writing. Some of the greatest games of all time came out of the adventure boom of the 90s, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Kings Quest (and its many many sequels), these were all games that eschewed fast paced action in favour of compelling (not to mention hilarious) stories. Of all these titles (and I’m sure we shall speak again of some of them) there was one however that is generally considered to be one of the finest. The tale of one dog and one “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”, Sam n’ Max Hit The Road.
Sam n’ Max is the brainchild of writer, Steve Purcell, a Californian cartoonist who created the duo for an independent comic book which was later picked up by Lucusarts (it’s a little more complicated than that but that’s the gist). Quick celebrity fact (and please bear in mind that this is very much a wiki fact and so usual scepticism should apply) Steve Purcel is a friend of Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and invented a game with him called “fizzball” that involved hitting a can of beer with an axe handle. Is that true? Probably not, but dammit if it isn’t a funny image.
So what’s it about then? Well Sam is a 6 foot tall dog in a suit & fedora while Max is a borderline psychotic rabbit with a passion for mindless violence. Together they comprise The Freelance Police, a semi-legal vigilante outfit that solves nutty crimes about missing bigfoots (bigfeet?) and giant moon rats. The great staples of a cop comedy are all there: the calm straight man who knows everything and the crazy funny guy who blows stuff up. It’s a golden formula and one that many great stories make use of. The writing in Sam n’ Max Hit The Road (much of it handled by Purcell himself) is razor sharp, frequently satirical and deliriously silly. The game’s humour succeeded in appealing to both adults and children, a quality that we’re used to seeing from the best animation now, but was pretty ground breaking in its time (especially for a computer game).
The duo finally returned to their roots in 1997 when a Sam n’ Max web comic written by Purcell won the Eisner award for best digital comic. A fitting tribute for a pair of characters who were born in print but made their name in pixels.
Finding a copy of the original game that will run on a modern PC can be a challenge but luckily for you there is always the fairly recent episodic game series from Telltale games which once again features Purcell’s writing at the forefront. Sam n’ Max are a rare example of a franchise gaining an insane amount of critical acclaim and fan adoration despite having only appeared in a small range of media. It’s a masterpiece of police comedy and if Moon can succeed in being a fraction as good then I shall be a very happy man.
Now enjoy some of the finest cheesy intro music you’ll ever hear!