Games Within Games: Sam and Max Hit the Road

First published in  CubedGamers (Printed Edition): May 2015

LucasArts’ Sam and Max Hit the Road is surely one of the funniest computer game titles ever released. Created by Steve Purcell when he was a teenager, the characters had debuted in the 1987 comic book Monkeys Violating the Heavenly Temple in which the titular characters – freelance policemen Sam (a “canine shamus” in a suit and a fedora) and Max (a three-foot high hyperkinetic “rabbity thing”) travel to the Philippines to confront and defeat a phony psychic surgery cult led by Dr Fritz Nunkie. Further adventures saw them defeat 50ft cockroaches on the moon, and rescue the world’s largest prairie dog from New Orleans sea pirates.

After joining LucasArts in 1988 as an artist and designer, Purcell introduced the characters to a wider audience through the company’s newsletter The Adventurer. Following the success of Monkey Island 2, the company identified the characters as providing similar a similar opportunity for surreal humour, and so Hit the Road was born. One of the first games to contain a full soundtrack and voiceovers (Bill Farmer – of Goofy fame – starred as the voice of Sam) the game followed the characters as they undertook their “latest idiotic and baffling assignment,” recovering Bruno the Bigfoot and Trixie, the Giraffe Necked Girl from Scranton, two exhibits from a carnival freakshow who have run away and been captured by deranged Liverpudlian country and western star Conroy Bumpus. On their search, they visit a host of tourist traps, including The World’s Largest Ball of Twine, Frog Rock, and the Total Mystery Vortex.

Included in the game are a number of mini games to help frustrated players pass the time in-between the moments of inspiration that would help them solve one of the games many manic puzzles. Included are:

Highway Surfin’

 Highway Surfin’ is the first mini game you can access in the game, and it’s fiendishly difficult. Based on the the pairs favourite activity from the comics – steering their beloved DeSoto Adventurer down the highway with one foot whilst surfing on the top. Max rides on top of the Sam’s beloved DeSoto Adventurer as he drives down the highway, trying to reach the end of the level before the time runs out. Switching lanes, the aim of the game is to make Max jump over or onto the highway signs, with time being lost every time he hits a sign. Multiple successes increase your score dramatically.

Wak-A-Rat: Located within the Kushman Brothers Carnival, Wak-A-Rat is an amusing diversion that has some replayability. The aim is simply to whack the rats on the head with a hammer when they pop up out of their holes. You need a score of twenty or higher to win. A perfect score is to hit the Rats on all forty possible occasions. If you get bored, you can just hit Max on the head instead.

Gator Golf: One of the wacky tourist traps you encounter on your journey is the  Gator Golf Emporium in Rheumy Eyes, Florida. The scene of a key confrontation between our heroes and Conroy Bumpus, Gator Golf is a simplistic game, and beyond having to complete it to progress with the game, you might not come back to it. Shooting balls at the various features elicits various different responses, as does hitting the alligators that have infested the driving range.

Carbomb: A variation on Battleships, this game is one of three items of “Snuckeys crap” you can purchase at Snuckeys, a spoof of the American highway retailer Stuckeys. You play as Sam, against Max, placing five vehicles on the board, in addition to two trampolines. If a bomb lands upon a Trampoline, it is fired back to the other side, landing on the same square. For those intent on destruction, you can always shoot off a nuclear bomb to inflict further damage upon your opponents cars.

Sam & Max Dress-Up Book and Max’s Wax Paint-By-Numbers Book: Used as copy-protection on the floppy-disk version of the game, the Dress-Up book, in the CD version its a simple time waster. While away the minutes, dressing up the heroes in a parade of silly costumes, whilst admiring the sheer oddness of Sam’s loincloth. The Paint By Numbers books can be bought at the southern Snuckeys, this simply allows another outlet for time wasting, as Max is allowed to colour in two different scenes; Sam & Max driving under the sea, or playing some snakes and swords.

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