Earlier this week on our YouTube channel, I posted the first video in my Let’s Play of Sam & Max Hit the Road. In short, this is a point-and-click game released by LucasArts in 1993. It contains the titular characters of Sam, an anthropomorphic dog, and Max, a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing,” both freelance police/detectives/good at poking around in other people’s business. Both were also comic book characters before they became video game characters. And both posses their own unique personalities and skillsets, with Sam being the proverbial upstanding citizen and straightman to Max’s twisted tendencies and dark sense of humor. In other words, it’s a game that’s right up my alley.
Before playing Hit the Road for the purposes of recording, it had been a long time since I had spent any quality time with this crazy duo. I played the original game ages ago (how many floppy disks were there?), and at the time, I think I found the game more frustrating than funny. The direction you get in the game ranges runs the gamut from nil to obvious. There were plenty of times where I didn’t know what to do next or realize that I a had missed something important at a previous location. That said, it’s not the type of game that penalizes you for making the “wrong” decision. There are no time limits or extra lives or bosses to battle. (In her recent post here on point-and-click mobile game, Dina discusses the many positives of the genre.) The game is all about navigating Sam and Max during their journey, which this time around, proved to be a joy. It also brought to mind several things about games generally that I hadn’t thought of in awhile. Allow me to share a few of my gaming rediscoveries that occurred while playing Gator Golf and visiting mole men in the tunnel of love. (And if you don’t get what that means, you’ll just have to check out my videos! 🙂 )
Zen comes from letting go
While I mostly remembered my way around Hit the Road, I encountered a few spots where my memory ran dry, or I jumped the gun with tasks. While the virtues of video editing can remove such mistakes, the fact remained that while playing I had to let go of the notion of linearity. While I’m sure that the developers had in mind a particular path for players to follow in the game, once the world opened, you could travel to any of the spots to make your own discoveries. Now, as far as I know, the game does not possess a multiple array storylines. What does change for each player is the manner in which that single story unfolds. The game doesn’t afford total freedom, but given that my recent gaming roster has been RPG heavy, I had forgotten that games can fall somewhere in between open world and completely linear.
Believability is key
One of the best things that a game like Hit the Road has going for it is believability. In the case of his game, I don’t mean that one has to believe in bigfoots and metal-warping telekinetic powers in order to enjoy what’s going on. But as fantastical as the game is, from its opening sequence to its magical, ecologically-minded ending, it’s not difficult to stretch your imagination to accept Sam and Max’s weird world. And not only do Sam and Max work well together as a team, especially once they start remarking on their own experiences, but the game is filled with unique faces that make sense in the game’s grand scheme. The places that Sam and Max visit are also based on real-life tourist traps. Though exaggerated, they are taken quite seriously, if in silly manners. Once you get going in the game, it’s easy to believe in Sam and Max, their encounters, and their quest, because all the game’s elements mesh in perfect, ridiculous harmony.
Game length has little to do with immersion
We’ve extolled the virtues of short games before here, so that fact is not in question. But thinking about how I got so attached to Xenoblade Chronicles last year through ninety plus hours of gameplay, I don’t feel as though I know that game any better than I do Hit the Road, which only took about three hours to play. In that time, I became just as engrossed (if not more so) in the trials and tribulation of the freelance police as I did in the adventures of Shulk and Reyn. Granted, with a game like Xenoblade Chronicles, there’s tons of extra information about the characters to uncover, which there really isn’t in Hit the Road, but the beauty of Hit the Road is that it’s story is so rich visually that it doesn’t need to lock away information behind character interactions. The game sets everything out in front of the players like a buffet rather than a course-by-course meal. It may be a lot to take in at first, but after a few helpings, you become just as immersed in a few hours as if you had spent a whole day eating. I mean…playing.