An Ignorant Millennial Twat (Me) Tries To Understand Why He Doesn’t Find Sam And Max: Hit The Road Funny

Yeah, you liked that title, didn’t you?

This is part of my “for crying out loud just post something” phase, I had planned to do something about Portal, but that idea didn’t pan out. Reading over this two year old draft again, the times where I tried to make more general points were overreaching nonsense so I’ve cut that and tweaked it to make it more subjective and personal. Consequently, it won’t really mean anything to anyone. Oh well.


By modern standards the interface and controls of classic point and click adventure games don’t hold up. In Sam and Max: Hit the Road, Sam will walk, at a speed that only just outpaces the growth of human hair, over to something only to inform you that he can’t do anything with it. You’ll spend what feels like a lifetime combing the environment for points of interest and throwing every item and method of interaction at them in the hopes that you’ll satisfy whatever condition you need to progress. It’s like playing connect the dots with a numbering system you’ve never seen before. We all know this about point and click adventures.

That’s the review I would have written of this game condensed into a paragraph. With that out of the way I’m going to talk about the other thing we all know about point and click adventures. The writing. The writing is what people seem to remember about these games, it’s the quality of the story and the humour that makes us describe them as “classics” rather than “old”, “work” or dare I say “bad”. That’s why I was surprised to find myself unamused throughout much of my time with SaMHtR and today I’m going to try and break this feeling down.

As I played through the game I couldn’t help but picture the writers working their way through a checklist of interactions they needed to make quips for. When you select objects that you can interact with, as well as quite a few that you can’t, Sam or Max will make some sarcastic remark or vague threat of violence respectively. It feels to me as if these jokes are there because they feel they have to include some kind of joke, not because someone had an idea they were excited about. The jokes were made to fit a framework, not the other way around.

Personally, the comedic highlights of the game were the segments that clearly took time to make and set up, not the throwaway asides. The bizarre edutainment song, what happens when Max makes a wish at the wishing well and the fisherman who inexplicably looks and sounds like Woody Allen are all genuinely entertaining. What strikes me about these examples is that despite the two leads constantly trying to make jokes, all of the moments I listed above did not come from Sam or Max.

A little of this might come down to the performances, but this isn’t a criticism of the actors more the material they’re given. Sam is given hundreds of lines to deliver in a dead pan drawl, which overall makes all of his lines sound the same. Max’s “wacky” additions are unpredictable in content but predictable in style. They’re almost all mildly psychotic nonsense so the ability to surprise or shock is gone. The slight pause between lines also probably robs some of Max’s lines of the immediacy they might have had.

One of the challenges of trying to make a genuinely funny game is the problem of repetition. If you hear a particular line enough times, no matter how funny it initially was, you’ll grow to loathe it and in the process, wipe away any good will you had toward the line and the character delivering it. Familiarity breeds contempt after all. For example, I think I enjoyed the Snucky U jokes initially but this fondness was destroyed by having to hear them multiple times while I tried to figure out how to get the key I needed to progress.

I think it’s interesting to make comparisons with Undertale, which is similarly full of silly characters, throwaway jokes and bright colours but I liked that game a lot. It may be that the gameplay in Undertale is stronger, which puts me in a better mood for the comedic elements. I will say that Undertale is less snarky than SaMHtR, with a warmer sense of humour, the jokes coming from diverse characters being themselves and interacting, not sarcastic pricks making quippy quips all the time. Does this mean I have I outgrown sarcasm?

I may need to sit down for a moment.

Finally, if you’d like to read some stuff about humour in games by people who actually know what they’re talking about, I’d recommend Gameological’s interviews with Erik Wolpaw of Pscyhonauts and Portal fame and noted point-and-click scribe Ron Gilbert.

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