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Sam and Max: The Psychotic Bunny Leaves the Pages and Invades Our Games
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Sam and Max: The Psychotic Bunny Leaves the Pages and Invades Our Games

The Sam and Max franchise has come in many forms over the years. It has been printed as a comic, featured as an animated television series, and transformed into a point and click adventure game.  The series follows the adventures Sam, a six foot tall canine detective who wears a blue suit and matching fedora, and Max, a violent, semi-psychotic rabbit-like thing as they solve mysteries and wreak havoc as freelance police. Unlike many other franchises, Sam and Max has been able to successfully adapt itself to new mediums, taking advantages of each medium’s unique strengths to provide something fun and unique.

The laid back canine detective and his psychotic rabbit partner were first introduced in the Sam and Max comic book series, which was written by Steve Purcell and debuted in 1987. Most of the series had a light hearted and fun fell as the freelance police become involved in increasingly ridiculous cases, from having a standoff with mobsters in their office, to traveling to the Philippines to stop an evil volcano cult. The freelance police often resorted to violence even when no violence was necessary, with Sam combating his foes with a comically oversized revolver and Max wielding any number of exotic, over power tools of destruction.  The dialogue was silly and over the top, with Sam giving unnecessarily long exclamatory statements, and Max choosing the most violent possible route and lacing it with wit and clever puns. The comic also showed a fair amount of self-parody and self-awareness by pointing out its own inconsistencies, such as when characters comment and things like “If Max doesn’t wear any cloths, then where does he hide his gun?”

The first adaptation of Sam and Max came in 1993 when Lucas Arts released Sam and Max Hit the Road. Sam and Max Hit the Road was a point and click adventure originally released on the Mac OS and DOS. In the game, players controlled Sam and directed him around a pre-rendered cartoon world to solve puzzles and explore the world. The game featured the same over the top story telling as the comic. This time the main attraction of a carnival, a Sasquatch called Bruno frozen in a block of ice, had escaped and kidnapped one of the performers. It was up to our heroes (if you can call them that) to return the rogue beast and rescue the performer. Some of the biggest draws of the game were the exceptionally written dialogue, fun characters, and uniquely applied humor.  The game took advantage of its medium to help tell jokes. Characters would respond to the players’ actions in fun and interesting ways, using the interactivity to help tell the story and keep the player interested and engaged. The game was well received critically, frequently appears in top 100 games lists, and is now considered a classic by many gamers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vfyp1d3h0gY

An example of gameplay from Sam and Max Hit the Road

Sam and Max would not appear again in video games until the 2006 release of Sam and Max Save the World.  Like its predecessor, Save the World was also a point and click adventure game in which Sam and Max went on ridiculous adventures, solved mysteries, and wreaked havoc. One of the game’s most interesting aspects was the way in which it was released. Save the World was released in an episodic fashion. Each episode was a self-contained adventure that had little to do with other episodes in the game beyond the occasional reference or subtle joke. This actually worked quite well as it kept the game feeling fresh and prevented from dragging for too long on any given story. However, the writing that made Sam and Max Hit the Road such a huge success was nowhere to be seen. Save the World was considerably less violent than its predecessors and the jokes, while still funny, felt tame in comparison to what had come before them. The overall interaction with the game world was also significantly reduced. It was no longer possible to waste hours of time simply wandering around the various locales sniggering at Sam’s and Max’s comments as you observed and interacted with your surroundings. All in all it was not a bad game, but it failed to take full advantage of what was offered by the video game medium and the point and click genre specifically.

The only other appearance of Sam and Max was their appearance in the animated series The Adventures of Sam and Max: Freelance Police.  The show had thirteen episodes, about twenty minutes each, which were largely unrelated to one another. The series was still very entertaining despite the lack of plot and being toned down to be more kid friendly. Max was not as vulgar and it was considerably less violent than other renditions of Sam and Max. The show relied instead on clever writing and outlandish scenarios to deliver its humor and keep the audience entertained. Compared to other children’s cartoons of the late 1990’s, the animation for Sam and Max was quite good. This allowed for fast paced action sequences and effects that were not possible for video games at the time, along with jokes and humor that played off of said action sequences and effects. Once again Sam and Max had successfully adapted to take advantage of their new medium.

Some footage from the 1997 Sam and Max Animated series

Overall, Sam and Max proved to be a highly adaptable source with an extremely high entertainment value. This was only reinforced by the consistently good writing and humor which took advantage of each medium strengths and weakness. Sam and Max was by no means ground breaking in any field, but was spectacular in the sense that it well it succeeded in what it set out to do: to be entertaining.

Works Cited

Geraghty, Lincoln. Realities… blending as one!”: Film Texts and Intertexts in the Star Trek/X-Men Crossover Comics. University of Portsmouth. 2007.

Picard, Martin. Video Games and Their Relationship with Other Media. Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut. 2008.

Smith, Benjamin. Spandex Cinema : Three Approaches to Comic Book Film Adaptation. University of Central Oklahoma. 2009

Scolari, Carlos Alberto. Transmedia Storytelling: Implicit Consumers, Narrative Worlds, and Branding in Contemporary Media Production. University of Vic Catalunya, Spain. 2009.

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