Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Pajama Sam in No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside (1996)

This week, we're tackling another of Humongous Entertainment's appealing children's adventures, first in a series of games starring a young boy with a red blanket cape: Pajama Sam in No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside.  (That's a bit of a mouthful, so I'll just refer to it as Pajama Sam #1 from this point on.)  It was published in 1996 and re-released in 2002 by Ron Gilbert's Humongous Entertainment, featuring dialogue written by Lucasarts/Telltale Games veteran David Grossman and great lead character voice acting by Pamela Segall, which is why Pajama Sam sounds so much like King of the Hill's Bobby Hill.

We can assume that Sam's adventure will help him (and fans in the right age group) deal with a common childhood phobia -- the fear of the dark.  The game is illustrated with 640x480 resolution graphics and plenty of fluid hand-drawn animation, using a later version of the Lucasarts SCUMM engine under license.  Onscreen text is very large, helping early readers match the fully-voiced dialogue to the printed word, though this is slightly undermined by occasional mismatches between script and voice acting.  The plot and puzzles are straightforward, and there's no direct character control, just objects and exits to select, leaving the budget free to create lots of fun for kids with many clickable objects onscreen.  Even very young players who may not make much headway toward the game's ending can have fun playing around in every room, discovering cute and varied incidental animations and sound effects.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to tackle Pajama Sam #1 independently before proceeding with my comments below; it's just recently returned to commercial availability via Steam, which is where I found it, along with the rest of the worthy Humongous library (most of the games are adventures, but some are simple, kid-oriented arcade games.)  The adventure isn't hard to finish with a little patience and exploration, but there are substantial random elements and some red herrings as a result of certain puzzles or characters being included or omitted.  The good news is that your experience may vary considerably from mine -- still, beyond this point, there are bound to be...

****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

We join our young hero on his first night sleeping with the lights out -- Mom is depicted mostly offscreen, in the traditional manner of classic animated cartoons, and Sam is more nervous than he will admit.  This is all by way of prologue -- the game begins with Sam reading from the comic book adventures of Pajama Man, and after the lights are out, he decides to emulate his hero by donning a blanket cape in order to conquer the Darkness.  We have to click around to help him round up his basic superhero gear -- a flashlight, naturally, a hero mask, and an official Pajama Man lunchbox, for use in trapping Sam's dark nemesis after it is suitably defeated. There are lots of other fun things to click on in Sam's room, though there are rather more insects about than seems sanitary; we can also collect the first of a number of socks strewn about the game world, a completely optional finding and matching exercise that's more fun than it ought to be.

Back to the darkening plot!  With his gear assembled, Sam can enter the closet -- the title screen appears, and we're off!

Sam falls down a metaphysical shaft below his closet, landing safely in an oversized catcher's mitt amongst lots of sports equipment, all apparently tossed into his closet and forgotten.  Heading to the right, we find a bridge with a board floating in the water -- it's "Too far to reach!" at the moment, so we'll head into the woods on the other side of the bridge.

Past the bridge, we enter the Land of Darkness proper, where a band of mean-spirited customs officers -- trees, actually -- confiscate Sam's hero equipment and leave him dangling from a rope.  Fortunately, Sam can escape just by clicking on the rope, which he adds to his inventory after a nice civilian tree nearby agrees to let him borrow it and advises him to search the land for his stuff.

We can use the rope to get the board floating by the bridge, though we lose the rope in the process -- fortunately the pleasant tree accepts Sam's apology if we opt to talk to her again.  Continuing through the forest, Sam finds himself at an intersection -- Darkness' house is straight ahead, with the mines to the left and a boat dock to the right.

I opted to check out Darkness' house first -- entry is apparently gained using a counterweight elevator basket system, but we won't try to go inside just yet.  Sam reminds us that he needs his superhero equipment before going inside -- this isn't strictly true, as it turns out, but we'll go explore elsewhere for now.

The mines can't be explored on foot -- some tracks are dangerously rickety, and there's hot magma bubbling everywhere.  An old mine cart who calls himself King is friendly, but depressed because his wheels are rusted in place, so it might be useful to free him up if we can.

At the boat dock in the other direction, Sam meets Otto, a wooden boat who has been led to believe that wood does not float, so he just sits on the grass near the edge of the river.  If Sam demonstrates the specific gravity of wood versus water by tossing the board into the river, Otto snopes snaps out of this unsupported delusion, zipping gleefully around the lake before offering to take Sam wherever he wants to go.

Aboardboat, the river presents several possible paths.  To the right is a volcanic area with colorful, bubbling lava pits and a sizeable geyser, allowing Otto to expound on the temperature-driven physics involved while Sam dozes off and a "GRATUITOUS EDUCATIONAL CONTENT" warning flashes at the bottom of the screen.  (The information presented is actually pretty interesting, but that's probably just me.)  There's nothing else to do here, really, though we'll be back here later on.

Left of the boat dock, we cross under an imposing bridge to reach a small shack on a rickety dock.  We can acquire a partially-filled oil can here, and Sam (in my playthrough) spots his flashlight inside!  We can't open the shack's door, though, as it has no knob, hint hint.

Past the shack, Otto can plummet down a series of waterfalls, much to his dismay, though Sam quite enjoys the ride.  We can't go back up the way we came, so we head to the left, entering a large underground cavern.  Someone is lowering a bucket down into the water, repeatedly, but Otto can't take us to it -- the current is too strong, so perhaps we need to find a motor.  We'll just ride the geyser back out of here and continue exploring.

Returning to the bridge we passed under earlier, Sam learns it is a toll bridge, demanding one pound (!) of gold before we can cross it to explore the area on the other side of the river.  Probably something we need to find in the mine.

Directly across from the boat dock is a forested area -- Sam can get his head stuck in a small hollow log, stumbling comically about before he falls down and knocks it back to its original location on the ground.  A path here leads to several talking trees, who aren't vicious but are rather snooty -- the path here is for trees only, nonsensically enough, and they won't let Sam past.  We can, of course, wear the hollow log to get past -- the trees are exclusionary but none too bright -- to find a small garden area.  Sam's lunchbox (in my game) is visible near a well, but there are huge thorny vines blocking the way -- the well is raising and lowering its bucket, so perhaps this connects to the underground cavern we visited earlier.

All right, time do some puzzle solving.  The oil can frees King the mine cart, and he offers Sam a tour of the mine.  There's a large nail lying on a rock outcropping in a lava lagoon near the track at one point, but we'll need something to extend Sam's reach.  We can also acquire a pick-axe, and observe a large door -- King tells us it's a one-way door, and the style suggests it's an exit from Darkness' lair.

Reaching some mineable gold takes a little trial and error -- there are a bunch of signs pointing to the tunnel system that leads to the gold, but once we're inside we have to be quick about clicking on one of the available paths before King goes with the default.  Once we find the rich vein of gold, we can mine a chunk -- Sam's pick-axe breaks, but we've got enough to pay the bridge toll and give King a little piece as a tip.

Returning to the toll bridge, Sam pays and gets his hand-stamped to enable return trips later on.  On the other side of the bridge is a talkative toaster who challenges Sam to a game of Cheese and Crackers, basically Tic-Tac-Toe with a few larger matrices to make it more difficult.  We don't earn anything specific for winning, but the Humongous Entertainment designers often include optional mini-games -- still, the fact we had to solve some puzzles to reach this game suggest it may be more important than it appears.  It's not hard to beat the toaster's AI -- even in a simple 3 x 3 game, he tends to make bad, seemingly random choices that leave openings for Sam to claim an easy victory.

So... what else are we trying to accomplish here?  We think we need a knob for the shack's door, and a motor so Otto can get Sam to the bucket underground.  I took another few trips through the mine, finding one path I hadn't explored that leads to a Remote Mining Terminal mini-game.  This is basically the early computer game known as Snake -- we steer a mine cart around the playfield, picking up all the items with our mine train growing longer with each acquisition, trying to pick them all up without running into the outer walls or our own tail.  There are many levels, with progressively more difficult layouts to navigate, but the game is very generous with extra lives and I grew weary of the simple gameplay before I was in any danger of running out.  This activity seems to be optional, as we don't win anything concrete.

What else can we do?  Visiting Darkness' house and pestering the mailbox eventually earns us a peek at D. Ness' junk mail, but this is for entertainment purposes only; David Grossman's writing contributions are most evident in some of these fun but non-essential conversations.  We can put nearby rocks in the elevator's counterweight basket -- they're a bit out of reach but voluntarily leap into Sam's outstretched hands -- and this time, Sam isn't insisting on finding his gear, so maybe we can look around the house now... and yes, we can!

The kitchen can be explored -- various appliances and objects sing little ditties about Darkness' hunger and their jobs, to a jazz score very reminiscent of George "The Fatman" Sanger's The 7th Guest music, though Sanger was not involved in this game (he did work on at least one other Humongous title.)  The dumbwaiter (who won't let Sam take a ride down) is the only character who doesn't really sing his rhyming dialogue in this scene.  I did run into a bug here -- possibly an issue with the original scripting, possibly a ScummVM interpreter issue -- where after I had clicked on a number of characters, the mouse cursor disappeared and bits of two characters' songs kept repeating in alternating fashion; I couldn't save or load at this point, so I had to quit and restore from an earlier point to get back here.

Next to the kitchen is a ballroom of sorts, where the furniture dances to disco-style music from the radio -- Sam's mask (in my playthrough) is on the floor, but when he tries to grab it the furniture stops dancing, not wishing to be observed at play.  Unfortunately, the sofa ends up standing on the mask, and Sam can't pull it free.  We'll need to fix this somehow.

Upstairs, Sam can take the Brain Tickler Quiz, a game show hosted by the two Doors of Knowledge.  There are a number of random categories available -- my game featured questions about Worms, Rocket Science, Plants and the Land of Darkness.  These are genuine multiple-choice trivia questions, requiring some general knowledge and observation of the game's world, but we're allowed to try another question in a category if we fail on a first attempt, so even though I didn't know the Latinate derivation of "dandelion" I was able to become Grand Champion without much trouble.  The doors are well-written characters, with contrasting personalities, and we'll encounter them in various mid-arguments when we wander through later on.

The Doors of Knowledge, once opened, lead into a disorienting area with many doors on the walls, floors and ceilings.  We can grab a knob here, good; we can also visit a music room with some oars mounted on the wall.  Sam can climb on a massive pipe organ and swing on the chandelier to reach the oars; this requires a bit of rhythmic clicking to get the chandelier moving back and forth in wider arcs.

Further upstairs is Darkness' room, but Sam won't go in there without all of his equipment.  So let's go use the things we have acquired just now -- the oars allow us to reach the bucket, which allows Sam to ride up to the well surrounded by thorns and retrieve his official Pajama Man lunchbox.  The knob works on the shack door, though we also have to oil the hinges, allowing Sam to retrieve his flashlight and acquire a hammer as well.  Can we use the hammer to retrieve the nail in the mine?  Nope.

Returning to Darkness' house, I realize I missed a path -- there's another area near the music room which leads to a library containing a secret door (a clue book lying open suggests pushing in all the red books to activate it.)  A horseshoe magnet hangs on the back side of the door, but every time Sam touches the door it rotates him around to the other side, keeping the magnet out of reach.  There's a staircase here which appears to lead down to the one-way door in the mine, but we don't want to leave this area yet, as there's a secret laboratory at the bottom of the stairs as well.

The secret lab contains a tall bookshelf with something of interest on the top shelf -- little Sam is too short to reach it, though.  A chemical mixing table includes a book of recipes -- we can mix colored chemicals (in exactly the prescribed order) to create a number of temporary, comical effects on Sam -- when the Weather Control formula is mixed, a rain cloud appears and drenches him, and the Voice of Power causes Sam to emit a massive belch.  There's a Music recipe -- I thought maybe we could play music to get the furniture dancing, as the radio won't allow Sam to turn it back on, but it just causes Sam to be used as a bow by a massive cello that appears.  Most intriguing is the Invisibility mixture, because it requires a blue chemical not currently available on the table.

We can use the dumbwaiter, which arrives at the secret lab when sent down from the kitchen, to return upstairs and grab the magnet now that the secret door is rotated.  Then we can use the magnet in the mine to retrieve the nail.  Returning to the dancing furniture, we note that the clock radio on the table actually reports the current system time, though it's only accurate in fifteen minute increments.  I thought we could use the nail to fasten either the mask or the couch in place, but Sam doesn't see any reason to use the hammer or nail with either of those objects.  Noting that the lamp keeps whispering to the other furniture that Sam is still in the room, maybe that Invisibility formula will be handy.  If only we had the blue chemical...

On the way back to the secret lab, I look at a blank book in the library, and Sam mentions that if he had a pencil, he could write a poem.  Roses are red, violets are blue?  Hmmmm.  Ah -- back at the lab, I realize that the indistinct object atop the bookcase is a flask with blue liquid in it!  I thought it was a mortar and pestle or something earlier.  Sam's still too short to reach it, and none of the chemical recipes increase his height, but there's a red chair in the room that keeps dancing out of Sam's reach.  We can get it into the lower left-hand corner by moving to the chemical table while it's in the upper left corner, but how do we get it to the lower right-hand corner where Sam needs it?  I tried leaving the lab and returning, but to no avail; it seems that repeated clicking with a random outcome is the only real way to get it where we want it.

Now, Sam can climb the chair -- but its weak leg breaks before he can get the blue chemical.  This is why we need the hammer and nail -- Sam patches the chair up nicely, and now we have the missing blue chemical.  The invisibility effect is very brief -- if we leave the lab through its main door, Sam becomes visible before we can get anywhere near the ballroom.  We have to send the dumbwaiter down from the kitchen -- there's no way to recall it to the secret lab downstairs -- before we use the Invisibility formula, then ride it back up, dash to the ballroom, and obtain the mask while the furniture is still partying.  And I'm glad we're finally at this point in the story, because I've been waiting to use this screenshot to show off the rowdy, Max Fleischer/underground comix style I love about this scene:

Now Sam is fully equipped -- we head all the way upstairs to the realm of Darkness, as our young hero steels himself for battle:

Entering Darkness' lair, Sam finds himself in a corrupted version of his own bedroom -- the closet is padlocked, and a cupboard full of keys yields none that work until we take a second look, using the last key hanging on a hook in the cupboard to unlock the closet.  The final confrontation is at hand!

Of course, this is a cheerful and kid-friendly Humongous Entertainment game, so we are not at all surprised when Sam faces the Darkness and discovers that he is not scary, just lonely, sad because when he comes out to play everybody else is asleep.  Sam volunteers to play a game with him, and achieves sudden victory of a different sort than expected as he handily beats Darkness in a round of Cheese and Crackers:

Sam has conquered (his fear of) Darkness, and returns to his bed, snug and secure.  The credits roll, and all is well -- though it appears the game has come to Steam by way of time warp, what with the 2022 copyright as I write this in 2014:

(I also note that Sam looks more than a bit like Bill Watterson's Calvin in this screenshot!)

I have been enjoying the Humongous Entertainment point-and-click adventures and Pajama Sam #1 is no exception.  It's clearly aimed at kids and never challenging in any real sense (though it's more sophisticated than the Putt-Putt and Freddi Fish games), but it definitely has a sense of humor and benefits from high production values.  It makes me wish that the broader adventure game genre had remained commercially viable during this period -- the quality of the 2-D animation and voice acting here is impressive, compared to the state of the art during the medium's heyday.  And Dave Grossman's involvement allows Pajama Sam #1 to stand as a bridge between the Lucasarts titles and the Telltale Games era.  Fun!

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