The game is based on a comic book series, created by Steve Purcell, which later spawned a television show. As well as this, the game rise to three series of episodic adventure games from Telltale Games.
Unlike previous SCUMM adventure games, any action the player does is not done by clicking a verb at the bottom of the screen; instead, players select an action by right clicking and cycling through images which appear on the cursor.
Dialogue is handled by using symbols instead of text and the inventory screen is placed on a separate screen, as oppose to being confined to the bottom of the screen.
In Sam & Max Hit the Road, players take on the role of Sam, a talking dog, who runs a freelance police agency with his partner Max, a "rabbity thing". Sam & Max get called to the local carnival where they are hired to track down Trixie, a giraffe-necked singer, who has run off with the carnivals other main attraction Bruno, the Bigfoot. It seems, however, that Sam & Max are not the only ones trying to find Bruno; a country-western star called Conroy Bumpus is planning to add the Bigfoot to his menagerie.
As a result, Sam & Max set out on a trip all around the United States of America to track down the Bigfoot, preventing Bumpus from capturing the pair and eventually helping the Bigfoot species to return to their former glory.
Sam & Max Hit the Road was a success upon its initial release in 1993. A sequel was planned by LucasArts, but this was delayed for unspecified reasons. Finally in 2002, LucasArts announced the sequel, Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Due to the high profile financial failure of LucasArts' previous adventure title, Grim Fandango, the new Sam & Max title was canceled quite far into development. The game would not receive a sequel of sorts until late 2006. In 2005, LucasArts' license with Sam & Max creator Steve Purcell was not renewed.
The license was then acquired by Telltale Games who, in turn, released three series of Sam & Max games, all of which were in episodic form.