Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – Episode 1: The Penal Zone

Originally published: 5 May 2010

sammaxdp1The most animal-tastic detective duo are back. No, not Chip ‘n’ Dale, I’m talking about Sam, the canine detective, and his hyper-kinetic rabbity thing sidekick Max. Fresh from their adventures in Time and Space they’re back on the detective trail and squaring off against, of course, a giant gorilla bent on galactic domination. Mwah ha ha ha etc. This time around Max is getting used to his newly blossoming psychic powers which have been unlocked by the ancient Toys of Power and you get to play with these new-found abilities throughout the course of the game.

The first thing you’ll notice about the new season of Sam & Max is that it’s released on the PS3, as well as the PC. The second thing you’ll notice is that the game is no longer running a traditional point and click style interface but has, instead, opted for a control mechanic very similar to that to be found in the Wallace and Gromit games which Telltale previously released. This control method seems to be, for the most part, a lot less clunky than that used to control the occupants of West Wallaby Street and while I initially had doubts about the system – stealing the point and click element from a Sam & Max game just seemed plain wrong – I was pleasantly surprised by how well it works.

The graphics have had a bit of an overhaul as well and look gorgeous on the PS3 – as you’d expect. There are occasional moments of slow-down where it seems that the PS3 is struggling to keep up with the manic action on screen, or where scenes take just a little bit too long to load but these can, quite easily, be ignored and are instantly forgotten about by the time the next gag hits. And believe me, they do hit. As you’d expect from a Sam & Max game, the writing is spot on and the jokes are coming at you thick and fast and each one is welcomed with open arms. I didn’t find a duff bit of dialogue throughout the whole game .

The Toys of Power add a new dimension to the puzzle solving. You are, handily, introduced to them through the initial flash-forward which serves as a tutorial to get you used to the new control method and the powers themselves. Max can teleport using telephones, as long as he’s memorised the number beforehand – a skill which can get you out of one or two scrapes. Silly putty lets Max become anything that the putty holds the image of – the tutorial sees Max become a pot plant and a bazooka. The Toys of Power have let the already insane universe that Sam & Max inhabit become even stranger, and that’s no bad thing.

While this is, of course, a stand-alone game in its own right, because it’s part of a much wider story arc there are, understandably, references to things which have happened in previous series , in-jokes for the fans if you like, which fall slightly flat if you’re unfamiliar with what came before. I, for example, hadn’t finished the Time and Space series before I set off on this episode and a couple of early references to what happened left me scratching my head (and also really wanting to finish the previous Season as well, so maybe it’s a subliminal trick to sell copies of previous seasons – I wouldn’t put it past Max to come up with a scheme like that.)

Summary
The long-awaited third season of Sam and Max kicks off in spectacular fashion. If you like your adventure games packed with sharp one-liners and occasionally head-scratching puzzles then this is for you. If you’ve not played the previous seasons be prepared to not get all the jokes but still have an amazing time. If you’ve played the earlier seasons, what the hell are you waiting for?