Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - The Penal Zone

Review

posted 5/13/2010 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: PC
As much as I loved the first two seasons of Sam & Max, I'll admit to being a little concerned about their future.  It's not that I was sick of their witty one-liners or mind-melting puzzles.  Instead I worried that after giving us two phenomenal seasons, Telltale Games would simply rehash instead of innovate.  Boy was I wrong.  Sam & Max's third season, dubbed The Devil's Playhouse, not only looks better and offers a more exciting narrative, but it manages to drastically change the way you solve puzzles.  In short, Sam & Max have once again proven that they are the kings of video game comedy mischief.

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since we last spent time with Sam the crime-fighting dog and Sam the, well, foul-mouthed rabbity-thing.  Not much has changed for this dysfunctional pair; they are still solving crimes, Max is still the President and they are still surrounded by a group of colorful characters.  Wait ... did I say that not much has changed?  Okay, maybe that's not entirely true, because as the game starts up we learn that Max now possesses magical psychic abilities and there's a giant alien gorilla (named Skunkape) threatening to blow up Earth.


Instead of taking us on a linear path, The Penal Zone decides to have fun with flashbacks and flash forwards.  In fact, at one point there's even a flashback inside of another flashback.  It's all very confusing at first, but you feel like you're in the middle of the action right from the get-go.  Before long you're brought up to speed and get to see how it all plays out.  We learn that aliens have invaded the street Sam and Max live on and that this giant gorilla is having an affair with Stinky, the attractive (yet sloppy) local diner owner.  We also learn that in order to fix this problem, Sam and Max are going to have to create a cosmic disturbance, find a winning lottery ticket and figure out how to harness those magical psychic powers the game hinted at.  This pair of crime fighters definitely has their work cut out for them.

It seems clear from the beginning that the gimmick this season is going to revolve around Max's psychic abilities.  The flash forward suggests that you will be able to turn Max into just about any object thanks to magical Silly Putty.  We also learn that with a deck of magical playing cards Max can read people's minds.  All that is cool, but the real powers come from a magical play phone and a powerful View Master.  These pieces of plastic may look like toys, but they both offer amazing powers that will drastically change the way you play the game.


The first toy you pick up is the View Master, which gives Sam and Max a short glimpse into the future.  It's here that we learn that the future is not set in stone and you can change it at any time.  The game allows you to see the future for all kinds of objects and characters, including stuff that doesn't directly relate to the story at hand.  The other toy is the play phone, a device that magically teleports you to an entirely different part of the city.  Of course, with such power comes great limitations.  Sadly you can only teleport to phone numbers you know, so there's no opportunity to dial seven random numbers.

Both of these powers come in handy when solving puzzles.  In fact, many of the puzzles are centered around these two powers.  For example, early in the game you will pick up a cell phone that you can drop off in all sorts of places; this will allow you to instantly teleport anywhere you want to go ... even if you're stuck in a sticky situation.  You can also use the View Master to figure out what you're supposed to be doing and get clues to each mystery.  The way these powers are implemented make them feel like more than a gimmick, they really feel like a substantial new addition to this series.
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