sparky_buzzsaw's Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse (PC) review

Take a step forward. Now take a step back.

In a lot of ways, Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse is the best use of Telltale's adventure engine yet.  It's certainly the most creative, featuring smart, unique designs to each episode that don't feature the same recycled environments time after time.  The new gimmick of Max having psychic powers (through the use of children's toys) also leads to some genuinely brilliant and hilarious moments.  But the control scheme, as adapted from Tales of Monkey Island, is definitely not a step forward for Telltale, and in the end, winds up detracting from what would otherwise be one hell of a fine adventure game.

 

This time around, Sam and Max must take on Egyptian curses, space apes, and various other challenges as they wind their way through the mean streets and do a little detective work.  The changes in atmosphere breathe new life into the series, completely ridding the game of the feeling of sameness that's plagued the other episodes.  You'll still recognize some of the places and characters, but these are usually the minority, and new camera angles and designs have really made them feel mostly different.  The new environments are flavorful and widely varied.

 

Max's new psychic powers create for a more robust adventure game.  You're no longer just picking up items and using them on random objects to get results.  There is still that element, of course, but now it's supplemented with some shape changing (I'm a bazooka, Sam!), teleportation, and visions of the future.  The visions of the future are particularly useful, as they can provide little snippets of what you'll need to do as well as provide the occasional essential conversational clue.

 

All this is great.  But it's hampered in part by a bad control scheme.  Instead of single clicking on a point to walk to, you must click and drag the mouse in the direction you want Sam to walk.  This sounds pretty minor, but combined with the new shifting camera angles (a la Resident Evil), it can be severely annoying at times.  Point and clicking would have served the new environments better, and would have left me feeling like I wasn't missing something due to the way or direction I was walking or running.

 

That said, this is still Telltale.  Sam and Max's episodic adventures are pretty freaking hilarious, and there's a wit to the writing that anyone should be able to appreciate.  The new graphical upgrades won't tax your computer overly much, and the gameplay updates are (mostly) very smart and add a lot of fresh ideas.  If you've been on the fence about this series, this is a good place to jump in, or you can go back and enjoy the rest of the great games that Telltale has released in the Sam and Max series.

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