By JimmyJackJones 1 Comments
Sam and Max continue to set the bar higher than before when it comes to comedy in games. This duo of an anthropomorphic dog and his psychotic rabbit friend have provided some of the best laughs I've had not just in games, but from all media this year. With the latest installment in this franchise, The Devil's Playhouse, Telltale continues to show how modern adventure games, and episodic gaming in general, should be done.
The Devil's Playhouse is the third "season" of Sam and Max that Telltale has developed, although they seem to be avoiding the word "season". I think that's because this series of episodes stand apart from the past two installments (although there are still references that those of us who have been devoted to the series can geek out about). While season 2 very much felt like more of the same (which wasn't a bad thing), The Devil's Playhouse has thrown in some new hooks to the gameplay to make it feel a bit different from the standard Telltale formula. Oh sure, that standard formula is still in there. You have an intro sequence, then you get a series of puzzles that you can tackle in any order to achieve a certain number of goals, and then you get the climax of the episode followed by a cliffhanger to get you to wait impatiently for the next episode. That has definitely been the case in the first two episodes Telltale has released so far.
Yet Telltale has managed to throw in some new mechanics to make the gameplay feel fresh and different. Max has psychic powers now, and those powers have an impact on the game. Sam and Max have come across the "Toys of Power", which originate from the Devil's Toybox. Each toy has a different power that Max can use, and these are used to solve many of the puzzles in the game. In the first episode, Max is able to see into the future, which was invaluable in helping me to figure out what to do next. In the second episode, you can use a ventriloquism doll to make other people say things. Aside from being helpful in the gameplay, these toys and the powers they hold are just plain quirky, and made me use them at random to see what sort of joke would come up next. I should also mention that when you bring up the wheel of powers, it makes the whole world seem ridiculous. Well, more so than usual. Phantom objects appear that make it look like some characters are wearing novelty cowboy hats, or that a saguaro is now in a previously empty corner. I'm not sure if this is an effect of the toys or just what Max normally sees, but either way it's a nice touch.
The second episode also used another trick to change things up. Rather than play as Sam and Max, you take control of their great-grandparents, Sammeth and Maximus. OK, so they're basically the same characters. The difference is in how you view the story. You are watching their adventure on old "dangerously flammable" nitrate film reels, and you have four reels to choose from. Each reel is a different part of the story, and it becomes necessary to switch between reels to find clues that will help you in the other reels. It's not unlike another Lucasarts classic: Day of the Tentacle.
But while the game plays well, it's the story and characters that make any Sam and Max game great. And boy are they great here. I'd expect no less from a series that featured a giant talking stone head of Abraham Lincoln as a major recurring character. There are some familiar faces, such as Secret Service Agent Superball, Stinky, and Grandpa Stinky. There are also some new faces, such as the first episode's antagonist, General Skunkape. But no characters can top the stars, Sam and Max. And they're in rare form here. My favorite line of theirs so far has come in Episode 2. Sammeth and Maximus learn that a certain character will always fall asleep when listening to "Ride of the Valkyries". The camera pulls out to show Sam and Max watching the film. Max remarks, "I can only fall asleep to the Tears of a Clown." Sam replies, "Poor Chuckles." Max answers, "I think his shackles are too tight." The bizarre and sometimes twisted humor of these games might not appeal to everyone, but I sure can't get enough.
Simply put, the Sam and Max series continues to be the best in the modern adventure genre. If you've ever had any love for point and click adventure games, you owe it to yourself to play this one. Well, you're probably already playing it, but if you're not, get in on it!