America - Front
America - Back
By ssj12 27th Apr 2010 | 1,142 views
Sam and Max have returned for their third episodic season to give fans, and newcomers, their own unique brand of humorous entertainment which can only be found in a Sam and Max game. For newcomers to this franchise of mystery puzzle games let me give some background into what's going on. Sam is a humanoid dog, and is generally the brains of the operation. Max is a psychotic, melodramatic rabbit who always seems to do the dirty work. Together they form the Freelance Police on the corner of Straight and Narrow, in a fictional New York City. In each episodic tale the duo normally takes on four to five cases to get to the bottom of what's going on.
The Devil's Playhouse: Episode 1: The Penal Zone begins in a flashback what would be the final moments of the episode. Sam and Max are attempting to capture the evil General Skun-ka'pe as he attempts to destroy the city with his spaceship's lasers, during the course of which Max has somehow gained unimaginable physic powers. After trapping Skun-ka'pe, further referred to as Skunkape as Sam and Max call him, in the Penal Zone using Max's new teleportation and transformation power, and Sam's ingenuity, the story rewinds to reveal the events which lead up to Skunkape's capture.
In the past two seasons, Sam and Max have been point and click puzzle adventure games. Clicking around made Sam roam around a specific area and interact with the environment; whether to talk about something in the scene or physically interact with something. In The Devil's Playhouse, the gameplay has changed a bit. It no longer uses a point and click interface for movement. To move you either click and drag around a virtual joystick, use a game-pad, or use a keyboard to move Sam around the area like any other game. Sadly this transition really impacts the feel of the game. It loses one of the things that set Sam and Max out from the rest of the genre. While this change was needed due to the PlayStation 3 not having a true pointing device (yet) it continues to reduce the prominence of the PC point and click genre. It would have been nice to have the old control style as an extra option in the PC version.
As a puzzle adventure game, The Devil's Playhouse begins Sam and Max Season 3 with a very fast-paced tutorial introducing the new control-scheme and storyline. After getting used to the controls, it's the puzzles that will bend your way of thinking. Max's powers add a wonderful mix of confusion and enjoyment as you make the story progress. Certain items need to be used with one-another to unlock new locations on the city map. Some of these items will vanish out of your inventory, while others will stay to be used later in the game. Finding and gaining access to items can sometimes be a brainteaser due to the puzzles involved to unlock certain chains of events to gain access to some of the most important items in the game.
Graphically, Sam and Max isn't super stunning, but really it doesn't have to be. The game has its own unique art-style which stands out. Characters, other than Sam and Max and special characters like Skunkape, seem anatomically correct, but they aren't. If you take, for example, Grandpa Stinky, his body looks normal, but his arms look like Popeye the Sailor's arms with bulging forearms. Everything else is pretty much realistically drawn in a cel-shaded pallet. Things aren't perfect though. Every once in a while the visuals glitch and zoom in, cutting out a decent portion of the screen. As of this review there hasn't been a patch to fix this.
Quirky jokes and very odd conversations are pretty much tradition for a Sam and Max game. This is, of course, very true in the Devil's Playhouse: Episode 1: The Penal Zone. There is no shortage of oddball conversations which can leave you either laughing or scratching your head throughout the adventure. Audio volume is relatively good most of the time. There are points where it can get too loud or soft. Replaying the scenes can lead to random results, too. There are even times that audio will totally cut out.
Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse: The Penal Zone is a great game, and is a part of what could end up being a part of a fantastic collection. From beginning to end this episode totals between three to five invigorating hours of puzzling fun. The new controls can take some time to get used to, and there are some very annoying bugs. Still, these issues can easily be overlooked. This is a great start for the Devil's Playhouse arc which makes it well worth of the $35 price tag.