The Sam & Max franchise continues to be Telltale’s longest running series – now in its third season. This review is about episode four in The Devil’s Playhouse. It’s a chilling title for a series built on the funnies, but I can assure you the comedy is still well intact. And the supernatural is ever more pervasive. In the first season we had Abraham Lincoln’s statue come to life and mind control devices. Now we have ghosts, clones, psychic toys, and beings from other dimensions.
This is the first episode I’ve played since S02E01 (that’s season two, episode one by the way), Ice Station Santa. So I’ve had a wee bit of a Sam & Max break. Telltale urges you to play the third season from the very first episode, so that made the story seem a little more crazy to me, jumping in like I did. Before in previous seasons, each episode was slightly connected, but now just like Tales of Monkey Island, the five episodes tell a continuous story.
In fact it’s not only the story arc that was inspired by Tales of Monkey Island. The point and click adventure game is but mostly forgotten. Now we have a more console friendly approach with the WASD keys controlling Sam, or the more troublesome click and drag with a virtual joystick popping up.
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls starts off with Sam and Max being chased down the street by dozens of half-naked Sam clones (or Samulacra), craving the psychic toys Max has in his possession (just don’t ask him where he keeps all that stuff). They barricade themselves in Stinky’s diner (a familiar location from season two) and your first puzzle is to get the hell out of there. Grandpa Stinky makes the whole situation feel Left 4 Dead, and yes, the story only gets more bizarre as you go on from there.
Straight away I noticed a difference – there was a lot more happening in each scene, and a graphical fidelity equal to that of Tales of Monkey Island. There’s even film grain and a gently rocking camera! While it might not impress everyone *cough-Newsboy-cough*, I think the more detailed environments are a nice change.
Most of the locations are new, and you never see Sam and Max’s street so ever present in the first season, apart from in the opening cinematic. There’s a bunch of new characters in this season, as well as recently introduced lovable-giant-cockroach Sal, and Momma Bosco. There’s a few old faces too, but I’ll leave that a surprise.
Forget your inventory, Max’s psychic powers are what you’ll be using most. Max brings back a few powers from the previous episodes; teleportation, rhinoplasty, and future vision (that’s a guess cos you start with those). Max soon discovers mind reading and two other powers, all accessible from the first-person view of Max – which is a strange and kinda neat way of doing things. You can use rhinoplasty to turn Max into a cake and have him hop around like that for most of the game too if you’d like.
As usual, the witty dialogue is full of pop culture references including celebrities and events. I found out that a TV show I liked got cancelled. There’s even a reference to Tales of Monkey Island! Oh yeah and there’s also some creepy tentacles. Could there be a Day of the Tentacle series in the works? One can only hope.
Overall the puzzles are easily manageable. Though I did get stuck pretty good one time (the part where Stinky is unreachable). I liked the psychic powers, but I don’t think they could still hold up if they were used again in another season.
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is a great taste of season three. There’s even a lot of new things that may warm the heart (or is that cool the heart?) of someone who may have burnt out on Sam & Max previously.