Poll: Generic Amateur Reviews: Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse: Episode One: The Penal Zone

Attack of the colon!

Just your average tale of a power-mad space gorilla pitted against a canine detective and a sociopathic bunny with psychic powers." - The Narrator

Sam & Max has, so far, been a series I've always enjoyed, but never played. The (from what I gather) excellent Telltale seasons of episodic point n' click adventures have an emphasis on absurd humour and jarring pop culture references, clever puzzles and interesting characters. So, I have made quite the commitment by diving straight into the third such season completely unprepared, armed only with the knowledge that Max is somehow now the President of the United States, and that I want Sam's hat. I purchased the whole shebang for 25 smackaroos, and perhaps shall endeavour to review each monthly game in this "epic comedy saga". So journey with me, reader, as we enter the Penal Zone...

Let's get this out of the way first, yes, the Penal Zone is intended to be a funny pun, as highlighted in an excellent joke, where Villian-of-the-week Skun'ka-pe makes a remark about destroying the Freelance Police and the Penal Zone (ha!) in "a single stroke". Cue wacky sound effect. Now that that's out of the way, let me start by saying that the Penal Zone begins in an amazing fashion, with the duo somehow locked in a cage aboard the aforementioned power-mad Space Gorilla Skun'Ka-pe's enormous spaceship as he destroys New York. Using Max's bizarre and mysterious psychic powers, accessed by utilizing a series of psychic toys, it's up to you (and yes, the game even says that) to stop his evil plan.


"Ah! Giant talking dog!"

Once you turn Max into a bazooka (it makes sense in context, barely, but more on that soon), you take down Skunkape. But, dear reader, this is the end of the story. So why show you it first? Well, flash back to the start Max's psychic powers allow him to locate one of those picture-view eye thingies, which allow him (and Sam, for some reason) to see into the future, but only very briefly (because otherwise "that would ruin it"), and the intro was what they saw through the viewfinder. It is here that Skunkape arrives, in his ominous spaceship, spouting a message of peace to the Earth. What follows is a well-told tale, in which sweat is used as starship fuel, an old man punches a rabbit and is subsequently robbed, and, to everyone's surprise, Sam & Max do actual detective work.

Whilst the point n' click interface has been jumbled around to handle ever so clunkily on the PC (I mean, to move you must drag the mouse over a virtual thumbstick), the puzzles in the Penal Zone are among some of the smartest I've seen. Oftentimes I've been stuck, and using the aforementioned picture-spin view-thingy as a clever hint system (never giving too much away) to guide me in the right direction, the solutions are so incredibly clever that I can't help but congratulate myself. There is such a level of satisfaction in solving a particularly tough puzzle that is rarely found in other genres, and is what makes adventure games so unique. Other puzzles in the game incorporate Max's sole other psychic power for the episode, Teleportation, in equally clever ways. By abusing the placement of a phone, which is needed for teleportation, the intrepid detectives can get to the roof of a building, an ancient temple or an alien "processing" chamber.

The series' irreverant humour is still standing in the Penal Zone. After three seasons, you'd expect the writing to get stale, but the sharp dialogue and clever situations are as witty as ever. The game is also so jampacked with little sight gags that it's very clear that a lot of care has been given to this series. Perhaps my favourite capsule of the game's sense of humour is found in a situation in which you must take out one of Skunkape's goons who is blocking entrance to somewhere you need to go. All the Future Vision clues point to him slipping on a banana peel and falling down a manhole. So you set it up, you open the manhole (which, when closed, "looks entirely too safe") you place the banana peel oh so carefully, its yellow sheen almost cackling at the chaos it will inevitably cause. Sam shouts some anti-Skunkape drabble and the goon walks over to the banana peel... and tells Sam off for littering. Max then sneaks up and climbs on his shoulders, bashing him on the head with two rubbish bin lids with a high-pitched "SURPRISE!", and the goon falls into the manhole. Oldest trick in the book.


"You crack me up, little buddy!"

However, some puzzles in the Penal Zone have some incredibly obtuse solutions. Early in the game, I was at a complete loss at what to do, and all the Future Vision, which up until that point had been very useful, was just throwing me off what I really needed to do. This happened again at least twice during the already-short game. There are also some graphical glitches here and there which throw off an otherwise coherent and vibrant style.

Speaking of which, Season Three has recieved some graphical improvements over Save the World and Beyond Time and Space, the two previous seasons, in that things have actual textures and shadows now. Finally, Sam & Max has caught up with the rest of gaming. The Penal Zone also uses very nice camera angles to show off its varied environments in a way that only once confused the controls. Everything about the presentation I love in Sam & Max. I love the film noir camera and lighting, the wacky dialogue delivered with excellent voice talent and the excellent smooth jazz soundtrack.

Well, I wasn't really expecting to be able to say this much about a four-hour game, but I have. The Devil's Playhouse has gotten off to the best possible start with the Penal Zone, which combines great characters, dialogue, writing, puzzles and music to make one of the best (and only) point n' click adventures on the market. I highly look forward to the next four episodes.

This has been T-Bone, your guide to the world of opinion.

Anywho, I write sometimes. Here's some of my other reviews!
Mass Effect 2
Patapon 2
PREVIEW: Just Cause 2
Viva Pinata

Yay first :P
OT: That's a nice little review right there, I enjoy reading your reviews T-bone there short, sweet and get to the point. I was considering buying this and you've pretty much tipped me over the edge. DAMN YOUU!! I have little enough money as it is :P

Good review, and the game itself certainly looks... interesting. May have to check it out.

Hmmm... perhaps the colons have scared away commenters, despite my incessant plugging.

Not to self: Don't use colons. Oh dammit!

What's this about a virtual thumbstick?

Could this mean...the console ports of Sam & Max WON'T SUCK THIS TIME?

Seriously. They were HORRID. On the other hand...it seems the PC paid the the price.

And the console ports are WAY better deals, in my past experience. All six episodes of a season for $20.

That said, I have them all on PC. And the first season on Xbox 360.

Onyx Oblivion:
And the console ports are WAY better deals, in my past experience. All six episodes of a season for $20.

That said, I have them all on PC. And the first season on Xbox 360.

I agree that the console ports are much better value, but I can't bring myself to play a point and click adventure with a gamepad. It feels so wrong.


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