Game Review: Sam & Max Season 3: The Devil’s Playhouse, Episode 1: The Penal Zone (iPad, PC, Mac, PS3)

SAMMAX3_BOXSam & Max aren’t your regular police force…they’re the Freelance Police. Sam is a no-nonsense dog detective and his pal Max is a hyperkinetic rabbity thing. For more than 20 years they’ve been serving their brand of justice on the pages of underground comic books, on a Saturday morning cartoon, and in some popular computer adventure games. Now they’re ready for their third season of crazy madcap episodic point and click adventures! (PC version reviewed here)


In their first episode of a five part season, an intergalactic space gorilla has landed on Sam & Max’s street in New York City. At first he offers peace and technological exchange, but Sam & Max soon discover that General Skun’ka’pe, or Skunkape as they call him, is pure evil bent on taking over the world. During their adventures, Max (the rabbit thing) discovers mysterious Fischer-Price spoofed toys that give him psychic powers. Will he be able to use his powers to trap Skunkape in the Penal Zone and stop him once and for all? One thing’s for sure, lots of sci-fi parodies such as The Twilight Zone and V are sure to make an appearance.

The third season of Sam & Max has all the fun point-and-click adventure and madcap irreverent humor of the past games, but the new gimmick is getting to use Max’s newfound powers to solve puzzles. The two main powers he’ll use in the first season are Future Vision and Teleportation. By switching to Max, you’ll view what Max sees in his twisted mind in a first person perspective.

When you view the world through the Future Vision Viewmaster toy, Max can see the future of certain people and things around him. This’ll help you know what to do to solve puzzles. And by using the play phone to teleport, Max and anything he touches will be teleported to any working cell phone he knows the number of. You’ll have to use these creative powers to solve some pretty clever puzzles. They let you preview some other powers that Max will probably get in future episodes, like the Silly Putty-like Rhinoplasty which will let Max shapeshift into any photograph he can lift the image from using the putty.


The Penal Zone has some other improvements and changes as well. Most notably are the graphics, which have received a major overhaul. It’s like looking at Next-Gen Sam & Max, with improved textures, lighting, and animations. The cardboard box where you select your items is now easier to sift through, and you now get a casebook that lets you view what who’s who and what’s what. Speaking with characters through the new dialogue trees is easier, as well.

Play control is different, too. Instead of just clicking where you want Sam & Max to go, you hold down the mouse button to bring up an analog joystick picture, then move that using the mouse to make Sam & Max go. It’s definitely more console friendly, and while it took a second or two to get used to, I ended up liking the new controls.

Really the only problem I had with this game is that some of the puzzles aren’t as intuitive to solve, even with the usually helpful hint system. That’s the disadvantage of the game having such a crazy, nonsensical storyline. Some might not like the new controls as much as I did. And the way they tell the story backwards at first is a little confusing. Plus, it really helps to have played the past episodes in the series, as they make references to them many times.  Even so, it looks like TellTale’s latest Sam & Max adventure is off to a great beginning. I can’t wait for the next hilarious episode! The game is available now for iPad, but will be ready for PC, Mac, and PS3 on April 15th.


Kid Factor:

Sam & Max Episode 3: The Penal Zone is rated E-10 for Everyone 10 and up, with ESRB descriptors of Alcohol Reference, Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes. It’s really no worse than your average Simpsons episode, but if future installments are anything like their last season, things will get more raunchy from here on out! Reading skill isn’t necessary, as everyone has spoken voice by talented actors. Even so, Episode 3 is best for older kid gamers only because of the somewhat off-color cartoon humor.

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