Another guest post from GeekTeen John:
At first glance, Sam & Max looks like one of those generic Nick Jr. shows about cute animal detectives solving crimes just in time for dinner. Going a little bit deeper, one can find a hidden gem. Sam & Max, created by artist and game designer Steve Purcell, is much more than soft fuzzy cartoons, it’s a parody of American popular culture. Sam, the 6-foot tall anthropomorphic dog, is the calm one of the pair while Max is simply labeled a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing.” Together, they have been in comics, a TV show, and their most well-known incarnation: videogames.
Last year, I reviewed another offering from TellTale Games, Wallace & Gromit: Fright of the Bumblebees. While I had a lot of trouble playing it, it did get me interested in the studio’s other games, including the first season of the Sam & Max series. I played it and was instantly hooked. A puzzle game filled with irreverent humor, Sam & Max was really enjoyable. I started to take an interest in the Sam & Max universe. My brother got me the comic book compilation for Christmas, I saw a couple episodes of the TV show, and I began collecting the TellTale games. So I was very happy when TellTale sent me a reviewer’s copy of the second episode of The Devil’s Playhouse, the third season of the series, now being released in five monthly installments.
Sam & Max: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is a lot different than the previous episodes in that you don’t actually play as the title characters. Rather, you take the roles of their great-grandfathers Sameth and Maximus. Not to worry though, since they talk and act the same as their descendents, just with a different look. The game starts off with Sam and Max finding the skeletons of their great-grandfathers in a basement, along with some movie reels from the 1920s. From there Sameth and Maximus try to get something called the Devil’s Toybox, which will earn them a reward from the mysterious Monsieur Papierwaite. During the course of their adventures, they come across characters such as excitable Baby Amelia Earhart, a Santa Claus who acts more like Scrooge, and the guardians of the Toybox the Mole people. Sameth and Maximus have to trick all of them in order to get their hands on the Devil’s Toybox and the Toys of Power. The game is filled with references to early twentieth century (I enjoyed the clash of Santa’s elves and the Mole People, which reminded me of the way different immigrant groups competed with one another) as well as the parody of classic detective stories.
When compared to the first two seasons, this game does have its ups and downs. There are a lot more gameplay options than before. Max (or Maximus in this episode) now has psychic powers given to him by the toys in the Devil’s Toybox. This does give you more options for solving puzzles, but at the cost of fewer jokes. I actually think that this is a step in the right direction, however. A complaint I’ve heard about the first season is that there were too many jokes and not enough gameplay. TellTale seems to have listened to its critics, but I think they may have gone too far in the other direction. Before, nearly everything you clicked on would trigger one of Sam and Max’s arbitrary comments. With the latest entry, only a few things in each room become the subject of the duo’s random quips. The game suffers without the comedy. We’ll have to see if TellTale strikes a better balance in future games.
However, even with less emphasis on humor, the jokes are still funny. Combine that with the new style of puzzle-solving and Sam & Max: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is certainly good for a couple of hours of enjoyment. I highly recommend this game for tweens and teens.
The entire 5-episode Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse for PC and Mac can be downloaded from the TellTale website in monthly episodes for $34.95, and includes a collector’s DVD (shipping extra). Versions are also available for PlayStation 3 and iPad.