It’s the third season of freelance policing with the bizarre crime-fighting duo, Sam and Max. They’re back with a new story, some familiar characters and a whole lot of insanity – a quality that would leave any Sam & Max game feeling decidedly un-Sam-and-Max-ish were it missing. In fact, absurdity knows no bounds in this, the first episode of season three, which is collectively dubbed The Devil’s Playhouse. You don’t believe me? Let’s take a brief look at how Episode 1: The Penal Zone starts.
Sam and Max are imprisoned on board a giant gorilla-head spaceship that is bombarding the city and being piloted by General Skun’kape, an alien space gorilla bent on controlling the universe. Skun’kape plans to do this by acquiring a collection of toys that imbue “the chosen” with psychic powers. Max (he’s the sociopathic bunny in the duo, remember?) happens to be one of “the chosen” and is therefore capable of using the toys as well. Thanks to some inexplicable events which result in Max possessing a few of these psychic-power-producing toys from the get-go, and some tips from a camp, disembodied brain that controls the ship and floats in a vat of demon-broth, Sam and Max manage to escape captivity and send Skun’kape back through a portal that leads to The Penal Zone (an inter-stellar prison for the most dangerous of space criminals). They do this by transforming Max into a space-gorilla bazooka and a potted plant. And that is only the first five minutes of the insanity.
Teleportation and time-travel are a few of the plot devices that the game designers have at their disposal for this episode. As such, a portion of the game is unfathomably bizarre, but it all begins to make sense as you point and click your way through the collection of puzzles and situations. Max’s newfound psychic abilities lead to a variety of new game mechanics. At any point you can take control of Max and activate any of the powers he currently has at his disposal. Some of those powers include transformation, seeing the future and teleportation. The ability to see the future creates a neatly incorporated hint system that never reveals too much, but manages to point you in the general direction. The teleportation obviously creates some interesting solutions to many of the puzzles.
There are some slight control annoyances to be found, and what is particularly infuriating is that your active inventory item is cleared whenever you attempt to combine it with an incorrect in-game object. You then have to re-open your inventory and re-equip the item to try it with something else – minor but annoying.
As ever, it is the humour and absurdity that carries the Sam & Max franchise, and this new episode is definitely void of neither. However, the series’ greatest strength is also its biggest weakness as the humour and bizarre scenarios do not appeal to everyone, which is the case I found being confirmed by people watching me play: I would roar with laughter and they’d look at me as if my mind had become as detached from reality as Max’s.