It wasn't that many years ago that the adventure game community was abuzz with the possibility of another Sam and Max game emanating from Lucasarts. That company's first and only episode, Sam and Max Hit the Road was by now a certified (or certifiable?) classic. And then, as was so often the case with LucasArts sequels, it was dead. And then, Telltale Games came out with season one of its 3D edition of the wacky dog and rabbit freelance policemen. And now, a few years later, we have more Sam and Max games then you can shake a nightstick at. Still, the market threshold for quality Sam and Max episodes is very high. Plus, the duo have been on hiatus for a number of months, as Telltale turned its attentions first to Wallace and Gromit and then to the new adventures of Guybrush Threepwood. Now, we have a spanking new season three of Sam and Max, The Devil's Playhouse, in the form of episode one, The Penal Zone.
So, what's changed in the wacky world of Sam and Max since last we saw them in Season Two? Well, a few things, but not that much. I mean, really, what's there to change? It's a terrific formula. I'm not tired of it yet, are you? The 3D graphics are still cartoonily swell, if still a bit on the overly pastelish, blocky side. The duo's sarcastic dialog is as caustic and hilarious as ever. The villains and other NPCs are still deliciously loony. The one headline new wrinkle is that this season Max has been granted "Psi" powers. Of course, you have to trundle around "earning" them via gameplay, but they should add a welcome new dimension to the episodes. You really only get a couple in this first episode to wield, but the game intro gives you a preview of others that are presumably going to be unwrapped in subsequent installments.
The plot, if you really must know, has to do with a space gorilla-skunk trying to take over the universe by collecting all the Toys of Power. Luckily for the universe, Max gets his hands on a couple of these toys first and foils the fiend's dastardly plans. But, you know, the plot, as usual, isn't the point here. The story is just the excuse for Sam and Max's outrageous comments and interactions. For those of you obsessively keeping score, Stinky and her garrulous grandpop put in an appearance, Sybil is still on her honeymoon with Abe's head, and, oh yeah, it looks like Sam and Max are making a major move out of their office. Though I'm only assuming that because during this episode they turn it into an alternate dimension penal zone. Hence, the title.
The other big S&M headline news, of course, is that this is the first (so they tell me) new adventure title released for the brand new iPad. And the game controls have been reworked accordingly. Instead of the usual click on hotspot and character walks or runs over, you've got to either navigate Sam across the screen with the WASD or arrow keys, or, drag him in the intended direction with the mouse. Or, if you're an early Apple adopter, with your forefinger, or any other part of your body you so choose and can get away with in public. Of course, those of us who have played Wallace and Gromit and the Tales of Monkey Island are by now long accustomed to these new controls. After all, Telltale does keep telling us that these titles will eventually come out on Xboxlive and Wii Ware and other console platforms, where the lowly computer mouse has long since been consigned to the dustbin. It usually does take a while, but W&G, Guybrush and even the first two Sam and Max seasons have made it, so I suppose Sam and Max 3 will too. As of now, however, The Penal Zone is available for PC and iPad. It does look like they're preparing a PS3 version, though.
You know, really, what else is there to say? This is a bit like reviewing a new box of Dutch chocolates. They're great! Still chocolatey. As far as I could tell the required specs and other game incidentals are fairly similar to the previous two seasons. I think Sam’s notebook, where he keeps tabs on evidence and suspects, etcetera, may be new, but I’m not sure. I always try to ignore a game’s help system, regardless of how well it’s disguised, or even, as in this case, amusingly written. Really, the only thing left to say is, Welcome back, boys. Now, go get 'em.
Final Grade: B plus (A minus if you're an S&M devotee)
PC System Requirements:
Mac System Requirements:
Note: Final system requirements subject to change.