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Sam And Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 5

Posted by Tambo On September - 13 - 2010

The City That Dares Not Sleep.

 
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t played any previous Sam and Max episodes and don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading right now.

 
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Drama and intrigue from the monkey nut shaped headed Narrator, sets the tone for the final episode in the Devil’s Playhouse series.  Max has been hideously transformed into a giant green tentacled monster rabbit after accidentally swallowing a demonic seed. Rampaging the city as dark forces begin to take a hold within him, giant Max is producing little flaming Max head spores that lull people to sleep in order to feast on the psychic energies of their nightmares.

 
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It’s a far more sensational opening than in previous episodes with the promise of betrayal by another character, which considering the line up, could be anyone. As you’d expect, as this is the final episode, the cast list is impressive which is good news for Sam as he concocts a plan to save Max and the city he’s destroying that involves recruiting a crack team of experts to infiltrate Max’s brain via a Trojan horse, or as in this case, a giant corn dog. As puzzles go, this one was a breeze. The list of ingredients to make the corn dog was easy to obtain (including a contribution from the theatrical rooster Mr. Feathers who incidentally tastes like himself), as was enlisting the help of Papierwaite, Dr. Norrington and the heavily pregnant Sybil Pandemik. In fact, throughout this title, the puzzles seemed simple and obvious. As the ‘Toys of Power’ were destroyed during the last episode and Max is rather busy being big and noisy, Sam is left to his own devices. Often you will know instantly what is required in order to solve a problem and have to then collect items to use/combine or talk to characters in order to make them do something. Many of the characters were very generous in making suggestions of what needs to happen next and I found there were situations where convenience played a big role in the solution being resolved (people giving you the correct item without being prompted or being transported to exactly the right place they need to be without your influence etc), which made the puzzle aspect unchallenging, undemanding and not as innovative as puzzles seen in previous episodes. The flip side of this is that the writing is super strong, witty and surprising whilst the aesthetics are fantastic.

 
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Once inside Max, this game looks amazing. A room represents each area of his body. Starting in the modern fitted kitchen stomach, you can use tubes to travel to various parts of Max’s body including a gym in the legs and a fully furnished living room as the brain. The beauty in the detail and the playful ideas of what each item in the room represents which organ of Max is very smart and once again our canine hero has plenty of dry observations, encouraging you to stay a little longer and explore which I like.

 
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The dialogue is zany sharp, brilliantly humorous and cheeky but the overall erratic story arc didn’t quite pack the punch I thought in the final moments. This episode was written by Chuck Jordan who also wrote episode one: The Penal Zone and looking back you can see predictions and hints as to what was going to happen from the very start (Sam’s recurring visions of being eaten by a giant Max turned out to be a huge giveaway), but there are also countless moments that are so totally random, even fans familiar with the crazy nonsensical mayhem will find keeping up with events as they unfold tricky – perhaps this is the greatest puzzle of all? Jumping to conclusions, changes of heart, time travel and ridiculous ideas that might just work are what Sam and Max are all about and is part of the charm. I was disappointed that Sam was going it alone for most of this episode but thankfully, the floating Max heads means you get some of his wonderfully weird insights (dreams tasting of Pepsi…).

 
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I do wonder why one person didn’t write the whole series consistently. It’s possible to play the other titles in the series as stand alone games, albeit with a little confusion as to the overall plot, because the context and objective for each episode was made very clear and most importantly, were fun. The cliffhangers were always tasty and left you wanting more. Here everything is gearing towards a conclusion which is ultimately going to make lots of Sam and Max fans feel very satisfied but left me feeling a bit flat, perhaps because there are many incidents that Sam has absolutely no control over. I felt in this episode I hadn’t really done anything or been involved, more of an observer to a weird and wonderful story. This was always going to happen in one way or another as Sam and Max are clearly rooted in comic and film storytelling whilst the point and click style of play here allows you to explore and influence rather than fully take charge. Any sense of achievement or accomplishment was lacking and I remain undecided if this works for me but with two endings to see (depending on which direction you take a particular conversation earlier on) no doubt we’ll be seeing more from Sam and Max in the future – which is definitely a good thing.

 

 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ 



 

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