PSN Review – Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 2 – The Tomb of Sammun-Mak

May 25, 2010Written by Sarah LeBoeuf

In the first episode of Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, April’s The Penal Zone, Telltale brought the series back strong after a two-year hiatus. With a new control scheme better designed for console gameplay, and an array of psychic powers for psychotic bunny Max to play with, The Penal Zone brought plenty of zany humor and clever gameplay to the PSN. Keeping up with their monthly schedule, Telltale released the second episode, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak, on the PlayStation Network last week. With a new set of psychic abilities, a few returning characters from Season Two, and a fresh adventure, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak once again delivers hours of entertaining and well-written gameplay.

For those not familiar with adventure games, the Sam & Max series requires the titular dog and rabbit to solve puzzles using information and items that they acquire along the way. This includes talking to everyone, picking up anything, and using any tools available to progress the story. In the current season, Max has developed psychic abilities as well, adding another layer to the otherwise fairly traditional gameplay. Though the episode’s difficulty is appropriately challenging, there is a great hint system in place for any gamers who become stuck. Sam and Max will attempt to point the player in the right direction through casual conversation, and the player has the option to increase or decrease the number of hints given.

Sammun-Mak begins right where The Penal Zone ended, with the discovery of the dog and rabbit skeletons in the boiler room beneath the office of the Freelance Police. It is quickly deduced that the bones belong to ancestors of Sam and Max, though the greater mystery is how they ended up there. The majority of this episode follows not Sam and Max, but Sameth and Maximus, the great-grandfathers whose bones now reside in the boiler room. Their story is accessed by playing through four mystical film reels, though not necessarily in chronological order.

As Sam and Max discover, the Devil’s Toybox, first seen in The Penal Zone, was hunted by their ancestors as well. After winning a contest in New York in 1901, Sameth and Maximus find themselves on a journey around the world, on which they encounter vampires, mole curses, hungry snakes, and ambitious elves. Still blessed with mysterious psychic abilities, Max is able to squeeze into a can of nuts, throw his voice, and use astral projection, which is how the duo are able to experience their grandfathers’ expedition. Naturally, this episode is infused with the same offbeat humor that the series is known for, with the logic used to complete puzzles not quite resembling any realistic problem solving.

This episode continues to use Telltale’s new control scheme, and though it was a little hard to get used to in The Penal Zone, by this episode it felt much more natural. The control sticks are used to move the characters and highlight items of note, and players can take control of Max in order to use his psychic abilities. While it’s not hard to imagine that longtime fans might miss the classic point-and-click controls, being able to walk by using the thumbstick is definitely a better fit for the console versions of this game. Adventure games are usually fairly simple and straightforward in regards to their controls, and The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is no exception.

With the exception of long load times, Telltale’s games are usually free of technical hiccups, particularly the Sam & Max series. However, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak did contain a few minor glitches. After opening a save file on The Disorient Express, everything loaded except the characters, which were nowhere to be found. After clicking on the entrance to another area, though, Sam and Max reappeared, having walked through the door of the next train car. Another time, the game all but froze, with the controls suddenly becoming locked up and the game having to be exited in order to continue. Both of these issues only happened once, but it was still surprising to find such problems in the Sam & Max series, which has so far been technically sound on consoles.

Luckily, the presentation is as good as would be expected from the Sam & Max series, the highlight of which is great voice work. The many bizarre characters, and the voice actors who represent them, are definitely a highlight of the game, especially since the dialogue is backed by some fantastic writing. Graphically, Sammun-Mak is on par with the previous episode, but as a whole, The Devil’s Playhouse is looking great on the PS3, and more polished than previous seasons.

Once again, the developers at Telltale Games have proven that they are the masters of episodic gaming and point-and-click adventures. The Tomb of Sammun-Mak ends with a twist, setting up episode three, and is sure to leave gamers wanting more. Disappointing technical issues keep Sammun-Mak from true greatness, but aren’t enough to discourage anyone from continuing. The Devil’s Playhouse is just getting warmed up, and you’re going to want to be on board for this crazy adventure.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

More clever, offbeat storytelling unlike any other game series.

Fun puzzles that are challenging without being frustrating.

A few technical issues hold back an otherwise great episode.

8 out of 10