Another month, another $9 episode of Sam & Max. That's something we could get used to, so long as the quality holds up, and so far the series manages to get a little better with each installment. Sure, Sam & Max Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball might play exactly like the last two, with no real changes except for the puzzles, settings and plot. But the comedy's a little sharper, and the hit-or-miss stabs at pop culture have been chucked in favor of big guns, absurd gangsters and surreal slapstick.
Like in the last two episodes, you'll play dog detective Sam and his horrible rabbit pal Max, who wander around trying to solve mysteries by clicking on everything and annoying their neighbors. Said neighbors have officially gone from being new, original characters to full-on running gags; once again, tattooist-turned-therapist-turned-tabloid journalist Sybil has found a new dead-end career, and paranoid convenience store clerk Boscoe has a new beret. Which he thinks is a disguise.
You won't spend too much time with them, though, so let's move on. In Episode 3, our heroes are tapped to take on the bad guys who were hinted at in the last episode's ending: the Toy Mafia, a shady hypnosis ring whose members spend every waking moment wearing unbelievably creepy teddy bear heads. Unlike the last episode, the story here cuts almost directly to the chase, putting you face-to-face with Toy Mafia goons with little fuss or distraction beforehand. Unfortunately, this also means the story is shorter, with fewer of the neat throwaway gags and optional distractions that fleshed out Episode 2.
It's also easier, for some reason, and the puzzles shouldn't give you any trouble so long as you click on absolutely everything and pay attention to the details. Oh, and be sure to ask every single person you meet if the carpet matches the drapes. Not because you have to, but because you can.
We're willing to forgive a $9 cakewalk if it's entertaining, though, and Episode 3 delivers. The gags are a little stranger and snappier now, the comic timing is better and the script is drifting closer to the anarchic lunacy of the Sam & Max comics. Also, Sam's ever-present hand-cannon actually has multiple uses this time, some of which border on genuine violence. That's something we can't help but applaud.
There are some low points, though, like when the duo uses a cascade of groan-inducing "yo momma" jokes to torture an oversensitive suspect by matching the setup ("Yo momma so punctual…") with the punchline ("…she was early to her own funeral!"). Confidential to the writers: "yo momma" jokes stopped being funny about 15 years before the first one was ever told. And when the first one was told, the teller instantly burst into flames and died screaming, and that was when someone laughed. It was his mother. That's how funny "yo momma" jokes are.
Ancient gags aside, The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball is still a lot of entertainment for $8.95 (available, as always, direct from developer Telltale or free with a subscription to GameTap ). It's a little too short and a little too easy, but its tale of freaky mobsters, crooked gamblers and evil teddy bears is still a good time while it lasts.