Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 1 - The Penal Zone review

Funny, inventive, bizarre – exactly what we'd expect

GamesRadar+ Verdict


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    It's really funny

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    More interesting approach to puzzles

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    Less formulaic approach to narrative


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    Controlling Sam with the mouse is obnoxious

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    Story starts confusingly

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    Some puzzles are pretty obscure

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Things are very peculiar at the beginning of this third series of dog and rabbit freelance police escapades. The story begins smack-bang in the middle of a bemusing plot, where you’re aboard a spaceship, held captive by a space gorilla, talked to by a brain in a jar. Your rabbit buddy Max is now a playable first-person character with psychic powers. It seems things aren’t happening in order. Thankfully there’s a Rod Serling-esque narrator on hand to guide us through this muddle. More thankfully, it’s really funny.

A lot has changed since the previous series. New controls, new ways to play, a more interesting approach to puzzles and, crucially, a less formulaic approach to narrative. The inventory is much more interesting, adding a level of detail that was previously absent from the episodes. Gone is the spilled box along the bottom of the screen, replaced by the full-screen cardboard container from 1993’s classic Hit the Road. These objects can now be interacted with in more interesting ways, looked at, picked up or activated (even using the classic ’93 icons too). It makes things feel much more involved.

Frustratingly, Sam is now controlled by holding down the left mouse button and dragging it in the direction you wish to head, the right mouse button for running. This simply doesn’t work. We didn’t want it in the Monkey Island episodes and we don’t want it here. He’ll often move in literally the opposite direction, and then when the camera suddenly changes angle, you can charge off in random directions. There are keyboard controls too, but these are almost as haphazard.

A far more positive change is Max’s powers. Gathered as you progress, Max gains new abilities when you choose to play as the rabbit. Things swoop into first person, and you can use powers such as teleportation, possession and transmogrification to solve puzzles. This new dynamic has liberated the design, advancing the series from dull collect-and-use inventory challenges to mind-twisting teasers. Using psychic visions to learn the correct approach to a situation is great fun, and figuring out how to teleport characters into locations at the right moment proves very rewarding. There are clearly going to be many more powers as the season continues.

And crucially, so crucially, it’s funny. Even funnier than the sarcastic remarks are the situations themselves. Using psychic powers to prevent an evil space gorilla from taking over the universe with magic toys proves to be an excellent source of material. It’s strange that no one thought of it before. And no opportunity is missed for making a smutty joke with regards to the word ‘penal’. “Skun-ka’pe gets sucked right in the penal zone... so to speak,” says Max, inevitably.

Apr 27, 2010

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