PC Review: Sam and Max: The Penal Zone (The Devil’s Playhouse Episode One)

Sam and Max head to the Penal Zone *tee-hee*

It seems like an eternity since Satan said goodbye to Sam and Max in “What’s New, Beelzebub?” but now the crime-fighting duo are back and better than ever. The first episode in their new series “The Devil’s Playhouse” is known as The Penal Zone and sees Max get strange new powers while the team fight General Skun-ka’pe (or Skunkape as they call him) as the space gorilla tries to hunt down magic toys that hold special abilities.

The episode starts right in the middle of the conflict with Sam and Max seemingly put Skun-ka’pe in the Penal Zone, but it turns out that it was just a future vision that Max got by using a toy. Of course, when you actually get to the encounter itself…it doesn’t quite work out the way you imagined. But before all that, you have to do a lot of investigating concerning Stinky’s involvement with the gorilla, as well as gathering the objects you are going to need to trap Skun-ka’pe in the Penal Zone, such as getting a device from the ghost of Momma Bosco (Bosco went to Vegas with Bluster Blaster).

The interface of Sam and Max has changed a bit since Season 2. Now, Sam can walk around freely with the WASD layout while driving sections have been replaced with a simple warp from the COPS or the teleporter that Max gets. This is also the first time you get some form of control over Max as he is the only one who can use the magic toys. The conversation interface has also been changed to a simpler one with fewer options.

There will be moments during the episode where you won’t know what to do, but luckily Max can use his Future Vision on objects and people to see what to do next. It doesn’t show you exactly how to get the end result that the vision shows, so you need to work that out for yourself or get the walkthrough on Telltale’s website when the game comes out. The puzzles are actually a lot tougher than in past Sam and Max games, but there’s an overall better pace to the game. There are quite a few locations in The Penal Zone such as Meesta Pizza, a Toy Shop, BoscoTech and some other areas that are quite interesting.

The visuals have also had a bit of a face-lift. Everything looks smoother and more detailed, with the exception of Grandpa Stinky’s eyes, which just look plain weird. Load times are also incredibly short, while voice-acting is superb as ever. Skun-ka’pe is a worthy adversary to Sam and Max, although the narrator (who looks and sounds like Satan in human form (my theory, but its not confirmed) makes out that Skun-ka’pe is just the first of many enemies in the duo’s path through the 5 part series.

The Verdict

The Penal Zone is without a doubt, the greatest start to an episodic series I’ve seen. It does enough to please fans, while changing things to make the series more accessible to newcomers. If this is any indication, The Devil’s Playhouse will be the best series of Sam and Max ever. Bring on The Tomb of Sammun-Mak!

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