I expected a lot from Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, but I had no idea what kind of emotional torment it would put me through. From brain-swapping to psychic powers, this has been a season full of shocking twists and turns. After this episode we only have one left to go before all is revealed. So brace yourself for the exciting set-up to what promises to be the most explosive Sam & Max finale ever. But don't quote me on that.
Picking up right after last month's episode, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls finds the freelance police running from an army of, gulp, naked zombie-like clones of Sam. They find refuge in Stinky's diner, but it's clear that the boarded up windows won't keep these dogs out for long. Thankfully Stinky has a secret passage that takes us to a massive underground facility. All of a sudden we've switched from Night of the Living Dead to The Matrix. Could it be that Stinky has been behind this whole thing? And what is Momma Bosco's part in this mystery? All of these questions will be answered when you dive into the penultimate episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse.
After months of interesting narratives and fun storytelling gimmicks, I was a little surprised to see nothing of that this time around. Instead we get a straight-forward mystery that feels like a throwback to Sam & Max's first two seasons. This episode uses a lot of genre trappings, stealing familiar elements from science fiction, horror and whatever call those cheesy giant lizard movies from Japan.
For the first time ever, Max has access to every single one of his powerful toys. For much of this game players will be able to teleport using the plastic phone, see the future with the View Finder, read people's minds with the playing cards, transform with the rhinoplasty and throw your voice with the ventriloquist dummy. And you better believe Telltale has found a way of working each of these powers into the puzzles. With all these powers at his finger tips, we better hope that Max can keep it together long enough to solve these mysteries and save the day. Oh wait; this is Max we're talking about. We're screwed.
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is all about setting up the finale, which it does extremely well. We finally get some real answers and learn who the big bad is going to be. Best of all, it leaves us on a cliff-hanger you'll be thinking about all month long. While there is a lot of set-up in this episode, I found the overall story lacking. There really isn't much to this month's adventure, which is disappointing given the complexity of some of the past episodes. Still, I can't deny its biting wit and writing. There are bits that had me howling, proving yet again that Telltale is the one company that knows how to marry games and comedy.
Looking past the storytelling for a moment, I'm constantly impressed by how many different locations we visit in each game. In past seasons we would only see one or two new locations an episode, but this season it feels like every episode is overflowing with new areas to explore. And better still, these episodes are letting us better understand the sets we already love. There are some real twists in this episode that will forever change the way you look at certain characters and locations.
I know I should be worrying about solving the riddles and making sure that both Sam and Max make it out alive, but I'm distracted. As exciting as this season has been, I miss two of my favorite characters. I miss hearing about Bosco's nutty conspiracy theories and buying the most expensive home-made gear imaginable. And where is Sybil? This journalist/tattoo artist/game tester/professional witness was the highlight of each game, yet I haven't heard her name mentioned once this season. Don't get me wrong, I love Stinky and the rest of the extras, but part of me wants to know what Bosco and Sybil would have said about our predicament.
Minor gripes aside, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is another solid episode. It may not be complicated and it's a little shorter than most episodes, but there's enough great content here to make you stick with it. Plus, it sets up what promises to be an exciting conclusion to an already nail-biting season.