The third season of Sam & Max represents a shift in tone and gameplay. The changes are obvious from the very beginning - a narrator to set the scene, new control scheme (same as Tales of Monkey Island; clearly favouring consoles), a new villain, an opening tutorial of sorts (which is so entertaining and interactive that it puts most other tutorials to shame), psychic powers for Max and a grainier, darker graphical style.
It may sound like a lot of changes to a successful formula, but it works well. Not only does it provide a quite accessible introduction for newcomers to the series (including clever little pop-up profiles of characters and notes in a journal about the case and clues), but it also provides a fresh spin on the series for veterans.
Of course, the series lives or dies by the writing and puzzles, and thankfully both are still strong. The new villain, Skunkape, is wonderfully voiced and a highly entertaining character. A few old favourites are missing, while others return (as well as some who are not quite favourites; the Stinky clan seem only slightly more popular than the late, unlamented Soda Poppers…). There are some wonderful lines, with even more smashing of the fourth wall than usual – a few particularly good remarks about non-player characters, for instance.
Puzzles are made a little more interesting through Max's future vision, which offers a glimpse of dialogue from a later scene. It's generally relevant to a puzzle at a particular location, and offers an idea of what to do without giving too much away. Another power, teleportation, saves a lot of the tedious trekking around, which is especially useful as load times seem a little longer than previous games. There's also a bit of a change in mindset with collecting items; they're no longer all directly used for puzzles, with some being clues to unlock new locations. Those new locations look quite similar to the old ones (lampshaded by Max), but at least offer a bit of a feeling about a wider gameworld.
There's a few scripting oddities, with certain events not triggering when they are supposed to (the intended initial teleport scene, for instance, didn't come up for me until quite late in the game because I chose something they apparently didn't expect the first time), but other than that the game seems to work well.
The episode is probably the most promising start to a Sam and Max season yet, and with the tease of more powers to come, and hints at future storylines, there's a lot to draw a player into the following episodes.
Posted: November 30th, 2013