Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beyond the Alley of the Dolls Review

The fourth episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse offers the most cinematic experience the Sam and Max series has had so far.  Nearly naked doppelgangers of Sam have appeared all over Manhattan, and it's up to the original Sam and Max to find out who unleashed them and why.

The storyline of this season appears to be the most tight-knit the series has gotten so far.  This episode follows right after the last one left off, and starts with a bang.  We were given a bit of a taste of horror movies in Season Two's Night of the Raving Dead, but things are ramped up here.  I found the game's intro to be quite spooky and nerve-wracking, despite the knowledge that there is no fear of imminent death.  The game starts with the duo running into Stinky's diner, leaving Max and Grandpa stinky to fend off the Sam horde with their guns.  Pudgy brown paws are reaching into the diner through the boarded up windows.  Sam and Max must find an alternate route of the diner, and that is when the game really gets going.

Once again, previously used locations are used sparingly this season.  They are still keeping us far away from Sam & Max's office, which is as refreshing as ever, since it really started to feel stale after a while.  Harry's mole man tunnels are further explored here, and are the duo's main mode of transportation besides Max's teleportation ability.  There are few new characters this episode, but the returning characters are all enjoyable.  I really enjoyed Bosco in the previous seasons, but, as of this episode, I'm enjoying Momma Bosco as much as her son.  It would be great to see the two working together in a future season.  One of the most fun part of the game for me comes from Telltale's new relationship with LucasArts.  I've always loved the LucasArts injokes, and there are plenty in this game.  There are Lucasfilm jokes and references to Sam & Max Hit the Road.  The greatest thing is that Hit the Road situations can now be spoken by name, whereas the previous seasons had to merely allude to Hit the Road situations due to legal concerns.  This really solidifies the Telltale seasons as bona fide sequels.

The music is as cinematic as ever, but the music isn't as catchy as it was in previous seasons.  I'm not going to be as harsh in this category as I was in my previous review, since the music works for the style of game they're aiming for.  The voice acting is top notch as always.  The actor of Harry Moleman seems to have tuned down his performance a bit, which will probably satisfy some fans who didn't like his voice before.  The actors of Sam and Max are brilliant as always, and I enjoyed the sassy performance of the actress who plays Momma Bosco.  The new characters are excellently voiced as well, and although one new character has a nasally high pitched voice, there is enough range in his performance to not be grating to the ears.

I'm starting to get used to the point and drag mouse control.  While I still use the keyboard to move in situations where the camera has shifted to a new angle, the mouse only control scheme is growing on me.  I didn't give it a fair shot in the previous episodes of this season, but I'll admit it has improved leaps and bounds since Tales of Monkey Island.  Once I realized you no longer had to click and drag the character to move, it became a lot more fun.  It still gets confusing operating this way during camera shifts when the exit shifts from one side to the other, but other than that it works well.  With a little bit more fine tuning, this option could really be a suitable alternative to point-and-click.

Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is another great episode of Sam & Max.  The storyline is fun, the characters are entertaining, the voice actors perform their roles well, and the music is fitting to the atmosphere.  The puzzles are all straightforward and seem to be a nice balance difficulty-wise.  I found myself stuck in one instance, and, although I didn't have to result to the in-game hint system, I did have to quit the game and come back with a fresh mindset to solve it.  Telltale has been aiming for cinematic gaming experiences since Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, and they have succeeded here.  This is the most cinematic Sam & Max experience yet, and is certainly one of the more entertaining episodes so far.


Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

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