Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak (PC [reviewed], Mac, PSN, iPad )
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Released: May 18, 2010
MSRP: $34.95 (season of five episodes)
The Tomb of Sammun-Mak picks up right where The Penal Zone left off, with Sam and Max in the boiler room of their building where they have made a grisly discovery: The skeletal remains of a dog and rabbity-thing. They also find a series of four film reels which tell the story of how the corpses came to be there in the first place and explain that the bodies belong to our heroes' great-grandfathers, Sammeth and Maximus.
From a mechanics perspective, these four reels represent the game's four chapters. If you'll recall from the first episode of this season, Max has developed psychic powers. It's a genetic trait and Maximus gets their benefits as well. Instead of the future sight Max has, Maxeth can perform astral projection, which allows you to change reels and visit segments of the game out of chronological order.
That's my problem with this episode, the astral projection. More than any other Sam & Max story, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak requires you to suspend your disbelief. Many of the game's puzzles are reliant on you gathering information from future reels to give to characters in earlier ones. No real attempt to justify this is made -- nary even a joke about how ridiculous the concept is -- and I'll admit that it bugged me more than a little bit through the course of the game.
In addition to astral projection, Maximus earns two other key powers. The first is a magical can of nuts which Maxeth can pull himself (and Sammeth) into. It's most frequently used to hide from people who might not want to see their faces, but it does serve other puzzling purposes. He also gains "psychic ventriloquism," which is just like regular ventriloquism, except that he can literally make his voice come out of someone else's mouth, often with hilarious results.
While the puzzles involving astral projection feel a little iffy, the rest of the game's challenges are both entertaining and ingenious. Of particular note are a family of mole people, each gifted with a unique curse they can place upon others. Through the course of the game, you'll have to become cursed by the mole people in order to use the effects they have to solve puzzles in unique and interesting ways. These puzzles are quite clever indeed, leading to a host of "ah-ha" moments when you discover the proper use of the curses.
You'll meet more than just the moles, however. Everybody wants to get their hands on what lies in Sammun-Mak's Egyptian tomb. This includes the toy magnate, Lord Kringle, and his band of elves. Baby Amelia Earhart and a mysterious (and arrogant) tomb raider round out the cast. Everybody is entertaining, though some more than others. Baby Amelia Earhart in particular is sassy and charming, but the whole crew has something going for it.
What results is one of the more entertaining chapters in the Sam & Max series. Everything is pretty clearly laid out for you and none of the puzzles are excessively challenging or logically obtuse, leaving you free to enjoy the humor and absurdity. Were it not for the astral projection, which is neither funny nor enjoyable, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak would be a grand slam. As it stands this is still an excellent continuation of this season and fans should be eagerly awaiting the next by the time they're done.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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