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Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 5 - The City That Dares Not Sleep

(Telltale Games; US: 30 Aug 2010)

It’s always tricky ending an episodic story. The final episode can’t stand on its own, even though the rest of the series can. The City That Dares Not Sleep has particular trouble reconciling this conflict. Sam and Max games have always reveled in deus ex machina twists, poking fun at the random nature of it all, but here those twists always reference events and characters from previous seasons. Each joke feels less like a playful jab at storytelling and more like an in joke that I’m not part of. In order to get the most out of this final episode, you’ll have to go back and play the last two seasons, not just the last four episodes.


The narrator once again provides a brief summery of prior events and hypes up a surprise betrayal that really isn’t all that surprising considering the way that it’s set up. Then right off the bat we’re talking to new characters as if they’ve been here the whole time, like Mr. Featherly and Sybil Pandemik. It wouldn’t be as jarring if they at least made a cameo earlier in the season (Sybil is mentioned in The Penal Zone, though she doesn’t appear), but this is the first time we’ve seen either of these people in The Devil’s Playhouse. It feels like a cop-out, as if Telltale hadn’t already introduced enough characters to fit all its narrative needs, so it brought in a couple more on a whim.


Not all of the cameos are bad. Satan finally shows up and Jurgen returns, and both provide memorable moments of fun. All of the big villains that you’ve defeated over the season have new roles to play that are well implemented. This is also one of the funnier episodes, filled with great one liners, and in a big reveal, the season’s title is explained in a way that actually makes sense. If you’ve been wondering why this season is called The Devil’s Playhouse even though you’ve been chasing the Devil’s Toy Box, you’ll get your answer.


With Max currently out of the picture, you can’t use any of the psychic toys that you’ve become used to, but this doesn’t mean that the game plays like a standard adventure game. You won’t be picking up miscellaneous items to solve puzzles. Instead, the puzzles are disappointingly straightforward. You’ll travel to multiple locations but there’s no grand brain teaser connecting them. Every little challenge is separated into its own room, so you’ll quickly fall into a predictable pattern of “go here, solve this,” repeated until you beat the game.


At one point, you find the Astral Projector again, now reformatted to take picture slides, and nearby it a picture book with six empty slots. These empty slots imply that you’ll have to find the proper slides and then travel to each of those new locations, probably solving a big interconnected puzzle along the way like you’ve been doing throughout the season. There’s a moment of excitement now since it feels like the game is suddenly expanding, but in reality, it’s just teasing you with a sense of scale that never appears. You only need to travel through two of the six slides to beat the game. If you go to any of the others, Sam even comments that there’s no point for him to be there. I never even found the sixth slide. It was that superfluous.


The ending feels anticlimactic as a result, and the whole episode feels shorter than it should be. The final resolution is yet another call back to a previous season, something that will make long time fans grin but will only confuse new fans. The City That Dares Not Sleep is still a great a deal of fun, but it falls way short of the expectations set by the rest of the season.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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