I'll jump straight ahead and say YES, this was my favorite Telltale Season so far, not if The Devil's Playhouse has become one of my favorite games of all time. There are so many details to speak of, so many plot twists that boggles my mind even if I were to utter them and most important; so many people that goes "meh", I felt like I needed to sum my thoughts SOMEWHERE.
Let's start from somewhere and talk about graphics and visuals first. First of all, in the first day we got the trailer, what attracted me was of course, the new cinematic look Telltale went for. It worked for ToMI, well, I'll jump in and say that it worked especially well for Sam and Max. That style was being experimented on during ToMI, there were some quirks. Maybe it's because no matter ToMI has a great atmosphere, it's kind of trapped in its own pirate-y atmosphere and can't get it out pretty much. Sam and Max is much more free when it comes to atmosphere, so not only the episodes shocked us greatly when a change of environment happens, they also figured out how to make us enjoy EVERY scenery. And some might think those changes don't happen that dramatically, compared to Season 2; since in that game the plot was really loose and places we go varied a lot. I have my words on that and I'm saving them for later. As for graphics quality, well, we know that it's better than first two seasons alright, but it's a PSN game after all and Telltale Games aren't known for making games with beautifully rendered models. Well, actually, this game was beautiful. Visuals were also outstanding. Only the low polygon count and the cartoony style seems to be what's throwing off some people. I say I don't care them. At all. They're missing such a gem, I started not to consider them as gamers. In the end, details aren't only making a piece "art", timing is also a big element. And that so-called low polygon count or repetitive textures were buried under the greatly timed, greatly drawn and greatly animated components of the scenery, and in the end, it creates the appeal. Compared to previous seasons it's just so easy to say that this season is a masterpiece, thought carefully and executed well. Although some people hated it, they even didn't bother theirselves and added a film grain JUST TO give some extra appeal on the crispy side. It's good to know that some developers go with knowing what they like and what they want to make, unlikely to some other developers that have became fanbase SLAVES going only with fan feedback and hd graphics or other bullcrap. It's not art, it's making money.
Now that I threw off the bag by talking about such a generally-shared-by-all-episodes issue like graphics, now I can talk about the episodes individually.
Because there is now no throwaway gags back from Season 1 and 2, unlike how Telltale Games handled the entire Season 2, they went with creating ALL of the material for their new season in one go, rather than borrowing elements from previous episodes (although some are apparent, mainly as cameos). Season 3, or The Devil's Playhouse, was like a fresh breathe of air. And we were forced to have a deep breathe of a gorilla in the very first cinematic of the first episode, The Penal Zone.
As the fate of every season starter, I think Penal Zone was the weakest episode. Well, the reason why other season starter episodes weren't so highly acclaimed was purely because of their plots. TDP changed this very issue. Although it also shares the fate, the plot of the first episode actually being the least important issue regarding everything that has been going on, but Penal Zone also started as a thrilling story. Even so much that, I couldn't believe at that time THAT story can actually evolve into something MASSIVE. I mean, for comparison, look at Season 2 Episode 1. Your enemy is an unlikable glob of creature sporting many eyes and yells "blargh". Now back to Penal Zone. Your enemy is an impenetratable space gorilla, not to mention the GENERAL of a space fleet. Beginning was so strong, made me expect more. I was able to feel that this is no snack game like the previous seasons. What Penal Zone suffered from is, well, marketing. Let me explain. It's pretty obvious that with the inclusion of consoles PS3 AND Apple iPad, Telltale Games tried to introduce the good ol' adventure genre (that sports a very cinematic look) to a new audience. The audience has to like it, too. Not only atmosphere and visuals and voice acting is enough to gain some hearts, in the end you're making a game and your game needs playability. So they had to go with pretty easy puzzles in the first episode. Not much psychic toys or inventory items to fiddle around, Future Vision giving off more than enough hints, just some clicks and lean back, watch the cinematics. First episode was mostly that.
It doesn't mean the episode is BAD, just the weakest imho. To give the episode the credit it deserves, it brought some really great new scenery and characters. Skun'ka-pe is a great character, a true villain I WANTED to see for the entire 2 seasons. As I stated before, Skunkape can easily outmatch any of those previous villains. This is mostly because of the new "stuff" that this season has brought to us. In Season 1, story wasn't that full of hype so all the villains were underperforming and weak, but at least they had distinct characteristics. And Season 2 villains, because of the tone of the season, was composed of entirely by the mockings of urban legends, myths and beliefs; save for the Soda Poppers. The entire season was a mockery, and the big revelation of the main villains was a last minute write-in (which was also parodied by theirselves where they released a video in which the entire season's main villain was revealed to be Homestar Runner, depicting that you could just make any character sit on that throne and let an evil laugh out). But Skunkape, he's just pure EVIL, and it's so apparent they didn't want us to figure it out by ourselves, they just gave the information of his villanious deeds in the first cinematic and then kept other characters skeptical about it. I can't say much for this episode. It was a subtle start, it had a nice city theme, showing us more of Sam&Max's neighborhood during daytime, with music reminscent of old street themes and some space-y themes for Skunkape. Oh, and, new Stinky's Diner theme. Awesooooooooome!
And there comes one of my personal favorites, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak. Normally, 2nd episodes are tend to be sucky simply because, plotwise, it shares the same elements with the previous episode, meaning it doesn't surprise us much as the first time, and keeping most things in suspense with explaining nothing much. It also generally contains a pretty lame villain (like Myra Stump, ocean chimps and a deceased goldfish, or an unimportant pirate captain). They didn't go for that in THIS season. Yes, they still didn't explain much of the issue but instead, they gave off fanservice, giving information about some other characters we like, instead of hinting out only minor/major plotlines, with giving us pretty much filling-up characters. Sameth and Maximus, they were great. It was nice to see more of Jurgen, a.k.a "Mr. Noone-truly-knows-me". I didn't like him very much in Season 2 as he was only a parody of pop culture. Now he has a fully grown story, while still being evil; so it was a good treatment for the character. Baby Amelia Earhart was, well, annoying, but it's one of the two ideas why she was even added to the roster. 1, being annoying and 2, being one of the only two females in the episode so that we can use Sexo Rejexo Hex on her. Seriously, only her and Nefertiti were the female ones (if you don't count Cow Max, but let's not even think about that). Oh and, Nefertiti and her family also worth some laughs. The episode has a distinct style, doubles the "watching a film" effect as Sam and Max are enjoying theirselves a movie for the entire episode. Music is arranged mostly for the old timey U.S-of-A feeling, some Egyptian-ey bits for the tomb raiding action, and the exceptional final boss theme; villanious and downright demonic. Oh, and, well, Papierwaite is a great character. His revelation of being pretty evil was predictable, but it's a delight to see (and better; HEAR OF) both of his good and evil personalities. Only that his throat-talk was a bit off, but was never used for entire season anyway, and plotwise his misfortune of clashing Sameth and Maximus is implemented pretty well for the later episodes.
They Stole Max's Brain was bashed by a lot of people. I do understand why, as the episode changes themes instantly, but just because it doesn't satisfy what you've expected for the whole time doesn't mean what you get is BAD. Yes, half of the episode has a Noir theme and the other half has an imaginary Egypt theme. And I actually don't like the Noir part that much. Sure it was funny and interesting to see Sam driven by RAEG, but the levels we encounter during that part are just, plain, limited. Interrogation sequences are kept short so that it won't bore us, okay. But in museum, well I didn't get much fun. We only have 4 rooms and only one of them is large enough to explore. Egypt segment of museum is just used to pick up Sammun-Mak's brain, Papierwaite's office is just too small and there is not many stuff to click on, and we can't even walk on museum's roof because we control Max there. The good part was seeing the collaborate work of the 2 villains, although I can't figure out how they... figured out to make use of Max's brain in such a convoluted way RIGHT AFTER THE SECOND they decided to unite their powers. As for the Egypt theme, I actually liked it. It was actually pretty Egypt-y unlike the Egypt theme seen in Episode 2 because that one was rather passive, only 3 mole people guarding stuff and some hyerogliphs thrown around here and there; while Sammun-Mak was able to bring all what he remembers from his time. Brainwashed worshippers, arena fighters, pyramids; it was pure EGYPT and I loved it. But it also had new technology that child Pharoah actually pretty digs, which kind of brings his downfall, is also a good detail. How I felt like is that, rest of the season takes place at night. The Noir part also took place at night, unlike the majority of first two episodes, and they might wanted to make the other half of this episode pretty shiny because they wanted to have a 50/50 daytime/nighttime ratio. Anyway, we were finally introduced a 1-on-1 fight between Skun'ka-pe and Sam where Sam brutally defeats Skunkape and leaves him mentally scarred, to a degree even I wanted to stop Sam's suffering and punch that dirty ape once myself. Sammun-Mak was also a good villain and had his own morals, although criticized a little for being too annoying. That fits his character pretty well, I say, even to a point adding such a characterization is necessary in my opinion. He met his destiny early, which made him get used to his new "divine" image easier, so that he got really spoiled in an instant. Even after defeated, he never whines like a kid, instead keeps being arrogant and that's a GOOD kind of annoyance. Although his final battle was pretty easy, it was creative. Oh, and, for the Hubert Q. Tourist character, it was a good favor for the beloved Majus to be able to leave such signatures in a game he started as a fan of; and his character has his good moments. Sal is another character introduced in this episode. He's just a simple guy driven by other people's goals, so there is no point of talking about him. He's just likable. As for the tunes heard in this one, Noir themes go either pretty slow jazz or downright quiet, where Egypt themes are either a mixture of street and egypt themes, or sounds totally royal, fitting the characteristic of Sammun-Mak. It doesn't have the best music, but all for the atmosphere. One last thing about this episode is that not being able to see Max as himself but as his brain for the entire episode is, well, a bit harsh. What's harsher is that it's not the only episode we can't see Max as how he normally is.
Insanity truly began in Beyond the Alley of the Dolls. All of a sudden we were introduced some really nifty secret passages, cloning labs, big twists, a beautifully modeled Statue of Liberty, and of course the unexplainable Sam clones rampaging the city. The episode was just FULL of weird and spooky clone invasions and technology so beyond us we can just fill our pants. In a sense, this episode reminded me greatly of how Telltale wanted a Sam and Max series so new and breathtaking. I mean, I'm bringing this over and over, but it's not the Sam and Max helps Santa or defeats a hipster vampire. Those felt like they were dealing with other people's issues. No, Devil's Playhouse is THEIR story, they're technically not dealing with a case that someone has given, and in every episode they, their feelings and their whole environment suddenly change. They get psychic powers, they know of their grandparents and realize that they have to finish their unfinished business, Max gets his brain removed, suddenly Sam meets a full invasion of his OWN image, and... yeah, the fifth episode I'll talk about later on. Anyway, this episode generally has a science horror-esque theme and tunes generally mirror it. It lacks the kick in it, but again, all for the atmosphere. Except for the main villain's own theme, well, music wasn't so top-notch, it was rather dull, or maybe toned down. We get some character development for Momma Bosco -as she gets a new body- and get a word from Bosco in a letter form, but that's already enough. Puzzles made sense and we were finally playing the game with both Sam and Max without much restrictions (except for the inability of walking around streets because of many clones of Sams) after the first episode of the entire season. This episode has SO many twists. The revelation of Papierwaite's anti-heroism was a good twist as it again shows how much Telltale cares for their characters with not keeping them uninteresting and instead keep adding new stuff over and over. Norrington is also a great character, much more so than expected. Girl Stinky finally admits she has a goal and she has to kill her grandpa. And the most devastating turn of events, a psychic toy actually being sentient, having his own gift, and orchestrating the events to summon an elder god for his own simple, demonic goal. Charlie Ho-Tep was some scary stuff, yo. He was ALWAYS staring at us for so many time, just waiting for the Toybox to be filled by some other people . It does beg the question why Yog-Soggoth never planned something to prevent Charlie from doing stuff, as he IS the one CREATED all those toys. Either that is a plothole, or he never suspected a toy to have such plans, even if sentient. His plan was extreme, but villanious, and his theme was REALLY spooky, it didn't feel like I was playing through the same ol' Sam and Max. This episode is also known for its brief cameo of Bluster Blaster, and giving importance to Sam's character a bit more by making him also an important character -as opposed to the ongoing MAX HAS ALL THE POWERS theme of the season-; important enough to be cloned in mass amounts to do one's bidding.
And the tie-in episode that I just played and LOVED, my second favorite, The City that Dares Not Sleep. It's the other episode where Max is dramatically changed, in such an amount the episode is rather Max-less, unusual for any Sam and Max game, but it's already this season's motto, to be totally unusual. It's up to Sam, Papierwaite, Yog-Soggoth and now-pregnant Sybil to return Max to normal, if it's doable in the given time or else acting President Superball isn't afraid to blow stuff up. Oh and, there were "spores" of Max flying around, making people sleep to boost Demon Max's psychic powers with imagination and all, but I suspect it's been done just to be able to hear more of our beloved Max. They didn't serve much purpose, really, other than giving his voice actor a job. I thought they would use some leftover toys of power to aid Sam and the team, but they WERE actually quite villainous, and now the Toybox is destroyed with nearly all of the toys inside it, there is not much point of going with the season's psychic power theme now, and it's understandable. Sam spends a little time outside just to be ingested by Max, and then nearly the entire game is played inside Demon Max, who strangely has pretty decorative organ structure because of imaginationpowersyaddayadda WELL it's cool and actually pretty creative. Because of this, tunes have an unusual rearrangement and they're rather funky, especially inside Max, fitting the rooms we have been in. Outside Max, of course, the good old mayhem music kicking in, and sounding very cool! As the finale of the season, we see many cameos of this season's AND previous season's characters such as Abe Lincoln as his concrete body seems to be restored, Jurgen, Satan aaand... pretty much that, I guess. It is a pretty satisfying episode, ending not only Sam and Max's story but others' stories as well, such as Girl Stinky, plotting so much against Grandpa Stinky, dying along Skunkape; Sal dying in order to save the city after breaking up with Girl Stinky, Flint Paper, The Narrator, Sybil... Basically everyone gets their fair share of character development-treatment. It was seen by many people from the VERY start of the season that Narrator would come in as a character, the main villain, even (thanks to Telltale for turning us such paranoid zombies, we're kind of able to see plot twists from months ago now), but it was also unusual to see that there is actually no villain for the finale whatsoever! Sure, Narrator, revealed to be Max's superego, tried to blow him up after he was finally able to gain a bit of control, but all he wanted to see was some good will sealed in that psychopathic bunny. And he made his decision pretty easily by comparison, sealing him inside the bunny and... Eugh, you know what? I'm just retelling the story for the whole time. MY POINT IS, this episode was actually quite deep, showing the creativity of their creators. Sure it's a comedy saga, but this episode had more than comedy in itself. Especially Max's death had some emotion. Heck, even SUPERBALL cried and ran away like a sissy. In the end... Well, it's too generic, but no matter how we try to unleash our inner psycho, we're humans and sometimes, in a pretty ironic way, a cartoony fiction about a dog and a rabbit can come and remind it to you. Yes, it can teach you even better than Eisop's tales, maybe.
This is Telltale's best creation to date, it's hard to top, and it'll live on for a long time. I'm happy I've been following this flow for years now. I wasn't disappointed.
Oh, and, feel free to write your own long/short articles to share here. Main reason I wrote it off here is simply because I don't own a blog, and I would like you read others' opinions. Sure, you can skip my LONGASS writing up here but there is a reason I put this disclaimer at the veeeery bottom, you know 8)