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Sam & Max: The Devil's
Playhouse - The Penal Zone

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Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse

MikeSam and Max are back in another season of episodic adventure games! Expanding upon the established point-and-click formula explored in Sam & Max - Culture Shock and following episodes, the first game in The Devil's Playhouse season, The Penal Zone, lets you see things through the warped perspective of Max. Yes, it's as crazy as you think, if not more so. But it's still a lot of adventuring goodness with the duo's characteristic sense of humor slapped on every object and situation.

sammaxpenalzone.jpgSumming up the Sam & Max series to the uninitiated is a bit like rattling off the CliffsNotes version of a Tom & Jerry cartoon with the epic scope of Lost. Here it goes: Sam is an anthropomorphic dog-like critter with the rumbled wardrobe of a Raymond Chandler character and a nose for justice. Max is an unsettling, impulsive lagomorph with no wardrobe to speak of and the attention span of a six-year-old on pixie sticks. Together they are Sam & Max, the Freelance Police, who solve crimes with a flair for wacky mayhem and a broad disregard for property rights and public safety. Sam & Max's road to gaming stardom began with a classic LucasArts adventure title, and more recently, they became stars of the flagship series for Telltale Games' venture into episodic adventure games.

After a series of increasingly bizarre cases, which involved mass hypnosis, the bureaucracy of Hell, and Max's election the the Presidency of the United States, our heroes have made an accidental discovery: toys are awesome. And certain toys are really awesome, especially for those with "special" brains like Max. It seems the galaxy is littered with Toys of Power, which enable gifted wielders to exhibit cockamamie, paranormal psychic powers. And everybody wants them, including, as we discover in Episode 1: The Penal Zone, a General Skunkape, an alien uber-gorilla with a suave baritone and possibly hostile designs on Planet Earth.

The marquee new feature to the Sam & Max series is the inclusion of Max's psychic puzzles, a bold shakeup of Telltale's standard adventuring formula. Most of the time you control Sam, clicking on various objects and dramatis personae to examine, acquire, and speak with them. Click and drag to move Sam, or just use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys. You can examine your inventory by clicking the cardboard box in the upper corner.

To use Max's powers, click on the shield and switch to seeing the world through Max's warped point of view. Here you can rotate with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys about a fixed, first person perspective and pick which of Max's available powers you want to use. You can also pause and go to the game menu with the [esc] key. With the addition of Max's powers, use the traditional adventure-gaming skills of interrogation, examination, and item gathering to figure out what Skunkape is up to, and to discover Max's ultimate destiny.

Analysis: I can only conclude that Telltale believed that gracefully introducing new players to the convoluted backstory of the Sam & Max universe was an impossible goal, and opted instead for sudden, chaotic immersion. The intro to The Penal Zone is the most wonderfully disorienting experiences I've ever encountered in a game. It begins at the end of the game, for one (and it's not even the right ending). You are imprisoned aboard Skunkape's ship, Skunkape is busily destroying New York, and a disembodied brain is telling you to do strange things to liberate yourselves. There's also the matter of a cryptic, Rod Serling-like narrator, giving what turns out, amidst the chaos, to be a useful tutorial to the ins and outs of the game. My only consolation to any neophytes who may find themselves overwhelmed is that veterans of the series are likely just as confused (though they'll recognize some familiar faces, at least). My advice to new and old players alike is to ride with the insanity, because the insanity is a perfect distillation of what makes Sam & Max great.

sammaxpenalzone2.jpgSam & Max's world has gotten a bit of a visual overhaul, thanks to what the game calls "the mayor's new city-dirtification program." Gone are the bright, plasticine textures of previous entries. Characters are more detailed and expressive, and environments are grittier. The new designs really enhance the outlandish decrepitude of Sam & Max's universe, without compromising its energetic, cartoony brio. The background music is all-new as well, though it still alternates between edgy jazz and campy sci-fi music, perfect for the mood and spirit of the game.

The big question for fans of the series concerns Max's powers. How well do they really work for the game? Pretty well, actually! I was concerned that "psychic powers" wouldn't mesh with the canon, but sci-fi is no stranger to Sam & Max, and the powers are executed with such madcap bluster that they fit right in. A Silly-Putty knockoff called "Rhino-Plasty" lets Max change shape, a toy telephone lets you teleport with phone numbers, and a 3D View-Master-like toy lets you see the future. Something about the mix of cheesy childhood nostalgia with the paranormal makes what could have been a klunky fit feel entirely natural. The Toys are also responsible for some slick puzzles, my favorite involving the neutralization of two of Skunkape's "research assistants" with nothing but a clever application of Max's powers. My one complaint is that it can be a little tedious using Future Vision on everything in the game, which is about the only way of determining what bits of future insight are necessary for solving puzzles.

Another question is whether the series, in its third season, is still funny. Yes, says I! A lot of the humor comes from marinating in the overall strangeness of the story, but there are several laugh-out-loud moments as well ("In case anyone was curious, second is licking," was particularly well-played). It helps that the voice acting remains top-notch, especially for the cast of familiar extras. Newbies may be a little perplexed by the surfeit of regular characters, but the game does a fairly good job of introducing them, and generally avoids too many inside jokes and winking references.

The Penal Zone is an excellent introduction to the new season, The Devil's Playhouse. It shows that the new powers system works, while promising more tantalizing things to come. As a Sam & Max fan from way back, I can say I'm excited to see where the series is going.

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Walkthrough Guide

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Walkthrough for Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 1: The Penal Zone

General Tips

Talk to everyone, and explore all topics. In general this walkthrough will not instruct you on navigating conversations, but if you're thorough, you'll get the info you need every time. Plus they're entertaining.

Similarly, if you're stuck, use Future Vision for hints. Use it on everything. It's useful, and again, it's entertaining.

Under the options menu you can adjust the hint level. A higher hint level means that the game will give you clearer hints as to what to do next.

Prologue: The Defeat of General Skunkape

The Narrator's tutorial pretty much tells you what to do here, but for the sake of completeness:

Switch to Max, and use the teleportation power on Girl Stinky's cell phone.

Get the homing beacon from your inventory and use it on General Skunkape.

Didn't work! Luckily the Brain can help. Grab the Toy of Power that he reveals.

Use the newly acquired Rhino Plasty on the picture of the plant to transform Max and give Sam some cover.

Walk over to Skunkape and put the beacon on him. Success!

Activate the remote in Sam's inventory to suck Skunkape into the Penal Zone, so to speak.

He's too strong! Talk to Harry Moleman to see if he has any ideas.

He's a little out of commission. Luckily the Brain has another toy for you. Grab the cards.

Use the cards to read Harry's mind.

You got his phone number! Use it to teleport to his phone on the second level.

There has to be something useful up here, but what?

That picture of a bazooka could be handy, but it's just a picture.

Use the Rhino-Plasty on the picture. Fire Bazooka-Max into Skunkape. Success! Or is it?

Part One: The Brain is Dying!

Max can see the future, and Skunkape has arrived on an apparent mission of peace and love. What could it mean?

Chat with Superball and Skunkape. Skunkape seems nice, if a little nervous. Learn about his interest in Toys and Molemen, and that you can go on his ship at any time.

Let's go on the ship! It looks familiar. Learn that the brain is very inert. How will you fix him?

Use Future Vision on the Brain. Learn that you eventually manage to wake him. But how did you do it

Use Future Vision on Sam. Learn that you did it with Mama Bosco's power core and Grandpa Stinky's demon broth. Now is there anything else interesting here?

Check out the door to the left. Hey look, a little mole-guy, happy to get his free vacation! Let's hope it goes well for him.

Let's rifle through his personal effects. There's his vacation ticket, and a functional hard helmet.

We now have a mission. But where can we find Stinky's broth and Bosco's power core?

Stinky's is right next door to the ship. Let's exit the ship and go there.

Grandpa Stinky does seem to have some kind of broth. Let's talk to him about it.

He's not giving it away. What could persuade him to give it up?

Use Future Vision on Grandpa Stinky to find out. Apparently he'll get a winning lottery ticket. How can we find out about winning lottery tickets.

Use Future Vision on the radio. Apparently Harry Moleman has the ticket. We'll have to find him.

Let's talk to Flint Paper. Apparently all he wants right now is his spaghetti. If you try talking to him again, he'll beg you to leave him alone until he's finished. But when will that be.

Use Future Vision on Flint. Oh no! How can we prevent this horrible tragedy?

Maybe if Flint had some sort of protection...

Give the moleman's hardhat to Flint. Crisis averted! Chat with him about the power core, find out about his big case, and he's got a hot clue for you.

Girl Stinky is in cahoots with Skunkape! And she's not talking. How can we find out more about her plan?

Use Future Vision on Girl Stinky. A suspicious phone call!

Since we've used it on everyone else, why not use Future Vision on Sam?

There's a button behind the counter, but Girl Stinky won't let you get to it. We'll have to figure out how to get rid of her. Maybe later.

We should figure out where to find Mama Bosco. Bosco's Inconvenience seems like the logical choice, but it's all boarded up.

The sign on the door says that BoscoTech Labs is at a new location. Let's go!

Head to the DeSoto on the far left side of the street. The COPS want to talk to you about the Crime-Tron, but apparently they need a new member before they can let you use it.

There's a pair of jumper cables in the back of the car. They might be useful. Take them

Use the map in the glove compartment to head to BoscoTech Labs. Go inside.

Apparently Harry Moleman is Momma Bosco's medium, or something. Take the elevator down.

Talk to Harry. Learn that he does indeed have a lottery ticket. He also missed out on Skunkape's vacation.

Maybe you can trade? Give Harry the vacation ticket. Get the Lotto ticket.

Talk to Mamma Bosco while you're here. Learn about her dimensional destabilizer and power core.

Let's head back to Straight and Narrow. We have the Lotto ticket for Grandpa Stinky, but how are we going to get Girl Stinky to leave?

We know she'll leave when she gets her phone call.

We also have her number. Check out the DeSoto and use Bob the phone to give her cell a call.

Ask her for a meeting, and she'll leave.

Head inside to Stinky's. Give the Lotto ticket to Grandpa. Take the demon broth.

Now that Girl Stinky's gone, we can head behind the counter and push the button.

A secret passage! Amazing! Let's head on down.

A subway tunnel, riddled with molemen workers. That ladder on the other side leads to the street. Let's see if there's anything interesting nearby.

How about that pile of intriguing junk? Examine it to acquire Carol, and the power core.

We should have everything we need to resurrect the Brain. Let's head back to Skunkape's ship.

Head to the upper level, and use the broth and power core on the brain. But we need some way to connect the core to the jar.

Use the jumper cables. It's alive! And it's summoned Skunkape!

Luckily he has his own agenda to sort out. Finish talking to the brain, and go down to pick up the new item. You can do so after chatting with Superball. Intelligence suggests that Skunkape's evil. Surprise!

After learning about the Penal Zone, and how Skunkape's badge and Momma Bosco's dimensional destablizer are essential, pick up the new toy. We should try it out!

Part Two: In Search of the Toys of Power

Let's see if we can figure out what Girl Stinky has been up to. Use Teleportation on Girl Stinky's cell phone.

It's just a nondescript street corner. What could have happened to Girl Stinky? Pick up her phone at any rate. She may want it back.

There isn't much else going on here. Where should we teleport to next?

Superball said that Mama Bosco's dimensional destabilizer would be useful in eliminating Skunkape. Let's go there.

Unfortunately, Skunkape's "Research Assistants" have beat you to it. Max is being stomped, and Sam is out on the street. What to do?

Remember that Max's teleportation power affects him and anyone he's touching.

But if you just teleport him any old place, Skunkape's goon remains unharmed.

There must be some way of better controlling where Max teleports.

Sam still has Girl Stinky's cell phone. Maybe there is somewhere nearby where he could stand that would make teleportation dangerous.

Like atop the BoscoTech Labs sign. Head to the ally to the left and climb the fire escape to the roof. Then have Sam walk onto the sign. Switch to Max and call Girl Stinky's cell. Effective!

Maybe you've noticed the pigeon with the gleaming thing on its beak. Head over to harass it.

He drops it. Oh well, you were heading for the street anyway.

Go to the street and pick up the shiny. Then go inside Mama Bosco's.

Skunkape left a receipt somewhere, but you can't make it out. A clue!

While you're here, lets chat with Mama Bosco some more. Find out more about the dimensional destabilizer. The remote control is right over there!

Pick up the remote, then head home. Teleportation is easier than walking.

Teleport to the COPS to get to your car (back at Straight and Narrow if you've been following this walkthrough precisely).

We sure do have a lot of clues piling up. Didn't someone say something about some way of analyzing clues?

The COPS and their Crime-Tron! But they said they still need a new member.

Examine the DeSoto, then use Carol the Scanner with the COPS. They're happy to meet her.

Use the Crime-Tron. You can go through the Crime-Tron tutorial if you don't know how to use it. Unfortunately, you don't have the right clues to make any cool computated deductions yet.

Let's see what's going on at Stinky's. Maybe Girl Stinky has turned up.

No such luck. But what's this? Grandpa Stinky has signed on to Skunkape's legions! And he has Skunkape's homing beacon.

You can talk to him about it, but he won't give it up, and you can't get it from him yet.

But if you ask Grandpa Stinky if you can join Skunkape's army, he'll provoke Max into attacking him. Max isn't much of a match for Grandpa, but maybe this could be useful.

Isn't there something about Max, erm, touching someone else that's proved useful before?

Unfortunately, you can't Teleport Grandpa Stinky anywhere you can get his badge. We need to explore some more. Any place else we haven't looked?

Maybe the Brain can get us into areas of Skunkape's ship that were locked before.

Head to the ship, then to the upper level, and open the Moleman Vacation/Processing room.

This doesn't look very fun. How can we get out of here?

Teleportation! Teleport just about anywhere but here. You may notice that teleporting to Girl Stinky's cell just takes you right back to the processing room, since it's in the effect drawer.

You may be tempted to go back and collect your effects now that you've escaped, but let's think about this.

Weren't we trying to get Grandpa Stinky somewhere we can remove his personal effects?

Head to Stinky's Diner (You can teleport there if you want). Talk to Grandpa so he'll provoke Max again by asking to join Skunkape's army. Then back off.

Since Girl Stinky's cell is now in the processing room, teleport there. Grandpa Stinky can override the process, but is suddenly disillusioned by his place in the Skunkape hierarchy.

He left all his stuff in his disconsolation. Take it all from the effects drawer outside the processing room. The homing beacon! And a souvenir glass?

Maybe it's another clue. Go to the COPS and use the Crime-Tron to find out. You need to successfully combine two items in the machine to get a result.

From the glass that Skunkape gave Grandpa Stinky, we can guess that he must have been to a Meesta Pizza recently. But which one?

Maybe it's the place Skunkape and Girl Stinky were supposed to meet.

Combine the glass and the cell phone. Then head to Meetsa Pizza's.

Skunkape was here, but where could he have gone? We need to gather more clues.

Just looking around isn't helping much. We need a better way.

Future Vision!

If you use Future Vision on Sam, you see that Sam and Max somehow end up on the roof and find something useful.

And if you use it on the pizza boxes, you see a pigeon eating, well, something.

Are these visions connected? And what could the pigeon have been eating?

Use the cell phone on the boxes, then teleport to the cell phone. Voila!

A postcard! This looks like a job for the Crime-Tron! Use the Crime-Tron, then use the postcard with the Crime-Tron.

What can we combine with the postcard to yield a clue?

That receipt for the toy store seems like a good choice, but unfortunately there is no match. Where else can you find used goods in this town?

Someplace like a pawn shop, perhaps? And what else do we have that came from a pawn shop?

The "hard luck" wedding ring! Use it with the Crime-Tron, then head to the pawn shop.

This guy again? We'll have to dispose of him before we go looking for clues.

Maybe there is something useful in the trash can. But Sam doesn't know what to look for. How can we find out?

Future Vision! Use it on the trash, then obtain the banana peel from the trash. But how can we learn what to do with it?

Future Vision! Using it on the Research Assistant and on the manhole cover should give you a good idea what to do next.

Pick up the manhole cover. How might the Research Assistant be tricked into falling down the manhole?

Use the banana peel on the cover. Oldest trick in the book!

Enter the pawn shop, and collect another clue. Where could it have come from?

To the Crime-Tron! But what can we combine this toy with?

Combine the paddle-ball and the receipt from the toy store to reveal the toy store's location. Then head to the toy store.

The trail is hot! But there doesn't seem to be much to do here. So what do we do when we're stuck?

Future Vision! Use Future Vision for a terrible insight into the events to come.

Part Three: The Devil's Toy Box

Prisoner aboard Skunkape's ship again? It's familiar at least. But something's wrong.

Why is Girl Stinky in the cell across from you, instead of in her throne? Talk to her.

She doesn't like Skunkape. Maybe you can persuade her that he's not so bad.

Now that she's out of her cell, you can give her a call to teleport and escape.

Twist! Skunkape's used Future Vision to anticipate his defeat! Now Sam and Max are in the Penal Zone with an anti-matter bomb! How will they escape?

Teleport anywhere. Momma Bosco and Superball will intercept you and deliver you to BoscoTech Labs. Talk to Momma Bosco and learn about the rift generator.

Now we have to get the beacon on Skunkape. How do we do that again?

Teleport to the ship using Girl Stinky's number. Talk to the brain. Then use the beacon on Skunkape. The brain's sacrifice was not in vain!

Let's teleport out of here. By the way, we haven't tried Sybil's number yet, have we? Let's see what happens.

We wind up right next to her stuff, back home at Straight and Narrow. Sam seems to think going into the subway tunnel will give us access to the underside of Freelance Police HQ. Let's go there.

Oh no, Skunkape has found us? How can we avoid his disintegrator eyes?

We can take cover behind various objects, but they all just blow up. Where else can we go?

Let's head underground quickly. We can see the tunnel under Stinky's Diner on the other side. We can also see another tunnel on the other side, to the left. But we can't get there from here.

Maybe if we had some way of teleporting to the other side. But we don't know anyone's phone number over there. The mole man on the other side isn't very helpful.

Sybil's phone is just above us. But it would take ages to dig through all her stuff to find it.

Plus Skunkape keeps firing at us. It's very distracting.

Sybil's stuff is on a fragile crack on the street above.

Go back to the street and take cover behind Sybil's belongings. Skunkape will blast them, and they'll fall to the other side of the tunnel, where we need to go. Teleport to Sybil's number. Go into the tunnel.

The molemen are up to some weird business. Talk to them about prophecies and the Devil's Toy Box. We need to find a way to open up the rift generator.

We can plug it in to the outlet by the furnace in the back. There isn't enough power, though.

You might think that turning up the furnace to make the molemen sweat is a good idea, given that molemen sweat is such a powerful substance (right?). But it isn't useful yet. Is there something else powerful we can use?

How about the Devil's Toy Box? But how are we going to connect it to the rift generator?

There's a power cable near the toy box. Grab it and plug it into the toy box. Then turn on the rift generator. Here comes Skunkape!

We need to get him to let go, and a way to make sure he will fall into the rift generator.

Remember something else about moleman sweat that might be useful?

It's very slippery (Max was sliding around in the processing room). Turn up to furnace to make the molemen sweat.

Skunkape is still holding on. What's something that could make him let go, something that he cares about more than anything?

He likes toys! But the only toy you have is that paddle-ball. Worth a shot, though.

Use the paddle-ball with Skunkape. He buys your bluff, and is sucked into the Penal Zone! Success! End of Chapter 1: The Penal Zone.


I finished this one on my PS3 last week, and it was a blast. Very funny stuff, and I haven't even really played the last two seasons.

I can't wait to see how the powers will be used in the next one.

adam gunderloy April 25, 2010 2:30 PM

just one question: penal zone?


Adam Gunderloy:
Penal as in prison. It's the alternate dimension General Skun-ka'pe has escaped from, and must be trapped in.
Don't worry, nobody else takes it seriously either. Not even in the game. ;-)

Oh and Mike:
Not a huge deal, but if your computer's not quite up to it, you should get some top-graphics screenshots from another source. The game is really pretty at graphics level 9. Well, not pretty. Grungy, really. Good looking anyway.


Aw, the emoticon broke. :-(

adam gunderloy April 26, 2010 10:49 AM

*plays demo*

what. WHAT. WHAT!


Patreon Crew SonicLover April 26, 2010 4:21 PM

"In case anyone was curious, second is licking." It's scary how universal that punchline is.

Patreon Crew SonicLover April 26, 2010 6:46 PM

I don't get it. The demo is just a splash screen asking me to buy the full version. I know game demos are only supposed to be previews of the full game, but come on.


Sorry, but what's the real intention of the pun?
(Can you put it in spoiler?)

Patreon Crew SonicLover April 26, 2010 7:34 PM

Okay, I just bought the full version... is it supposed to lag ridiculously with an average framerate of about 3 FPS, where the visuals keep falling behind the audio? Becuase that's what I'm experiencing. (And yes, I quit everything else!)

Patreon Crew SonicLover April 28, 2010 10:49 AM

Well, that helps, I guess.

I've beaten it now. Can't wait for the next one.


Sorry, didn't respond earlier.
The one about licking, though don't bother about it really.


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