Game On!: "Sam & Max: The Penal Zone"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Humor, psychic/sociopathic rabbits and an alien ape invader are only three of the many reasons "The Penal Zone" is a great return for "Sam & Max."

Fresh off the resurrection of the classic "Monkey Island" series, Telltale Games returns to show that the Freelance Police are still the stars of the episodic adventure game world.

"The Penal Zone" opens with Sam and Max locked in the general's purple spaceship, on their way to his "space zoo."

Max starts out with the psychic powers bestowed upon him by magical plastic toys. After he escapes the cell and foils the general's assault on the city, the game pulls a "Lost" - the timeline flips back to before any of these events, introducing the seemingly benevolent space ape and his peace-and-love message.

Those familiar with point-and-click adventure titles will find "Penal Zone" follows the standard adventure-game checklist. You navigate through static scenes and click on objects or actors. Selecting someone or something in the game pops up a context-based list of dialogue or action options. The usual insane puzzles and clue-gathering sections are included.

Players will need to adjust their mindset about 13 degrees to the left, but the game's slightly tweaked perspective rewards a little zany thinking.

Newcomers might be a bit distracted by the game's assumption that you've been along for the ride previously as well as the lack of character development, but this is actually the first episode of the game's third "season."

Episodes play out in four-to-five-hour chunks, and it's definitely worth the time to seek out seasons one and two if you find any humor here.

Some graphic tweaks will appeal to iPad fans. "Penal Zone" is one of the first major games to have a version developed especially for the new Apple tablet's release. The touch-based controls seem well-adapted to playing a game that traditionally relies on players pointing and clicking on objects.

You can buy each episode on its own, but purchasing the season means you'll get all five games in this series as they're released over the coming months. Plus, Telltale is offering those who buy the whole season now a collector's edition DVD with all the games as a bonus once the season is complete.

"Sam & Max: The Devil's Playground Episode 1 - The Penal Zone"

System: iPad, Mac OS X, PC, PlayStation 3

Players: 1

Season price: $35 (PC & Mac), $30 (PS3), $7 (iPad)

Rated: T for Teen

Who Should Buy it?: Sociopathic bucks and loyal canines

GameOn! Grade: B