The Freelance Police go tomb raiding
Longtime fans of the Sam & Max series might be surprised to find that The Tomb of Sammun-Mak actually has very little to do with Sam and Max. Picking up immediately after the events of The Penal Zone, Episode Two of The Devil's Playhouse starts in the boiler room of the Freelance Police's office building. Having just defeated the intergalactic warlord Skun'ka-pe, Sam and Max discover a pair of skeletons that disturbingly resemble themselves, along with a movie projector and four reels of film.
By hopping from reel to reel, players can unravel the story of Sam and Max's great grandfathers - Sammeth and Maximus - and how they were able to beat the challenge of the Sphunx, steal the Devil's Toybox from the eponymous tomb and, ultimately, wind up in the boiler room. As both a game mechanic and storytelling vehicle, it's a refreshing change of pace from the series' usual setting.
Everything in life can be solved with a can of nuts
The psychic powers Max acquires in The Penal Zone seem to run in the family, as great grandfather Maximus has a few of his own abilities as well. A ventriloquist's dummy allows him to speak through objects and other people - often with hilarious results. He can shrink himself and Sammeth into a simple can of nuts, only to pop out moments later like a bunch of paper mache snakes. His power of astral projection allows the player to switch between movie reels, which will happen often, as solutions to some puzzles can only be found by skipping ahead in the story.
There are barely any items to collect in the Tomb of Sammun-Mak, which might be my biggest complaint about the game. Like the Windex-spritzing father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I'm starting to believe that all of life's little problems can be solved with a can of nuts. Players will also meet a family of mystical mole people while on their quest, each with a specific curse they can cast that play prominent puzzle-solving roles. The psychic powers and curses, though well-implemented, are heavily overused. People who find item collecting in adventure games to be tedious and old school will probably enjoy the lack of an inventory, but I felt that it made the game's puzzle solutions a bit repetitive.
Also of minor annoyance is the return of an old adventure game staple - the death scene. There are a couple of instances in the game where Sammeth and Maximus can "die," forcing you to rewind and try again. Having endured many a frustrating death while playing Sierra adventure games in the 80s and 90s, I wasn't thrilled to see it make a comeback.
"Is this important?" "It must be! It's selectable!"
Still, my complaints about the game's puzzles and mechanics are slight, because it is the storytelling and humor that makes me love the Sam & Max series. Episode Two constantly breaks the fourth wall to get a good laugh, parodying the adventure genre and classic movies like The Mummy and Murder on the Orient Express. And, I imagine, there is a little Indiana Jones in there as well.
Some familiar faces from Season Two are back. Santa is an evil toy tycoon named Nicholas St. Kringle. He and his elfish minions are Sammeth and Maximus' main competition for The Devil's Toybox. Baby Amelia Earhart is cute and full of sass (and a fake Katherine Hepburn accent), while a certain German adventurer with a serious vampire phobia will be instantly recognizable to anyone who played Night of the Raving Dead.
Although the story is told out of chronological order, it is entertaining from start to finish, with a Lovecraftian final showdown and an ending scene that is both shocking and mildly gruesome. If the cliffhanger ending of The Penal Zone had you salivating for the next episode, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is sure to make you feel that June just can't come soon enough.
Laugh out loud humor; fresh setting; great cliffhanger ending
Psychic powers are overused; Sam & Max can 'die'