by Stefanie Fogel
reviewed on PC
Attack of the Clonesá
The penultimate episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls, starts with a homage to filmmaker George Romero as the Freelance Police take refuge from a horde of scantily-clad, zombie-like Sam clones in Stinky's Diner. The samulacra... excuse me... dogglegangers lay siege to the place, driven by a mysterious "clone master" to seek out all of the toys of power that have been the focal point of the series' plot. Like the second-to-last episode of a television show's season, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls answers many questions while setting up what promises to be one hell of a climatic finale. It is also the season's weakest episode, thanks to dialogue that relies more on exposition than laughs, and puzzles that rely a little too much on one particular psychic ability.
Less laughs, more exposition
Once Sam and Max manage to ditch their dogged pursuers, they set out to investigate the origin of the Sam clones and uncover the identity of the master. Along the way, we finally get answers to some of the season's biggest questions. The identity of Dr. Norrington, Max's mysterious helper, is revealed and we learn the full background story behind the Devil's Toybox and why it is so important. We also learn the identity of Stinky's boyfriend, "Mr. S." Because the episode spends so much time answering these questions, however, it seems to be packed with more exposition than laughs. One "Total Recall" reference gave me a good chuckle, but many of the jokes in Beyond the Alley of the Dolls are so repetitious they border on annoying. Constant jabs about the weight of the Sam clones, for example, grow old after the first few times you hear them, as does the constant verbal tug-of-war between Sam and Max on what to call the chubby copies.
Overused settings and powers
The lack of funny in Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is not helped by some fairly banal settings. Most of the set pieces are places we have already visited: Stinky's Diner, Momma Bosco's lab, Papierwaite's office, etc. The episode's one stand-out location does not open up until the end of the game, and takes place at a very familiar New York City landmark. This ending "boss fight" is the episode's high point. The revelation of the clone master is a truly surprising moment, a clever twist that some might say they predicted all along, but one that I never saw coming. Yet, it makes sense within the context of the story.
Another highlight of the episode is Max's psychic powers, which are on full display by the time you confront the clone master. Besides the usual future vision, teleportation, mind reading and psychic ventriloquism powers, a new toy robot gives Max the ability to zap beings from the dark dimension. Yet, despite the fact that nearly all of the toys are available to the player, it felt like I was relying on mostly one or two to solve most of the game's puzzles. The excellent interrogation mini-game from They Stole Max's Brain! makes only the briefest reappearance, and my inventory box remained mostly unused. Hopefully, the final episode and later seasons of Sam & Max will find a way to better balance puzzles around the use of powers, inventory and mini-games.
A fun-filled cliffhanger ending
Like the rest of the season, the voice acting in Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is as good as ever, and the music, especially in the last minutes of the game, is just as impressive. The final puzzle, in which the player has to continuously switch between Sam and a fully-powered up Max, is a lot of fun and I hope that we get to take control of Max more often in the future. Those last 10-15 minutes of the game help redeem what is sort of a lacklustre episode, but does not quite overcome the fact that the episode feels like nothing more than a set-up for the season finale. It is worth playing, mainly because if you have invested this much time in the season already, there is no turning back now! Hopefully, the build-up will be worth it when The Devil's Playhouse wraps up next month.
Great final boss fight, cliffhanger ending
Not as funny as earlier episodes, recycled settings