Sam & Max’s third episode is much shorter than the previous two, and that’s mainly because it uses a lot of recycled content from those iterations.
Who would have said that the idea of serializing Sam & Max as an episodic adventure was going to be so great? Each episode is self-conclusive, short, highly entertaining, really funny and they feature creative puzzles. The main problem when serializing a title like this one is that each game needs to be updated in a new clever and refreshing way, this should be done to avoid the feeling that we are playing the same game over and over again. The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball marks the halfway point of Telltale’s first serialized adventure and even when it’s one of the funniest, this third episode feels much shorter and recycled than the previous two.
The story is quite simple and ridiculous. A police mole that has been working undercover for Ted E. Bear’s mafia organization has been gone missing and it’s up to our heroes, Sam & Max, to infiltrate a casino and rescue him. Even when this organization’s lair is called Ted E. Bear Mafia-Free Playland and Casino, there are many hints about mafia activity, so the game includes plenty of opportunities for humor. The writing is quite funny (especially Max’s) and probably the best so far. There are many jokes that use frequent figure of speech or even double entendre so it’s not suitable for children. The clearest example I can give is when Sam & Max make fun of a character’s dead mother. Furthermore, the game relies heavily on repetition, as you’ll need to try many combinations of puns and passwords to make progress. Sometimes it may be tiresome to click on random items or talk to every person in the casino just to figure out the way to solve a particular puzzle, but the inventive dialogues are worth it.
You’ll go back to Sam & Max’s office and neighborhood, which is unfortunately unchanged. There are new locations and characters, but these are only a few and considering this is the third part of the series, some of the elements previously established are wearing thin. Bosco’s and Sybil’s identities suffered new changes and were given new dialogue lines, but the rest of the details remain way too familiar or even identical. For example, the presentation and introduction is exactly the same as episodes one and two. Maybe it’s understandable that the game contains so little new material, mainly because it was the one with the quickest release as the previous two episodes had longer development cycles. Sometimes repetition doesn’t get in the way, as it’s really nice to hear references to previous episodes, though these are not essential to understand the plot or the story, they are most enjoyable if you played them.
The puzzle difficulty is not really high, but it’s challenging enough. You shouldn’t expect any new crazy combinations as most are quite logical, but they will take enough time to be satisfying and entertaining. Variety is important and here you’ll do many things, like cheat a poker player, fake someone’s death and be part of the mafia. There aren’t many key items for you to use and combine, but it’s surprising that you can finish the game by using less than ten elements. What it’s quite disappointing is that even when the puzzles may take you some time to solve the game is extremely short, probably the shortest so far. If you are an adventure fan you can pretty much finish it in an hour and a half, so this is pretty frustrating, especially if we take into account the lack of value of the game. Once you have finished “The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball” there are no reasons to go back and replay it.
As in previous episodes, the game’s graphics look great and the art design is remarkably good. The same graphics engine is used so the diverse characters animations are excellent and vibrant, and loading times are not excessively long, pretty much what you’d expect from Telltale. Additionally, the voice acting and the jazzy music stand out, but some of the dialogues and tunes seem to be recycled from previous iterations.
In conclusion, episode 3 marks halfway through the season of Sam & Max, at this point everyone who has played all three installments has a clear idea about the series. If you played all iterations, you’ll probably enjoy this one and you should keep playing. If you haven’t played anyone yet because you don’t like adventure games Episode 3 won’t change your mind. In any way, the game ends up with a huge cliffhanger that is quite intriguing as to what’ll happen next. Let’s just hope that the newer installments of the series add something new or the episodic format of the adventure will end up hurting it.