Next Stop: Hell in a Handbasket
With such a strong second season of episodic, insanity-fueled detective cases, Sam & Max fans have amassed high hopes for the season’s conclusion. The series has injected a much-needed dose of humor into the point-and-click adventure game genre, and it’s proven the episodic format to be successful. Fortunately, even after two full seasons, Telltale Games’ dark creative forces have yet to run out of unholy steam.
Sam & Max Episode 205: What’s New, Beelzebub? wraps up the latest batch of misfit capers with an hysterical romp through the bowels of Hades for a fiery finale. A confrontation with the Dark One reveals an even greater malevolence at work. What forces could be more insidious and baleful than the great unholy Satan himself? The answer is both vile and amusing. You’ll see for yourself once all hell breaks loose.
Narrowly escaping total annihilation from a freak encounter with “T-H-E-M” in the previous episode, the season finale finds our favorite anthropomorphic freelance police unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of hell. It turns out the River Styx is conveniently located in the sewers beneath Sam and Max’s office, and the duo finds themselves hitching a ride on the soul-train to the dark abyss in hopes of reclaiming Bosco’s soul and returning their pal to the realm of the living.
The series’ humor is one of its major strengths, and it’s also something we’ve seen refined and improved with nearly every episode. From the subtle pop-culture references sprinkled throughout much of season two, to the completely ridiculous situations Sam and Max find themselves in, the humor is often well-timed and abundant. It’s also always terribly amusing when the story throws a new twist at you, treading humorous territory you may not have anticipated. It’s a frequent occurrence in most episodes, and What’s New, Beelzebub? is no different.
With a fire-and-brimstone themed finale, you could expect to find a multitude of situations awaiting Sam and Max upon their arrival in hell. In typical fashion, Telltale delivers a lair of eternal damnation that will trump just about anything you’d have anticipated by re-imagining it as a bastion of corporate American culture. Hell – or Hell, LLC, as the catchy corporate logo in the entryway reads – is a land of cubicles, quotas, and office productivity where everyday is Monday and the clock perpetually reads 4:59 p.m. The place is decorated with odd posters depicting the seven deadly sins, and it’s staffed by a medley of villains from both seasons who offer some new gags, despite being re-hashed content. Satan himself is blasé about his rule over the domain, with more concern about employee efficiency and managing the underworld than Sam and Max’s presence. In fact, the detectives have an entire wing of hell constructed in their honor as thanks “for a lifetime of generous donations of souls both evil and led astray.” It even features enormous “Sam the Devourer” and “Max the Destroyer” statues.
The giant warehouse is stocked to the ceiling with shelves full of small dioramas containing the souls of folks locked in scenes of their own personal hell. Much like the elevator in Chariots of the Dogs, the dioramas of a handful of recent arrivals serve as an interesting opportunity to dish out some additional puzzles. Sam and Max can jump in and out of scenes where key characters are being tormented by demonic forces. Solving the puzzle in each scene will free the soul of the corresponding character and reduce the efficiency of hell. As always, the episode’s other puzzles are clever and entertaining, since many of them revolve around trying to wreak enough havoc to get Satan’s attention. By the time this is accomplished, the plot pleasantly twists again and you’ll be sent on another round of unusual errands.
What’s New, Beelzebub? plays like a double episode. It’s longer than other episodes in the season, and every time it seems like the game is about to conclude, some new development extends the gameplay just a tad longer. Telltale is sticking with what works in terms of graphics, controls, and audio. It seems like minor improvements to the game’s visuals have been made as the season goes on, but the game looks and plays the same as it has for every episode this season. However, a few visual effects in the finale episode stand out nicely, and the excellent voice acting remains as solid as ever. I guess there’s no need to mess with a good thing once you’ve nailed the quality as consistently as the Sam and Max series has.
It’s becoming increasingly important for players to pick up and play through earlier episodes in order to fully enjoy the most recent one. You’ll miss out on half the jokes, and parts of the great plot reveals won’t make much sense if you haven’t played through the rest of the second season at the very least. At this point you should be able to pick up both seasons in their entirety for a reasonable price.
Initially, it was hard not to feel some level of concern about the potential for disappointment with What’s New, Beelzebub?. Following on the heels of what is easily the best and funniest episode in the season is a tough order, but once things get underway, What’s New Beelzebub? lives up to and eventually exceeds expectation – particularly by the end of the episode when the final showdown may very well reduce you to fits of tearful laughter. It’s certainly a satisfying conclusion.
On the whole, this season has progressed by leaps and bounds beyond the first. What’s New, Beelzebub? is a great ending to an amazing season, and it ties a lot of things from both seasons up nicely. An official announcement on a third season hasn’t been made, but there’s a strong likelihood we’ll see more Sam & Max before the end of the year. It would be foolish not to continue the momentum the series has gained. Here’s hoping the freelance police will be back for more comedic atrocities in the near future.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The cartoony style isn’t eye-meltingly complex, but it suits the style and subject matter perfectly. 4.1 Control
Get your point-and-click on. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great voice over work. Super funny. 4.6 Play Value
Slightly longer than your average episode. A great ending to the season. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.