Sam & Max: Episode 3 - 'The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball' Impressions

January 26, 2007 By Glenn Turner

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The third Sam & Max episode, 'The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball', marks the half-way point of the series and you can look at it in one of two ways: 1) It's the calm before the storm or 2) Telltale has settled into a very comfortable rut.

There's really nothing wrong with 'The Mole...' except that it's simply treading the same waters as with the last episode. And the episode before that. Yes, we know convenience-store owner Bosco likes to disguise himself in almost-culturally insensitive costumes to elude those who fuel his latest paranoid fantasies. And yes, haha, Sybil just can't commit to a single profession. But these episode-oriented attribute swaps lose their impact exponentially with each episode, resulting in the characters feeling more like devices or levers to be pulled than actual characters as each change is specifically tailored to that episode's puzzle.

Not only did the ancillary characters seem to take a step back this episode, but a lot of the jokes just fell completely flat for me. A ex-Army roach used as an audio 'bug'? "Yo' Mama!" jokes? Both feel a tad too contrived for this series and, frankly, I expected a little more.

This episode though, unlike the last, felt to have a larger presence simply because of its final scene. I refuse to spoil anything, but it's a nice capper to the scant episode. And I do mean scant - I finished the game in roughly two hours, while eating dinner, checking my news aggregator, email and performing assorted other tasks. In other words, you can make it through a lot quicker than I did.

It's still a fun episode, but this is the first iteration that, had I been shelling out $8.95 per episode via Telltale's site instead of the GameTap subscription fee, I'd feel a bit let down. The dialogue simply wasn't as whipsmart, the situations weren't as clever, the new mafia characters don't leave a lasting impression, and the puzzles were virtually transparent.

It's not all mediocre though. The music, which has been pleasantly jazzy and zippy since the first episode, really shines this time around. Jared Emerson-Johnson outdoes himself this time with some nicely melodramatic themes, including the exceptional 'Don Ted E. Bear Waltz' (freely available for download at the Telltale Sam & Max soundtrack sub-site) and the fantastically old-timey closing credits song 'You & Me & Ted E. Bear'.

Nevertheless, every television show season has at least one dud in it, one episode where momentum fades a bit, characters are merely going through the motions and nothing really progresses, so I'm willing to excuse 'The Mole...' as Sam & Max's sole seasonal dud. Let's just hope that the next episode picks up the pace and starts turning the game on its ear a bit.

Also, I really wish Telltale would fix that end-of-game freezing bug I discussed in my 'Situation Comedy' entry that requires me to force-quit the game after winning. It's not exactly the last memory I want after finishing off an episode.

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