Sam & Max: Episode 3 – The Mole, The Mob and the Meatball Review
Developer: Telltale Games
Reviewed on PC
The entertainment conspiracy continues: After investigating aging television stars and an out-of-control talk show host, it's time for the Freelance Police to check out a crooked casino. It only remains to be seen how the hypnosis theme will pan out and what possible role crime boss Ted E. Bear might play.
Sam & Max: Episode 3 – The Mole, The Mob and the Meatball is easily the funniest Sam & Max episode that Telltale Games has produced so far. It's also by far the shortest. Clocking in at just over an hour of play, Episode 3 sports some of the best comic moments in the series, but raises questions about the value of future episodes.
The commissioner of police had placed a mole within the Toy Mafia, an organized crime family with a predilection for children's playthings. The mole has vanished, so Sam and Max have been dispatched to Ted E. Bear's Mafia-Free Playland and Casino to ensure the mole's safety. Needless to say, Sam and Max combine a sense of humor with brute force to resolve yet another sinister case.
In Episode 3, the laughs have been taken up a notch. It's more fun than ever to ask Bosco about products he doesn't carry and there's a great interrogation scene. This episode's Bosco-Tech invention is actually worth its price tag and is good for a few jokes beyond its critical role in a puzzle. Above all, the casino's disturbing bear heads have quite a song for you. And the new play devices aren't restricted to jokes – there's even a plot-critical Whack-a-Mole game that requires firearms (in true Sam and Max style).
While the humor has been taken up a notch, it feels like the content has been scaled back. There's only one new location with a total of three rooms, and a small number of simple puzzles. Players still need to visit Bosco, the Freelance Police office and the woman who just can't stick to a single career. Still, the episode is short enough to leave players feeling short-changed.
It's understandable that Episode 1 was the longest. It was players' introduction to the world, and required the construction of multiple locations, each with myriad details to explore and laugh at. At $9 per episode, there's no question the first episode was a worthwhile purchase. Episode 2 was incremental content. It built on existing locations and added an entire television studio filled with entertainment. It was also closer to an hour-and-a-half in length. Episode 3 brings that number closer to an hour. If it weren't pack so tightly with quality humor, that duration would be a real disappointment. But Episode 2 and (even more so) Episode 3 call into question that $9 episodic price tag. (Check out Frictionless Insight's review criteria for more on this site's concerns over value.
Fortunately, Telltale games is offering the entire series of six episodes for $35. Those can be purchased in advance (or you can wait to hear more about the whole season). Assuming the episodes don't continue to get shorter, the season should be worth the price of a season ticket. But this episode serves as a warning to every company pursuing episodic content: If the quality (or even quantity) of a game slips from episode to episode, gamers will feel just as betrayed as by an over-hyped full-length game.