Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Sam & Max Ep. 106: Bright Side of the Moon (2007)

At last I'm getting around to the sixth and final episode of Telltale Games' first season of Sam & Max, with Episode 106: Bright Side of the Moon.

While the individual Season One episodes stand more or less alone, there is something of a story arc which comes to closure in this episode.  Telltale's later game seasons have never run more than five episodes, so this sixth chapter is something of an anomaly.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play Sam & Max 106: Bright Side of the Moon for themselves before proceeding here.  It's still available for sale at Telltale Games, as well via Steam and other channels, and the entire season can often be picked up very reasonably on sale with a little patience.  These aren't difficult games -- they are meant to be entertaining, with as many punchlines as puzzles, and much of the pleasure to be had comes from discovering the story's surprises and gags on one's own.  That said, I'm here to document the history of adventure games, and this one's been out for more than five years as I write this, so I have no qualms about the ensuing...


The episode opens with President Max promoting global warming -- and urging everyone to contribute to its progress -- as Sam ponders the mystery left over from Episode 105: Who is the pseudonymous Roy G. Biv?  Sam has a convoluted theory about his identity, though no actual idea who it might be:

A call from the commissioner interrupts Sam's conspiracy theorizing with some confirmation that Hugh Bliss is likely the culprit, operating from his secret moonbase.  So we're off to the moon, as the opening credits end with the DeSoto simply taking off sans spacesuits, oxygen supplies, or any other sort of complicating sci-fi gewgawgery.  This is the world of Sam & Max, after all, and the moon even has a Visitor Center, manned by one Harry Moleman, former criminal mastermind, now reformed by Prismatology and working as a docent for the Park Service.

Further dialogue establishes that the Blister of Tranquility, our heroes' destination and Hugh Bliss' current hangout, lies to the... some mumbo-jumbo about enlightenment... something about a box over there.  The gift shop peddles Emetics t-shirts (Hugh Bliss' book mentioned earlier), Apollo 13 snow globes, and so forth.  An empty pedestal used to hold a prototype pair of Hypno-Goggles, stolen a few months ago.  A chart on the wall outlines Hugh Bliss' plan for world conquest, which ties together the disparate threads of the season so far; reading it earlier could have saved our heroes a good deal of trouble along the way, as Max notes.  Another pedestal contains a spoon-bending talisman, that is, a bent spoon sealed in a supposedly impenetrable container; Sam can readily pocket this item, but Harry frisks him and returns it to its proper place as soon as we try to leave the area.

The Lunar Lander parked near the Visitor Center has a small door on the side, but the keys are locked inside; a rocket engine is accessible underneath the lander.  A flag planted nearby somehow waves in the wind.

Agent Superball is here, serving as doorman for the Blister of Tranquility, a cheesy-looking magician's cabinet.  If the hints earlier in the season weren't clear, it's pretty clear now that Prismatology is a Scientology satire, with Hugh Bliss playing the L. Ron Hubbard role; Superball says that only Level Red Prismatologists can enter the Blister, and Spectrum Analysis is required to determine each individual's level.  Said analysis consists of rubbing a small toy unicorn to see what color its horn turns; Sam asks if it works like a mood ring, triggered by body heat, but Superball claims it really works, by... magic.  He won't let us in until we can demonstrate Level Red capability using the mood horn... or fake it, we presume.

A bulletin board to the right of the Blister of Tranquility contains a number of lunar gags, but no apparent clues at the moment.

So what can we do here?  We have nothing in inventory but our trusty handgun and the Prismatology unicorn.  Fortunately, we can fly back to the office at any time and explore the neighborhood, so it's probably time to do that.

The C.O.P.S. from Episode 105 have abandoned Lefty's, so the old hardware store is abandoned again.  Sybil has switched jobs yet again, to become... the Queen of Canada?  This provides Sam and Max opportunities for gratuitious Canada jokes, and we also learn that Sybil is tasked with finding something big to really put Canada on the map.  Something beyond the country's new slogan, "Canada: It's Surprisingly Pleasant!"

The office is pretty much as usual, with some updated gags.  The answering machine's first message is for Jimmy Two-Teeth, resident rat, from "Researches & Developments," to report that they have nothing that will get rid of a dog and bunny "real quick-like" and his best bet is to rig the answering machine to "shock 'em when they's played the third message."  The third message is Jimmy doing a not-really-even-there Sybil impersonation, suggesting that she is "preggo's" and Sam is responsible; not the sort of shock Jimmy's advisers intended, apparently.  The closet now contains the Virtual Reality goggles from the previous episode, in addition to the items accumulated earlier in the season.

Bosco is at the convenience store as usual, and in disguise again, this time as his own mother:

 "Her" "son" has created an "Earthquake Maker," likely yet another extravagantly-billed (in both senses of the word) Bosco-Tech gadget that sounds more impressive than it is, priced at a hundred trillion dollars.  Sam asks why the prices keep going up, and Bosco quite correctly points out that we've been happily paying whatever outrageous price he gives us in every episode so far.  "She" also has a number of items that would have saved a lot of trouble in episodes 101 through 105, but it's too late for those to be of use, of course.

So we've explored a bit, checked out home base, and now it's time to get down to some puzzle solving.  Sam can get the spoon-bending trinket out of the Visitor Center by tossing it to Max, who hides it in his voluminous mouth, or points south we don't want to think about.  Now what do we do with it?  He won't cough it up on command, so presumably an opportunity will arise later.

We can put the unicorn in Bosco's microwave to heat it up, turning the horn red, and gain entrance to the Blister of Tranquility, which is sort of a New Age theme park:

Many characters from earlier in the season are hanging out here, basking in the warmth of Bliss' disembodied holographic head -- Abraham Lincoln's head, the C.O.P.S., Sam & Max's pet fish Mr. Spatula (with the water cooler), Mr. Featherly (actor/chicken Philo Pennyworth), and the "bug" we used to bring down the Toy Mafia.

Lincoln is studying Prismatology -- he is mastering the art of Gastro-Kinesis, the ability to make people throw up with his mind.  He can teach it to our favorite freelance police officers, but he has swallowed the associated talisman, and it seems we will need to get it out somehow, but he hasn't thrown up since he was nervous about giving the Gettysburg Address.  He is pining for Sybil, whom he sees as his one chance for true love.  Asked how a head can find true love without the usual accoutrements, Abraham Lincoln points out that Sam and Max obviously never read Cosmo.  (This episode in general features a little more "adult" humor than the previous chapters, and more than most Telltale Games -- it feels a little out of place in the cartoon universe of Sam & Max.)

We can get Lincoln to phone Sybil, and give him some friendly advice to help steer the conversation along.  "I got needs, baby!" is not very successful, nor is, "I'm issuing a Romancipation Proclamation."  The key seems to be that Sybil knows Abe doesn't really know her when he feeds her corny lines; asking her to "Relax, Baby" ties into her shop's mantra and gains a little bit of a foothold.  Calling her a "stone cold fox" also plays well, as she loves foxes (which we suspect based on the stuffed fox in her office.)  The last thread of the conversation concerns what Sybil and Lincoln might do on a date -- psychotherapy bores her now, as do alien love triangles and tattoos, but mentioning "one-on-one love hockey" garners the Queen's interest.  She agrees to the date, and a nervous Lincoln panics and, erm, yields the talisman.  One puzzle down.

The C.O.P.S. are here also, seeking to see within themselves and create a new videogame surpassing Reality 2.0.  They have a talisman too, which we can win by beating Bluster Blaster at a round of Tic Tac Doom -- which isn't too hard to do as it turns out, he plays pretty randomly:

But the C.O.P.S. are reluctant to give up their talisman, as the AI so obviously needs improvement.  Aha!  Yep, that's the ticket -- we have to play so as to force the machine to win, which is more difficult than it sounds, and now we have the seeing-within-oneself talisman, a giant eyeball that can see through lead.  It's not yet clear what we're going to do with these, but we have three in inventory and at least one more to obtain.

Philo Pennyworth, TV's Mr. Featherly from Midtown Cowboys in Episode 102, is also here; the show has been cancelled and his career is in tatters.  He's trying to learn how to do magic to broaden his appeal, by pulling a rat out of a hat -- the rat in question is Jimmy Two-Teeth, still clinging to the parking meter he is perched on back home.  So it looks like dislodging him will be a necessary step here.

There's also a rollercoaster in the room -- pressing a button sends it around the track, so we will probably be putting it to some purpose later on.  We can also hop in and take a ride, but it doesn't appear we can do anything different while the ride is in motion.

We can also take the central Rainbow Elevator up to Hugh Bliss' inner sanctum, where an Intimidating Door conveniently made of lead blocks further progress.  The eyeball talisman allows us to see into the room, where a bowling ball is suspended in a sconce, above a red Open button.  We can use the gastro-kinesis talisman to get Max to cough up the spoon-bending talisman, but we can't make use of it until we get it out of its display case.

Back to the neighborhood we go, to see if we can get Jimmy Two-Teeth's claws off the bent parking meter, and harass Sybil.  She isn't willing to talk about her upcoming date with Lincoln, so no opportunities suggest themselves there.  We can't melt the spoon-bender's display case in Bosco's microwave, though Sam says it's not hot enough and heat is not on the list of things it's impervious to, so we probably want to rev up the lunar lander's rocket engine.

Can we raise the money to buy Bosco's earthquake maker thingie?  Max mentions he fed Leonard (from episode 103, still tied up in the office closet) the "Deed to the United States of America" earlier; that sounds pretty valuable.  Getting him to cough up the deed is easy -- but Bosco says cash is preferred, since we can't come up with the blue book value on the deed.  Sybil only offers three hundred dollars, or three hundred and five if we throw in Puerto Rico, which isn't going to do it.  Lincoln doesn't offer anything, nor does anyone else seem interested in it.

We can take the coat hanger from the TV in Sam & Max's office to break into the lunar lander on the moon; we can't actually go very far in it after taking off, but we can put the display case under the engine and melt it open.  And now we can use it on the parking meter occupied by Jimmy Two-Teeth to unbend it, throwing him off into the distance and letting him be pulled from Mr. Featherly Pennyworth's dimensional portal magician's hat.  Disgusted by his contact with such vile vermin, Pennyworth asks Sam to remove the hat from his presence, so now we have a handy rat-producing device, for some purpose as yet undetermined.

We can also use the talisman to bend the giant spork in one of the Hugh Bliss' statue's hands to put it in the path of the rollercoaster... almost, it's not clear what good this does yet.  We can also use it to bend the sconce in Bliss' inner sanctum, entering just in time to see him launch his hypnobeam attack on every citizen of Earth:

He suggests an earthquake would disrupt his plan, but not before he separates out Max's vices -- his stomach (gluttony), tail (sloth) and gun hand (murder) are removed and sent their separate ways with ersatz Max bodies, leaving Max's natural violent tendencies dormant as he is filled with peace and harmony.  This is a classic "Nooooooo!" moment for Sam, so we will have to do something about it.  We can see the Blister of Tranquility through a viewscreen, but the colorful crystal control panels don't seem to be functional.

Max's gun-toting doppelganger is running rampant in the Blister.  We can use the bent spork to intercept his ride -- if we can start the rollercoaster; Sam has to shoot the button with his gun, as gunfire makes it impossible to do manually.  This severs Max's gun hand and restores it to his body, as the demonic Max vanishes.

The tail-Max is lying on the ground on the surface of the moon, by the bulletin board, draining the energy from everyone around him with his force of ennui.  He's too heavy to lift and he won't give the tail back voluntarily.  While Harry is feeling down, we can explore the gift shop more freely, but there isn't anything useful in the cash register.  It seems we will need something major to move Blue Max, like maybe an earthquake.

Back on earth, everyone is feeling Bliss-fully happy, so Sybil agrees to pay one hundred trillion (Canadian) dollars (new bills with Celine Dion's picture on them) for the deed to the United States.  Green stomach-Max is eating everything in sight at Bosco's.  The earthquake maker ties into Bosco's satellite defense system -- we can use it on the moon to disrupt Blue Max presumably.  What to do about Green Max while we're here, though?  We can't get him to upchuck the stomach itself, and while he can swallow Sam and Max, we can't do anything other than get ourselves out of there.

Let's go deal with Blue Max -- the earthquake maker is really just a way to get the satellite to crash onto the surface of the moon, but it flips him over so we can reclaim Max's tail.  Now back to the stomach challenge, which we could probably have solved earlier -- we can feed Jimmy Two-Teeth to Green Max via the magician's hat... and then force him back up.  He says, "Darn! Next time I'm hangin' on tighter", which seems promising -- can we pull him and the stomach out through the hat?  Yep -- and now Max is whole again and ready to take on Hugh Bliss, and we don't have any obvious puzzles left to solve, so it's probably time to wrap this season up.

Max jumps into the crystal, displacing Hugh Bliss, who is -- shock and horror! -- revealed to be a spacefaring colony of sentient bacteria:

But he can probably be killed like anything else Sam & Max have encountered in their many adventures.  Unfortunately, he ties Sam to a rotating wheel of death, a.k.a. Emetics: The Ride.  There's a Hugh Bliss talisman on a sconce high above, and we can use the spoon-bending talisman to release it -- right into Sam's hand, as our good luck would have it.  Using it lets us swap places, leaving Hugh Bliss spinning on the Wheel of Death.  But he transforms into bacteria and escapes, putting Sam into a magician's cutting-the-victim-in-half box as he prepares to separate Sam's bliss.

We can swap with Bliss again, but sawing doesn't seem likely to do much to him.  We can cut his head off and at least get him to move on to his next "trick."  He puts Sam in the lunar lander, as the "Ticket To Oblivion," and blasts him into space.  Another swap, and Sam is in the Cleansing Bath of Annihilation, where he is likely to drown.  We swap, and bacteria-Bliss stays in the tank.  So this must be the final part of the act.

Trying to shoot at the water tank and spill Bliss all over the room doesn't work -- we're back at the Wheel of Death for another try at figuring this out.  We can use the saw to saw a leg off the lunar lander, eliminating that as a mechanism for Sam's demise -- hmmmm.  Maybe we can use this saw for some other things now... no, but we can use the lunar lander in its tipped-over position to boil the water tank and destroy Hugh Bliss!

Our heroes are victorious, though there remains the little matter of knocking everyone on earth around to shake them out of their hypno-beam happiness.  It's a cause for celebration, not least of our dog and rabbity-thing duo's friendship:

And the credits roll as Sam & Max Season One (a.k.a. Sam & Max Save the World) wraps up, with vignettes of Max punching out just about everybody we've met during the season, to the mellow, jazzy closing tune called World of Max.

This was the first Telltale Games season that came to complete fruition, following the aborted Bone series which wasn't planned as a formal season and ultimately only saw two games released;.  The return of Sam & Max established the company as a torchbearer for the Lucasarts style, not least by featuring Steve Purcell's popular and quirky characters and treating them with respect.  Humor has always worked well in adventure games, and works quite well in this first of three seasons Telltale has produced to date.  Good stuff for fans of the classic point-and-click adventure era, and fans of Sam & Max.  I will continue to tackle the Telltale Games adventures, but I should probably go back and play the Lucasarts Sam & Max Hit the Road before I go on to Season Two of the newer games.

Next week, most likely, will feature something old and texty again.

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