After last month's depressingly formulaic episode, the prospect of another join-the-dots exercise in point-and-click adventuring didn't exactly get my blood pumping. Recycled locations, reappearances of characters that weren't funny the first or second time, (never mind the third time) and gags that had worn thin. Hrmph. So why, exactly, did I end up enjoying this one so much? Well, because Telltale wrote better jokes this time, and made the whole thing more endearingly surreal.
This time around, the whole comedy crime caper kicks off with the bespectacled Sybil being chased down the main street by what appears to be an angry red triangle. But not just any old triangle...the Bermuda Triangle. Dun, dun, duuuuuuuun. Fashioning a typically idiosyncratic means to halt this runaway triangle, you dive in and find yourselves...on Easter Island. Well, obviously.
Chatting to some local stone monuments, it soon becomes apparent that you've got to stop a volcano exploding - but first our crime-fighting duo have to work out how to get beyond a dodgy union official, who also happens to be a toddler with a drink problem. Nearby, a similarly baby-proportioned Glen Miller needs inspiration for his next hit, while the stone head of Abe Lincoln sits perving over the other stone heads, while having a picnic. I don't know what Telltale was smoking when it came up with this utterly nonsensical yarn, but I'm putting in my order.
One of the more positive elements of Ice Station Santa (last month's episode) was that it was a sterner challenge than usual, and Moai Better Blues carries on that approach with a series of problems that'll have you slapping your forehead once you figure them out. Most are satisfyingly logical enough to avoid you having to fall into the trap of clicking on everything and aimlessly wandering - and the new hint system drops the kind of suggestions which help point you in the right direction, rather than merely giving the game away.
With some amusing new characters and the return of some of the better ones of old (the ever-reliable COPs, for example) the feelgood factor about Moai Better Blues has returned somewhat dramatically. Rather than feel tired slogging through a predictable framework with uninspired gags and irritating support characters, this follow-up episode is an unexpected return to form in all the ways that matter: dialogue, jokes, characters and bonkers set-pieces. Destroying bagpipes has never been so much fun.
But old problems remain: while the gameplay remains intuitive, it feels frustratingly constricted by a limited number of locations and recycled old ones, and no sooner has it got going than the credits are rolling. That's the nature of the episodic format, of course, but when the quality's varying so much between episodes you can't help want a good one to keep going while the team's so clearly on a bit of a roll. You can tell they enjoyed making this one - some of the best lines must have had them pissing themselves, and the vocal delivery is better than ever, and arguably back to where it was in the LucasArts days.
To end on a positive note, the increased writing quality, cunning puzzles and Telltale's self-referential ability to know when the game is slipping into self-parody makes Moai Better Blues a marked improvement on the last one. For those of you wanting to cherry-pick the best bits of the new Sam & Max games, this is a great place to start.