Sam & Max: Episode 201 - Ice Station Santa Review
Developer: Telltale Games
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: 800 MHz processor, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D video card, Windows XP or more recent operating system
Grandma ain't run over by a reindeer, but Santa's running amok. The North Pole is undergoing corporate restructuring. The elves are out of work and toy manufacture has been outsourced to baby penguins – because adult penguins have a demanding union.
Sam and Max, the Freelance Police, are going about their business when a gift from Santa arrives: the Maimtron 9000, a death-dealing robot with a penchant for pop music. Now it's up to the Freelance Police (the bipedal hound named Sam and president/rabbity-thing Max), to set Santa straight before Christmas rolls around.
Starting late last year, Telltale Games brought us Sam & Max: Season One, a triumphant return of the Freelance Police to the world of PC adventure games. But Sam & Max: Season One was a lot more than six episodes of comedic adventure. That first season confirmed for publishers that episodic games can work financially. More importantly, it proved to gamers that Telltale Games can be trusted to consistently deliver high-quality, funny adventures worth every penny of the price.
Sam & Max: Episode 201 – Ice Station Santa goes to show that Telltale Games has a lot of ammunition left for another entertaining round of Sam & Max antics. This season will contain five episodes, culminating in April 2008. Each episode is just under $9 individually, with the whole season running just under $35. Before the first episodic season of Sam & Max launched, I was reluctant to bite for the whole six episodes at once. But with the game's current track record, and a great first episode in the second season, I urge you to save $10 and just subscribe for the whole second season.
Certainly, Ice Station Santa is worth the individual price – you'll get around three hours of entertainment with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments for less than the price of a movie. And Telltale has added a lot of polish to its flagship franchise. Ice Station Santa implements a few features the first season of Sam & Max could have used. The game's setup wizard is absolutely the best time I've ever had setting technical options for a PC game. Ice Station Santa also adds a tutorial. While most gamers are familiar with adventure game conventions, it's a welcome addition for adventure game novices. And even experts may want to spend the five minutes it takes to work through the tutorial to glean a few extra Sam and Max jokes.
Once Ice Station Santa gets rolling, it's a perpetual treat, especially for fans of the series. Every area you could visit in the first season has been revamped, and Sam & Max have even redecorated their office. Stinky's diner and a new auto body shop have opened, and Sybil's shop has relocated. There are more mini-games in this latest episode, and familiar mini-games have been tweaked for the better. For example, driving mini-games can now be controlled with the keyboard.
There are quite a few new locations and characters, although most of the familiar characters from Season One return for cameos. Better yet, every new location and character is covered with clever touches good for a laugh, ranging from the tree-topper in Santa's workshop to the "Red Ridder" automatic rifle that Santa hefts.
Telltale did a great job with the soundtrack, transforming Christmas music into a dismal and depressing dirge in the game's background.
The puzzles are also almost perfectly tuned. Most of the time the absurd tasks that Sam & Max need to complete are just difficult enough to feel satisfying without being so hard that players should be languishing, desperate for a clue. Anyone who thoroughly examines the environment should have all the information necessary to complete the story, but gamers can choose the level of hints they want to ensure success. Some of the final puzzles will be considerably easier for veteran adventure gamers and the last puzzle requires a little timing, but Ice Station Santa should give anyone a good laugh – especially those entertained by Max's lackadaisical, dispassionate violence.
And if you hate "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls, you'll love Ice Station Santa.