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ESRB RATING: N/A
PUBLISHER: Telltale Games, Gametap
DEVELOPER: Telltale Games
"The snow will turn red with the blood of non-believers!" – Santa Claus
One of the games I got most emailed about for not including in my Christmas-themed list last Monday was the latest Sam & Max game- Ice Station Santa. This wasn’t deliberate, I just hadn’t gotten to it yet.
See, the smarter of you have already known great the return of Sam and Max is. You know that the classic comic-turned-Lucasarts-game had a perfect return to form last year, and not in a usual way. Despite numerous setback and false starts in getting a sequel to the original PC game released, the game was finally grabbed up by Telltale Games. Sam and Max creator Steve Purcell worked with them and they decided that instead of taking forever to release a new game, they’d do it in episodic form. They released 6 installments one after the other on Gametap, in what’s known as the first season. It made for a unique experience, just as witty and fun as the original game, and arguably even more so.
Now the second season kicks off with a trip to the North Pole.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with the characters, Sam and Max are a couple of anthropomorphic animals, a dog and rabbit, respectively. They’re Freelance Police, which doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things, since while these guys do handle cases and try to steer the Earth clear of destruction, they’re in it for mainly selfish reasons. The writing is what makes it work- it’s so incredibly smart and irreverent, and you won’t be able to play through a game without laughing the whole way through. It has a nice dark streak of humor that’s great to see nowadays when everyone seems to shy away from topics like that.
During the first season, Sam and Max managed to defeat a trio of former child stars, end a television talkshow hosts’ reign of terror, shut down a Toy Mafia casino, get Max elected President (and behead Abe Lincoln’s talking statue in the process), fight off the internet itself, and even head to the moon (in their car) to save the world from being hypnotized.
Now though, they fight their greatest enemy, Santa Claus. After receiving a giant robot called The Maimtron 9000 for Xmas, which promptly tries to kill them and ends up almost destroying their neighborhood (conveniently relocating some locations and opening up some new ones in the process), the sociopathic duo is pissed. They head to the North Pole in their DeSoto Adventurer to find out what his problem is.
Getting there, they see what it is… Santa’s apparently gone nuts, and is shooting up the Workshop with his "Red Ridder" gun while most of the elves have fled. Can Sam and Max save Christmas and maim everyone who gets in their way? (Course they can!)
This is a point and click adventure game, so don’t expect the controls to be the best part. You click on things and you click on more things. They did fix up a few minor quibbles from the first season, like being able to make Sam hurry up and run by double clicking. You’ll also now be able to use the keyboard for the driving (and boxing) sequences.
Still, once in a while you’ll click on an area and see the big dumb dog start to walk in the other direction for no apparent reason. It’s nothing another click doesn’t fix, of course.
As an experience, this game is not the ideal starting point, even though there’s also a short (and funny) tutorial in place to show first-timers how to get the hang of things. Still, you really should start at the beginning of the first season. Each subsequent episode has built on the last one, and there’s so many little in-jokes and references to things you’ve already done that you’d miss otherwise. It’ll still be as surreal and strange, but you get more out of it if you’ve been there for the whole ride.
But this is the best in the series so far, and if you’ve been following it so far you know that’s really saying something.
Some adventure games fail by having puzzles that make absolutely no sense whatsoever (I’m looking at you, Monkey Island 2) and even a few of them in the first season of Sam and Max have had that problem, but there’s nothing like that here. These are all well thought out and logical puzzles, just the right kind of difficult that gives you that nice tingly feeling in your loins after besting them.
The script is smart as ever, the characters are even more beloved, and you won’t find a more fun experience on your PC. Adventure games ain’t dead just yet, folks.
Everything’s pretty much the same as the first season, which was no slouch. The guys at Telltale Games have done a great job of updating the look of these classic characters, with everything nice and shiny and 3D. The sound is even better, a great thing when you realize just how much listening you’re going to do. Thankfully all of the voice actors nail their parts once again, bringing these characters to life.
A special mention goes out to the music, which is just perfect. As a treat to fans of the series, there’s a jukebox at Stinky’s diner with all the best tracks from the first season of the game, like Sam’s turn on Embarrassing Idol and the secret service War Song.
Not much, but with a game this good does it matter? No. Just like the original game, you’ll be going back to this series over the years.
The only issue I can see someone having with this game is the length. It only takes a few hours to get through it, but then again, that’s the whole point of episodic games! That’s why we’re getting 5 new games for this season.
I made the mistake of waiting to get into this series, I’d urge you not to do the same.
If you’re any kind of adventure gaming fan- scratch that, if you’re any kind of gamer at all- there’s no excuse for you not to play this. Four more installments are hitting over the next few months, starting with Moai Better Blues on January 10th. I’m not getting paid to say this, but Gametap is worth the cash for this series alone, never mind the 900-odd games you can find there. If you’d rather not subscribe to the service, check out Telltale Game’s site where you can buy it straight from them (or download a demo of this episode), or look on Steam. However you do it, make sure and check this one out.