Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa
Sam & Max Ice Station Santa kicks off the second season of this hilarious episodic adventure from Telltale Games and GameTap. The freelance policing duo are back just in the nick of time for Xmas. I say in the 'nick' of time because St Nick (or Santa) himself is out of sorts and Sam & Max are going to have to do something about it if Xmas is to be saved.
It starts off at home in the office as usual, but it's looking a little sadder and the neighborhood is about to get jumbled by an uninvited robotic visitor. Get Sam & Max out of that mess and, needless to say, there's more messy stuff to come. Before you set off you can liven up with a game of Whack-A-Rat (Whack Da Ratz) because the Whack-A-Rat contraption now has a home back in the office. And then it's off for plenty of fun.
The humour is back, of course, just as silly and biting as ever. Right from the start the wisecracking comes thick and fast and you won't not be able to smile. Nothing escapes the Sam & Max sadistic treatment. Many quips come close to the line (and rightly so) there are jokes about everything from politics to economics to psychoanalyses, and more. Only one joke, I thought, crossed over the line.
Santa makes his first appearance in the series, and he'll probably bow out after this episode ... or maybe not. But hopefully not Bosco or Sybil or Jimmy Two-Teeth. The bug is back too in Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa, plus the upper extremity of Abe Lincoln. Maybe they have smaller parts to play this time. The Soda Poppers as well, I shouldn't forget them, but they just hang around and look sad and don't spark up until the finale.
If anything, this introductory episode to the second Sam & Max series is a more substantial and more satisfying offering. The puzzling has been cranked up a notch, too, with a couple of the puzzles challenging you to pick the right dialogue line, plus others, of course, involving finding inventory items and using them. Sometimes just watching carefully what happens and where things are will give you the answer to help you along. There's one challenge involving time zones, it reminded me a little of The Day of the Tentacle, only not so tricky, as this kind of shorter episodic game doesn't really have the scope. There's the familiar car driving challenge too, that definitely doesn't demand good reflexes and good driving ... the worse you drive the better. One challenge, though, in the boxing ring, does require some dexterity. Probably only mild dexterity, but it tried my patience. This one is definitely for the young ones, but please take that as a compliment if you're 20+ and partial to boxing gloves!
Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa is a point a click adventure game, very simple to play and eminently suitable for kids as well as adults. There is once again a tutorial to introduce new players to the controls, and the game sparkles with bright and colourful graphics, great, upbeat music and the voices are excellent as usual. So what has changed apart from the extra length and complexity? Well you can move things a little faster as with a double click you can get Sam to run ... and doesn't he look comical lolloping along. There is also a gauge to adjust the difficulty of the game with five settings. At the first level you're on your own, and as the gauge goes up Max will offer suggestions as to where to go and what to work on. You can fiddle with the setting any time to get you over a stuck spot, then turn the help down again if you want to. An excellent addition, difficulty levels is something that would benefit every adventure game.
So why not try out Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa — I dare you! It's the right time of year and Santa just might surprise. If you have played the previous episodes this one won't disappoint. Though it's more of the same (would we have it any other way?) it's varied enough to keep everyone entertained.
Sam & Max, Episode 201: Ice Station Santa is available for download through GameTap or through Telltale Games.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2007.
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Windows XP/Vista, 800MHz processor if using a video card with hardware T & L - 1.5GHz if using a video card without hardware T & L (1.5GHz recommended), 256MB RAM (512 recommended), 32MB 3D-accelerated video card (64MB recommended).