Sam and Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa
"He may be a mechanized engine of wanton destruction, but his taste in hideous middle-of-the-road pop music is impeccable!"-- Sam
Having just power-slammed the first season like a jalapeno jello-shooter, I was more than ready to take on the next case. Here's the scoop on Ice Station Santa, Freelance Police fans.
Santa has sends Max his Christmas present, but there are a couple of problems. For one thing, it's November. For another, it's a 3-story tall engine of destruction called Maimtron who is out to kill him and thrash the neighborhood. A flasback-inducing sequence of 80's pop references later, you put the poor thing out of your misery. Jump into the DeSoto and off to the North Pole to find out what the heck is going on. When you get there, things are definately not right. You are faced with the Soda Poppers and two bewildered elves trying to get Christmas off the ground after having most of their duties outsourced. But that's not the worst part. Their rotund boss has locked himself in his office howling, "The snow will turn red with the blood of the naughty!" while softening up the reception area with his Red-Ridder machine gun. Then it just gets weird.
Commenting on the technical aspects of the separate episodes of these games is difficult. It helps to think more in terms of a TV show. We don't spend a bunch of words talking about the production company's new camera when the new season of our favorite show premieres each fall. In an episodic game like this, unless they make major changes or there is a huge bug there is little point to discussing the gory details of the technical features. They're the same flawlessly executed platform for cartoony hilarity as they were all last season. Telltale did add a couple things, but they're sort of the moral equivalent of adding a snazzier opening credits sequence and a better TV Guide entry.
They've added a configuration sequence to the first run of the game, so you can setup your graphics preferences and whatnot. The new widescreen monitor support is great so you don't end up with more screen than game. It also includes a handy-dandy quick tutorial on how things work for anyone who missed the first season. If you've played before, things may sound awfully familiar. I still wouldn't skip it. Point-and-click adventuring isn't rocket surgery, but if it's been a while since you've been exposed to what passes for logical thinking in this neck of the woods then it's a good refresher.
And then we have the new hints feature. You're a tough guy! You don't need no shtinkin' hints! Go ahead and set that to none. Just make sure you remember where to find that setting. In a little while you may want to maybe kick that up a bit. For one thing, the hints are all funny to watch in and of themselves. And for another this episode is a bit more of a challenge than last season. To solve some of these puzzles you have to think like Sam and Max, which is a disconcerting prospect if you're trying to stay functional in the real world.
Gameplay-wise we've never really had many moving parts to worry about. A cardboard box and a gear in the upper left corner of the screen is what passes for HUD here. They've kept that simplicity with few changes. You're used to Max running all over, but Sam can run now too. The DeSoto has some changes to it's controls that make it easier and more fun to drive badly. And they've added the concept of mini-games to break up the point and click. I particularly enjoyed beating Jimmy Two-Teeth into the mat with a cute little dolly.
The world has some new places to explore, and all the old locations seem to have recieved a bit of a brush up. There are new items to investigate in your office, and Bosco's has had more than a little facelift. Cross the street and head over to the new Stinky's Diner. It makes you want to sit down and drink bad coffee out of an old ironware mug all day. Or you can take your venerable old gas-guzzler over to the garage for an upgrade. And there's plenty of room for more new things. Considering the robot threw the building at you during the opening sequence, I bet there's more changes on the way for Sybil's office and the rest of the neighborhood in subsequent episodes.
Don't worry about Sybil - she wasn't in the office at the time. She was in the diner making moony eyes at the severed head of the Lincoln Memorial. Did I mention it got weird?
One thing that isn't weird is the value. For $8.95 you get four to six hours of sharp, satirical humor, the chance to run over whole rows of Torture-me Elmer dolls in your big car, and a ever-so-slightly twisted storyline that also serves as a great foundation for the rest of this season's lineup. Or, if you know you're on board for the whole year, you can get all five episodes of Season Two as they arrive for less than the price of a DS game.
This episode of Sam and Max was exactly what I was expecting after playing the last one. That's a very good thing. I loved the last season, the work they did over the break just made a good thing even better. Well done guys! And I'll see you in January for Episode 202.