Reviewed: December 26, 2007
Released: November 8, 2007
Over the last year or so Telltale Games has surprised pretty much everyone by proving that episodic gaming can actually work. Unlike Valve who can't seem to decide if they want to release episodes, expansion packs, or a few expansion packs bundled together for a full price, Telltale games has diligently released a whole season of their new Sam & Max games, at a reasonable price per episode or as one big "subscription" price you could buy the entire season at once. Each episode takes a few hours to finish and provides a lot of laughs in the traditional point and click adventure style.
Now Sam & Max are back for Season 2, with the first episode being Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa, a hilarious romp with a twisted Christmas theme just in time for the holidays. This is my first foray into the series, but even as a newbie most of the jokes were still hilarious and not a lot of knowledge of the previous games was necessary. There were definitely some parts put in to please long time fans, which I didn't really get, but most of the humor doesn't require any previous experience. Fans of the series will recognize a lot of characters taken from the earlier games.
The game play of this episode, much like the episodes before it, is as simple as it is elegant. You see something you want to interact with, and you click on it. Simple as that. If you want to use something out of your inventory, you click the inventory icon, click the item from the bottom of the screen, and click on whatever item on the screen that you want to interact with.
For example, if you had a key and wanted to open a locked door, you click on the key then click on the door. Not that there are any items as mundane as simple keys and locks in this game. There is also a tutorial for those who have never played a point and click adventure before.
Some of the puzzles in this game were logical even if the logic was a bit of twisted "Sam & Max" logic that only made sense when you think like them (a very scary thought). There were a few puzzles that had me stumped, however, and were it not for much trial and error and clicking on everything in sight, might have been insurmountable. Fortunately you can talk to Max to get a few hints and also sometimes other characters and just looking around you find clues. You can also turn on the hints to the game in the options menu if you want to be spoon fed a bit more, with five different settings for how often the game hints you.
You can save the game at any time but the game conveniently auto-saves for you after you solve each major puzzle so there is really not too much need to worry about it. There are a few action sequences in the game where you can optionally use the keyboard, such as when driving. I found the keyboard in that part much easier to use than the mouse.
The humor in this game is decidedly very twisted. If you aren’t a fan of the dark humor like “Torture-Me Elmers” and such, you may not appreciate the jokes too much. It turns the whole Santa Claus typical Christmas theme on its back and tickles it relentlessly until it cries. There are a lot of really, really funny parts to this game, and other parts that are just mildly amusing but it never gets boring. The only downside to the game is that it is, by the very nature of episodic gaming, short. But it was a sweet ride.
The graphics are very cool in Sam & Max 201: Ice Station Santa, no pun intended. The style is very cartoonish but it's done in a way that really works well and fits the characters perfectly. The animations were all top notch, and the sync between graphics and sound was also very well done.
This game, while obviously short, was done in a very professional way and just because it uses relatively low-tech 2D animation graphics doesn't make it bad in any way, the graphics perfectly fit the genre and the tone of the game and could really not have been done any better and still be a Sam & Max game.
While the graphics do not wow you like a high-tech extravaganza like Gears of War, they do their job perfectly and are very pleasing to the eye, fun to watch and exciting in their own right. And if you have fancy hardware you can bump that resolution and all graphics options all the way up to 1600x1200 if you want to. The game does support lower res and lower tech graphics so that pretty much even really old PC's can still play the game and run it fine.
The voice work for Sam & Max is top-notch hilarious stuff. The two main characters, of course, are critical and they are as good as anyone could hope for really. All of the supporting cast did a great job as well, especially Bosco who had me laughing aloud.
Then there is the music, which is done in a zany cartoon style that just works perfectly. I especially loved the Happy Demon Song. All of the other sounds, from gunfire, to giant killer robots, to cannons and whacky monsters were top notch, and the sound never detracted from game play.
This is probably the one area where an episodic game could go either way. I spent a good 4 hours or so muddling through this episode, being unfamiliar with the previous games. Someone far more experienced with adventure games might zip through it in an hour or so. But still, there was a lot of stuff to click on and while you didn't have to click on everything, you generally wanted to anyway because Sam & Max or the supporting cast always had something hilarious to say about just about everything in the game. This kept the game from being boring as well when trying to figure out some of the puzzles.
You can get this episode stand-alone for $9 from the Telltale Games site, but there are other ways to get this adventure as well. One is to buy the full season 2 from Telltale directly, which is only $34.95 for all five episodes, so seemingly a reasonable price for the "full game" type of deal. Or you can also subscribe to GameTap, since all of the Sam & Max games are getting released on that gaming service too. Considering some of the other options besides buying the stand-alone episode straight up and this game really looks like a bargain, even if it's an adventure game with relatively low replay appeal.
If you’re looking for a traditional and humorous point-and-click adventure, you could do a lot worse than pick up Sam & Max 201: Ice Station Santa. This is the first part of a new season so it’s a good jumping on point for newbies, or if you’re a long term fan you’ll get more of the same zany humor you’ve come to love. The puzzles are not terribly hard but a few of require a little thought, though help is available if you desire it. Most of the puzzles are designed to make you laugh, which this game does very well.
With the holidays here, this Christmas themed game fits in perfectly with the current mood. Since I was a newcomer to the series, this episode made me want to go back and play the previous games and eager to see more of the coming season 2. Sam & Max is good clean fun for nearly the whole family. You would be crazy not to at least give this a try.