Nov 9, 2007
It's been just six months since dog-and-rabbit detectives Sam and Max wreaked their particular brand of havoc on the point-and-click adventure genre, and already they're back again to deliver more punishment. Christmassy punishment. Santa's gone crazy and started shipping out presents that are either useless, deadly, or both, and it once again falls to Sam and Max to hurt people and ruin things by way of response.
Sam & Max Season Two, Episode 1: Ice Station Santa (available for $8.95 from the publisher's website) continues the amorally weird antics of the first season's six-episode run, with players piloting six-foot-tall canine gumshoe Sam through a series of silly conversations and point-and-click puzzles. The production values are noticeably higher this time, and there's a lot more stuff to look at and interact with - some of it useless, but most of it fun.
More interestingly, the game world has been shaken up a bit since the last season. As the game begins, Sam and Max witness their beloved goldfish (and most of their dismal urban neighborhood) being vaporized by a fifty-foot killer robot who confuses the lyrics to forgettable pop ballads with deep existential philosophy. Despite the rampant destruction, though, their city block has actually been expanded, and now includes Stinky's Diner (previously only visible in the background from Bosco's Inconvenience store) and the heretofore-unseen "PIMPLECAR" (pronounced "Pimp Le Car") garage, run by a familiar quartet of obsolete electronics.
If all this sounds weird to you, then you probably haven't played the last six episodes of this bizarrely funny series. (You should.) And if you have, then you can expect to see a lot of returning characters (including the slightly less-annoying-than-usual Soda Poppers), although most of them have been relegated to less prominent roles so that more attention can be paid to the new characters, including Stinky (a haughty know-it-all waitress who runs a crooked trivia contest), a pair of creepy-looking elves and Flint Paper, Sam and Max's thug-punching, dame-smooching private-eye neighbor. And then there's Santa Claus himself, who seems to be suffering from a bad case of demonic possession and has holed himself up in his workshop with a mean-looking submachine gun.
You can also expect much edgier gags this time around, which are always welcome - running over screaming "Torture Me Elmer" dolls in Sam and Max's rustbucket DeSoto got a few chuckles out of us, as did little Timmy Two-Teeth, a baby rat suffering from a terminal, constantly bleeped case of Tourette's syndrome.
Silliness aside, the puzzles in Ice Station Santa are considerably tougher than before. With more places to go and so much stuff to click on, it's sometimes difficult to know what's actually helpful in your immediate situation, and some of the puzzles take logical thinking that goes beyond just figuring out what items to use. This is great for players looking for an actual challenge; for those who aren't, just stand around acting stumped for a while, and Max will start feeding you subtle hints (like "I want to go back to Santa's workshop and just kind of ransack the place.") on what to do next. The nice thing about these is that you can adjust their frequency, enabling Max to spout clues constantly, rarely, or not at all.
The minigames in this episode are also improved over the previous season's crop; during driving sequences, for example, you can now steer the DeSoto with the arrow keys - it's still jerky, but it feels a little better than trying to use the mouse. There's also a blatant homage to Punch-Out!! this time around, in the form of a simple boxing game in which you steer a remote-control doll into the ring with a series of rat opponents, all of whom pack special punches that they telegraph with obvious signals, and one of whom is actually named Bald Bull Rat. Even the opening credits let you shoot stuff for no good reason. Hooray!
A little longer, a lot tougher and a lot more elaborate than any of the previous episodes (except for maybe the awesome Reality 2.0), Ice Station Santa is a lot of fun while it lasts, and totally worth the nine bucks it costs to play. The series only seems to be gaining steam seven episodes in, and we're already looking forward to seeing how the next four monthly installments will violently reshape the detective duo's world.
(If you'd like to try it out before dropping cash, we've got your demo hook-up here.)