Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa Review

Ice Station Santa starts the second season of Sam & Max with a bang.  The episode is delivered in much the same manner as the episodes in the first season, but enough has been changed to help it feel fresh.

The first season begins where the first left off.  Max is still president of the United States, and the duo has just received a gift in the form of a destructive robot that was designed as part of Max's own executive orders as president.   The Maimtron 9000 is a fun character, as the fact that he speaks in mostly song lyrics is actually pretty funny.  He would be annoying over time, but he is fun in short spurts, which is the amount of time he's given here.  His appearance also leads to a creative way for Telltale to change things around on the street that leads to a much needed break from the routine.  Adding to the break from the routine, Bosco’s store gets an overhaul worthy of his paranoia, and he finally drops his disguise schtick.  This leads to some really humorous dialog between Sam & Max and Bosco, which is among the funniest that Telltale has written to date.  Additionally, the duo's private detective hero from the comics, and Sam & Max Hit the Road, Flint Paper, finally makes a cameo appearance. Capping off the new material, Stinky's Diner is finally open for business.  However, Sam & Max’s office is starting to really get stale by this point.  For the change of the street, the same can’t be said here. Most of the office is the same, save for the extra addition to Sam & Max’s closet full of souvenirs of their cases and the hole in the wall leading to Flint’s office.

The reuse of material is not too bad, however, as not a lot of time is spent in the areas already visited, with most of the episode taking place in new locations and in those which have been redesigned. The new locations are nicely done, and fit well with the visual style of the game.  Bosco's store redesign is excellent as well, and both fits with his character and with the game's world.  Not a lot of change has noticably happened between the first and second seasons as far as the graphic abilities of the Telltale Tool is concerned, so there are still jagged edges which are noticable on the characters.  However, this isn't too bad, and the characters still manage to still look nice thanks to the art style of the series.  Most of the versions are presented with the same traditional point and click interface as the first season.  The exception is the version for PlayStation 3, which is direct controlled.  The interface in this game differs from that in their later direct controlled games, as movement is controlled with the left stick, and rather than having a cursor controlled by the right stick, objects are selected by toggling between them with the shoulder buttons.  It's kind of cumbersome, but it's not too bad once you get used to it.

The meat of any Sam & Max episode is the wacky cases that they inevitably end up having to investigate, and this one is a doozy.  It involves a rampaging Santa, and the explanation on why he was doing it was actually pretty good, in a bizarre Sam & Max universe kind of way.  The best part of the story comes half way in, when it becomes a twist on A Christmas Carol, making the duo jump through time streams as they try to set the current Christmas right by exploring past, present, and future Christmas days.  The jumping between time streams, and the puzzles related to them are truly inspired. Telltale designed some pretty good puzzles here using the time stream mechanic.  There is also an excellent Punch-Out inspired boxing mini gam, complete with a Punch-Out style theme song. This is really just quick time events, but it’s done in a much less invasive way than Telltale’s current games, and the prompts for which button to hit are actually old-school visual cues from the characters, Punch-Out style.  This makes it much more natural, and actually give the illusion of direct control.

The music is once again excellent, as is the usual for Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound.  I have always enjoyed his lyrical songs from the Sam & Max seasons, and The Friendly Demon song is no exception.  The instrumental music is great as well, and really helps to set the tone of the game. Most of the returning characters are voiced excellently, especially the bug.  He was funny in the last season, and he is funny as well. His setup introduces the first of the birthday songs, which is funny here in its randomness, but will make more sense as the season goes on.  The newly introduced character, Stinky, is kind of annoying here, but that’s the point of her character. Her voice actress actually handles the character pretty well, so it keeps the character from going into Soda Popper territory.  The Soda Poppers have also reappeared, and unfortunately they are just as annoying as before.  They still have their annoying adult trying to sound like a kid voices. Last season showed they weren’t too bad actually when their voices were toned down when they were sad. They actually aren’t that bad when toned down, but they’re at full force here. Thankfully, their part in the episode is quite small, so their grating voice acting doesn't deter from the rest of the game.

Ice Station Santa is an excellent episode, as the puzzles are really good, the music is fantastic, the new locations are fun, and the story is great. Most of characters are enjoyable, except for the Soda Poppers, which thankfully have a really small role.  It's a great way to start the season, and, overall, is one of the best episodes of the Sam & Max series.

This episode was so fun, in fact, that it led to Telltale re-editing it into a 20 minute video as a stand-alone Christmas Special, titled Sam & Max Nearly Save Christmas.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Sam & Max Save the World (Season 1) Episode 6 reviewEpisode 2 review coming soon