Sam & Max Season 2 Episode 1: Ice Station Santa

Sam & Max Season 2 Episode 1: Ice Station Santa

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Snow is on the ground and we are fast approaching that Christmasy time of year. Children and adults alike anxiously await a visit from a rolly, polly white bearded man (Al Lowe?) driving a reindeer propelled sleigh who gives coal to bad girls and boys and presents to good girls and boys. Everyone in the land is decorating their houses with a pine tree under which presents magically appear. The chimney is soot free and decked out with holly and bright colorful stockings hung with care. The milk and cookies are on the table next to the easy chair for Santa to relax in.

Well the reindeer are on unemployment with most of the elves. The head elf and his assistant are charged with outsourcing toy management. The toys seem to be shaping up with some new diabolical presents and there are rumors that Santa is demonically possessed. Instead of a twinkle in his eye and rosy cheeks, Santa is armed with an assault rifle. Well at least this time it is not mind controlling teddy bears.

I guess we better get ready for the Sam & Max version of Santa gone bad. This rendering of a naughty Santa is on par with movies like Billy Bob Thorton’s "Bad Santa", South Park’s Mr. Hanky and the bad Santa on the animated television show Futurama.

Sam & Max are on the case once they receive a 40-foot windup robot assassin as an early Christmas present. The first clue is the North Pole sticker on one foot of the metal monster. Off to the North Pole the daring duo go and what is in store is another three to five hour romp of the serialized graphic animated adventure game in three dimensional backgrounds and characters.

Yes Virginia, this is the Sam & Max we remember from the 1993 Lucas Arts game --Sam & Max Hit the Road. This Sam & Max are not quite as well behaved as the Saturday morning television show of the same name. In fact the whole idea behind Sam & Max is the irreverent and sometimes violent banter between the rabbit and the dog.

Sam & Max was created by Steve Purcell when he was a child. The comic books, the game and the animated television series came later. These other projects required the expansion with other help, new producers, animators, writers, and background artists. Steve was a background artist for the Lucas Arts company for a few years, including the time prior to Sam & Max so there are cameos and Easter eggs featuring the duo in many Lucas Arts games.

The three dimensional art is like most of the other projects. Sam & Max's office is on the same block they have always been on. The inhabitants of the block from prior adventures are still there, including Sybil and her ever-changing business, Bosco and his convenience store and Jimmy the Rat (literally) and his hole in the wall of Sam & Max's office (again, literally). Two new block denizens join the fray with jimmy the rat's son and the new diner and owner named Stinky who stinks (literally, one last time). I endeavor to be less literal in the future.

The all new and improved tutorial is not really new because if it was new how could they improve it and it could not be improved if it was really new. Well the authors excavated the Swiss cheese puzzle (not to say the puzzles are cheesy) as the new and improved tutorial. So now new players or simply improved players can use the tutorial to get up to cheese speed (Apologies to Wallace & Grommet another dog and rabbit story that has the duo obsessed with English Wesleydale cheese. But I digress).

Another feature that is not new but continues to be improved is to show a bit of the episode before the credits for the game and then continue the game after the credits. Thank goodness I don't have to figure out where the commercial goes. This method of introduction which is similar to many television show teaser starts is continued from last season.

The story is a new one, not just a retread of mind controlling bears. The new schtick is demonic possession. Hopefully there will be no massive story arc of demonic possession since Sam & Max have apparently concluded the conflict by sending the offending evil doer straight to someplace hot. The story is improved since it is longer, has harder puzzles, and is better written and wittier.

The plot device in part is winning four contests to find the for wooden horsemen of the apocalypse by solving a trivia contest, a driving for points contest, a boxing puzzle, and tricking Osco out of the horseman contest.

The ending sequence involving the revolving toy bomber, the wall switch, the trampoline, stinky's dirty and, yes, stinky sock, the "Christmas present-o-matic," a cannon, a Christmas tree, a flounder pounder (you gotta see this one), and a gunfight with Santa is much more difficult than any of the puzzles in the last season of Sam & Max. More difficult puzzles are certainly new but not necessarily an improvement over last season, especially when you consider that the new harder puzzles also do not come with hints - just like last season's easier puzzles.

The graphics seem to be the same good job. The music is well done. The voice over work is superb. The sound effects are good. Overall voice, music and effects sound is quite good. Audio adjustment of these three elements allows you to set the music and effects down and the voice up so that you can actually hear what Sam, Max and the rest are saying.

The game mechanics allow you to save and restore games. Sound options controls set sound volume levels in three separate areas. Video options allows you to accommodate most of the new and improved and even more powerful video cards like the NVIDIA 8800 GTX with 640MB DDR3 Video RAM. Should you need to you can even quit the game or pause it to think about what to do next.

Overall I would give the game 9 out of 10, except we do letter grades at Just Adventure and that works out to an A in my book.. What’s not to like? The game has 20% more product for the same price (read 20% longer). The puzzles are harder without hints causing game players to say Duh for much longer. I loved the plot and I love Sam & Max.

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