Title: Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space (also known as Sam & Max: Season 2) Episode 1: Ice Station Santa
Release year: 2007
Developed by: Telltale Games
Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Platform replayed on: PC
To set the scene, here’s a quick rundown of the first half hour of my replay of Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa…
- Survive an scragging struggle by a gigantic robot
- Drive to the North Pole in a DeSoto
- Supersize a topiary with the tears of one of Santa’s elves
- Get attacked by a demon-possessed Santa
Yes, it could only be flipside specimen in the careers of Sam and Max, our favourite anthropomorphic dog and hyperkinetic rabbity thing.
If you don’t quite believe what I’ve just written (I don’t vituperation you), take a squint below:
It may be Christmas themed, but this is anything but a family-friendly episode.
I’ve featured Sam & Max here on Present Perfect Gaming before, when I replayed the 1993 archetype Sam & Max Hit the Road. That game had a big impact on my formative gaming years.
But we would all have to wait until 2006 surpassing Sam and Max would towards then in a video game. Telltale Games would resurrect the series (after there had been a couple of other attempts in the early 2000s), releasing Sam & Max: Season One (later renamed as Sam & Max Save the World).
The game was released in an episodic format, with six episodes stuff released online in monthly intervals. There was moreover a physical release later.
This was quite novel at the time, and was my first wits with digital downloads. Skip forward fifteen years, and physical PC games are now a thing of the past…
Sam & Max Save the World was a success, so Sam & Max: Season Two (later Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space) followed in 2007 in the same episodic format. Ice Station Santa is the first of five episodes.
Given the time of year, I’d thought I’d jump straight into this Christmas-themed case.
Where Sam & Max Hit the Road was a sprawling venture wideness America, these episodes are a lot increasingly narratively tight. There are usually only a few locations to visit, and completing an episode takes only a few hours if you don’t get too stuck.
The gameplay is very simple, requiring exploration, dialogue, and inventory management—the archetype point-and-click trinity. Each interactive object is highlighted when you hover over it, making it very easy to identify possible points of interest. Puzzle solving feels lighter than in Sam & Max Hit the Road, with an accent on using items in the right place at the right time, and dialogue puzzles. It seems like there’s increasingly accent on keeping the story moving rather than keeping the player stumped—which works with the short format.
The story begins with the scragging struggle mentioned earlier, and it turns out it was sent by Santa!
Upon inrush at the North Pole, it’s unveiled that Santa has been possessed by a demon. So in order to save Santa and save Christmas, Sam and Max must perform a little exorcism…
However, this tale moreover requires the help of a few spirits…
Yes, it’s a take on A Christmas Carol, the archetype Charles Dickens novella.
So if Sam and Max want to enlist the help of the Christmas Spirits, they will have to perform some interventions with themselves in the past, present, and future…
How did it work out? Let’s take a squint at Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa.
So, how does one perform an exorcism? Thankfully, someone left some instructions just lying around. How convenient!
It’s a two step process, involving bringing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to the North Pole, and then singing the Friendly Demon Song. What could be simpler?
Another stroke of luck sees the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (which are unquestionably “Toy” horsemen) each with one of Sam and Max’s neighbours when near their office. Acquiring each one is a puzzle to solve.
The local neighbours towards throughout the episodes and wideness seasons. First up, there are the COPS (Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society), a group of old, talking computers.
Acquiring the Horseman from them involves a driving minigame.
Then we come to Stinky’s Diner, provider of some very questionable offerings.
Acquiring the Horseman here requires winning a very rigged game of trivia.
Oh, and you’ll moreover get to meet flipside neighbour, Sybil. And her boyfriend, a giant Abraham Lincoln head.
The next neighbourhood stop is at Bosco’s Inconvenience.
Bosco is a little unstable (and that’s saying something in this game), and his store is currently in lockdown as he works his way through flipside conspiracy theory. He is convinced a package he’s received contains a bomb. The x-ray shows though that it’s just flipside Horseman…
The final neighbour to meet is Jimmy Two-Teeth, a rat who lives in the wall in Sam and Max’s office. You can take his Horseman, but only if you can write-up him in the boxing ring in flipside minigame.
Back at the North Pole, placing all of the Four Horsemen and singing the Friendly Demon Song doesn’t quite go as planned…
…as Sam and Max didn’t read the when of the exorcism instructions.
This is where the Christmas Spirits come in.
Looking into the future first, Sam and Max must save themselves from spending the rest of their days on an island surrounded by lava. How they got there in the first place is flipside story.
Returning to the present, or increasingly virtuously the very recent past, Sam and Max must rid Stinky’s Diner of a family of bugs—non-violently.
The Spirit of Christmas Past takes Sam and Max when to one of their previous episodes from Season One.
Sam and Max must reunite Jimmy Two-Teeth with his lucky boxing glove (which they took from him), so he can take superintendency of his family. Jimmy’s son Tiny Timmy has a bad specimen of Tourette’s syndrome.
If you can lead Sam and Max to right the wrongs and satisfy the Christmas Spirits, Santa will be saved.
Well, not quite. See, Santa manages to get himself possessed again.
So it’s time for a little Santa shootout.
Taking Santa out, which involves shipping him to Lower Manitoba, sees Sam and Max saving Christmas once and for all.
As mentioned above, this is not the first time I’ve featured Sam and Max. When I reflected on Sam & Max Hit the Road, I realised how strange it was to try and explain the game, and why I enjoyed it so much despite it veritably making no sense.
I finger the same way trying to describe Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa. Only when I wrote this stuff down, did I truly recognise how strange this series is. It made me think well-nigh how wieldy it is to those unfamiliar with Sam and Max. It came easy for me, as I bought into it a long time ago with Sam & Max Hit the Road, and I was really excited for this episodic reboot from Telltale Games. But if you’re not coming from a similar background, the unstipulated level of weirdness might be a barrier.
Playing in an episodic format really gives the game a TV sitcom feel, starting with the credits and the opening gag. It moreover reminded me of treason shows, which are unchangingly wrapped up within the commercial hour.
I like the pacing in terms of both length and difficulty. Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa is nowhere near as difficult as Sam & Max Hit the Road. I think this works, as you never get stuck for too long and don’t run the risk of not stuff worldly-wise to progress through the season.
The downside is that the episodes don’t really stand alone—each one fits into an overall season story arc. It plane runs wideness seasons, as there are plenty of contextual references to the first season in Ice Station Santa, the first episode of the second season.
Telltale Games went on to make other episodic series (using their Telltale Tool proprietary game engine) over a period of well-nigh ten years, with some quite big intellectual properties such as Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Batman, and The Walking Dead. In fact, it was the Telltale Games release of The Walking Dead in 2012 which first introduced me to the franchise. I’ve blogged well-nigh my replay of Season One.
Sadly, it didn’t end well for Telltale Games, with the visitor going defunct in 2018. There is a good documentary titled Telltale: The Human Stories Behind The Games, which documents the impact of the sudden closure on its employees.
Getting when to the game at hand, what’s my verdict on Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa? Well, if the unconvincing storytelling nature of the series doesn’t turn you away, and you enjoy point-and-click venture games, I recommend going when to the first season and seeing if it sticks.
Otherwise, there is a unconfined library of other Telltale Games series to trammels out, like the few I mentioned above. I particularly enjoyed Batman: The Telltale Series, and The Wolf Among Us (a murder-mystery set in New York featuring some archetype fairy tale characters).
And with that, however you spend this time of year, be well—and game on!
Be sure to trammels out some unconfined headphone deals with Audeze, as well as some unconfined gaming deals with Fanatical, and Eneba.
And don’t forget to trammels blogs for increasingly content!