Telltale's offerings have been received rather frigidly of late, especially after we called Jurassic Park "technically messy" and "poorly optimized." I'm happy to report, then, that "Ice Station Santa" -- the first of five episodes in Sam & Max Beyond Time & Space [$4.99-- is a solid iOS port of the 2007 point-and-click.

To wit: in the four or so hours it takes to beat the game, I didn't experience any crashes, frame rate drops, or audio stutters. "Ice Station Santa" runs smoothly and stably, and Telltale's newfound technical prowess is matched with a great touch interface.

Unlike, say, the Hector series, Sam & Max Beyond Time & Space is in three dimensions, and Sam is controlled with a virtual analog stick. A two-finger pinch highlights all the click-able objects in a given area, and the game's touch implementation is remarkably precise, even when there are dozens of items on the screen to interact with.

And good thing, too, as "Ice Station Santa" is relatively dense when it comes to screen real estate. Because there are only a handful of areas for the Freelance Police to explore, every little piece of information and every relevant inventory item is crammed into a few screens.

I really like the limited scope of smaller games like "Ice Station Santa" because it reduces the amount of aimless wandering and backtracking, without sacrificing Telltale's ability to cram humor and detail into each nook and cranny of Sam and Max' office, Boscoe's Inconvenience Store, or Stinky's Diner.

Sam & Max is at its best when players know what they need to do, but don't know how to achieve it. It's appropriate that, in a game ostensibly devoted to two anthropomorphic detectives, the real bones of "Ice Station Santa" involve talking to different characters and gathering clues.

Don't get me wrong, the mechanics are still well entrenched in the traditions of inventory management, but players who  explore the dialog trees and pay attention to the peripheral, world-building details will have more luck than those who throw items at puzzles until they stick.

"Ice Station Santa" is efficiently designed, and one of its great joys is solving the last piece of a puzzle that sets off a larger chain. These little nests of puzzles give the entire game a smooth rhythm and tight pacing. Playing Sam & Max is more like setting off a row of dominoes than chipping away at some insurmountable problem.

Telltale's efficiency inexplicably gives way in "Ice Station Santa"'s two mini-games. They're not particularly well integrated to touch controls (the arcade-style driving game is particularly clumsy), and -- no matter the platform -- they don't contribute much to the overall design. "Ice Station Santa" is short, sure, but it doesn't have to be padded or broken up by a low-rent game of Punch-Out!!

It's a minor sin, though. Your mileage may vary with Steve Purcell's brand of absurdist humor, but "Ice Station Santa" is a solid port of a well-designed, compact adventure game. The user interface touches for iOS aren't necessarily a big deal, but they present enough care and attention to detail to salvage some of the goodwill Telltale lost with games like Jurassic Park. Sam & Max is a breed apart from point-and-clicks like Machinarium, but adventure games never go out of style -- just ask Kickstarter.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/nikus2k Nuno Lourenço

    This episode is the same of the penal zone (chapter 1)?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nikus2k Nuno Lourenço

    What is the difference between this episode and the episode 2the penal zone", already left for some time.tks

    • Joseph Leray

      Telltale has been releasing short Sam and Max episodes in bundled "seasons." This is the first episode of the second season. "Penal Zone" is episode 1 of season 3.

      • Adams Immersive

        I’m confused too. So first they released Season 3 ep 1, then Season 2 ep 1, but no other episodes and Season 1? (I’m sure this makes its own kind of sense, but it sounds odd to an outsider...)

      • http://twitter.com/jprabawa Jesse Prabawa

        Think you may have missed the remark in the review that says the game is a port to the iOS. So it's an old game (from a previous season of the Sam & Max series).

      • Adams Immersive

        Nope—I read it, but it didn’t mention seasons. So they skipped porting season 1 and are starting with season 2 on iOS?

  • http://minecraftmodding.net BlueOrchard

    I'll be sure to check this game out!

  • Anonymous

    $5 for all the episodes or for one?

    • http://twitter.com/jprabawa Jesse Prabawa

      Probably for one

  • Murderin Murphy

    Cool.

    Now, how about "S&M: Hit the Road"?

  • http://twitter.com/martingumucio Martin Gumucio

    Season 1, Sam and Max save the world, was one if my finest adventure experiences bar none. You NEED to at least try "Abraham Lincoln Must Die!" it's a free ep for PC.

    Season 2 (this) was ok but not as good IMHO. Gonna start on Season 3 as soon as they start on the rest of the eps for iPad.

    I love you telltale!

Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space Ep 1 Reviewed by Joseph Leray on . Rating: 4