perjantai 20. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Day of the Tentacle (1993)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 1993
Available on: MAC, PC
Developer(s): LucasArts
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

The early 90’s were all about sequels for LucasArts. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis had both blown the bank. The next step was to go back to the SCUMM engine’s roots and create a sequel to Lucas’ breakthrough title Maniac Mansion. Not only was the game a financial breakthrough for George’s gaming empire, but it was also very unique taking into account it was only the first game to utilize the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, duh) engine. Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, who had previously worked with Maniac Mansion designer Ron Gilbert on both Monkey Island games – Schafer also handled the SCUMM analogy for the NES port of the original Maniac Mansion – were given design duties, and they brought back the essence of Maniac Mansion in the form of three simultaneously played characters, but took this feature one step further by placing each character in a certain period of time in one of the funniest and cookiest plotlines ever. Being a gameplay experience as unique as a point ‘n’ click game can possibly be, and also one of the first games ever to sport full voiceover work, Day of the Tentacle remains one of the most memorable games of its generation.

Time travel, several variations of hamster abuse and George Washington, all in one

Richard Sanders : Bernard Bernoulli
Jane Jacobs : Laverne / Irish Maid
Denny Delk : Hoagie / Purple Tentacle / Green Tentacle / Dr. Tentacle
Nick Jameson : Dr. Fred Edison / Dr. Red Edison / Zed Edison / Dwayne
David Traylor : “Weird” Ed Edison
Peggy Roberts-Hope : Edna Edison

Five years after saving cheerleader Sandy Pantz from the Edison mansion whose proprietor Dr. Fred was possessed by aliens, Bernard Bernoulli receives a letter from his old friend Green Tentacle. Purple Tentacle has become obsessed with world domination upon drinking polluted water from the river next to the mansion. The nerdy Bernard and his two friends, a medical student by the name of Laverne and a roadie named Hoagie go to the mansion where they are informed by Dr. Fred that the only way to stop Purple Tentacle from taking over the world is to use his time machine and travel back to yesterday to shut off the toxic waste pipelines leading to the river. The machine fails; Hoagie is sent to the 18th century and Laverne 200 years into the future, while Bernard stays in the present. The three friends must work together and take advantage of the only thing they’ve got on their side – time – to reunite and succeed in thwarting the crazed tentacle’s plans.

First of all, before getting down with the audiovisuals which I usually do first, I must make a personal note. Time travel and the paradoxical risks and consequences that go with it are clichés which never seize to fascinate me. I love all three Back to the Future flicks, I’ve watched the first two Terminator movies about a million times and they just keep getting better, even Timecop was OK for a Van Damme piece... the only really BAD movie I’ve watched about time travel is that retarded Time Machine remake starring Guy Pearce and Jeremy Irons... if you don’t remember it, be happy. Slap a time travel scheme in any video game and you’ve got some sort of a winner. Remember a game called Chrono Trigger? Yeah, I bet you do. One of the best games in history (no pun intended...) came along a couple of years later than Day of the Tentacle, so I guess that chronologically (no pun intended here either) this SCUMM classic is the first game to feature time travel as a consistent and crucial part of gameplay itself, not just the plot.

The game’s look is nice, very comic book-like as opposed to the realistic take of the first two Monkey Island games and the Indiana Jones titles. This gives certain freedoms to the animators to create a truly living environment and character design, and the slapstick humour, quirky anything-goes style spices up gameplay as well, naturally. As mentioned, Day of the Tentacle was one of the first games to feature a full voice soundtrack, and it shows. The actors are on the spot most of the time and a hoot to listen to, but it’s clear that some lines were recorded without them having a clue of the context, and also, any additional sounds such as laughter – except for Laverne’s insane, constant snickering which always freaks me out – were not recorded at all. The sound department went to places from here, already in the next game. Music is as rare as it usually is in the genre – luckily, at that – but the few tunes are all right.

Two geeks, one has some issues with anger
The game begins by the group splitting up and you just control Bernard, but you really have only one place you can go to in the beginning, and once there, you’re more or less automatically introduced to the game’s real setting and interface. The complexed 15-verb SCUMM v1.0 from the original Maniac Mansion has been taken out to dry and replaced with the 9-verb, illustrated grid made famous by Monkey Island 2. Also, the original game’s seven characters have been replaced with three, non-chooseable characters. You also can’t die in this game, or fail irreversibly. All of these, plus of course the improved audiovisuals, are the main differences between Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle. Anyone who ever played the original game should be more than able to enjoy Day of the Tentacle, as it clearly pays a lot of homage to the very original SCUMM classic. Those who haven’t played the first game also have the chance to redeem themselves, since the original Maniac Mansion comes along as a game within the game. You can activate Maniac Mansion by using Weird Ed’s computer in present time, but won’t be able to come back to the main game if you do that. The ScummVM emulator fixes this problem and lets you “rip” Maniac Mansion from the CD-ROM’s files to its own slot. Very cool, and one innovation more to the game’s already fine credit.

Back to the real topic. So, after the opening, you have control of Bernard in the present and Hoagie who’s stuck in the 1770’s, and you can switch between them as often as you want. Laverne will be available later, after you accomplish a certain task in the past that gives Laverne the ability to take part in the operation in the far future. The whole game is based on solving puzzles, like any other point ‘n’ click game, but it plays out differently than any other game in the genre. You need to flush items and materials that you feel another character might need in another point of time down the toilet (yup, the makeshift time machine), and do other stuff in the past that might affect the future, to increase the probability of both of Bernard’s friends being able to fix their own toilets and make it back to the present day. The game is written extremely well. Time travel must be one of the most challenging subjects for writers, but I must say Grossman and Schafer nailed this game with the least possible plotholes.

Hoagie's rewriting history.
There’s no doubt that the game is great and insanely funny, and these are two things that need no further explanations in my view, but there are some flaws which I never really spotted before my third playthrough and I need to get them out of my system. First, the dialogue isn’t nearly as “interactive” or consistent as it is in many other games. For example, if Hoagie would come to Benjamin Franklin with something along the lines of: “You’re Benjamin Franklin, the guy who invented the lightning rod”, one of the next dialogue options might very well be “Who are you?”. It just usually goes from one list of comments and questions to the next, there are no changes to the options tied in with the previous bits of conversation. Also, the whole Hoagie segment of the game is filled with in-jokes concerning America’s political history and the constitution, which all of us non-Americans might just not get right away.

However, the inconsistent dialogue and the restricted in-jokes really aren’t the game’s most disappointing qualities, I’m afraid. A few puzzles are really, really dumb/illogical/vague. I understand that in a LucasArts game, even the stupidest idea – conceived by the player – might work, but that stupid idea is usually brought on by a conversation. I’d like to mention a certain give-receive spot in The Secret of Monkey Island; you asked the cannibals for the navigator head to be able to navigate through the cave inside the Giant Monkey Head. They couldn’t give you the head at first, because then they would be missing “a head in navigating”. All you had to do was give them an educational brochure of “How to get ahead in navigating”. It was a stupid idea, but it worked. It was intelligent strange humour at its best. So here we have, at the very least, two vague puzzles that instantly pop to mind. You need to wash a dirty horse cart to summon a lightning storm, and Hoagie throws in the punchline “This is why I never wash my car”. Uh... okay. Then, you meet a talking horse who has some fine fake teeth. He speaks irrelevancies, and gives you no clues to how you can gain possession of his teeth – that’s the obvious goal here. Well, you have to use Bernard and flush a textbook you’ve been carrying since the beginning of the game down to Hoagie, and then read it to the horse to make him take off his teeth and fall asleep. Trial and error, I see. Well, at least you can’t die or fail.

The last thing I’ll mention is the final showdown. Most LucasArts games culminate in a final battle clearly separated from the rest of the game, which requires a clever mixture of extremely quick action and a fresh memory of what you’ve done so far. Let’s make Monkey Island 2 a fine example of this. In the early part of the game, you assembled a voodoo doll using certain items. In the end of the game, you quickly needed to find substitutes for these items and take advantage of other, previously collected items to assemble another voodoo doll, while LeChuck was on your tail the whole time and kept teleporting you away from the items you needed, and prevented you from taking action against him. Yeah, it was kind of frustrating, but also joyously clever and difficult. Well, Day of the Tentacle ends a little differently, perhaps to compensate to the players who found both Monkey Island endings too hectic and frustrating. The final adversary does follow you around, but solely to your advantage. You have only two or three rooms you can enter, and one single item you are able to pick up, and the correct way to use it is quite damn obvious. I didn’t want to spoil this, but the whole game ends in a conversation. That’s right, the final boss “battle” is a dialogue. The final act is incredibly easy in comparison to any LucasArts adventure game I’ve ever played – nearly automatic, I’d say. Luckily the dumb puzzles come in few numbers. The rest range from obvious to truly challenging mindbenders. So, it’s going to take you a while to get to the end.

Laverne with what's left of the Edison family
in the future.
Speaking of true challenge instead of the less inspired puzzles and the watered down ending, Day of the Tentacle is one of Lucas’ harder games. What’s most challenging and of course different about Day of the Tentacle is that you’re controlling three different characters, in the same place, but in different time. You have to take so much into account, and check all three characters’ item lists several times and double-check everything you might have missed in each period of time when you get stuck. That’s WHEN instead of IF, ‘cause the game can be quite difficult at times. The hotspots you can examine and the amount of inventory items you can gather come in fewer numbers than in most games, to ease it all up just a little bit.

Despite its few flaws, Day of the Tentacle is just a hair away from being LucasArts’ centerpiece, conceived by some of the omnipotent masters of the point ‘n’ click genre. The game has survived time (still no pun intended) gloriously, as proven by a still very much real periodical urge to stop that overgrown leech from enslaving all humanity... and break into other people’s bank accounts... and stuff hamsters in microwaves.

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 8.4
Playability : 9.1
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 9.2


a.k.a. Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

GameRankings: 95.00%

The title of the game is a parody of Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham’s sci-fi novel about carnivorous plants that attempt to enslave humanity and take over the world.

Cartoonist Chuck Jones consulted the artists of the game.

The original musical score was composed by LucasArts’ Clint Bajakian, Peter McConnell and Michael Land. All of them wrote the music for one time period each.

Like most LucasArts games, Day of the Tentacle includes several references to Star Wars. A Darth Vader calendar can be found in Dr. Fred’s office (Bernard’s comment: “Wow! It’s from my favourite movie!”). When Bernard flips through the quarters and reads their dates, he becomes especially fascinated with a quarter from 1977, the year of the first Star Wars movie’s release. A Stormtrooper helmet is placed on Green Tentacle’s bookshelf. In the end of the game, Bernard pleads to Dr. Fred: “Help us, Dr. Fred, you’re our only hope.”, which refers to Princess Leia’s famous line “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” The number of the shopping channel is 1-800-STAR-WARS, which was also the real number of the LucasArts Hotline at the time.

Max from the Sam & Max media franchise (or more correctly, his ancestor) appears in a portrait in the 18th century version of the hotel.

There are some dialogue options referring to the Monkey Island series. Bernard can try convincing Edna that his name is actually Threepwood, and he can also try to divert the Tentacle horde’s attention with the classic phrase “Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!”

In the intro movie, Hoagie says he needs a hamster, so he can take it to the band he works for and let them bite its head off on stage. This is a reference to Ozzy Osbourne, who infamously bit the head off of a live bat on stage in the early 80’s.

According to Tim Schafer, Hoagie is the first incarnation of a video game character he started to develop in the late 80’s, and who finally became protagonist Eddie Riggs in Schafer’s pet project Brütal Legend, which was released in 2009.

When Laverne puts the hamster in a microwave in an attempt to melt the ice block concealing it, she remarks that putting a hamster in a microwave is irresponsible and stupid in real life, and that children who do it are put up for adoption. This is a reference to the original, uncensored version of Maniac Mansion, which featured the possibility of exploding a hamster in a microwave.

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