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Day of the Tentacle

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Developer: LucasArts

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      05.11.2012 10:52
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      A fabulous piece of gaming nostalgia involving mutant tentacles

      Any child of the 80s is likely to remember all those totally awesome video adventure games that were available when this genre was at its peak during the 1980-90s like Space Quest, Police Quest, Simon the Sorcerer, Discworld, Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry, Sam & Max, Tex Murphy - I could continue to annoyingly reminisce self-indulgently for hours, but I've decided to show some self-restraint and get to the topic at hand which happens to be one of the first and, at the time, one of the most revolutionary adventure games produced way back in 1987 and that is "Maniac Mansion". This was the first try at an adventure game for LucasArts (or as they were known at the time Lucasfilm Games) and was designed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick which saw the invention of the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) language taking the game away from that hideous text only interface where you had to delve deep into your own vocabulary and invent sentences to control the game to only having to choose from a few pre-programmed words like Give, Open, Pick Up etc. which made it a whole lot more user friendly.

      This game basically consists of a mansion, an evil purple tentacle taking over the highly susceptible Dr Fred Edison, a kidnapped girl Sandy, Dave Miller (the boyfriend) and two friends on a rescue mission, plus the deranged wife of Dr Fred, Nurse Edna and their son Weird Ed all thrown together into a giant pot to see what evil concoction was cooked up. Maniac Mansion then spawned a sequel in 1993 - Day of The Tentacle which had the then novelty factor of actually being able to play the original Maniac Mansion as a video game inside this sequel, so effectively giving two games for the price of one. Amazeballs. Day of the Tentacle, whilst being set in the same location and involving the same Edison family plus one of the nerdy characters from the original Maniac Mansion, Bernard, is actually very different in style and playability and so you actually get to see the evolution of point and click adventure games in one neat package which in my opinion is a slice of gaming history. Now, I recently uncovered my own copy of the game from my own archives (i.e. a dusty forgotten cupboard) which must have been bought in the mid-1990s and as far as I can tell all versions available to buy today are in fact originals and so are only compatible with Windows 95 (we're talking the stone ages here) and I've tried with Windows 7 and alas it is a bust, my friends. However, never fear...all you need to do is get yourself a copy of the open source SCUMM Virtual Machine (http://www.scummvm.org/downloads) and you can run it on any modern day operating system you like - happy days.


      ==Day of the Tentacle==

      Day of the Tentacle follows the rather eventful day of three roommates Bernard (the nerd), Hoagie (the surfer bum) and Laverne (the anatomy student and...er...all round weird girl) who receive a message from Weird Ed's hamster that Green and Purple Tentacle are being held captive in Dr Fred's basement laboratory at his mansion. Gallivanting to the rescue, Bernard realises too late that Purple tentacle has been mutated into an insane megalomaniac hell bent on taking over the world and enslaving all humanity as a result of drinking industrial waste from Dr Fred's Sludge-O-Matic. Deciding the only way to save the day is to turn off the Sludge-O-Matic yesterday to prevent this evil mutation from ever occurring, the three roommates head off in Dr Fred's time machine (aka the Chron-o-Johns) but a disaster whilst floating in the time continuum occurs due to the shoddy cheap mail order jewel powering the machines and Hoagie ends up stuck 200 years in the past and Laverne 200 years in the future. Unless the trio can reunite in the present, fix the time machine and prevent Purple from becoming insanely evil the fate of humanity will be lost forever.

      As an early attempt at the point-and-click adventure genre, this game certainly could be considered pretty basic in its functionality, with only a simple set of commands to choose from and the gameplay involving only, as you'd imagine, pointing and clicking with the essence of the game being that of picking up (i.e. stealing with no regard for the sanctity of the law) stuff and using them on people or other objects, often with hilarious consequences, but without any real puzzle solving requirements like say, for example, in Broken Sword. It is clear from the off what you need to do with a clever and funny opening sequence setting the scene with Purple Tentacle mutating and Dr Fred himself summarising things during an amusing rant at Bernard - "Step 1 - find plans; Step 2 - save the world; Step 3 - get out of my house" so - achieve these goals, win the game. Yet it is not as simple as it sounds since you have to play as three different characters rather than plain old boring one which is an excellent facet to the game and via the uniquely designed Chron-O-Johns you can pass small objects through time and space by effectively flushing them down a toilet (how cool is that) meaning you can share your inventory between characters which makes it triply hard knowing which character should use which objects in their varying quests, and these quests do require logic and lateral thinking to advance through them, which (backtracking a bit) I guess is in fact puzzle solving to a certain extent.

      Despite being such an old game (nearly 20 years as of this review) and being limited to 2D images, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, probably due to the cartoonish quality to them which allows their unrealistic features to actually work in their favour. Also, with some amusingly exaggerated vocal performances for all the weird and wonderful characters like nerdy Bernard, chilled Hoagie, creepy and eccentric Laverne / the Edisons and pompous colonial figures such as Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and George Washington not forgetting that monstrously evil Purple Tentacle along with an excellent audio soundtrack for atmospheric background music, dramatic moments and daft sound effects this is a seriously well put together game. However, the real fun comes from the silly, yet well-developed plot and dialogue between the eclectic mix of characters plus the utterly ludicrous things you are forced to do in the name of gaming like freezing a hamster and reviving it via a microwave or tricking George Washington into chopping down a cherry tree and so the real complexity to this game comes from the necessary trial and error of trying to combine totally unrelated objects together which can often lead to a frustrating roadblock when you've run out of ideas.

      The entire plot is a thoroughly enjoyable ride with a satisfying ending, incorporating the complexities of time travel and its potentially disastrous misuse along with a comedic/horrific play on a sci-fi dystopian future (mainly at the thought of slimy tentacles enslaving humankind) mixed in with some wonderful historical figures to be manipulated and abused at will including some of the Founding Fathers of America as well as Benjamin Franklin as a rude science nut - really, the only way to accurately describe the events on this fateful day of the tentacle in my opinion is a maelstrom of random lunacy. There is also a clever vibe to the way the story unfolds not through changing locations (since the game plays out in just the one place relying on a change of rooms to alter the scenery) but through changing time, and you get to enjoy the evolving style of the mansion over the course of 400 years in what is a flawlessly constructed virtual world allowing for all the differentials involved with mucking about with time travel. The dialogue is also ridiculous yet highly amusing with a very tongue-in-cheek style:

      "Dr. Fred: I could just shut off my Sludge-O-Matic, but it is too late..."
      "Bernard: You have a machine whose sole function is producing toxic waste?"
      "Dr. Fred: You can't have a high-tech laboratory like this and NOT spew poisonous filth! All the other mad scientists would laugh!"

      My advice, just accept the random nature of the game and move on with your life. As mentioned before, despite the seeming impossible task of making this game even more random, you can delve deeper into the virtual reality you are in by paying Weird Ed a visit and with a simple hop on his computer, lo and behold, up pops the original Maniac Mansion to take you into another virtual world within your current virtual world...can anyone say Inception?


      ==Maniac Mansion==

      Now, with Maniac Mansion what we have is a precursor to later point-and-click games in what is perhaps the missing link between plain text interfaces to the more widely enjoyed complete point-and-click experience. As I mentioned before, the basic premise is for Dave and a couple of his friends to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend Sandy from the evil clutches of Dr Fred and the Purple tentacle. There are similarities to Day of the Tentacle with having the choice of three players facing down Dr Fred and the tentacle by doing the usual pilfering and misusing of objects, but that is where the similarities end. Whilst DOTT is scripted with only one path to win despite the bumbling way you may get there, Maniac Mansion is more chaotic with a choice of 6 characters to pick 3 from at the beginning, multiple ways to win, multiple ways to ruin the game and never reaching a conclusion and multiple ways to kill the characters. There is a high level of unpredictability to Maniac Mansion making it re-playable if you choose to try to find every permutation of character slaying and different endings and, knowing that death and failure is potentially lying around every corner, this actually makes this game pretty tense and quite thrilling. There is a fine balance of comedy and horror with this game.

      The characters are also very different to those in DOTT by being a whole lot more disturbing with Weird Ed being exponentially weirder and Dr Fred just plain insane but especially crazy Nurse Edna who seems to want to tie the lads she captures to her bed...just eww. Graphically this game shows its extreme age with highly pixelated graphics with limited colours, an absence of music and only a minute amount of tinny and grating sound effects for such things as doors opening and pendulums ticking away and in place of voice overs are subtitles and yet despite the horribly dated feel to this game it is still incredibly challenging to play, definitely more so than DOTT, and if you are pining for the lost art of adventure games and don't mind the retro vibe then definitely give this one a whirl. If you want any more of my advice then I suggest play this game with the intention to cause as much death and destruction as possible and you will have a blast...in fact an explosion is one of many ways to bring about that aforementioned mayhem.


      ==Final Thoughts==

      Day of the Tentacle combined with Maniac Mansion is a classic (cult?) game for those retro gamers. Easy to play but challenging to solve, both these games have crazy plotlines with excellent humour and ridiculous characters that make them both equally eccentric in their own different ways. DOTT looks better but has more defined boundaries and the freedom found in Maniac Mansion makes it a potentially more exciting game despite the limited programming style at the time. Sure these games cannot compare to the might of modern day games with their realistic gameplay and knockout special effects, but these adventure games will always be my first love when it comes to video gaming, and I would totally recommend either of them to anyone who wants to relive the glorious past of gaming.

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