Game of the Month: October 2017
Day Of The Tentacle - PC/Windows
There's an old saying that goes a little something like this... "Lightening never strikes the same place twice!" Now whilst that may have some truth to it from a scientific standpoint it doesn't always apply in other areas, videogames being a prime example. Much like the film industry there's always a collected intake of breath and rumblings of moans and groans every time the word "sequel" or "remake" is mentioned. It's a long established and understood double standard that gamers, much like film lovers, always want more of something they like. The main problem with that is that they want it different but the same, familiar but fresh. In the grand scheme of things it almost always makes for a self fulfilling prophecy of complaining about what they end up with before they even try it.
This situation is a common occurrence now thanks to social media and a more interactive creator to audience infrastructure that superbly (sarcasm) allows those with no desire/ability/opportunity to sit back and armchair quarterback those who do all the work and take all the risk. Game developers nowadays are almost to a Man and Woman petrified of every aspect of a project from the moment it's announced to the moment Youtubers and website reviewers take cheap pot shots to pander to their 12-25 year old demographic nodding like idiot ducks dipping their beaks into a glass of water. Whilst games of now are vastly better looking and sounding than those of the vintage and golden era's they take way less risk and lack that special spark of life that they once had. Some game genres have mostly disappeared and others are in a deep hibernation because the audience has changed.
Cast your mind back to the dawn of the CD-ROM as a media format and the enormous surge of the adventure game thanks to interactive graphics replacing lines of text, oh and the adoption of a mouse as proprietary interface controller, and things were very different. One such developer and publisher, LucasArts, were at the cutting edge of a new way of storytelling and interaction and had for several years been offering excellent alternatives to the traditional arcade or platform videogames. Using what became known as the Point 'n Click genre they told incredible stories with an incredible cast of characters in sometimes surreal worlds that superbly bridged the gap between game and movie.
One such title to perfectly illustrate this point was a 1987 adventure game called 'Maniac Mansion' by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winning which was an incredible take on B-Movie films that took place in a Mansion owned by a mad scientist and his family. Taking control of several characters you had to rescue the girlfriend of Dave Miller from the scientist who's mind had been taken over by a sentient meteor.
With multiple ways of completion and an open ended exploration and puzzle solving structure it was an instant classic, initially for the Commodore 64 and Apple II computers however later it also became a must play for PC, NES, Amiga and Atari ST. Using a newly developed (by Ron Gilbert) game engine called SCUMM it allowed for supremely easy control of both the characters movement and the numerous interactions and options available underneath such as 'Open', 'Pick Up', 'Use' etc etc.
This game engine would go on to allow LucasArts to deliver wave after wave of ever increasingly wonderful adventure games throughout the rest of the 1980's and into the 1990's. One game in particular is the title selected to be RGG's videogame to remember for this month. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, people who like to wear dresses at the weekend and call themselves Miriam and those strange creatures who occasionally like to drink polluted water from pipes outside a mansion next to a stream it's time. It's time to watch lightening strike twice, it's time to explore the pinnacle of Point 'n Click adventures but most of all it's time... To go back... To the Mansion!
Released in 1993 Day Of The Tentacle is the 8th game developed using the SCUMM engine and the brainchild of two iconic developers, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer. After being given co-lead status by LucasArts for the project it was both the perfect choice and a bit of a risk for a follow-up to one of LucasArts most iconic titles. Taking on board the same overall design style and concept of Maniac Mansion, Day Of The Tentacle turned the volume and quality up to 10 on the dial. Refining the number of characters you could play as but at the same time time drastically changing how they interacted on screen was in simple terms 'Genius'. Whilst this game was the last to use the original method of graphics on top and options/inventory on the bottom look and style before it was refined for Sam & Max Hit The Road it made sure the game engine left the gaming arena with a thunderous explosion of excellence.
Set 5 years after the events of Maniac Mansion the game begins with a cut scene showing a lovely sunny day with a bird flying in the air, that then promptly coughs and splutters thanks to the pollution coming from the Edison Mansion. It's at this point that you are introduced to the games primary villain, Purple tentacle, who is one of the mad scientist Dr. Fred Edison's creations. Along with his brother, Green Tentacle they assist Fred in his laboratory. Purple is thirsty and is attracted to the sludge coming from pipes leading into the river and decides to take a drink. Although the slightly cowardly Green Tentacle warns against this course of action Purple drinks anyway. This then set's in motion the main plot. Drinking the sludge water transforms Purple Tentacle in both physical and mental terms. He becomes smarter, more aggressive, evil and cunning and to top it all off he grows arms! Immediately afterwards he announces he plans to take over the world.
At this point we are then introduced to Bernard, one of the original characters from Maniac Mansion who receives a letter from his friend, Green Tentacle, asking for his help. It turns out that both he and Purple are to be executed by Fred Edison. With some wonderful camera views and classic B movie style referencing, Bernard, along with his two housemates, Laverne and Hoagie promptly head back to the Edison Mansion to free them both.
Unfortunately Bernard, not in possession of all the facts, believes Fred has gone mad again and that he is the bad guy in this scenario. On returning to the basement where Fred does most of his work he frees them at which point Purple hops off declaring all Humans will be his slaves. With Purple now in possession of super intelligence and those two arms he then proceeds to take over the world and enslave Humanity. Nice going Bernard, well done!
Dr Edison, after revealing that the world is now doomed immediately unveils his backup plan to Purple & Green's execution. By using his Time Travel device, named the Chron-o-John (because they are portable toilets) Bernard and his friends, Laverne and Hoagie will jump back in time to the day before Purple drinks the polluted sludge from the river and turn off the machine causing the pollution. This will stop Purple from ever reaching evil status and save the day. Unfortunately Dr. Edison has decided to use an imitation Diamond as the core component of the Time Machine instead of a real one and the result leaves all 3 friends separated from each other at different points in the timeline. Bernard remains in present day, Laverne jumps ahead 200 years to see Humanity enslaved by Purple and his minions and Hoagie goes back 200 years to when the founding fathers used the Mansion to prepare the United States Constitution.
It is here that Day Of The Tentacle reveals it's master design stroke. Although the game is very much a Point 'n Click adventure by it's nature the addition of multiple time periods completely transforms both gameplay and also the entire feeling of your experience. Bernard's mission is to find a genuine Diamond to fit the Time Machine itself and both Laverne and Hoagie must find ways to repair their individual Time Machine capsules in order to make the final jump to the day before Purple drinks the sludge. It's a genius concept made even cooler by how you can effectively 'Flush' items between time periods in order to solve puzzles and change history/the future. Switching between your 3 playable characters is a joy to do and each of them has superbly deep character traits and personalities. With differing graphics between each time period it makes the game absolutely feel as if it's three times the size instead of just the same area in different clothes, so to speak.
Puzzle solving and interaction with other characters is the name of the game here and it's here where most of the game's happiness factor lies. The Mansion is full of wonderful people to interact with and each one is well crafted and has excellent voice over attributes (In the CD Enhanced version) Day Of The Tentacle feels like a cross between your favourite Cartoon, A Disney movie, a videogame and a comic. With a finger in multiple pies it's chocked full of sarcasm, humour, other game and movie references and never worries about poking fun out of itself and the original game that inspired it. In fact part of the core method to obtaining the Diamond in the present day is directly linked back to the original game in such a cool and hilariously creative way. Every aspect of this game was crafted by people who quite simply 'got it', understood what made gamers tick in 1993 and by people on top form. Day Of The Tentacle is way more than just another videogame. It's absolutely perfect from start to finish, it's absolutely impossible to improve it.
Released to massive critical acclaim is sold ok but nowhere near as well as it deserved too and has since gone on to become one of the points of reference for both adventure games in general and the Point 'N Click genre. Largely regarded as not just one of LucasArts or the PC's or adventure game classics it's rightly sat at the top of the top table as the benchmark for numerous things. The world 'Classic' belongs to games like this and even then it just never seems to be enough of a description.
To play Day Of The Tentacle is quite simply to experience genuine love. At the start it's a breath of fresh air, during it's play it's like seeing Star Wars for the first time and when you complete it it's like you just climbed Everest. This game makes you feel alive from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Returning to it afterwards is like running into your best friend from when you were a kid, considering it's core theme is time travel it's absolutely timeless in it's appeal, reach, impact, legacy and quality. If gaming is an art form, and we at RGG firmly believe it is, then this is the Mona Lisa of videogames.
Finding it's way to other formats over time including mobile phone and also being able to be played on other home consoles thanks to the quite remarkable SCUMM VM emulator, Day Of The Tentacle is also available on modern PC's, the PS4 and the PS Vita thanks to a recent HD remaster released by Tim Schafer's company, Double Fine Productions in 2016. With all new higher definition graphics, re-mastered sound and the option to switch back and forth from the original look and sound to the new version it's yet another reason and opportunity to spend time exploring the Edison Mansion.
And so, to end, we come back to the beginning. Lightening may not strike twice in real life but in the realm of videogames it's possible, with the right people and ingredients, to not just strike a second time but to make the second coming more breathtaking than the first. Day Of the Tentacle is absolutely one of the reasons why modern gamers have double standards.
The fact that six years after the first game a second one can come along, use the same game engine but produce something better in every regard than the first shows that gamers can get what they truly want. Something new, something old, something different, something the same... It can happen, it HAS happened! As a standalone game on it's own merits, Day of The Tentacle has no equal, as a sequel it's the poster child of how it's done. As a videogame it's masterful, as an experience it's wonderful and as an example of art is beautiful.
Whilst the statement 'They Don't make them like this anymore' is not always true, due to Thimbleweed Park showcasing that a truly creative mind can always deliver a classic it's also important to note that thanks to the era, the technology, the story, the game engine and the characters they really don't make them like this anymore. Go play Day Of The Tentacle today and discover, remember and definitively see lightening strike twice. It turns out all you need is a mansion, a time traveling portable toilet cubicle, a kite and the impending doom of a super intelligent Purple Tentacle!