Retro Look: Day of the Tentacle
Posted February 10, 2012 by Jallen (207)
The Day of the Tentacle was released way back in 1993 by LucasArts under the guidance of Dave Grossman (co-founder of Telltale games) and Tim Schafer (founder of Double Fine Productions) and is a follow up to the classic game ‘Maniac Mansion’. It being a sequel won’t really matter as you don’t need to know anything about the previous title to enjoy this one, although you will obviously miss out on some references.
Perhaps the hardest puzzle in the game is getting it to actually start. This game is a DOS game, do you remember DOS? Where you even alive before DOS was replaced by Windows 1995? At any rate it’s rare for anybody to own a computer that still runs on DOS; so you’ve got to find a good emulator that won’t butcher the game, with most cutting out the audio or dialogue. I managed to find ScummVM which is a fantastic emulator for the games based on the Scrumm engine like; Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Return of Zork, etc, etc.
The game plot starts out when two Tentacles are walking by the side of a river which has toxic waste spilling into it. The Purple one drinks it and it transforms him into…a tentacle, but a tentacle with arms and a penchant for global domination. We first meet our heroes Bernard (one of the five main characters from the first game), Hoagie (a band roadie) and Laverne (a psychotic medical student) relaxing at home when a hamster delivers a plea of help from the Green Tentacle. He claims the mad Dr. Fred is going to kill the tentacles. Well our heroes jump into action and manage to save the tentacles. However immediately afterwards the Purple Tentacle escapes to conquer the world! The only way to stop him is to travel back in time to prevent him from drinking the water in the first place. So they get sent back in time but the machine breaks and the gang get split up emerging into different time periods. Bernard made it back to the present; Hoagie ended up 200 years in the past and meets up with the founding father of the USA; while Laverne is stuck 200 years in the future, where the world is under the suction-cup of the evil tentacles! Encase you haven’t figured it out yet this game is very quirky and very funny.
It’s also a point-and-click adventure game and uses an interface quite unlike other point-and-click games. At the bottom of the screen there are a set of actions you can use which does make the game needlessly complicated and unintuitive. Let’s say for example you want to walk through a door, well you need to select “open” and then click on it again to go through it. Rather than simply clicking on it the first time and walking through the door. Then there are times when you know you have to do something in a room, you’ve got a sack full of items to try out, but the solution is to “push” a bed to crinkle up the sheets. Admittedly this does allow for more puzzles than a context dependant clicking system could muster, but it certainly doesn’t make the game easier to play.
You see the game is hard and it’s for the obvious reason. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, they are notorious for their bizarre puzzles that seemed to be purposely inserted in the game just to drive you to buy the official guide (note these games where made before the internet was popular, do you even remember that? God I feel old). I’ll give you an example; Benjamin Franklin is outside flying his kite and you need to power up a battery for your time machine. We all know you need to put the battery in the kite and get it hit by lighting. The problem is that there isn’t a storm at the moment so what do you do? If you answered cloud seeding or doing a rain dance you’re clearly an idiot. No the answer was washing a dirty carriage! That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This game is even harder than most other point-and-clicks too because there are three time periods. So if you fall back on your old method of systematically using every object you have on every other object in the world then you’ve got a lot of work ahead. You’ll need to transfer your items to each character and use them in each time period and take into account the affect of what you’re doing has on the future. Then there is the backtracking, this game takes place in one location (differs per time period but it’s the same layout) and so you’ll be travelling across the same ~13 rooms over and over again. Also if you ever do play this game remember you don’t need to travel back to the time machine to transport objects to the other character, just drag it onto their portraits, wish I had known that a lot sooner.
Really this game is quite frustrating. To make it worse there isn’t a save feature, yeah I know it’s an old DOS game, but it’s just something I’ve come to expect in every single game I play these days. The game isn’t actually that long (one video on youtube managed a speed run of ~23mintues, without conversation time) but you don’t really want to recollect all the objects and backtrack through the whole game again.
For all the faults of the game however I really like it. It’s an ancient game, a dinosaur when compared to the sleek games of today. Sleek not in terms of just graphics but also user accessibility (really you should play a couple of retro games every now and again to see how much the industry has advanced and evolved). So you can’t judge it by today’s standards but what really jumps out at you is just how well crafted this world is. It’s clear that whoever designed this game was passionate about it, they loved working on it and every individual piece of the game is wonderful. You’ll put up with the archaic interface because you just know you’ll be in for a treat if you do. It’s quite hard to find a copy of this game these days but it is possible a remake might happen in the future.
As a final thought; its games like this one that make me worry about downloadable games. Especially as we’re moving fast into the world of all games becoming download only. I had to go to the effort to get an emulator but I can still find a physical copy and an old computer if I really wanted to play it. Downloadable games though are a bit harder. Take Double Fine’s ‘Costume Quest’ for example. What would happen if 20 years from now I wanted to play that game but Steam, Xbox Live and the Playstation network no longer worked? What if Double Fine itself had closed up shop? Where would I find a copy of the game?
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