Day of the Tentacle. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
One's purple, mean, and rubbery; the other's pale, dweebish, and scrawy. Rush Limbaugh and Ross Perot? No, it's the Purple Tentacle and Bernard, stars of LucasArts' maginificent Day of the Tentacle, a B-movie sci-fi parody that skirts the lunatic fringe of comedy adventure.
Officially, the game is a sequel to 1987's Maniac Mansion, but it bears litle resemblance to that archaic masterpiece, noted for the debut of LucasArt's SCUMM story system. Graphics, sound, and storage devices have improved siginificantly over the past six years. As if to dramatically illustrate exactly how far we've come, the complete Maniac Mansion--CGA graphics and PC speaker sounds intact--is cleverly hidden within Day of the Tentacle. Whether or not you're familiar with the original, it's delightful spin down memory lane. Be warned, however: The experience is like falling through a primodial portal of computer gaming. The story remains as clever as ever, but the presentation will make your VGA-loving skin crawl.
Beyond some well-deserved backslapping, the inclusion of Maniac Mansion actually fits in with the sequel's wacky premise of time travel. An all-talkie introduction sets the stage: Green and Purple Tentacle, out for a stroll, stumble upon toxic waste discharged from D. Fred Edison's secret laboratory. Despite Green's warnings, Purple takes a gulp and is soon transformed into a higly intelligent, super-aggressive appendage, intent on taking over the world.
To orevent further damage, Dr. Fred enlists the help of three kids: Bernard, a well-meaning computer geek; Hoagie, a heavy-metal roadie; and Laerne, a slightly off-center med student and freelance surgeon. The plan is to travel back in time0,@one day before Purple Tentacle become infected. Unfortunately, Dr. Fred's time machines--retrofitted portable outhouses, called Chron-o-Johns--misfire, zapping our three misadventures in opposite directions in space and time. Hoagie lands in the era of Benjamin Franklin, while Laverne travels to a future twisted by the evil Purple Tentacle. Only Bernard returns intact, where he must coordinate joint efforts by the distant friends to halt the Purple threat.
>From here, the story takes off into three disparate, but interrelated, sections. Once a link in time is established, you can switch control to each character as needed. The mouse-driven SCUMM interface, refined in the Monkey Island and Indiana Jones series, remains one of the game's most intuitive and friendly. Puzzles are object-oriented and relatively nonlinear in nature. Most are of intermediate difficulty, requiring simple manipulation of collected items. The fun part, of course, is simply exploring odd locations and engaging in outrageously funny conversations. Multiple games can be saved and stored for convenience sake. You may get stumped, but unlike other adventures, there's no punishment for wrong actions.
Except for a new short transitional scenes, disk-based users will find the digitized speech ends after the prologue. The CD-ROM version, however, features talking characters throughout. While both versions are identical and equally enjoyable, the full-throated CD edition--containing more than 268MB of sound--is simply fantastic. Professional actors contribute to the success, especially the inspired casting of Richard Sanders, best known as Les Nessman on the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, as Bernard.
Graphics and animation are also excellent, inspired by the Chuck Jones era of Warner Brothers cartoons. Of particular interest is the hilarious opening credit sequence, good enough to sit through several times. Lead artist Peter Chan imparts a wonderfully inventive, almost surreal edge to his widly exaggerated graphic styling.
Terrific fun from start to finish, Day of the Tentacle is one tongue-in-cheek adventure you'll wish would never end.