Blast from the Past review
Well, what possible harm could one insane, mutant tentacle do?
You can’t seriously call yourself a gamer if you’re yet to embark on a LucasArts adventure. Experimenting without fear of failure, the team behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade revolutionised DOS gaming back in the late 80s and early 90s, creating signature point-and-click titles that would go on to inspire generations of developers. George’s development arm wasn’t the flashiest, nor was it the wealthiest but it singlehandedly defined the Adventure genre of games producing expertly written comedy and highly addictive titles that had kids across the world breaking bedtime and gaming curfews for that extra fix. Be it taking down the Nazis, guiding a dead soul to the afterlife or solving crimes as a wacky Rabbit and Dog, the imaginative creators have always been ahead of the curve with their inventive plot ideas. While the classics are often nostalgically the best, I was determined to discover whether their adventure set across 400 years in the home of Fred, Ted, Red, Ved, Zed, Weird Ed and any other rhyming member of the Edison family would hold up as I had so sentimentally remembered; as the craziest and best of the lot.
Still a Blast?
As the MIDI version of Ranz de Vaches from the William Tell Overture sounds irritatingly from my tinny inbuilt PC speaker, I’m greeted with a wonderful life lesson - Don’t drink water that’s been contaminated by industrial waste if you don’t want to turn evil and attempt to take over the world! Alas, Purple Tentacle (that’s right, the games antagonist is a life-size reptilian appendage of a violet blush) didn’t heed the written warnings and is now malevolently intent on enslaving all Earthlings.
While most heroes would crumble at the thought, our three stooge-protagonists are hapless in their pursuit of punishment and need no invite to stick their schnoz exactly where it isn’t wanted. So, when a pet hamster arrives at your door with a note for Bernard from his old pal Green Tentacle (Obviously, because Purple tentacle must have holier-than-thou a brother), nerdy Bernie misinterprets the note and believes Dr Fred is going to kill them both. As Bernard and his band of intellectually challenged helpers head back to the Mansion to save the tentacles from their impending doom, little do we know that Bernard’s act of heroism is about to right, royally balls everything up…
Daft opening cut scene aside, the game holds up well and there’s a real sense of familiarity in operating the point-and-click controls that were synonymous with adventure games in simpler times. While incredibly unsophisticated in style (text based options of Look At, Pick Up, Push etc…) the controls maintain a moderate level of complexity. There’s no modern-day cop-out of just pressing ‘X’ whenever you get near to an object of interest, instead you’ve got to choose your interaction. Millennials may hate it and at first even seasoned gamers might think this is going to get tedious very quickly, but after a while you realise this serves as an excellent vehicle for a major part of the games comedy. I mean, in the real world if you go to pull a door and it doesn’t open, would you just abandon it and walk away or would you try pushing it? In Day of the Tentacle (DoTT from here on out to save the R.S.I.), getting it wrong often rewards you with a condescending one-liner kin to “I’m pretty sure it doesn’t swing that way”, making you want to get more things wrong on purpose in future before you attempt to get it right.
Another aspect of the games controls that has aged very well is the character selection. Over 20 years before the “revolutionary” GTA V was released, we have an original switching mechanism that allows you to shift between 3 very different, insanely funny and unstable characters as you try to work together and get individual aspects of the job done. Prior to Trevor, Franklin and Michael, you have Hoagie the Metal-head, Bernard the computer nerd and Laverne the ditzy student and each are as hilariously stupid as their designs suggest.
After you’ve gotten used to the controls, had a wander around the foyer of Dr. Fred’s mansion and finally discovered the secret passage to the hidden laboratory, Bernard frees the tentacles and the mischievous Purple sets out to try and conquer the planet. Now, you might think there’s a very easy solution to this. Purple Tentacle is very slow, has T-Rex sized arms and no legs. So, we can just run after him, tie him up again and be done with it. Problem solved…. Right? Well no, because obviously the only logical way to fix this is to go back in time and turn off the Sludge O’Matic and stop Purple Tentacle from drinking the raw sewage in the first place. Not my preferred method, but I guess there wouldn’t be much of a game without it. Crazed inventor Dr. Fred has just the thing to help us bend the space and time continuum…
As Back to the Future had the iconic DeLorean and Bill & Ted had the distinguishable San Dimas Phone Booth, DoTT has opted rather hilariously for The Chron o’John – a time-travelling toilet. This game is getting sillier by the minute and I’m beginning to remember just why I recalled it so fondly. The terrible plan goes exactly as expected – terribly wrong! Leaving the three characters stranded in completely different eras. Hoagie 200 years in the past, Laverne 200 years in the future and typically for hapless Bernard - back exactly where he started. Their only method of communication is by shouting into the Port-a-Loo’s bowl and by flushing small, inanimate objects down the pan. So now we have two goals – stopping the tentacle and bringing back our friends! So, with the characters established, the tasks defined and the raw comedy blasting you in the face like the salesman’s exploding cigar, the fun can really begin…
Bernard sets out on his quest to find a new diamond to power the Chron o’John and bring back his friends to the present. As with any adventure game, we set out by exploring our surroundings. In this case, we have the Edison mansion - mind, mansion is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s pretty much just a 5-bedroom Victorian Townhouse, but I’m no snob, so mansion will do. We enter a few rooms and do exactly what any good adventure game tells us – click on everything and pick up any seemingly useless item you can find - even if it is just chewed bubble-gum or fake barf. After doing the rounds and chatting to a few of the games comic acquaintances a hidden gem appears. We stumble upon a room with a big oaf behind a desk – it’s Weird Ed, Dr. Fred and Edna’s son. Weird Ed’s a former member of the Army and is clearly suffering from a severe case of PTSD. He now has two passions in life - his hamster and his stamp collecting (whatever you do, make sure you’re fully prepared for the consequences if you damage his precious stamps!)
In Ed’s room, there’s a computer in the corner and, if used, you can find a neat little Easter Egg. His Desktop contains the fully loaded and original prequel to the game we’re in – 1987’s ‘Maniac Mansion’. It’s such a brilliant and unique moment of in-game inception, as you find yourself playing a game within a game where all the characters are the same. It makes purchasing DoTT almost like a buy-one-get-one-free offer as this delightful throwback allows you to get completely lost and forget exactly what you were playing in the first place. If it wasn’t for the distinguishingly terrible 8-bit graphics, you’d be crying out for Dom Cobb and his totem to know what the hell is and isn’t real. It’s completely opt-in, but you could easily spend hours in this sublime surprise which helps you understand the character backstories – most importantly why Bernard is so painfully untrusting of Dr. Fred.
Now, the difference between Maniac Mansion and DoTT goes deeper than just the aged quality and lack of voice-artistry. The former is brutally unforgiving and a wrong move could be a game ender, so while it’s good fun, you may need to quit out and come back a few times if you want to try and complete it – I learned this the hard way the first time I played wasting 30 minutes in a futile attempt to bust all three of my characters out of an inescapable jail! While the game ending nature can be annoying, playing it gives you a nice reality check and makes you appreciate just how much adventure gaming has improved in such a short space of time. The sequel can be equally frustrating but for the opposite reason - you can’t die. Unlike the remastered Broken Sword, Double Fine have elected not to have an in-game hint system, so if you’re playing the iOS or PSN version - be prepared to be wandering around until that lightbulb moment hits you (or until you lose patience and look up the walkthrough on YouTube).
Unlike other time-travelling games, such as Quantum Break or Bioshock Infinite, there is no deadly Butterfly Effect. If Hoagie steps on a cockroach, then instantly the present isn’t transformed into a ‘planet of the roaches’ where Bernard must lead an uprising against his 10-foot tall insectoid overlords. There are also no worries about meeting your younger selves, your parents or your ancestors and disappearing from existence as the game adopts a less thought-intensive approach to travel where only minor details of each puzzle change through time. Laverne needs a disguise to help her break out of a futuristic prison? Easy. Steal the Doctors tentacle chart, flush it to Hoagie and get him to switch it with the plans for the American flag – hey presto – the star-spangled banner 400 years later is tentacle shaped and perfect to aid Laverne in her escape. While it’s hilarious, the keen sci-fi nerd or historian playing would have to put aside their logic and accept that this has all happened without changing any of the history that would come with such a careless distortion to the fabric of time.
Another thing that I’d forgotten is how purposefully inaccurate the antiquity of the game is. So, don’t play this game directly before a school exam because the game will undoubtedly cloud and reduce your knowledge of history and culture of 1700s America. What… you mean, George Washington didn’t cut down a Kumquat tree by mistake because someone had painted the fruit red with lead paint found in Ned Edison’s bedroom? You must forget the history books and just switch off and enjoy the ride. It’s the fashion in gaming now to see interactions with historical figures - something we see constantly in the Assassins Creed series - and you can never be too sure how well these references have been researched or how true to life the games are that are portraying them. Unlike Connor’s battlefield run in with the 1st President of the United States, Hoagies meeting is so satirical that it wouldn’t be out of place in a stand-up routine. Would Benjamin Franklin have discovered electricity without you? Who knows, but helping you save the world from an Evil Purple appendage was certainly something left out of the American History books. Either way, it’s a brilliant mechanism to fuse familiarity with the creator’s wit and drive the plot forward.
The entire game doesn’t take itself seriously in this respect and the more I switched between the characters the more I remembered just how fun it was solving puzzles through time. Cryogenically freezing a hamster in an ice box and tumble drying a jumper for 200 years to help it thaw was a nice little touch on my quest to gather electricity and as the game progresses, the level of invention in the puzzles increased. However, the game’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness. I found that it was so enjoyable first time around that most of the solutions were as memorable now as the day of the original playthrough. I remembered the Dirty Harry/Travis Bickle monologue with the inflatable clown and laughing at how Bernard eventually got so annoyed at being bested that he had to stab it in anger. So, when I saw Laverne had the opportunity to collect the scalpel in the futuristic doctor’s office, I instantly remembered its purpose. Not counting the Maniac Mansion Easter Egg, I nailed this playthrough in just over 2 hours which might not be bad value for the price of a pint, but I certainly wouldn’t be rushing back to play it again any time soon. The game has such limited re-play value particularly when you compare it to other remastered adventure games, such as Broken Sword, Monkey Island or Grim Fandango, where after a month or two you could dive back in and enjoy it all over again.
Playthrough value aside, the comedy alone is well worth a punt for first timers or those longing for childhood nostalgia - I mean, which other set of writers would predict an evil genius ready to take over the world would make this their first act of evil…
…Hey, I guess even Hitler had to start somewhere! With complex puzzles, a satisfying ending and the original prequel embedded, this personality exuding, time-travelling title still holds up today as one of the best adventure games on the market. It hands down beats other remastered games of the same genre and for any LucasFilm fan, you can spend hours upon hours picking our Star Wars or Indiana Jones References.
Comedy, simplicity and even a great pause value (where you can make a coffee or smoke a cig without the world ending or being robbed blind) are things sorely missed in the modern, multiplayer generation of gaming. With a re-mastered version available on the market for less than a fiver, it’s well worth getting your tentacles on!
1993 | Developer LucasArts | Remastered by Double Fine Productions
Platforms; Win | PS4 | iOS