Kickin’ It Old School – Day of the Tentacle

Fourth grade for me was any elementary school student’s dream. We had fun all the time, even when we were being taught, which wasn’t terribly often considering we got off track a lot. My teacher, Mr. Maiste (MICE-tea, if you care), would always make jokes or tell stories. He even had an extraordinarily comfortable couch we would gather around to play a game or listen to stories or whatever.

The most fun we could ever have was during indoor recess. We seriously prayed for rain, or snow as the case may be. Indoor recess was as much fun as it was because that was the time that we, the boys of the class (the girls were off listening to Hansen or whatever it is girls did at that age), gathered around Mr. Maiste’s computer to play Day of the Tentacle.

We mostly liked the campy humor and curse words, but it was an extremely fun way to spend an hour, solving puzzles like cryogenically freezing a hamster for use in the future instead of solving math problems. I attained a previously unheard of amount of popularity when I bought Day of the Tentacle myself and saw that it came with a hint book/walkthrough. I was the big man on the playground that day, let me tell you! I only regret that I gave away the book’s information for free. I should have charged a dollar for each puzzle solution.

Day of the Tentacle (PC/Mac, 1993)

Day of the Tentacle was released in 1993 by LucasArts (I was shocked that they did something other than Star Wars games). It used the point-and-click SCUMM game engine that LucasArts used for many of its games; the characters were controlled by an interface with commands at the bottom of the screen; for example, the “Talk” command talks to people. The game is a sequel to 1987’s Maniac Mansion (which you are able to play at one point in the game), with many returning characters, including the Edison family and the main character, Bernard Bernoulli.

As the game starts, two talking tentacles, named Purple and Green after their respective colors are walking around the outside of Dr. Fred Edison’s mansion. Purple sees a pipe that exists purely to dump toxic waste (since, as Dr. Fred later says, all the other mad scientists would laugh at him if he didn’t dump toxic waste) and decides to take a sip. Green is apprehensive, but Purple drinks some anyway, immediately sprouting two arms. This finally gives him the advantage he needs to put his plans of world domination into effect (you can tell he’s evil due to his Trogdor-esque angry eyebrows).

After Dr. Fred ties the tentacles up in his lab to keep Purple from taking over the world, Green secretly sends a letter to his friend Bernard to help him before Dr. Fred kills both tentacles. Bernard brings along two of his friends, Hoagie, a rather portly musician/roadie, and Laverne, an eccentric medical student, to help him infiltrate Dr. Fred’s mansion to save the tentacles (or at least Green) from an untimely death. After discovering Dr. Fred’s secret lab, using a passage through an old grandfather clock, Bernard sets the tentacles free, unwittingly allowing Purple to continue taking over the world. Dr. Fred then discovers the 3 and decides to stop Purple by sending them back in time and turn off the “Sludge-O-Matic” machine, the device used to spew the toxic waste, therefore preventing Purple from drinking from it.

While the time machine, named the “Chron-O-John” due to the fact that the units are made out of port-a-potties, works in sending them through time, it malfunctions when the imitation diamond powering the machine breaks apart, sending Hoagie 200 years in the past, Laverne 200 years in the future, and Bernard back to the present. Dr. Fred decides that in order to save the world now, Hoagie and Laverne have to find a way to plug their Chron-O-John’s in to a power source to be able to bring them back, and Bernard has to find a real diamond.

This proves exceptionally difficult since Hoagie won’t find an electrical outlet 200 years in the past, and thus needs Dr. Fred’s ancestor to construct a “super battery” for him to use, and Laverne is stranded in a tentacle-dominated future, and is thrown in jail for being a human. The game uses the Chron-O-John’s as a means to trade items between the three characters to accomplish their tasks, literally flushing them through time.

The time travel aspect of the game is crucial to solving some puzzles. Actions in the past have an effect on the future to help one of the characters. For example, in the past, Hoagie encounters two twin sculptors, one acting as a model for the other. His actions force them to switch places, which affects how the completed sculpture looks in the present, since one brother is right handed and the other is left handed. Bernard is then able to use the altered sculpture to his advantage in the present.

Other characters around the mansion in the 3 time periods are also provide help, such as the people attending a novelty convention in the present, the Founding Fathers (including John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, who are looking for amendments to add to the then-newly drafted Constitution) in the past, and other tentacles, once Laverne finds a disguise to walk among them, in the future. Also, many characters in the present and future periods appear to be descendants of characters from the earlier time periods.

As with many LucasArts games, the game is rife with references to the Star Wars saga. There are subtle allusions, such as a Storm Trooper’s helmet sitting on a shelf in the mansion, and also altered quotes from the movie (“Help us Dr. Edison, you’re our only hope!”).

The graphics are as cartoony as the plot was; nothing revolutionary, but not bad. The sound differed depending on which version of the game you had: the CD-ROM version sported a full voice-over for the game’s dialogue, while the floppy disk version only had subtitles.

Day of the Tentacle is one of many classic LucasArts games, and is deserving of a re-release, if not a sequel. Is there a statute of limitations on making sequels to games? Anyway, for next time, we’ll stick with PC games for a scary one and its so-bad-it’s-scary sequel in The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour. Meantime, roll on over to the forums or email me with any questions, comments, requests, etc. Later!