Two Fantastic LucasArts Adventure Games That Perfectly Fit Each Other
Written: Jul 9, 2012
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Hilarious writing, great character designs, challenging and fun gameplay
Cons:DotT is a bit short, some voice-acting is mediocre, occassionally too difficult
The Bottom Line: Two fantastic games that are amongst the best in point & click adventures. Hilarious and challenging, guaranteed to keep you puzzled and laughing for hours on end.
I Would Recommend If You Like: Maniac Mansion, Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, The Curse of Monkey Island
Here are two of the best adventure games created in the 90's by LucasArts - colourful, witty and delightfully implausible. In short - everything a decent point & click should be.
DAY OF THE TENTACLE
Day of the Tentacle has by far one of the strangest plots I've ever come across, which acts as a great vehicle to the zany humour of the game. You take on the role of three friends - each trapped in a different time zone as you attempt to prevent an evil purple tentacle from 'TAKING OVER THE WORLD!'
The different time zones add a bit of variety to the story, as you're constantly switching back and forth between them to progress through the game. The way the story progresses will probably be familiar to veterans of old adventure games, but newcomers will probably have a marmite reaction - they'll either love it or hate it. It depends on how important it is to you that a plot lies within the realm of physical possibility, if you're not bothered about that, then you're fine!
There's plenty of references to past events and to pop culture ideas of how Earth will be in the future. You'll meet up with the founding fathers as they struggle to write the Declaration of Independence, visit an apocalyptic future where humans are no longer the dominant species and generally screw about with everything as you go along - historical accuracy tends to take a bit of a back seat as you tinker with the events of the past.
Each character is confined to their respective timeline for the majority of the game, each struggling with their own challenges as they strive to return to the present and defeat the megalomaniac tentacle while they're at it. Things you do in past times affect what happens in the later eras, so you'll have fun messing about with frozen hamsters and left-handed statues.
Like the story, the characters are amongst the most eccentric I've ever come across - so they fit in perfectly. There's Bernard, the typical nerd whose moral scruples vary, a deranged medical student with a disturbing disregard for animal safety called Laverne and Hoagie, a husky rock music enthusiast with a laid back attitude. I really like the designs of Hoagie and Laverne - especially Laverne, she's just completely bizarre. I found Bernard to be stereotypical to the point of just being boring, he comes across as a bit two-dimensional compared to the other two (in terms of personality, not appearance - this was the early 90's remember).
They seem to take the whole trapped-in-another-time-zone thing in their stride and are quite happy to potter about inventing electricity and entering mummies into beauty contests. They perfect for delivering the loony humour and setting up jokes for the various characters they encounter.
Non-player characters are a bit more hit-and-miss, some are forgettable, but others can be better than the main cast at times. Most of my favourite characters were the villains of the tale - the tentacle overlords of the future as a great portion of the funniest lines came from them. The game developers must have found it difficult to give personalities and expression to creatures lacking any sort of facial construction, especially in the time of pixels, but they did a stellar job of it.
The grand villain Purple Tentacle doesn't actually get a great deal of time on screen for a large portion of the game - you don't really see very much of him until right at the end. I would normally find this odd, but actually in hindsight I found it to be the right decision by the writers as he just isn't one of the most interesting characters in the game. In any other he'd probably be pretty good, but compared to some members of the DotT cast he just doesn't cut it.
The gameplay in Day of the Tentacle is pretty simple, usually just consisting of clicking on an object or person in order to interact with them. At the bottom of the screen are the command options, such as 'talk to', 'walk to,' 'pick up' etc. Often it's worth it to use multiple commands on one object, even when you know which you need to use, just to get the amusing dialogue that results.
The time travel aspect of the game adds an extra dimension to the game, as you will have to skip between time periods in order to progress. You can even interact with your friends by sending inventory items through the time machine. This makes gameplay more complex as you often have to go through a long string of actions in a specific order to achieve an end, and you may have to rely on other characters to obtain items you need.
This game is pretty difficult, mostly because of the skewed sense of logic you have to employ to think up of solutions to puzzles. It's worth it though, it's really satisfying to finally come up with a way to get past what seemed an impossible point in the game. Normally when you look at objects that you need to use in a puzzle, the description will aide you a little in figuring out what to do, but you won't get much help.
One bad thing I noticed about this game was the length. Most of the LucasArts adventure games are pretty long, enough to span over weeks - especially if you spurn the various walkthroughs and guides on the internet. However Day of the Tentacle is quite short, it's reasonable, but I felt it had all gone rather quickly when I finished. There's not very much replay value either as there's no difficulty options of any other variations to the gameplay settings.
Of course the high point of almost any point & click adventure game lies in the script. The dialogue is full of gems, with humour ranging from totally silly to dry and sarcastic. Despite this though there is some dialogue which seems purely filler, but luckily most of the dialogue is well worth going out of your way for to hear.
While I do like this game, I have to say that I have played funnier games. It is in my top ten, but I found a lot of jokes were quickly forgettable, although they made me laugh a lot at the time. You probably won't be reeling off a lot of quotes from this game the way you would with something like the Monkey Island series, but it is funny and if you're a fan of old adventure games, it's one that you just can't miss. At the same time I wouldn't suggest it as an introduction to someone who hadn't played this type of game before.
The soundtrack to Day of the Tentacle is pretty good. It fits the various areas within the game and gives it an upbeat, colourful atmosphere. It isn't particularly attention grabbing or memorable, it just acts as a nice backdrop to everything. So while it's perfectly fine, the game wouldn't particularly suffer without it.
Of course everything's all lovely and pixelly as you'd expect. Everything's bright and colourful and all the areas are well designed. Whilst the characters travel in time they don't travel in space, allowing you to see the mansion they're based in from when it was initially built as a countryside inn, to its development into a prison for the evil tentacles' pet humans. It's fun to explore the different rooms and see how they've changed over time.
It's often easy to see which objects you can interact with as they stick out from the background - they're usually less detailed than the sets, probably because they had to be animated. This means a lot less pixel-hunting than in many games of this type.
Who It's Suitable For
Day of the Tentacle is appropriate for more-or-less all ages. There's not really any violence to speak of and no coarse language. It's probably a bit too difficult for very small children and they'll probably not fully understand some of the jokes. It's rated E for everyone.
If you're running this on a system that's anything new than Windows 98 (and I'm guessing that you probably are), then you'll need to download ScummVM - an emulator which is free to download and pretty easy to use. There's instructions on the site which are easy to follow and a FAQ just in case you do get a bit stuck.
This is a puzzle game not a fighting game, so if you want something with fast-paced action or intense battle scenes then this probably isn't the game you're looking for.
SAM & MAX: HIT THE ROAD
Whilst not as implausible as Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max: Hit the Road is still pretty wacky. You play as Sam, a six-foot canine detective and his hyperactive rabbity-thing of a friend Max. Although the set-up of these characters would immediately seem to suggest a game for kids, I have to say that there's quite a bit of adult humour, or at least a lot of jokes that would just go straight over young children's heads.
In this game you're alerted to the disappearance of the carnival's prize-exhibit bigfoot by the faceless and mysterious commissioner. This is about as normal as the plot gets, as you'll be touring the USA and visiting it's most outlandish destinations - some that actually exist, such as the World's Biggest Ball of Twine.
The story doesn't ever get especially elaborate. It's clear almost from the very beginning who the 'bad guys' are and most of the complexity is left to the puzzles rather than the plot. This is for the best as it allows the game to focus more on dialogue, characters and gameplay. I find that this is the case is many older games, as they don't have the technology to create grandiose and immersive cutscenes and set designs to really get you into the story (although there are of course exceptions to this rule).
Sam & Max are two of my favourite game characters of all time. Sam's the straight-man; laid-back, perpetually unfazed by the insanity around him and despite actions that might speak otherwise, fairly good-natured. Max on the other hand is like a little kid who's downed ten cups of coffee, he's energetic, more-or-less apathetic towards anyone other than Sam and pretty oblivious of anything other than what's occurring right in front of him. I particularly like his character design - it's simple with his razor-sharp grin and otherwise cute and fuzzy appearance. Whilst I like Sam, he's nothing particularly new.
Sam & Max aren't the only great characters in this game. Everywhere you look there's a plethora of borderline-psychotic to interact with. Whilst none of the characters are dark, they're a bit grittier than anything you'll find in Day of the Tentacle, which usually suits the backdrop of slightly off-kilter carnivals and the grimy streets of New York.
The voice-acting ranges from mediocre to great - you may recognise Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, playing the role of Sam. His voice seems to suit Sam pretty well. Max on the other hand is a bit difficult to get used to if you've ever heard other takes on him as I have (I first encounter Sam & Max in the TellTaleGames series, where Max is voiced by William Kasten). If you haven't then the thick Brooklyn accent may seem to fit him quite well and Nick Jameson's delivery is sufficiently energetic for Max's personality. Sam & Max: Hit the Road is actually one of the first games to feature voices alongside text lines, there are versions of the game without the speech files.
Some other characters don't fare quite as well, and one or two are outright annoying. These characters have fairly minor roles though so they're easy to overlook. All the characters have pretty good designs, they don't get repetitive and have clearly all had time spent on them. The designers have done the best to get as much detail on characters with the limitations of the graphics at the time.
The gameplay is similar to Day of the Tentacle in some ways, but different in others. It does mostly consist on clicking on objects to interact with them, but instead of having a list of commands on the bottom of the screen, you instead use the right mouse button to scroll through icons which represent the various action you can use. This can be a bit cumbersome at times, especially when you scroll past the action you want by accident and have to go all the way through the list again, but it does prevent half the screen from being taken up by command options.
Your inventory is represented on the screen by a cardboard box in the bottom left-hand corner, which you can click to look at the items you have. You're able to select items for use as they are, combine them to create new items or investigate them for secrets and clues. Max himself can be used as an item in the same way as anything else in your inventory - whether he likes it or not! You'll have to use him several times to progress through the game, so don't forget that he can be used as an inventory item.
Another aspect of gameplay that differs from Day of the Tentacle is the presence of various mini-games. Some need to be beaten in order to progress, but others such as a colouring book and a version of Battleships are just there for fun. They're usually easy enough, although they might be more difficult if you don't have a mouse. There is one game where you're driving down a highway and Max is riding on top of your car doing...I don't know what. There's no instructions for the mini-game and to this day I have no idea what on Earth you're supposed to do. This is an exception though, all the other mini-games are pretty easy to get the hang of.
I would say this game is pretty similar to Day of the Tentacle in terms of difficulty. It has a few moments that'll leave you scratching your head for hours and others that you'll get straight away, but it shouldn't get the point where you're getting truly frustrated with it. You do have to remember the tenuous logic that is employed in these sort of games or you won't get very far. It's also a pretty long game, it took me a good while to finish it. Like Day of the Tentacle though there's not much replay, unless you leave a long try between play-throughs or you go back to further explore the various enviroments.
The humour in Sam & Max: Hit the Road is amongst the best in any game I've ever played. It leans to the dry side, with snide remarks and snarky observations which is right down my street. If you prefer one-liners or 'proper jokes' (set up followed by punch line) then this might not be for you. There's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and the dialogue is fantastic.
The only negative that I really have about the dialogue is that sometimes it really does go on. It's always difficult to balance the amount of dialogue so that it doesn't just become an interactive movie in this type of game, but there are some points where it feels as though you've been sitting just watching the screen for quite a while.
It's well worth exploring all the areas and looking at everything you can, as the observations that Sam and Max will make are some of the funniest lines in the game. Go around and try to pick up things you can't get. Try it again. Keep trying to pick it up - see what happens.
The soundtrack to Sam & Max: Hit the Road is quite enjoyable. My favourite track is from the pleasantly understated opening credit sequence, but almost all the areas have catchy music playing in the background. It's jazzy, snappy and dramatic as needed. (As a side-note I'd recommend giving the soundtracks of later Sam & Max games a listen even if you never play them. They're composed by Jared-Emerson Johnson and are amongst my favourite video game soundtracks).
Again, the graphics are pretty much on-par with Day of the Tentacle. Everything bright and colourful, the majority of the detail is saved for the background design and animation is fairly smooth. There are a couple of scenes which bizarrely employ 3-D animation - it looks really out of place and isn't really necessary. I'm not sure why the developers took the decision to just stick a couple of 3-D animations in there, maybe they were just a bit over-excited with the new technology.
The various areas are well-designed and generally just nice to look at. There's a lot of visual jokes hidden into the background and special care has been added to add just a thin layer of grime to everything, just enough so that it just seem all squeaky clean and overly-cartoony. I think Sam & Max's office and the Mystery Vortex are my favourite areas. None are forgettable, though as with any game, some will create more of an impression than others.
Who It's Suitable For
As I mentioned there is a bit of adult humour, as well as a few swear words and a little violence - although it's strictly on the cartoony side. There isn't anything terribly shocking though. The game's rated 11+ / 12+, depending on what country you're in.
Just as with Day of the Tentacle you'll need the ScummVM emulator to run this game on anything later than a Windows 98 system. It's easy to run and shouldn't give you any problems.
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