Retrospective: Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

I feel like I could... like I could... like I could TAKE ON THE WORLD!

It's an all-time top five game for me. A thing that exists in my memory as a moment of sheer wonder. As I recently learned with Zak McKracken, it's not always safe to revisit such places. How can something live up to decades of emboldened memories? Well, by being as good as Day of the Tentacle.

I think if you surveyed people for their favourite LucasArts adventure, the chances are Grim Fandango would come top. For me it's always been Day of the Tentacle. Not because it's a deeper story, richer idea, more brilliant world, because it's definitely none of those things compared to Grim. But because it's a pure comedy. And that's one of the rarest gems in the world of gaming.

I remember buying it. From Guildford's only computer game shop in 1993, Ultima. Run by a moustachioed Italian called Mario, and his brother. True story. It was sold in a tall, triangular box, impossible to shelve, and thus stacked in a special display. Genius marketing. That giant triangular prism contained only a thin cardboard CD sleeve and a tall thin manual. It was a glorious waste of space. It was an object to treasure.

A sequel to Maniac Mansion - originally released in 1987 - it's quite peculiar how it makes little effort to bring players up to speed with the characters or previous incidents.

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This is one of the cleverest puzzles ever.

Six years on, you'd imagine a little of the history of the relationship between three protagonists, Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie, and the Edison family would be offered. But instead you're thrown in there, the knowledge assumed, but certainly not necessary. And of course the entire original game is found hidden inside this one for those determined to fill in the blanks.

So you have the nerdy Bernard, roadie metaller Hoagie, and space cadet Laverne returning to the mansion to help Dr Fred Edison with the calamity that has befallen him. One of his tentacle pets, Purple, has consumed toxic sludge and has been transformed into an evil genius planning to take over the world. Edison's plan: to send the three friends back in time to yesterday to switch off the sludge and thus prevent the incident from occurring.

Of course, this is time travel, so it goes wrong. Cheap imitation diamonds are responsible. So Hoagie gets sent back 200 years to Colonial America as the United States Constitution is being written in the same mansion. Laverne is sent 200 years into the future where tentacles have taken over the world, and now keep humans as their pets, stuck inside a futuristic version of the mansion.

Bernard finds himself still in the present day, and with the help of Dr Edison begins a rescue attempt to help the other two. And this is where DOTT's most brilliant feature begins: the port-a-loo-themed time machines, Chron-O-Johns, can flush objects through time between the characters, and as such you begin to think and play in four dimensions.

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The computer behind Bernard contains all of Maniac Mansion. Unless you're playing via ScummVM.

For instance, Laverne begins stuck in a tree. So what to do about that? Well, we all know George Washington had a thing for cutting down cherry trees, don't we? So that kumquat tree - paint it red. Point it out to the president-to-be, and he'll chop it down. Laverne's free!

This dynamic is so fantastically rewarding, and most pleasantly, almost never sensible. Perhaps the most real-world logic comes when attempting to create vinegar. Get some wine into a time capsule, then open it four hundred years in the future. Old wine = vinegar, so then flush that back to Hoagie and he has the ingredient he needs. Far more often you'll be deep-freezing hamsters, reversing statues (using a left-handed hammer, of course) and changing the American flag to be a tentacle costume.

What's most splendid about this is just how intuitive it is in its absence of logic. The hamster, once defrosted, is very cold. So to warm it up, why not use a jumper from the present day? But not only would it get soggy if flushed forward, but it's far too big for a hamster - let alone that it's stuck under a very heavy sleeping man.

Once retrieved the most obvious course of action is to put it into a tumble dryer with enough quarters stuffed into the coin slot to keep it drying for the next 200 years. The punchline, as you walk Laverne into the mysteriously preserved laundry room, is wonderful. As you walk through the door - DING! - it's finished. And of course hamster-sized.

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