Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle - IBM PC, Macintosh (1994)

Maniac Mansion was, of course, a decent success and began a steady stream of adventure games from Lucasfilm, including Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Loom, two Indiana Jones games, and two Monkey Island games. By this point, Ron Gilbert left the company to join Humongous Entertainment, while his previous collaborators on the Monkey Island games, Tim Schafer and David Grossman, went on to direct the only Maniac Mansion sequel: Day of the Tentacle. Due to the change in direction, it shows a marked shift in both humor and tone, leaving behind the faux horror vibe in favor of Looney Tunes-style wackiness. That is in no way meant in the pejorative sense, because it also might be one of the funniest, most brilliantly designed adventure games ever created.

The animated intro begins with Green and Purple Tentacle outside the mansion, pondering a stream of sludge created by one of Dr. Fred’s crazy inventions. On a whim, Purple Tentacle takes a gulp and somehow sprouts opposing limbs, opening up the potential for crazy plans of world domination. Dr. Fred manages to capture both tentacles, but not before Green sends out a cry for help via Weird Ed’s hamster. It reaches the dorm of Bernard, now living up the college life with his roommates, a burnt out roadie named Hoagie and a vaguely psychotic med student named Laverne. The trio infiltrates the mansion and quickly frees the tentacles, only to have Purple escape and resume his schemes to enslave humanity. Dr. Fred comes to the (rather extreme) conclusion that the only way to stop him is to travel through time, precisely one day in the past, and prevent Purple Tentacle from drinking the sludge in the first place. The three are quickly enlisted into service and shoved into three Chron-o-Johns, portable toilets that can travel through time.

Something goes wrong, of course, as each of them are sent through the expanses of time – Hoagie lands 200 years in the past, during the time of the American Revolution, and Laverne ends up 200 years in the future, where tentacles have taken over the planet and humans are mere pets. On the other hand, Bernard ends up right back where he started in the present day. The others have their own quests to foil Purple Tentacle’s scheme, and in the case of Hoagie and Laverne, return back to the proper time period. Hoagie must find and charge a super battery, a difficult task given that electricity had yet to be properly discovered, Laverne must figure out a way to blend in amongst the tentacles to recharge her own Chron-o-John, and Bernard must somehow obtain the funds to buy a replacement jewel for the time machine. Like The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle is clearly aware of the absurdities it presents – surely there are much easier ways to save the world than bending space and time – but the game gleefully rolls with it, for the simple fact that it’s a lot of fun.

Once past the intro section, Day of the Tentacle greatly opens up, almost to intimidating proportions. In the present day, the mansion has been converted into a hotel, which is holding a practical joke convention. In the past, it’s housing the forefathers of America, with the Declaration of Independence ready to be signed in its very living room. In the future, it’s Purple Tentacle’s headquarters. While Laverne is stuck to a few areas since she’s a prisoner of the tentacles, both Bernard and Hoagie have free run of the mansion in both time periods. Unlike the first game, the characters don’t possess any special talents, although each starts with their own personal inventory. It’s also structured a bit more like a typical adventure game, in that it no longer runs in real time, although there are still occasional humorous cutscenes that pop up on occasion – these include musings from the forefathers in Hoagie’s time, newspaper clippings of Purple Tentacle’s rise to power in the present era, and hate-fueled rants by an aged Purple Tentacle in the future.

Even though it removes the alternate puzzle solutions, it’s still a lot more freeform and non-linear than most adventure games. The Monkey Island games usually give you several quests to tackle at once, under the assumption that if you get stuck at one, you can always move on to another. Day of the Tentacle takes that to a further extreme – you have to play around, find every item that you can, and identify the puzzles to be solved. Most of these aren’t readily apparent, but nearly all of the major ones have to deal with time travel in some capacity, or finding ways to bend the rules. For instance, the three characters can teleport items to each other through the Chron-o-John (which is thankfully abstracted simply by dragging an item to their portrait on the command menu) but it doesn’t work on anything living. Keeping in line with the first Maniac Mansion game, you’ll need to capture Ed’s hamster again, but you need to figure out some way to get it to Laverne without directly sending it through the time machine.

Some of them are pretty ridiculous, right from the outset. In order for Laverne to wander around freely, she needs a costume. One of the only items she has access to is a medical diagram of the tentacles. Meanwhile, Hoagie runs into Betsy Ross, who is in the process of designing the American flag. You need to have Laverne send the tentacle diagram to Hoagie, who gives it to Ms. Ross, thereby altering history and turning the American flag into the shape of a tentacle. Then Bernard can climb the flag pole, send it to Laverne, and voila! (No matter, of course, that Laverne looks ridiculous in it, but the dimwit tentacles in the future somehow find her incredibly attractive in her obviously fake get-up.) It’s something of an absurd puzzle, and at least a few of them involve screwing up American history for your own personal gains. They’re all hilarious to muse about despite their obtusity, but most are hinted at with various clues. There’s a reason why Thomas Jefferson has a time capsule, and why Laverne can find that same time capsule 400 years later. There’s also a very specific reason why the laundry room is completely identical in the present and future eras. Some of them are even silly without relying on the time travel stuff. Right at the beginning, once Bernard frees the tentacles and Dr. Fred sends you on a task to find the plans for his time machine, implying your first great quest… only to find them a couple feet away, in the same room, tacked to a cork board.

Outside of the gleefully deranged puzzles, Day of the Tentacle is amazing to look at. In the six years between games, technology had moved from oddly gangling teenagers to a fully fleshed out cartoon. While Monkey Island 2 (and most Sierra games at the time) elected to use painted and scanned backgrounds, Day of the Tentacle takes a page from classic cartoons and sticks with more solidly colored backgrounds, which removes the graininess of the 256-color limit while making the world much brighter. The backgrounds are all drawn in odd proportions with even odder angles – nothing is quite straight on, which perfectly matches the deranged nature of its inhabitants. Even more beauty lies in the character sprites and their animation – Bernard marches with his pants hiked up too far, arms at his side, chugging along like his old Maniac Mansion sprite. Hoagie lumbers, hands in pockets, hair that always covers his eyes, with an unfortunately visible plumber’s crack. Laverne has a weird bulging eye and doesn’t so much walk as prance gleefully from place to place, with a wildly moronic grin as she skips and a blank expression of perpetual bewilderment when idle.

The rest of the characters beyond the three protagonists shine just as brightly. As one can see, the relationship between the heroes and the Edisons have changed quite a bit from the original Maniac Mansion – Dr. Fred and his clan are no longer enemies (and the Meteor is gone completely) and their personalities have been altered too. Nurse Edna is more of an insane cackling witch than a sexual deviant, and Weird Ed is more of a restrained weirdo who obsesses over stamps than a militant nutjob. (Apparently the microwaving of the hamster from the previous game was canon, because Weird Ed hasn’t quite gotten over it.) Dead Cousin Ted is still around as a mummy in all three time periods (and needs to be dressed up by Laverne to win a “Best Human” contest). Various other Edison ancestors and descendants are found in each period, although the most amusing are the caricatures of America’s founders – as it turns out George Washington and Ben Franklin were kinda jerks! It’s a bit of a shame none of the rest of the Maniac Mansion crew is mentioned at all, although Razor was initially meant to return before getting cut in the planning stages.

Day of the Tentacle also offers full speech in the CD-ROM version, and the exceptional dialogue mixed with the brilliant casting and acting is impeccable. Bernard is a typical weenie, Hoagie goes on irrelevant tangents and seems to be the least flummoxed by the situation they’re in, and Laverne is prone to mad giggles between her lines. In taking another page from classic American cartoons, a good number of the voices are plays off famous actors and characters – a vandal randomly sounds like Jack Nicholson, Thomas Jefferson is reminiscent of Dudley Do-Right, and both John Hancock and his lousy great-great-great-great-grandson salesman both sound like Woody Allen. In the past, there is also a talking horse, for some reason or another, sounding a bit like Mr. Ed. (It really doesn’t seem that out of place, considering the sentient megalomaniacal tentacles and whatnot.)

Although Day of the Tentacle can possibly be criticized for its arcane puzzles, and it lacks the replay value of its predecessor, it’s otherwise one of the few nearly perfect adventure games – gorgeous visuals, an incredibly innovative setup, memorable characters and hilarious dialogue. If there’s any true “canon of adventure gaming”, this one deserves to be on the top.

The entirety of the original Maniac Mansion is included as a bonus in Day of the Tentacle, accessed by using the computer in Weird Ed’s room. Unfortunately, it’s the initial release with the really blocky graphics instead of the enhanced version. This function also doesn’t quite work with ScummVM – you just have to look at the resource files and add Maniac Mansion separately on the main menu, and launch it from there.

In 2016, Double Fine released Day of the Tentacle Remastered, an enhanced versions for Windows, Linux, and OS X, as well as the PlayStation 4, Vita, and other mobile platforms. All of the visuals have been traced and redrawn at a higher resolution, and with that comes some nicely added details like bits of text you couldn’t previously read, like the letter in the introduction. While the number of animation frames haven’t increased and there are a few areas where the updated visuals don’t quite look right, for the most part it’s excellent. Like the Monkey Island games, the playing field originally only took up about 3/4 of the screen, so when expanded for 16:9 widescreen monitors, it fits almost perfectly, plus it’s redrawn in the proper aspect ratio, so the visuals are slightly vertically stretched compared to native resolution shots of the original.

The interface has been improved to use a verb-coin like interface, showing all possible options when clicking on something. Like the other LucasArts remasters, it includes the ability to switch between old and new graphics, has commentary from the original artists and developers, enhanced music, and higher quality audio. Some of the sound effects in the remastered version have been replaced though. There’s a new menu screen that uses the protagonists’ apartment as a background, along with over 150 pieces of original concept artwork. The version of the original Maniac Mansion on Ed’s computer has also been updated to the enhanced IBM PC version. All in all, an excellent remaster. 

ADD: is this in the article for MM1?

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES)

Screenshot Comparisons

IBM PC

Remastered

IBM PC

Remastered

Cameos and References

There have been numerous references to Maniac Mansion in other LucasArts games. Razor’s band, Razor and the Scummettes, is mentioned in other games, and her design inspired one of the members of the Vultures in Full Throttle. The Purple Tentacle also shows up as an idol in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, replacing a visage of Max from the original game. The most interesting shows up in Zombies Ate My Neighbors!, a cheeky action game developed by LucasArts for the Genesis and SNES. One of the secret levels is called “Day of the Tentacle” and features an army of Purple Tentacles as enemies.
 

Zombies Ate My Neighbors! (SNES)

 

Maniac Mansion Mania (since 2005)

Episode 19: Das Date

Thanks to a very persistent fandom in Germany, Maniac Mansion has spawned one of the most unique and expansive fan projects ever. Launched by the same guys responsible for the Deluxe remake, Maniac Mansion Mania is sort of a mix between Maniac Mansion the game and the TV show. It consists of a series of short games that adopt the canon of LucasArts’ classic, but are structured very much like a 20th century TV show, with the individual episodes created by different authors, all governed by guidelines that preserve the status quo and whatnot.
 

Episode 78: Dumm Geholfen

 
Most episodes use sprites from the original game, but there are a few based on Day of the Tentacle out there, too, usually spliced in with low-grade original backgrounds. The series introduces a lot of additional characters, so Bernard’s family makes appearances (especially his sister Britney, who is playable in several episodes) and some more relatives of the Edison clan. There are even some guest stars like Inspector Clouseau. The setting is expanded to pretty much the whole home town of the kids, and the stories range from views into the day-to-day live of individual characters to prequels of the original game and out-of-continuity Halloween specials.

Episode 60: Jahrmarkt der Verdammten

 
Maniac Mansion Mania has been through nine seasons with a total of almost 100 episodes, although it has gone very quiet since 2011. Since the project originated in Germany, only a few of the very early episodes are available in English.

 

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