Day of the Tentacle
You know what they say: "To save the world, you have to push a few old ladies down the stairs."
Before the wave of retro point-and-click adventures started by Wadjet Eye and their Blackwell, before crappy Broken Age, before Grim Fandango and before even classics such as Monkey Island, there was Maniac Mansion. But heck, that one's too old even for me1, so I'm going to skip straight to its spiritual successor, Day of the Tentacle.
DotT is not just adventure by the book, it's one of the games straight out of the book, heck, it among others wrote the damn book. Not unlike Grim Fandango, it bears the signature of none other than Tim Schafer, but unlike Grim Fandango, it stands not at the end of an era, but exactly at the beginning of the glorious decade of lovely pixeled adventure games. Plus, it also, in fact it mainly bears the signature of that other giant, Ron Gilbert.
The story is banal bordering on completely uninteresting. Tentacle alpha (tentacle beta's best friend) decides to take over the world so Bernard the stereotypical geek, Hoagie the stereotypical teenage rocker and Laverne the stereotypical crazy chick need to help Dr. Fred Edison2, the stereotypical mad scientist, to "turn things back to normal" by going forward, backward and respectively at the same place in time. This is far, far, far below Monkey Island's level of writing.
And yet that doesn't take away from the game's brilliance, as it contains the number one ingredient which made every good Lucas game, which is humour -- lots and lots of it, in all possible flavours. The founding fathers are a bunch of wimps, both clueless and arrogant; the master race of tentacles are in fact a personification of the outrageous stupidity of humans; the so-called "human show" is a futuristic depiction of every "reality show" out there; and last but not least, the amount of pop culture3 referencing and mocking is insane.
On the artsy schmartsy side of things, the acting is below Lucas' standards, although Nick Jameson does a decent Dr. Fred, while the music is subtly beautiful and the graphics are top-notch even for the 2000s, let alone 19934. On the technical side of things, the SCUMM engine does its job, while the puzzle design is at times friggin' horrendous5, while today's user interface designers could learn a thing or two about "user experience" from the early Lucas games6.
Overall a must-have and a must-play. The first playthrough can be done in a week-end, while subsequent ones (or sessions aided by a walkthrough) last no more than two hours. If you get to play it together with a seven to fourteen year-old English-speaking kid, you'll both absolutely love it.
Nevermind that it's about one year older than me, I just haven't had the patience to play it yet. I know I will, mostly because I want, no, I need to witness game history the way it happened, not the way some "magazine" or some Youtube video tells me. I'm stubborn like that.↩
Heh, get it? Edison.↩
Especially pop-science, pop-politics, and other pop-whatchamacallthem, but also a lot of Lucas stuff such as Star Wars.↩
Which makes the game's 2016 PC remaster more or less of a money-milker. I mean, I can play it in ScummVM, it sounds decent, it looks awesome, I don't know why the fuss. Still, maybe Schafer's decision wasn't all bad, at least one can hope that not only nostalgics will get to relive the game's wonderful atmosphere.↩
The ability to transport objects back and forth through time adds to the game's humour, but some of the puzzles relying on this trick are beyond unintuitive. So sending spaghetti into the future turns them into pasta, which can then be used as a wig? Huh, I guess game designers were still smoking a fair amount of pot at the beginning of the '90s.↩
You want intuitive "user experience"? Well, here it is. The least intuitive part comprises icons depicting inventory items, but with text tooltips to help the player understand what the fuck he's looking at. While the most intuitive are the action buttons explicitly textually labeled "give", "open", "close", "pick up", "look at", "talk to", "use", "push" and "pull".
Really, what could be more intuitive than this?↩