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Two More Tim Schaefer Games that Deserve a Remaster
Grim Fandango is a fantastic game, but it needs its newly announced remaster. Its dialogue, storytelling and atmosphere are all as captivating as they were in 1998, but running it on a modern system is a complicated procedure, finding it is difficult and the Resident Evil style camera-relative control scheme is workable but unintuitive.
While it’s the hardest to run of Tim Schaefer’s LucasArts adventure games (most run flawlessly on SCUMM emulator SCUMMVM), it is not the first. The first two Schaefer-directed adventure games, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle (both of which are conspicuously absent from Steam), are every bit as deserving of a remaster.
Day of the Tentacle (1993)
Day of the Tentacle, the Schaefer-directed sequel to Maniac Mansion, is one of the purest, funniest adventure games I’ve ever played. After the Edison family’s pet Purple Tentacle drinks toxic ooze and becomes evil, mad scientist Dr. Fred sends three college students back in time a single day to clean the ooze, but they end up in vastly different time periods. Maniac Mansion veteran Bernard stays in the present day mansion, punk drummer Hoagie is sent 100 years into the past to the day the Declaration of Independence was finished and unhinged anatomy student Laverne is sent 100 years into the future, to a dystopian future ruled by tentacles.
Although Day of the Tentacle has only one major hub area, it feels massive. The three time periods influence each other in a myriad of ways: convince Betsy Ross to make the US flag tentacle-shaped and any US flag in the present day can be used as a canvas bag. LucasArts tried to make Maniac Mansion feel more expansive with multiple solutions, optional characters and lose conditions, sometimes at the cost of interesting content.
Day of the Tentacle feels densely packed with puzzles, jokes and fun characters and exemplifies the strength of LucasArts’ later approach: to make failure or death an impossibility in order to encourage exploration and experimentation. Its dozens of interlocking puzzles are hilarious and unhinged, building on each other through subtle hints embedded into the dialogue: the best jokes are tied directly into the gameplay. The puzzles can be extremely difficult, but effortlessly follow a sort of cartoon logic: a drop of decaf can make anybody fall asleep, and washing a car, or any kind of wheeled transportation for that matter, immediately calls down a rain storm.
Unfortunately, the puzzles often feel too baroque, always splintering off into three or four other puzzles. A few simple tweaks for a remaster, like a more streamlined method of transporting items between characters, could improve things immensely. Modern adventure games tend to feel extremely streamlined and revisiting the expansiveness of Schaefer’s first game is a worthy exercise, but the interface definitely needs some work.
Full Throttle (1995)
Full Throttle follows Ben, the leader of a biker gang in a vaguely dystopic setting. Ben’s gang is hired by Malcolm Corley, the CO of the only motorcycle manufacturer left in the country, to ride into a shareholder’s meeting as a PR stunt. Soon it becomes clear that the meeting and the hire are a plot by the dastardly Adrian Ripburger (voiced with gleeful malice by veteran screen and voice actor Mark Hamill), and Ben is framed for Corley’s murder. He finds himself with a broken bike and a gang obliviously speeding towards a trap. With the help of a mechanic and a shifty photojournalist, Ben fixes his bike and gives chase.
Although it is made in the SCUMM (SCripting Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine, Full Throttle is a far cry from the engine’s traditional dozen verbs. Full Throttle scales things down to 4 actions: hand, eye, tongue and foot. This keeps invalid input messages to a minimum, something Grim Fandango also excels at, and gives Ben the ability to kick virtually anything and everything in the game’s world.
Unlike Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle is fairly short and linear. Hub areas are downplayed dramatically, and getting from A to B is almost always the goal of an area. With its streamlined interface, generally low difficulty and linear design, Full Throttle feels more in line with modern 2D adventure games like Gemini Rue and Schaefer’s own Broken Age: Act 1.
While the aesthetic presentation, controls and gameplay all hold up fairly well, Full Throttle’s greatest flaw and the thing most easily fixed in a remaster is the awful combat sequences. The mouse controlled, time-heavy battles that don’t quite qualify as puzzles (but certainly try) are a frustrating chore. Ben is supposed to be the toughest, most skilled biker on the road, but in battle he moves in long, skidding jerks. Targeting is a matter of outright colliding with the other biker and the punishment for losing a fight is a minor loss of progress, IE: more fighting.
Despite its more modern sensibilities, Full Throttle doesn’t hold up nearly as well as either Day of the Tentacle or Grim Fandango, and could benefit far more from a remaster. Hopefully Grim Fandango‘s remaster is a sign of more to come: despite their weaknesses these games have a lot to offer a modern adventure fan.