Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia


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3 Lethal Beginnings and a Fun Sequel

When there’s work and no play, you do what you can with the little time you’ve got to spare. Since I missed most of E3, I thought I’d use the time to try to finish a game I’ve never been able to finish before – Maniac Mansion. This pain in the neck of a game has been a challenge for me for many years and now I can finally tell the world that I completed the game!

The game is about a guy named Dave, who’s girlfriend, Sandy, has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Fred Edison and taken to his mansion. To save Sandy, Dave decides to sneak into the mansion with two of his friends, a very difficult task to pull off when Dr. Fred, his family and other residents are still at home…

Apart from Dave, you also get to control his two friends. Who these friends are depends on what characters you pick before you start the game. Your choice of characters decide how you’re going to finish the game, because each character has something special about them, like music skills, photography skills or technical skills, which you must take advantage of to do specific tasks. The only character you’re stuck with is Dave, who unfortunately is the only character who doesn’t have anything special about him. As for the rest, it doesn’t matter which two friends you want to bring to the rescue party. If you play their parts right, you can save Sandy and win the game.

Like most of the early point-and-click games, Maniac Mansion has a menu of several options at the bottom of the screen, like “Open”, “Push” and “Pick up” to name a few. Since you’re only able to control one character at the time, there’s of course an option to let you switch between them. Each character also has an inventory to store stuff they pick up, which can either be used on something in the environment, used on another item in the inventory or be given to another character if they’re nearby. So far, so simple, right? Here’s the hard part. Unlike most of the point-and-click games LucasArts were famous for, you can make some really annoying mistakes in Maniac Mansion. It could be anything from an object being used the wrong way to your characters dying, making it impossible to finish the game without restoring your last save point or restarting the game. Either way, you’ll be saving the game quite often and hope to everything good and holy that the next task you do won’t make you reload anything.

All in all, I can understand why this game has such a cult-status. For being the very first game LucasArts released, it’s not bad. The little humour you see is worth noticing (especially if you picked Bernard as a character) and the in-game advertising for other LucasArts projects is cleverly placed when spotted. It’s also the first game to use the game engine SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), which has been used for every point-and-click adventure game that LucasArts has released before year 2000, if I’m not mistaken. I do find it annoying to be forced to reload the game every single time I do something wrong, especially when my last save was hours or days ago.

My verdict is therefore 3/5. If I’m going to reload the game constantly, it’s going to be because my characters died, not because I reach a dead-end and can’t go any further in the game without reloading an old save or restart the whole game because I may have forgotten something or used an object the wrong way. Realism is one thing, but there should always be a way to fix a mistake without going back in time. I would also have enjoyed more in-game jokes, because there weren’t so many of them…

While doing some research, I came across another game that I wanted to try. According to what I read about it, the world in this game is the same as the one in Maniac Mansion. This “spin-off” got me curious, so I decided to give it a shot. It’s called Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

If this truly is a spin-off of Maniac Mansion, it must me several years into the future, when airports tickets can be bought from consoles instead of salespeople and cash has been replaced by “CashCards”. Zak McKracken is an ambitious reporter, who’s sick of writing lousy stories for the magazine he works for. After receiving an assignment about a two-headed squirrel, Zak goes home disappointed and goes to bed before his journey. That’s when he has this really weird dream and after Zak wakes up, he discovers how his dream is related to something much bigger…

Just like Maniac Mansion, the controls consist of a menu at the bottom of the screen with actions to click on before clicking on something else, like “Pick up”, “Turn on”, “Use” or “Read” to name a few, and after playing about a third or a quarter of the game as Zak, you’ll be able to switch between other characters as well. Other than that, you’ll get to travel to different places, both around, above and outside the globe. There are also some tricky puzzles and currency to keep the player’s brain occupied throughout the game. If that’s not hard enough for you, I might be able to mention that, just like in Maniac Mansion, you can make some nasty mistakes that can make you unable to complete the game, like objects used the wrong way or characters dying…

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders deserves the score of 3/5. There’s more humour here than in Maniac Mansion, but my issues with it is the same. The constant restoring of saves and/or restart the game for making silly mistakes can really get on your nerves. The mazes are also a pain in the neck to go through when you don’t know your way around them and if you’re not careful with the currency, the CashCard will be empty in no time. But I still recommend this game for those who’d like a challenge and I do find it to be a shame that LucasArts never made a sequel for it (all sequels for this game are fan-made).

After surviving these two games, I needed to have fun with something simpler. In my cupboard, I have a game that’s been collecting dust for years, because I never got it to work. This year, with a little help from ScummVM, I got it to work just fine. The game’s called Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle.

5 years after the rescue party to Maniac Mansion, the purple tentacle drinks some toxic waste Dr. Fred dumped into the stream outside the mansion. This makes him develop a sharper mind and a pair of arms, which makes him powerful enough to want to take over the world. Because of this, Dr. Fred plans to kill the tentacles before the purple tentacle can put his plan into action. To save them, Bernard must once again sneak his way into the mansion and this time the Edison family are the least of his problems…

Remember that I mentioned a character named Bernard when I reviewed the prequel? He’s back and, believe it or not, he’s the one calling the shots now. Apart from him, the player also get to play two more characters later in the game, but those are not optional. It’s Bernard’s roommates, Hoagie, a relaxed roadie with the love for sandwiches, and Laverne, a mentally-challenged student with the love for dissections. As for the game controls, they’re similar to the prequel, apart from an option or two being removed and replaced for simplicity’s sake. Another change that caught my attention, is the more cartoonish graphics and the fact that you can’t make any mistakes or die in this game, which is a nice change. This does however not make the game that much easier. The tasks in this game are still very hard to figure out and when you think you know what to do, you later end up discovering that you had the wrong idea all along and must find another solution to move forward with the game. Luckily, no matter what you do in Day of the Tentacle, you will be able to finish the game without wasting time with saves and restarts.

It’s a close call, but I still give this game a 5/5. This game has more humour than the sequel and the cartoonish graphics worked very well with the theme of the game. It’s also much more relaxing to play the game without having to worry about saves and restarts all the time, which is a major plus. I do however wish that I knew a bit earlier that I could send stuff between characters by dragging and dropping things to their avatars instead of just having them stand by the Chrom-a-John every time I switch between them…

After playing these games, I still couldn’t help asking myself if LucasArts made more games where you had to save the game constantly, because death and mistakes made it difficult to finish them. My research led to one more game – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If I’ve missed one, feel free to post a comment about it, so I can track it down and test it later.

If you’ve seen the movie with the same name, you already know that the story is about the archaeologist and “tomb raider”, Indiana Jones. When he finds out that his father, Dr. Henry Jones, has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail, he accepts the mission of taking over where his father left off in hope to find him.

Just like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has the same old action’s menu at the bottom of the screen that you can click on to interact with stuff in the inventory and the environment, but that’s not the only controls you have available. You’ll also be able to box enemies by using the numeral keys on your keyboard.

The movie and the game do have their differences when it comes to details, but they also complement each other by answering certain questions, like why the game starts with a soaking wet Indiana Jones in the intro. Still, those who saw the movie will still have an edge with some of the puzzles, but some still require intelligence and guesswork and, just to make it even harder, the enemies are hard to whack down and not always unavoidable.

My rating for this game is 3/5. The possibility of dying and making mistakes may be a nice detail for the sake of realism in this game, but the difficulty level is ridiculously high. Sure, some puzzles have more than one solution or can be ignored to finish the game, in case you’ve screwed up the first time, but it’s still hard to be able to get by when violence is the only option left. Just the first few enemies can take you down easily and, even if it is possible to avoid some fights, it’s not an easy thing to pull off.

Well, that’s the end of my “marathon”. As difficult as it was to play most of these games, I can still say that all of these games are fun to play and worth a shot. I also learned a lot of things while testing these games out. Realism in games is like adding cinnamon to hot chocolate. A little cinnamon can make a difference in the flavour, but if you add a quarter of a pinch too much, the hot chocolate will taste terrible. But in this case, I’d still finish my cupful and simply just take a break when my stress-levels hit the roof. Too bad this happens every time it’s a matter of life and death…

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Got the Ears for the Loom?

To honour the late game development company, LucasArts, I thought it would be a good idea to play one of their old games. You’d think that a fan like me would have a problem to choose a game among so many good ones, especially since there are so many of them that I haven’t tried out yet, but the choice wasn’t that hard to make. Due to the several jokes I’ve seen about someone called Bobbin and how he asks people if they’re his mother, I couldn’t resist the temptation to finally play Loom and finally, after years of waiting, I finally got the chance to play it last weekend. I knew this game would be a bit different from what I was used to, but not too different from how the jokes make it out to be.

So who’s Bobbin? That would be the game’s playable character, Bobbin Threadbare. He’s a 17-year-old orphan in a grey cloak, who lives in a village among people called Weavers, who basically all look like druids to me (Bobbin included). Everyone in the village, apart from the woman who raised Bobbin, an old woman named Hetchel, fears him and wants to get rid of him, but end up being transformed into swans by the village’s magical loom instead. When they all fly away, Bobbin is told by Hetchel that dark times are coming and that there’s nothing else to do but to either wait for it to come or run. Bobbin therefore decides to follow his people to safety and goes on a quest to find the swans with the aid of the distaff (which looks more like an average wizard staff to me) he picked up from the floor.

When you run the game, you get to choose difficulty. I always go for the hardest difficulty with point-and-click adventure games, because they provide more details to the story, but the others might make the game easier and faster to finish. After that, Loom appeared to be just like any other point-and-click game at first glance. You point at what you wish to interact with and click on it once or twice to make your playable game character (Bobbin, in this case) interact with the object in some way. In most games like this, you usually either have a menu of options, like “Pick up”, “Talk” or “Examine”, at the bottom of the screen for each interaction or simply click on the object itself to receive some options of some kind. The player would usually also have a visible inventory somewhere to store the objects you’ve picked up. With Loom, you can forget about most of that stuff. Bobbin has only 2 ways to interact with the characters and objects in his surroundings. You can either double-click on the object or character you wish to interact with to look or talk to them, or click on them once before using the distaff to cast a spell on them. Yup, no need to waste time with inventories and collectable object in this game! Instead, you click on the distaff to play it like a musical instrument. Sadly, this wonderful system has a downside…

To work the distaff, there are a set of drafts the player needs to memorize. These drafts consist of 4 music notes each and can be found by interacting with certain objects and characters in the game. Since Bobbin’s set of usable tones on the distaff is limited to 3 notes in the beginning, he’ll need to practice using each availlable draft to gain experience often enough to be able to use higher notes. Although, judging from my experience, Bobbin might end up learning the needed notes anyway as you progress in the game, but I still recommend that you test each draft at least once or twice to make them easier to memorize or (even better) get something to write down each draft on as soon as you hear them. This was a big issue for me, because I have a lousy memory and once you get closer and closer to the end, the drafts might not be able to be heard a second time. On top of that, just to make the game a bit harder to cheat on, each game (and possibly saved games too) has its own set of drafts, so you can forget about searching for the notes for each draft online. If you’re good at remembering music, this should be a breeze for you. If not, get something to type down the drafts and listen carefully when you find them.

All in all, Loom wasn’t all that bad. The game is a bit short and I hate being forced to take notes when I play games, but the story isn’t too bad and it was great to play a point-and-click adventure game where you get to use mainly magic spells for a change. With a little more work into the story and an easier way to remember all the drafts, this game would have been really awesome! It’s a shame that LucasArts never made a sequel to this game, because it could use one – preferably one where the drafts are easier to collect and store in-game.

This game gets a 3/5. Not bad.


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Rest in Peace, LucasArts

Ever since Disney bought LucasArts Entertainment Company, we all knew things were going to go downhill for LucasArts. As much as I love the idea of seeing another Star Wars movie, I can’t help wondering how much Disney might ruin the franchise by “disneyfying” it, like they do to everything else. Still, the biggest knife to the heart came yesterday, when I read about Disney shutting down the game development department of LucasArts. This is such a shame, because they made most of my favorite games before they stopped doing anything else but Star Wars games, like the first four Monkey Island games, The Dig, Full Throttle, Sam & Max: Hit the Road and Grim Fandango. With such an amazing past as being one of the most famous and respected game companies in the world, I still can’t help asking what happened.

During the 80’s and early 90’s, LucasArts made the best games I’ve ever played in my life. After that, all I saw was Star Wars game after Star Wars game, a fun park simulator, more Star Wars, a little Indiana Jones and more Star Wars. Fans had to beg for a sequel of Monkey Island and got The Escape of Monkey Island for their efforts and later on the second editions of The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island: LeChuck’s Revenge. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars and wouldn’t mind watching the movies and testing the games for this blog one day, but when a company puts too much focus on one franchise, there is no doubt that some consumers will spot the sell-out stamp on the company’s forehead and grunt in disappointment. Still, this didn’t stop the company from being regarded as a highly respected game development company and never will. It surprises me that Disney didn’t choose to develop the company further and bring the old game franchises back instead of just shutting it down or – even better – sell the game development part of the company to some other company, like Telltale Games or – don’t hate me for typing this – Electronic Arts. The company name and its history alone is worth twice than was Disney paid for and, as a big fan of LucasArts’ old work, I can honestly say that I’d love to get my hands on a sequel to Monkey Island and every other oldie they’ve made before the Star Wars game craze. Too bad that won’t happen, unless someone coughs up some money to buy the rights to keep making the game from Disney…

Well, most good things always come to an end eventually. All you can do is remember the good times and hope the future brings something equally awesome at a later time. I found this YouTube-clip in a news-entry by The International House of Mojo, which serves as a reminder of some of the good stuff LucasArts used to make:


I’m definetly going to miss LucasArts. I owe them for all the fun, adventures and laughs I got to enjoy in my childhood and remember today. I still enjoy playing their old adventure games today and can’t wait to see who gets to take the torch after them (my guess is Telltale Games, which has done a good job so far). I’m very disappointed that Disney didn’t choose to milk this further.

Thanks for your existence, LucasArts! May you rest in peace.