Tag Archives: Tim Schafer

6: Full Throttle

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1995
Platform: DOS; Windows; Macintosh

Whenever I smell asphalt, I think of Maureen. That’s the last sensation I had before I blacked out; that thick smell of asphalt. She said she’d fix my bike. Free. No strings attached. I should’ve known then that things were never that simple. Yeah, when I think of Maureen, I think of two things: Asphalt, and trouble.

Review: That’s the first line of narration in Full Throttle, in the deep, gravelly voice of Roy Conrad, as Ben of the Polecats biker gang. He narrates over a beautifully shot 2-D road sequence as the credits roll, giving the player the immediate feeling that it just won’t be a game, but an experience. And an experience it is.

You play as Ben, who quickly becomes involved in a conspiracy, being framed for murder by some powerful people who’d just as well like to see biker gangs disappear altogether. Though you’re left for dead, you manage to survive and go on pursuit to straighten out the mess.  On the way, you meet a handful of characters, who may or may not be helpful (and you won’t always know until much later!), and are veered through some plot twists, all the while solving puzzles.

If there’s anything that hurts this game it is the puzzles. There are many, and quite a few of them are there for puzzle’s sake and nothing else.  While nearly everything is humorous, or at least amusing, one can only take so many pointless diversions. You’ll know what I mean when you are forced to collect Energizer bunnies to clear a path through a mine field(!). There are also a few arcade sequences, one of them painfully irritating, though original. Much to my delight, the player can die in this game (though rarely), but Ben is automatically restored to a point shortly before his death to give the player another shot.

What makes this game a classic is the writing, the best I can remember. Tim Schafer ably makes us feel for the protagonist, and despite his aggressive tendencies, gives him a personality that reaches far beyond the cliché persona. And the dialogue is consistently engaging and genuinely funny. To wit:

Ben: Why’d your dad keep you a secret for so long?
Maureen Corley: He didn’t want people to find out about my mom.
Ben: What was wrong with Mrs. Corley?
Maureen Corley: She wasn’t my mom.
Ben: Ah.

The dialogue is made even better by the believable acting throughout. Mark Hamill continues to amaze me with his voice talent, and here he plays the bad guy, Adrian Ripburger, in an unrecognizable performance. But it’s Roy Conrad that makes the game. Even the “You can’t do that” messages are a non-issue, as Ben gives simple, yet clear remarks (in character) to let the player know to try something else. And several Easter eggs and in-jokes are competently weaved into gameplay for LucasArts fans.

All of this is complemented by a soundtrack rivaled by only The Dig in sheer quality. San Francisco band The Gone Jackals provides most of the music, with all original songs that capture the atmosphere to perfection. The soundtrack Bone to Pick is available on their website and has sold many copies. Also, a Richard Wagner composition is slid in neatly as well as a catchy and hilarious country-western ditty called “Increased Chances.”

To top it off, the ending pays homage to overblown action movies but surprisingly doesn’t resort to trite dialogue or closure that infests many games (and movies, for that matter). Anyone who considers themselves a fan of adventure games must play Full Throttle.

Contemporary RatingMedium. Some tedious puzzles is all.

Cruelty RatingMerciful. All deaths are remedied by the game.

19: The Secret of Monkey Island

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1990
Platform: DOS; Windows; Macintosh; Amiga; Atari ST; Sega CD; FM Towns

Review: Knowing that this game is widely considered to be the pinnacle of adventure gamedom, I was worried when I finally played it fourteen years after its release I would be disappointed. I wasn’t.

The concept itself is funny enough. You, as Guybrush Threepwood, want to be a pirate. After venturing to a remote island in the Caribbean, you seek the advice of the locals. The plot thickens (and becomes more sinister) as you progress, and rarely slows down as you battle each puzzle.

Two features make this quest so revered. The writing is ridiculously good (Ron Gilbert, David Grossman, and naturally, Tim Schafer); I laughed out loud dozens of times at the puns, fourth-wall breaking, anachronisms, in-jokes, and graphical wackiness. The second feature is the gameplay innovation introduced by LucasArts in Maniac Mansion and perfected here. Interacting with characters and using inventory is very intuitive, and pixel-hunting is quite rare. The game can’t be made unwinnable and there is little to frustrate the average (or even the novice) gamer.

As a bonus, some of the puzzles are devilishly clever, and most of the ones that are easy are also entertaining by virtue of their wackiness. Learning how to swordfight is one of my favorite puzzles of all-time. I was turned off a bit during the last third of the game, as the puzzles become more arcane, and a lot of back-and-forth fetching is required. Still, this section is better than most games, as it is often saved by the brazen humour right up to the zany end.

While there may be the occasional adventurer that won’t share the writers’ sense of humour, I encourage anyone to play The Secret of Monkey Island. If you’re not laughing within the first ten minutes you can safely skip it, but that scenario is unlikely.  Best part is, you don’t even have to tangle with DOS or SCUMM.  TellTale games has released a modern port of the game, available for download at a low price.

Contemporary RatingHigh. Everything still holds up today.

Cruelty RatingPolite.  There is one way to die, but you’re given several warnings and essentially would have to be unconscious to let it happen.

29: Grim Fandango

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1998
Platform: Windows

Review: How does one review a game that is universally loved by everyone? And I mean everyone. I can’t find one negative review of Grim Fandango anywhere. Oh sure, there are criticisms out there, but this may be the only game that has nothing but choirs to preach to. So I guess the only thing to do is to keep this short.  And once again sing the praises of Tim Schafer.

The last pure adventure game by LucasArts, Grim Fandango tells an epic tale of Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead. Your job is to give clients their best means of reaching the underworld where their souls can move on. Problem is that your coworker seemingly is getting all the good clients now, while you’re getting all the bad ones. And if you can’t get some saints to give express tickets to, you can’t work off your time (for whatever unspeakable moral crimes Manny committed in his first life) and leave this place. The plot (unraveling over four years and many hours of gameplay) turns sinister as Manny reveals the mystery behind his problems at work.

The graphics are fabulous considering the designers were able to convincingly give pathos to skeletons (albeit well groomed skeletons). The atmosphere is film noir with heavy touches of Mexican mythology and Art Deco. The play control is all keyboard (or joystick), which while allowing for less artificiality to the atmosphere, is rather clunky and annoying at times (as you’ll discover after accidentally whipping out your scythe for the fiftieth time when you don’t want to use it). The puzzles are mostly fair and some are devilishly complex.

But what I believe truly makes this game for the fans is the incredible voice acting. Yes, the dialogue is good, but I’m not sure this game reaches the pantheon of adventuredom without the characterization and emotion that can only be provided with tone and inflection. Nearly every hero, villain  and bystander is marvelously portrayed without devolving into caricature or stereotype. If you’re not reeled in by the introduction, then you will be after speaking with your co-worker and your boss’s secretary.

While I became antsy at times while playing due to the controls and a few inane puzzles, I was never bored. I even forgave the multiple bugs and occasional game crash, which speaks volumes as my patience for such sloppiness is on a very short leash. It’s not one of my favorite games, but there’s not a gamer out there I would have reservations recommending Grim Fandango to, adventure fans or otherwise.

Contemporary RatingMedium. The controls suuuuuck.  Also, very buggy.  But everything else holds up today.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  No way to die, though you still need to save regularly in case the game crashes.  And maybe save twice in case a save file gets corrupted.

37: Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1993
Platform: DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Macintosh

ReviewMovie sequels often don’t do as well as the original. The ideas generally aren’t as fresh and those involved can afford to rest on their laurels, their audience almost guaranteed. This is not true with computer games.  In fact, the opposite is almost true. From Leisure Suit Larry to Police Quest to Half-Life, designers and programmers often work even harder on the sequels, using updated technology while listening to user concerns about the first game in building a better product. The greatest example of this is the sequel to Maniac Mansion.  It didn’t hurt that they brought Tim Schafer in on the project.

All the primary characters return for this installment, including Dr. Fred Edison, his wife Edna, Weird Ed, and Dead Cousin Ted. However, the plot is driven by Purple Tentacle, who drinks some sludge from the river, transforming himself into an evil, power-hungry dictator. The good doctor, realizing that he is unstoppable in the present, attempts to send Bernard and his two friends back in time to turn off the sludge machine before Purple Tentacle drinks from it.  Naturally, the time machine fails, sending Hoagie to the past, Laverne to the future, and Bernard right back in the present.  From here you must try to do things in all three time periods to stop purple tentacle and his tentacle minions, all while getting your friends back to the present day. 

While there really is no room for plot development, there are cut scenes that show how Purple Tentacle takes over the world in the future, and they are pretty comical. However, the gist of the game is puzzles, and there is a whole truckload. While many of them are wacky, they generally makes sense and only requires leaps of logic in a few minor cases. What makes them more interesting than your everyday adventure is that you control all three characters, and must help each other with solving puzzles. Despite the fact you are across three time zones, there is a mechanism which allows you to exchange items with one another. Some puzzles are solved by playing with temporal mechanics, thus requiring multiple-step solutions as you witness a task in one time period affecting another. Additionally, some items are used more than once, providing more challenge than normal. 

My only real complaint is all the walking back and forth you have to do as you fetch items from your friends, especially late in the game. It never becomes ridiculous, but it annoyed me enough to drop the game in my rankings a bit. But there are obvious reasons that Day of the Tentacle is often makes top ten lists; it’s production is nearly flawless, and it’s pretty funny, to boot. I would have preferred more substance, and a sharper wit, but those are just subjective observations that will vary from player to player. Whatever your taste, it would be hard not to give this one a recommendation.  What I do know is if you liked Maniac Mansion, you will love this game. I hated Maniac Mansion, and I still love this game.

Contemporary RatingHigh. One of the oldest games that remains highly intuitive today.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  No way to die or screw up.  Only reason to save is if you quit or you’re worried about the power going out.