Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Release date: March 22, 2016
Day of the Tentacle was originally released by Lucas Arts in 1993 as a sequel to Ron Gilbert’s 1987 classic, Maniac Mansion. It was developed by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman whose combined credits include such memorable adventures as The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle.
Earlier this year, a remastered version of Day of the Tentacle was released by Tim Schafer’s independent studio, Double Fine Productions. This new version delivers the original story and characters with redrawn, high resolution graphics and remixed audio. When compared to the 1993 version, the improvement in graphics and sound quality is remarkable.
For the most part, however, the mechanics of gameplay remain unchanged. You navigate by clicking to move your character to a desired spot on the screen. Movement between scenes occurs when you click on an open exit point (door, stairs, etc.) or on the edge of a screen that leads to a new area. Objects are manipulated by using the mouse to select from a verb-driven menu that includes icons to "pick up," "push," "pull," "open," "close," "use," "inspect," "talk" etc. Inventory items can be dragged and dropped into active objects in the environment. In short, the remastered game interface retains its "classic" feel.
The story begins with Purple Tentacle, a creature developed by the mad scientist/inventor Doctor Edison, drinking toxic sludge and mutating into a smarter and more evil version of himself. Green Tentacle, his nicer brother who was also created by Dr. Edison, has reached out for assistance to stop Purple Tentacle from executing a plan to take over the world and rid it of humans.
The game is played from the perspective of three unlikely heroes. Bernard Bernouilli is a computer nerd with a flair for not thinking his actions through. His sidekicks are Laverne, a twitchy pre-med student with a disconcerting stare, and Hoagie, an overweight and slightly crass roadie with a penchant for heavy metal.
When confronted by Green Tentacle’s plea for help, the three return to Maniac Mansion and seek Dr. Edison’s advice on how to avoid disaster. Dr. Edison’s solution is to use an untested time machine to travel to "yesterday" in order to prevent Purple Tentacle from drinking the sludge and thus, avoid the current scenario altogether. However, like most of Dr. Edison’s forays into science, things don't go as intended and the travelers end up in the same location (the Mansion), but in three different time periods. Hoagie is stranded 200 years in the past (which corresponds with the birth of America), while Bernard remains in the present, and Laverne is forwarded 200 years to a future where Purple Tentacles rule mankind.
While the mansion’s appearance is altered by time, the present floor plan remains much the same in the past and in the future which simplifies navigation when crossing time periods. The three characters are connected by their "Chron-O-Johns" – industrial outhouses that have been modified for time travel. Although Hoagie and Laverne cannot return to the present until they restore power to their respective Chron-O-Johns, inventory items can be exchanged between time periods by flushing them to the appropriate character. Actions taken in the past can create opportunities in the future and objects from the future can change the course of history.
To fully appreciate Day of the Tentacle, one must reflect on the state of adventure gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Technology was limited, so the "wow factor" was achieved by the creativity of developers when it came to characters, story and dialog. When originally released, Day of the Tentacle was applauded for its quirky humor and stylistic animation. The remastered version makes use of new technology to create a high-quality animated adventure that holds its own when compared to the Cartoon Network line-up of today. The voice-overs are professionally done and, when coupled with sound effects, complete an engaging game experience. Initially, the legacy game mechanics feel awkward but one quickly grows accustom to the rhythm of using the mouse buttons to access menus for actions and dialog.
At its heart, Day of the Tentacle is a 2D, point-and-click adventure that's driven by dialog trees and "find and use" inventory puzzles. Prepare to pick up all items you encounter since inventory has no limits and there's a use for almost everything. Also be prepared to execute all dialog trees and fully examine the environment to glean clues. While the stated objective of the game is to save the world by stopping Purple Tentacle, the element of time travel makes this a complicated challenge. Solutions in the past may require obtaining objects from the future. And, solving problems in the future may depend on taking specific actions in the past. While most solutions make sense in a convoluted sort of way, you're likely to spend much of your time solving puzzles by trial-and-error. As you play, you begin to get into the "DOTT Mindset" and you start arriving at creative approaches to problems more quickly. In some cases, however, actual solutions are beyond my cognitive abilities.
At the risk of providing a partial spoiler, here's one such example: You're presented with a cold hamster who needs warming up in the future. You’ve already tried the microwave, which didn't do the job (and luckily, did not harm the rodent!). The only item in any time period that could possibly be used to increase body temperature is an adult sized sweater that's located in the present, under a very large person who is fast asleep. The solution involves a cascade of many actions which include (but are not limited to) moving the sleeping person to steal his sweater, shrinking the sweater to hamster-size, and making it accessible 200 years in the future. Along the way, you'll need to use keys, dimes, quarters, a crowbar and chewing gum. Go figure...
Day of the Tentacle does not provide hints, other than the information snippets revealed through character dialog and item descriptions. The truly stuck player does have an option, however. Since the game was so popular when first released, there are a number of comprehensive walkthroughs still available on the web. Don't expect to zip through Day of the Tentacle, as it's a long game. Remember that when this title was originally released, games were expensive. If an adventure could be finished in a few days, it was criticized as being ‘too short.’ Adventure gamers were patient players who were willing to spend weeks to finish a game without outside assistance.
For those who missed the "golden era" of Lucas Arts adventures, this title is worth playing if only to experience a step back in time. But for those who are not cartoon advocates or who aren't willing to "find and use" ad infinitum, Day of the Tentacle may not be for you. Back in the day, I remember having much more patience with solving obtuse conundrums and clicking from scene-to-scene. It seems that my older self is less inclined to fully appreciate sophomoric humor and I prefer clever wordplay over innuendo and mouse gliding over clicking. I admit that, over time, I grew a bit weary of Day of the Tentacle and the background music began to wear thin. I'm certainly not cartoon-hostile. I'm a huge fan of such stylized animated features as Up, Despicable Me, and Minions. The difference is that those cartoons have an element of grown-up humor and cultural references that layer on top of the surface comedy – something I didn't find in Day of the Tentacle.
+ Provides the current generation of gamers access to a classic title that plays well on newer hardware.
+ Animation (graphics and audio) reflect a high level of professionalism.
+ Time Travel adds complexity to the storyline and requires some real creative problem solving.
- Some multi-step puzzles may not be readily solved, requiring outside help to complete the game.
- Repetitive dialog trees coupled with seemingly endless inventory make for a long game experience that is tedious at times.
- Those who aren't fans of Cartoon Network may not fully appreciate this title.