It is with a heavy heart I must admit this Day of the Tentacle Remastered review comes from a place of deep bias.
If you’ve been reading USgamer lately, this revelation shouldn't come as a surprise. I did happen to publish a three-part oral history about the game a few weeks ago, making it slightly clear I at least have some pre-existing affinity for this Maniac Mansion sequel. And thankfully, it’s not one rooted in sheer nostalgia. More than any other LucasArts adventure, Day of the Tentacle bucks the well-deserved bad reputation of its chosen genre, and gives players plenty of tough-but-fair puzzles along with a variety of paths to explore whenever a dead-end rears its ugly head. And, with the stellar work Double Fine has done in modernizing its presentation, Day of the Tentacle feels more like a work of today than something dragged, kicking and screaming, out of another era.
Back to the Mansion
Day of the Tentacle’s central premise goes a long way towards making it more approachable to those consistently confounded by adventure games. After the nefarious Purple Tentacle intentionally swallows toxic waste and grows two stubby little arms, he goes on a world-conquering spree, leaving Maniac Mansion's Bernard—and two of his college friends—to save the human race by jumping back to yesterday and turning off the machine pumping the deadly catalyst into the water supply. Unfortunately, a time-travel mishap lands the rotund roadie Hoagie 200 years in the past, and the unhinged med student Laverne 200 years into the tentacle-dominated future, leaving the three heroes with no choice but to figure out how to organize in the present for the sake of going back to 24 hours ago. Like any good LucasArts adventure, Day of the Tentacle's central idea is delightfully (and uniquely) convoluted.
Much like the original Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle allows you to switch between three different characters on the fly—but this time around, they're affixed to their own time periods. Essentially, you're exploring three different eras of the Edison Mansion: A run-down hotel hosting a novelty goods convention in the present, a Constitution-writing retreat in the past, and a home full of hostile tentacles in the future. While many of the puzzles never stray from their respective time periods, the more rewarding ones play off of the cause and effect relationships of our own reality: Age some cheap wine for 400 years, for instance, and you'll have a fine bottle of fresh vinegar. From the outset, Day of the Tentacle does an excellent job of communicating the central goal for each character—wrapping your brain around the puzzle chains that lead to said goals, however, is another story altogether.
While Day of the Tentacle's puzzles excel by allowing you to apply your knowledge of temporal rules to its consistently zany internal logic, the characters and writing help sell the experience as the interactive cartoon LucasArts set out to make. Each of the playable characters may be a total misfit, but the careful work of directors Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman make them endearing rather than grating—especially Bernard, who makes for a more meek and socially awkward nerd than the shrill Urkels and Screeches of the '90s. It also helps that no character in the game is truly "normal"—even the Founding Fathers find themselves reduced to cowards, idiots and self-important blowhards. (Which feels more risque than intended in our modern age of uber-patriotism.) When you're bashing your head against a puzzle, just watching these characters bounce off of each other can provide an all-important release valve to dissipate some frustration.
Out of the Past
Granted, Day of the Tentacle was made for a much different world—one not beset with smartphones, fast Internet access, and enough free and/or basically free entertainment to last several lifetimes. While most modern games simply won't allow the player to get lost for more than a few minutes—if that—games like DoTT always required a bit of downtime from the player: Time to walk away from the game, only to have an "a-ha!" moment while taking a shower or doing something similarly mundane. Even though I internalized DoTT's puzzle solutions years ago, compared to the rest of the LucasArts library, it feels the most fair—or, at the very least, the least likely to leave you absolutely stumped. In a very smart move, Schafer and Grossman gradually expand just how much of DoTT's world can be explored, if only to avoid overwhelming the player: The experience opens with just Bernard and Hoagie available, limiting the amount of possible puzzles in progress. Once you manage to free Laverne and can access the future, you should be more than prepared to juggle a handful of objectives at once.
And, if you're new to adventure games, the new UI provided by Double Fine (and available in both modern and classic visual interpretations) comes off as a very smart modernization of DoTT's interface. Instead of forcing to player to build a command from a grid of selectable verbs, DoTT's updated UI brings up a radial menu of only the possible verbs—eliminating the chaff and making the prospect of experimentation far less daunting. This improved UI works in tandem with Day of the Tentacle's smoothed-over graphics to essentially make the whole package feel like a "new" adventure game—despite its 23 years on the planet. While the painstakingly detailed sprite graphics seen in the "classic" mode remain gorgeous in all of their low-tech glory, every background and frame of animation has been lovingly touched up by hand with input from the original artists, and it really shows. Granted, you lose a noticeable amount of the intentionality behind those low-res graphics while using the modernized presentation, but at the same time, I played through this revamped version without necessarily missing the old one. If anything, this stands as a testament to the beauty of Day of the Tentacle's original assets—even two decades later, it's hard to think of a 2D game made within the past 5 years with so much unique art and animation.
And Double Fine has definitely gone to great lengths to make this version of Day of the Tentacle as complete as possible. Via a number of graphical options, it's possible to play DoTT any way you'd like: 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, old graphics or new graphics, old UI or new UI. You can also play DoTT's music through a more era-appropriate interpretation of the soundtrack, or via high-quality instrument samples in line with what you'd hear in a modern game. By returning to the audio masters, the original voice work has received a similar amount of polish in a way that will really surprise DoTT veterans: Those scratchy, compressed, CD-ROM-friendly voices from 1993 now sound like they were recorded yesterday. And along with original designs and drawings for seemingly every room and character in the game, Day of the Tentacle Remastered also contains an optional commentary track by the core members of its development team—definitely a must-listen for anyone who loves the game. Add in a complete version of the original Maniac Mansion within the game (one of the original release's best Easter eggs), and it's hard to think of how a remastered version of Day of the Tentacle could possibly get any better.
Take on the World
Without a doubt, this review comes from the brain of someone who already has a strong love of Day of the Tentacle. But there's a good reason for that: More than any other LucasArts game—including some recently rereleased ones—every time I return to DoTT, I walk away from it with a greater appreciation of the whole package. And, given that it hasn't seen the light of day in nearly 20 years, I'm happy to know an entirely new demographic can now access this classic adventure game without pirating it—something that must make its original creators very happy. As a fan of the genre, I can fully accept the complaints borne from a certain era of game design. But somehow, Day of the Tentacle rises above these issues to become absolutely timeless. Even if you've never dabbled in the genre before, there's no better place to start than LucasArts' adventures in space-time continuum tampering.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: While Double Fine has left the original interface untouched, the optional, improved UI does a fantastic job of modernizing the experience.
- Lasting appeal: Granted, most adventure games aren't meant to be replayed until years after you finish them. But once you play DoTT once, you'll be sure to revisit it someday.
- Sound: The great, cartoony soundtrack helps carry the cartoony action, and sounds just as good as it always did.
- Visuals: Just as stunning now as they were then. Regardless of which graphical style you switch on, you're in for a treat.
LucasArts' 1993 adventure game has aged incredibly well, making for an incredible experience for newcomers and veterans alike. Add in a host of great extras and upgrades, and it's hard to think of how this Remastered edition could possibly be better.
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