The 90s were an amazing time for video games, as is evidenced by the flood of remakes, remasters, and redos we’re currently getting. Adventure gaming was in its prime back then (although it’s recently seen a re-surge in popularity), and one of the major studios involved with making these amazing works of comedy was LucasArts, the video game arm of George Lucas’ company, LucasFilm. One of the most critically successful games from that era, Day of the Tentacle, now has an HD remaster, released by Double Fine productions. Come time travel with me as I review this game.
When I was a youngster, LucasArts games were a big part of my gaming life. Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones, Full Throttle, Sam and Max; they all became crucial experiences in my youth playing adventure games. Of course, these games were in brilliant, cartoony contrast to the games from Sierra games; it was very difficult to actually die in a LucasArts game. The only punishment to not completing a puzzle for many of these games was a lack of progress and a sore brain, made all the better for the lack of Internet and FAQs and walkthroughs. Ah, nostalgia!
The HD Remaster of Day of the Tentacle (which is a direct sequel to a prior game, Maniac Mansion) is still essentially the same game as before. A creature called Purple Tentacle mutated after drinking toxic sludge from a river, and now it’s up to Bernard Bernoulli and his friends Laverne and Hoagie to travel to yesterday to turn the sludge machine off. Only, the time machine—called the Chron-o-John—goes wrong, and sends Hoagie 200 years into the past and leaving Laverne stuck 200 years in the future. Between the three of them, they have to get their time machines working again, and fix the mess.
If you’ve not played Day of the Tentacle—or DOTT for short—before, you’re in for a massive comedic treat, featuring many Star Wars in-jokes. The game’s interface has been updated to remove the verb list and inventory from the bottom of the screen, and instead gives you full-screen artwork to explore. Interactive items can be highlighted, and you interact with the push of a button (or click of a mouse). Many of the game’s puzzles involve figuring out which items are needed in which time zone, since the three friends can “flush” small, inanimate objects through time to each other. It was a groundbreaking game mechanic at the time, and it’s still something I’ve not seen a lot of in adventure games.
The remaster of the game features updated artwork and music, as well as commentary and bonus artwork. The voicework remains intact, although some of the sound effects have changed, most notably the suction noise of the tentacles moving and the “flip-flap” noise of the Chron-o-Johns. Also, I’m pleased to say, the remaster retains the original version of Maniac Mansion that was playable in prior releases of DOTT. In terms of the artwork, it’s interesting just how little it’s changed from the original. You can flip back and forth between them at will, and comparing them is an interesting experiment. I personally don’t like the Flash-style look of the characters, and would have preferred a more Chuck Jones look (which, as I understand, is what they were aiming for in the first place), but it IS a cleaner look.
Like other recently remastered LucasArts games, Day of the Tentacle offers commentary by the game’s various leads, and offers plenty of insight into the process of making a game back then. I felt that there was far less insight into the game’s creation than was offered by Monkey Island 2 and Grim Fandango’s commentary; there were definitely some things in the game I’d have loved to hear them talk about. One interesting thing that will probably be fixed in patches is the number of typos in the text transcript of the commentary. It looks sloppy and unprofessional.
The game is still a little buggy as it stands at launch. It took me some fiddling to get the game’s sound working, and a quick look over at the Steam forums shows many people running into all sorts of issues, such as missing actors. I understand that the console versions are faring better, though, so you’re probably better off grabbing that version if you can.
DOTT is important from a historical perspective, as it was one of the first games to offer fully-voiced gameplay on its CD-ROM release. It was also the first LucasArts game to implement the “don’t die” rule, and it created the template from which many, many adventure games were to follow. And narratively-speaking, it’s actually a really solid time-travel story, as well as something truly funny. Comedy in video games is difficult, as a simple Google search will tell you, but somehow DOTT pulls it off and pulls it off well. If you’re going to speedrun through the game, you’re going to miss half the brilliance and hilarity baked into the game’s conversation trees. I’m also of the opinion that the best way to experience DOTT is by NOT looking at walkthroughs; a little frustration and brainwork is good for you, and one of the best parts of this game is that the clues are provided for you if you look around and explore.
If you’re a whippersnapper who never got a chance to play this bit of gaming history when it first came out, buy it. You won’t be disappointed. If you played the original, buy it. You’ll enjoy the experience of playing it again in full HD, and I’ll bet you’ll enjoy the commentary on how one of the best adventure games of the era was made. And if you don’t like adventure games…well, I’m sure your future in a tentacle-filled world is probably very rosy.