Like them or not, adventure games have been around for a very long time. Telltale Games has most certainly contributed to their resurgence within the past few years but the true seminal titles of the genre harken back to the early days of PC gaming. Double Fine Productions have brought back yet another classic LucasArts title with Day of the Tentacle Remastered. The original, not readily available for almost twenty-three years now, is regarded as a bonafide classic, so how will a modern treatment of it hold up?
You were either a LucasArts kid or a Sierra junkie. PC gaming was, before the rise of first person shooters, all about adventure gaming back in the halcyon days. The genre has been around since 1976 with Colossal Cave Adventure but, for most, the point-and-click style of LucasArts and Sierra defined it. The introduction to Maniac Mansion still resonates in the collective minds of those who were able to take part in that golden age of adventure. No bones about it, the original from 1987 (played on Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS or that sub-par NES port) is a truly timeless classic. It not only helped to cement LucasArts status as a premier PC developer/publisher at the time but it also ushered in one of the absolute best times to play video games on a personal computer.
How the heck do you make a follow-up to something so vital? Tim Schafer, formerly a play-tester on Maniac Mansion and Dave Grossman did just that with Day of the Tentacle. It further improved upon the SCUMM engine that made their properties such a big step forward in regards to playability, but it also stands on its own a genuinely necessary title for anyone remotely interested in adventure games. It, unlike so many others in the crowded market at the time, overcame many of the failings of adventure games. Puzzles were tough but not brutally unfair, and there were ways to work around obstacles and parse things out when a player hit a wall.
The idea of a remaster of Day of the Tentacle, while needless and money-grubbing to some, serves as a means of preservation. This game, originally released in 1993, hasn’t been available for purchase or natively accessible on modern systems for a very long time. Double Fine didn’t just repackage the game and make it compatible with newer operating systems. It has been modernized with wholly redone art assets and remastered score and voice-work. The original pixel art is stellar, evocative of the Chuck Jones aesthetic and visual comedy cues that made Warner Bros. cartoons so influential. The remastered work is gorgeous, and it’s all done by the original artists and presented in 16:9. This remastered version looks and feels like our collective memories remember it to be
Day of the Tentacle comes right out of a Saturday morning cartoon in regards to its story. A purple tentacle sips deeply from a polluted river, grows a set of arms and sets out to conquer the world. Maniac Mansion‘s Bernard and his two mates from college, Hoagie and Laverne, must travel back in time to the day before to set things right and possibly stop Purple Tentacle before he goes on a mutated, maniacal and murderous rampage. Things never go quite as planned do they? Hoagie, a portly roadie with a tendency to say “Grody,” lands two hundred years in the past while the manic Laverne is catapulted two hundred years into the future. The task at hand? Get back to the present and save the world.
Day of the Tentacle is remembered by many as “the one with the verbs”. The newly reworked radial dial UI works extremely well in making that core of the original SCUMM engine work with some improvements ratcheted on for good measure. If, however, one wants to switch back to the original version of the game, there is a toggle for it that seamlessly transitions between the two versions (just like with last year’s Grim Fandango Remastered).
Like its predecessor, Day of the Tentacle allows for switching between three characters on the fly inside Edison Mansion, though this time they’re all separated into different time periods. That core concept means that inventory items can be sent (via the Chron-A-Jon time machine devices) between time periods with ease. A lot of the puzzle progression comes from making use of this time travel mechanic. Need vinegar in the future? Good thing there’s a bottle of wine available two hundred years in the past.
The title, for all its finer points, is still an adventure game and there will be occasions where a roadblock gets thrown up. The internal logic of the game, while a bit bananas at times, is still consistent. There are a few instances of needing to step away and think it over for sure but nothing so brain-meltingly obtuse as some of the other titles in the LucasArts pantheon or that Byzantine knot puzzle in Broken Age that still haunts my dreams. Still, a hint system wouldn’t hurt.
Every character has clearly defined goals, and while their absurdity could be grating in lesser hands, the deft writing employed by Schafer/Grossman along with strong voice acting makes for characters that are endearing in their zany nature as opposed to stilted and stupid. It certainly helps matters more that the Remastered version has entirely retouched audio. The source material comes from floppy disks and CD-ROM of the era, yet it sounds as though every bit of VO was recorded recently. The sound engineers responsible did a bang-up job of sprucing up the audible side of things.
The remastering work done by Double Fine cannot be ignored here as the retouched art and animation is tremendous in regards to offering a bevy of options to experience this game. 4:3, 16:9, original art or remastered art and the original score or a more modern interpretation is available as well.There’s a commentary track provided by the core members of the team for long-time fans to enjoy. Every single room and character in the game has been touched upon and it shows. The game is vibrant, even by today’s standards, and is one of the better-looking 2D animated titles out at the moment. The folks at Double Fine have done an outstanding job in bringing this gem to an entirely new generation of gamers.
Those who are new to the genre would do well to give this game a shot as it not only is a classic point-and-click adventure but it is also one of its very best. The writing manages to be both low-brow and a bit crass at times while still being affable and sardonic in others. It has aged extremely well and, better still, it includes the original version of Manic Mansion inside the game. Day of the Tentacle is one of the great ones and whether you’re a newcomer or an old hand it is well worth taking the plunge again.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered looks and feels just as vital today as it was back in 1993. The efforts to modernize this adventure game classic are a labor of love on Double Fine's part and it shows.