Day of the Tentacle (or, more properly, Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle) was first released to critical acclaim back in 1993. Now, thanks to co-writer, co-designer, co-director and co-producer of the original – Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine Productions – fans of the game will no longer have to go through (the very admirably developed but often confusing) SCUMMVM to play their favourite point-and-click adventure game! And who knows? Maybe some new blood will have a go, too.
For those of you not familiar with Day of the Tentacle (don’t worry – not enough people are), it’s a point-and-click adventure game, which basically means no dying; lots of picking up random objects just in case they come in handy later; rubbing said objects on other objects, people and, surprisingly often, animals; and solving lots and lots of puzzles – some fairly simple, others fiendishly hard.
“Thanks to entirely redrawn, high-resolution artwork, [Day of the Tentacle Remastered] looks utterly beautiful”
The plot follows youthful bizarro trio Bernard Bernoulli (nerd-turned-actually-quite-likely-hero), rocker-roadie, Hoagie, and crazed medical student, Laverne, as they’re hurled through time in an effort to help mad eccentric inventor-cum-grudging hotelier, Dr. Fred Edison, stop Purple Tentacle in his insane quest to take over the world. Unfortunately, Dr. Fred’s budget diamond isn’t quite up to the task of powering the three time machines (the hilariously named and designed Chron-o-Johns) and Hoagie gets sent 200 years into the past, Laverne is thrown 200 years into the future and Bernard stays right where he is – one day after disaster has already struck. Your task now: power Hoagie and Laverne’s Chron-o-Johns and help Bernard get his hands on a real diamond so they can finally get to stopping Purple Tentacle!
Day of the Tentacle is set entirely in one location (though in three completely diverse time periods) but you’re able to switch between all three of the main characters almost immediately, giving you plenty of places to explore, loads of people to talk to and quite a few of those aforementioned objects to pick up and/or rub on things. The remastered version omits the original’s always-on verb and inventory panel in favour of presenting the action in glorious full-screen resolution (don’t worry DOTT purists: you can turn it back on in the menu) so you’ll be left-clicking to walk and right-clicking to open your little verb wheel with lots of useful options like “pick up”, “give”, “examine” and, my favourite, the universally ambiguous “use”. Your inventory is hidden by default, too, but a short hover in the bottom left corner of the screen will show a little arrow that you can click to display all the objects you’ve collected thus far, plus the clickably vacant faces of whichever two characters you’re not, currently, leading around by the nose.
The fact that Day of the Tentacle occupies three different periods means that, if you’re stuck on a particular puzzle in the present, you can swap to Hoagie and have a go at solving a puzzle in the past or Laverne, in the future. You’ll rarely find yourself getting bored and will, more likely than not, find a clue or, perhaps, the entire solution to the puzzle you were stuck on earlier by having a mooch around with one of the other characters for a bit. Though your Chron-o-Johns don’t have the power to transport themselves back to the present, they are still capable of having items “flushed” (get it?) down them for one or other of the main cast to retrieve. While the time travel puzzles make you think, quite literally, four-dimensionally, transferring objects back and forth is, probably, the most tedious of Day of the Tentacle‘s mechanics. Every time you want to swap an item, you’ll have to trudge the swapper and the swappee over to their respective Chron-o-Johns, flush and receive the item, then go back to whatever/whoever it was that you wanted to rub it against to see if it works. You can only swap one item at a time, too.
“Day of the Tentacle masterfully displays myriad forms of humour in every single scene so there’s something there that’ll appeal to everyone”
Probably the best way to play Day of the Tentacle is slowly. It really isn’t very long (you can find sub-20 minute speed runs on YouTube, for example) but it’ll typically take you a few hours of solid play and you’ll want to really take the time to savour it, especially now that the graphics and audio have had a bit of an overhaul: thanks to entirely redrawn, high-resolution artwork, the game looks utterly beautiful – bizarrely, it looks exactly how I saw it way back when I first played it in the early 90’s: when my brain was used to collating a gradated staircase of pixels into a finely crafted curve – and, with remastered audio, it sounds even better (they’ve still not managed to fix the delayed audio problem if you’re playing with the subtitles on, though, and having huge pauses in between lines is still as annoying as ever).
The main reason for giving yourself plenty of time to play Day of the Tentacle is the writing. Easily the best part of this game is the story and, as it’s a point-and-click adventure, most of that story is told through expository chatter. Talk to every character, try every line of dialogue, examine every object and absolutely make sure that you interact with Dead Cousin Ted at every opportunity. Day of the Tentacle masterfully displays myriad forms of humour in every single scene so there’s something there that’ll appeal to everyone and I can guarantee at least one involuntary guffaw (probably out loud) for all who play it. And, if that isn’t enough, you can still play, and laugh along with, the original Maniac Mansion – itself considered a seminal point-and-click title – on Weird Ed’s computer (which, by the way, you should totally do).
As I’ve said, I played Day of the Tentacle in all of its pixellated, verb and inventory tabled, midi-tracked glory back in my youth and, while I enjoyed it then, I’ve enjoyed playing it now even more. This has less to do with the fact that some of the jokes would have sailed right over my 11-year old head back then, and more about the fact that I’m just glad the developers have managed to live up to all of my expectations with the remaster. 22+ years later, Day of the Tentacle is still as funny, irreverent and fourth-wall-breakingly aware as it ever was and, now, it looks and sounds utterly great, too. To be fair, that’s probably because all Double Fine (and the legendary Mr. Tim Schafer) have done is refresh the graphics and audio and tighten up the basic gameplay a bit (removing the wall-o-verbs really was a great idea). They’ve not touched any of the story or overall design that make this game so great.
Fans of the original really won’t need any sort of encouragement from me to go out and grab Day of the Tentacle Remastered (although, if you do, I’ll refer you to my closing sentence) – it’s basically exactly the same game you’ve probably played a hundred times but, if you want to, you can turn on the shiny new full-screen graphics; not to mention unlocking a bunch of new Steam achievements. For the uninitiated among you, I’d urge anyone with a little spare cash to head on over to Steam and grab Day of the Tentacle right now. Sure, I’m already a fan and of course I’d say that about a game that I love but I think that, in this case, I’m not just speaking as a fan. As a critic, there’s very little to dislike about the game or its remaster. It’s as engaging, challenging and hilarious as ever, not to mention being one of the best made games of all time. Do yourself a favour and “go back… to the Mansion!”.