A Tentacle from the Past : Day of the Tentacle Review

1993 was a great year for videogames. Doom, Star Fox, Mortal Kombat II and many more soar through our memories with a nostalgic grip and most are available still in their various ports. Then, a certain purple tentacle, with a totalitarian attitude and a shrink ray, jumps through time to take over the world. That’s how I perceive “Day of the Tentacle” in our day and age. Originally released by LucasArts in 1993 as a sequel to Ron Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion (Which is also playable in this game), Day of the Tentacle is a comedic point and click adventure game. A remastered version, by Double Fine Studios, has been released 23 years later for this cult classic and it is still making people laugh. Jumping to the future, this version has updated hand drawn graphics with the same artstyle, a new soundtrack and developer commentary, along with original concept art.

dot4

The totally reliable time machine in action.

I was a bit apprehensive booting up, and reviewing, a game older than me. But as I was playing and trying to wrap my head around the absurdity that is DOTT, I could see how the game has stood the test of time.  The story follows three unlikely college roommates, Bernard the nerd, Hoagie the roadie, and Laverne the creeper, as they get summoned by Dr. Fred Edison to help him stop an evil tentacle mastermind, and yes he is literally a tentacle, from taking over the world. Dr. Fred’s genius idea: Send the unfortunate bunch exactly one day back in the past to make sure the tentacle never mutates. The machine malfunctions because the doctor was too cheap to buy a real diamond. It sends Hoagie 200 years in the past, Laverne 200 years in the future and Bernard stuck in the present trying to get his friends back.  Hoagie is in the same inn and time when the Declaration of Independence is being written and this sets up for some interesting puzzles and interactions with the founding fathers, most of which will make you facepalm.

The future is even more absurd as Laverne is stuck in a timeline where the tentacles rule and humans are considered pets. Thus, with three different timelines, their adventure begins for the quest to make it back home and finish off the purple tentacle. The majority of the game, for Hoagie and Laverne, is spent trying to find makeshift power supplies for their time machine. Meanwhile, Bernard is stuck assisting Dr. Fred and trying to fix time machine in his time. The player can switch among the three at any time and can explore most of the areas. There are mini cutscenes littered throughout the gameplay, assumedly triggered by certain actions. Upon return, the purple tentacle makes his move and the friends must use their ‘combined’ efforts to save the world.

Mummy

Yes, this is a mummy winning a beauty pageant. Deal with it!

DOTT praises itself in being unorthodox. Almost every item or objective in the game is as big of a farce as the previous; It doesn’t help when Bernard stands still and picks his nose either. The gameplay isn’t difficult per say and the game drops plenty of hints in the dialogue, but the implementation of said tasks is ridiculous. To solve mundane tasks, the game forces you to think outside the box, and literally of ‘time’. Need a disguise? Change the American flag; Need to open a safe? Bring some decaf and switch the twins in the past. Due to its natural progression, any action done in the past has an adverse effect in the future. This adds a level of complexity on top of ‘over the top’ methods. Throughout the gameplay, I couldn’t decide if DOTT was very dumb or very smart in its execution. The game had many moments where you go ‘What the hell? But then you scratch your head and realize, that whatever just happened, it made total sense.

To somewhat alleviate the difficulty, the game has an ‘Inventory sharing’ mechanic so Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne can trade items across the timeline. Or as DOTT puts it, you can flush an item in an interdimensional Port-A-Potty; makes sense, right?! There are certain items that can’t be flushed, again, for scientifically and morally accurate reasons, and they set up for some re-inventive thinking. Some of the puzzles are really out of date (No one remembers how to properly use a VCR) and seemed out of place but all in all, the gameplay is awesome.

gameplay

Old vs new.

To look at the gameplay, LucasArt had developed the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion(SCUMM) engine for the point and adventure genre back in the day. DOTT, alongside Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango which also got remastered versions, were enigmas of this engine. The movement and gameplay are dictated by simple clicks while using the ‘Verb’ bar. Eg, Move this, Push this. The remastered version has a ‘Verb’ wheel which is a streamlined version of the ‘verb’ wall, specifically for thumbsticks. There is a lot of flexibility in the gameplay as you are instantaneously able to switch between the original and remastered versions(Clicking the touchpad on the PS4). There are also settings which enable you to mix up aspects from both versions.

I understand that the simplicity of the gameplay makes sense as the focus is on the story and style of the game, but there some aspects of the game left unexplained. Most lengthy cut scenes and dialogues can be skipped by holding the ‘Cancel’ button. Items can be ‘flushed’ right on the inventory screen by moving the item to the character’s portrait (Something that would have been good to know early in the game as it takes a long time to walk to the time machines to flush individual items).

Angry edison

A Stamp collector about to blow.

 

The most obvious, and out of place, aspect of DOTT is its presentation. It is something straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. The art style is directly inspired by Chuck Jones and his works. From whacky antics to goofy animations, all the characters have a unique look and personality reminiscent to old 90s cartoons. There even is a DOTT spin on national heroes such as George Washington. The tentacles, and the future timeline, offer the most ridiculous design choices. Their walking animation gets me every time.

The remastered version updates the resolution and art style considerably while holding true to the original artwork. The classic audio and chiptune music is still present in the classic mode but the remastered mode has high quality voice-overs(optional) and new music. With it all coming together, DOTT creates a very diverse and fun experience, riddled with dark humor and constant mind bending moments.

+ Pros

+ Original and humorous storytelling to transcend time itself

+  Remastered graphics and audio to present the obtuse design in all its glory

– Cons

– Some puzzles are unintuitive and difficult to grasp

– Lag between the animations/subtitles while in dialogue

– A game called Day of the Tentacle has a surprising lack of tentacles

Verdict: Play

Day of the Tentacle: Remastered is an experience that’s meant to be out of time, out of style and out of whack. It is a puzzling ride that should be enjoyed at least once and it will leave you laughing until the very end.


Bryan Salik is an upcoming writer who enjoys everything in-between creative writing and Science, or a quirky combination of both. I am an active gamer and hiker in the Greater Toronto Area so feel free to contact me via Facebook or Medium. Cheers!