Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.
Double Fine Productions already showed their proficiency in porting great adventure games with Grim Fandango: Remastered, so does Day of the Tentacle: Remastered do the classic comic adventure from 1993 do justice as a follow-up to Maniac Mansion?
Day of the Tentacle: Remastered (PC)
(USA 2016, developer/publisher: Double Fine Productions, platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita)
Three friends have to save the world after a mutated purple tentacle takes over the world, finding themselves in different timelines thanks to a mad scientist’s toilet time machine.
It’s a crazy world with tentacles and historical people
Maniac Mansion had an illustrious cast of characters, but it could also be overwhelming to pick three from the roster. It’s not possible to do this here, which isn’t a bad thing, as the ones playable are just as much fun, if not more so: Hoagie, a lazy rock band roadie; Laverne, a slightly psychotic medical student; and Bernard Bernoulli, a typical nerd and skilled in many technical aspects who was part of the team trying to rescue Sandy from Dr. Edison in the first game. One shouldn’t expect deep characters, but with much more dialogue, the focus on these makes them easier to relate to and more memorable than all the playable characters in the original put together.
Maniac Mansion featured a story that was highly reminiscent of C-movie quality horror flicks with stereotypical characters, although the humorous take on these was memorable enough to make the title stick out from other games. Day of the Tentacle still uses the same mansion with its strange inhabitants Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, Weird Ed, and cousin Ed, but they have more screen time and aren’t as annoying as when they tried to chase the teenagers. They stay true to their weird personalities, but they’re not the only ones. Being a game about time travel, the player sees their ancestors and future versions, too, which makes the already ingenious script even funnier. Having a tentacle with arms turn the world of human beings upside down where they’re held as pets in the future is just as crazy as witnessing how George Washington, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson try to find appropriate words for their Declaration of Independence in the past, living under the same roof as the Edisons and Benjamin Franklin who tries to get to grips with electricity.
Flushing logic puzzles and common sense down the time travel toilet
Historical inaccuracy shakes hands with slapstick humor, but as silly and outrageous the dialogues often are, they’re never too long, showing how talented the writers at LucasArts were when it came to spot-on humor, something that is still lacking in many of today’s point-and-click adventure games. Time travel stories usually take themselves too seriously and suffer from illogical scenes, and while the game has a few of those, it makes the best of what is possible in a comedy adventure. References to the first game are present and add even more fun to proceedings, but the game works perfectly as a standalone product, something that can’t be said about many sequels. All in all, it’s a joy to listen to all the dialogues and comments of the protagonists, because they’re genuinely witty. Despite feeling as if one sketch follows another with the time travel plot only as an excuse to bring together the past, present, and future in unexpected ways, there are always new twists and turns as well as new characters to keep the player going.
The time travel background doesn’t only work as a great comedy narrative, but also as a perfect way for including imaginative puzzles. Being able to switch between three characters was what made Maniac Mansion different, but now it’s also possible to send or rather flush items via the toilet time machine to Hoagie, Laverne, and Bernard. Working in three time lines is already difficult enough with all the rooms and characters to remember, so taking into account that items are useless in the present, but very useful in the past or future, makes the player’s head spin more than just a few times. The solutions to problems are often very original, but they’re also very illogical if one doesn’t follow the designers’ few hints that can already be obscure. Some objects can also be overlooked in the detailed backgrounds. With no hint system or hotspot function, newcomers to the genre will have a hard time in certain situations.
Still if one accepts all the crazy puzzles and pays attention to the dialogues and environment, everything falls together like a big jigsaw puzzle, giving the player enough room for experimentation without doing something wrong and being punished. Navigation problems occur, but as the house layout is much better due to the art style of each corridor, it’s less likely to get lost. It’s also great to be able to exchange items via the inventory without going back and forth to the time travel toilet. Backtracking is a problem, but shortcuts with double-clicking on screen exits makes it less annoying. With a playtime of around 6 to 8 hours, it’s not the longest adventure, but it never outstays its welcome with over-long dialogues or unnecessary story branches.
Old looks and sounds seen and heard anew
The original graphics still hold up well today with detailed backgrounds, fun character animations, and great cartoon cutscenes. But one shouldn’t choose the classic version over the remastered one, as the new hand-drawn, high resolution artwork is amazing to look at. Characters as well as backgrounds have additional details without compromising the original style.
Even more impressive is the remastered audio, music and sound effects design. The original game already had great voice acting and a catchy soundtrack with fun sounds to complement the slapstick vibe. But the new version is so much more enjoyable because of higher audio quality in addition to orchestrated variations of the old tunes. Unlike Grim Fandango: Remastered where switching between the two modes wasn’t really noticeable, it’s a huge step up to play the remastered version here.
Timeless classic improved
Older adventure games can only stand the test of time if they offer well-designed puzzles, a great story, and memorable characters, with graphics and sounds that haven’t dated as a bonus. Day of the Tentacle has all this: imaginative puzzles that are obscure and fun, a bonkers time travel plot, and eccentric, easy to relate to characters. It can be quite tricky at times and the lack of a hint system will be a problem for newcomers of the genre, but persevering through the most difficult puzzles is a reward that pays off. It’s telling that after all these years, there’s no game that has come near its uniqueness. Being able to play the original Maniac Mansion as an extra also showcases how much the sequel improves on its predecessor’s shortcomings, although some will mourn the loss of multiple solutions to puzzles and different endings.
Double Fine Productions shows how a great remake is done, because Day of the Tentacle: Remastered doesn’t only offer a commentary to listen to and concept art to browse through. It also has re-worked graphics and sounds that were the only outdated parts that could keep a new audience from enjoying a true classic of the genre. The term “masterpiece” is used too often and while Grim Fandango is still the better storytelling experience, Day of the Tentacle is the equivalent as a masterclass in puzzle design and humor in adventure games, making it an essential purchase for those who haven’t played it or those who want to relive nostalgic moments.
Buy the digital PS4/PS Vita version on
the PSN store
Buy the iOS version on
the iTunes store
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