Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: March 22, 2016
Copy obtained via PlayStation Plus
When the remaster of Grim Fandango was included in the PlayStation Plus lineup early last year, it was my first time experiencing one of the “classic” LucasArts adventure games. Although I was alive and well during the 90’s when these games were released, I was more content with playing Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo hardware than using a mouse and keyboard to explore the strange worlds cooked up by Tim Schafer and the team at LucasArts. While I found my time with Grim Fandango to be occasionally bogged down by some frustratingly obtuse puzzles, I also found myself loving the cast of characters, sharp sense of humor, and well thought out world.
Now, a year later, I’ve completed my second LucasArts adventure game.
Although Day of the Tentacle is a sequel to an earlier game called Maniac Mansion, you can play through it from start to finish without having played the previous game and follow along with the story perfectly fine. In fact, Day of the Tentacle does a great job of filling in the gaps and explaining Maniac Mansion’s plot to the player. However, if you absolutely must play it for yourself, you can interact with a computer in Day of the Tentacle which will pause the game and boot up a fully playable version of Maniac Mansion.
In Day of the Tentacle, it’s best to go into it with no expectations of a serious plot.
This is a game about a talking purple tentacle and how it attempts to take over the world. It’s up to you to help three kids utilize the power of time travel to visit the past, present, and future in order to find a way to stop the evil tentacle before it’s too late. Each kid ends up stuck in a different part of time (the nerdy Bernard in the present, the rock and roll aficionado Hoagie in the past, and the disturbingly oddball Laverne in the future), but they can utilize a transportation device (which resembles an outhouse) to send objects to different time periods.
Day of the Tentacle actually has one of the best uses of time travel I’ve encountered in a video game. Although separated in different time periods, the kids can still work together to solve puzzles. Whether it’s simply sending one item from one timeline to another, or using time travel to age one object into something else, Day of the Tentacle is very clever with the way in which time travel is used to progress in the story.
However, similar to Grim Fandango, I found a few puzzles to be unnecessarily convoluted. There’s one in particular (which I won’t spoil) that felt so complicated and void of logic that I resulted to using a strategy guide online to solve it. Even after knowing the solution, I still don’t see how it could have been solved without a little help. Thankfully, although present, these moments are far less frequent than they were in Grim Fandango, resulting in a game that’s a little easier to navigate through.
There’s also a really clever “verb” system that allows you to interact with the world around you. You can choose to give, open, pick up, look at, use, or push items and characters. This gives you multiple options and possibilities for interaction, with several puzzles requiring specific combinations of these actions to solve.
One of the thing that makes these features so fascinating is the fact that all three timelines take place in the same location. Things you do in the past will affect the ways things are in the future, often leading to new options and puzzles in the process. For example, one part of the game sees a hamster cryogenically frozen. You can then send the frozen hamster to the future, which is already silly enough, but you can then jump to a different timeline and do something in a particular room to help the hamster in the future. I don’t want to go into the full solution (this was my favorite puzzle in the game), but needless to say it’s incredibly well thought out and makes you feel like a damn genius upon figuring it out.
If you couldn’t tell from the “cryogenically frozen hamster” bit, Day of the Tentacle is ridiculously hilarious. Some of the puzzle solutions are not only really smart, but genuinely funny too. The dialogue is also memorable, thanks largely to the clever writing and legitimately terrific puns and jokes. I thought Grim Fandango was pretty funny at parts, but I found myself laughing out loud multiple times in Day of the Tentacle. Whether it’s little Easter eggs to other games and forms of entertainment, or the occasional moment where a character breaks the fourth wall, this game is incredibly smart with its humor and stands up even now, 24 years later.
Unfortunately, while the actual writing itself is a delight, the voice acting hasn’t aged well. The voices sound like they’re coming in through old speakers, which gets admittedly annoying over the course of the game. Which actually brings me to the matter of this being a “remaster”. The visuals and soundtrack have been touched up and are now running in a higher resolution than the original game (although you can switch back to the original graphics at the push of a button), but it doesn’t seem like any work was done to touch up the vocal performances. While this isn’t a game breaking situation, it is one that’s going to become more and more noticeable the further you get.
There’s a lot to love in Day of the Tentacle: Remastered.
The story is nonsensical in the best way, the writing is magnificently sharp witted and full of genuine laugh-inducing moments, and the use of time travel is extremely clever and leads to some great solutions for puzzle solving. However, there are a couple of puzzles that feel a bit obtuse, and the vocal performances seem to be the only part of the package which haven’t been touched up for the Remaster. If you’re willing to look past these slight bumps in the road, then you might just find a classic game worth revisiting.
– Zack Burrows
P.S. If you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, this game is currently being offered in the lineup for this month (January 2017), so if you’re interested in it be sure to check it out.