Reviews

Day of the Tentacle Remastered Review – It’s Not Hentai, I Swear

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Double Fine
Singleplayer: yes
Multiplayer: No

Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.

I grew up playing point and click titles, and watching my mum play them, too. From the Monkey Island games to Discworld and Discworld Noir, Sam & Max, Toonstruck and more I’ve spent a lot of time complete insane puzzles to advance equally insane storylines, and loved every minute of it. My passion for the genre continues to this day where games keep getting pumped out, feeding a relatively small but dedicated fanbase. So it was a rather pleasant surprise to learn that Day of the Tentacle was getting remastered, a game that’s often hailed as one of the most important entries in the genre.

Tackling any remaster is always a bit of an interesting challenge, because how do you approach it? From the viewpoint of a newcomer who might see this on the Steam page and want to see what the fuss is about? Or purely from the perspective of someone who played the game numerous times years before? The answer is both! Sort of. I’m going to run through the story and general gameplay first for those that may not have experienced Day of the Tentacle before, and then toward the end of this review we’ll tackle the remaster itself.

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The story is unashamedly bonkers, taking place five years after the events of another game called Maniac Mansion, which is actually fully playable inside Day of the Tentacle. Having taken a drink out of a river oozing with a mutagenic sludge that’s being pumped out of a mad scientist’s hotel – purely because that’s just the kind of thing mad scientists like Doctor Fred are supposed to do – a sentient purple tentacle (created by Doctor Fred) turns evil and decides to take over the world! Standing in his way are Howard the nerd, Laverne the crazy and Hoagie the roadie who must work with Doctor Fred to save the planet from being ruled by creatures out of a Hentai movie. They must quickly come up with a plan. Rather than doing the sensible thing by just hunting the slow-moving tentacle down and punching him or something Doctor Fred instead decides that the best course of action would be to send the trio back in time one day so that they can turn off the sludge-producing machine and thus ensure that purple tentacle can’t take a drink. What could possibly go wrong, right? Turns out quite a bit as the fake diamond powering the time travelling Cron-O-Johns break, leaving the lovably dimwitted Hoagie 200-years in the past, the unstable Laverne 200-years in the future and Howard in the present.

That’s hardly the end of the insanity, either, as Day of the Tentacle takes you through a warped and wacky journey. Thanks to its time-travelling nature the story takes place within three versions of the same hotel, each similar in layout yet still very different. Hoagie winds up dealing with the founding fathers, aiding in the design of the American flag and even blowing up Abraham Lincoln with a fake cigar. Meanwhile in the future Laverne has to survive in a world now ruled by the tentacles, where humans are kept as pets and even take part in beauty pageants of sorts for their tentacle masters. As for Howard, well he ends up doing such things as saving a novelty gag designer from committing suicide purely because he wants the man’s fake gun. Oh, and you’ll freeze a hamster in the name of saving the world. Poor bastard.

It’s this time travelling shenanigans that makes up the very core of the game’s point and click gameplay as characters are able to share items across time to help each other out, creating some  great puzzles in the process. Need some vinegar?  Get Laverne to send a bottle of wine all the way back to Hoagie 400 years in the past, seal it up in a time capsule and then get Laverne to open said capsule to discover that the wine has turned to vinegar that she can now send back to Hoagie so he can complete his task. Need a tentacle disguise? Casually alter the design of the American flag so hundreds of years later you’ll have one! Tree being problematic? Chop it down in the past! Of course not all the puzzles use the time travelling mechanic, so it was nice to see that while revisiting this classic that almost all of them are well designed. Back in the day Day of the Tentacle was notable for the fact that it tried to be more coherent in its logic, something which is mostly succeeds at, with only a couple of sequences leaving you wondering what the hell the developers were thinking, like cleaning a dirty carriage producing a thunderstorm, something which even the creators know was a bit crazy since an achievement titled, “Obvious. Really.” is your reward for doing it. These moments, though, aren’t frequent and are easily forgotten after the next solution just clicks in a finger-snapping eureka moment. While the likes of Monkey Island and Discworld boasted insane leaps of logic that basically meant puzzles were solved almost purely by mashing every item together in the hopes of something working Day of the Tentacle’s puzzles can be solved using a bit of thought, aided by gentle nudges (and some hard nudges) through dialogue or animation. It makes solving them so much more satisfying. And hey, since this is an old game if you ever do get stuck there are walkthroughs everywhere.

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The remaster comes with a brand new interface that keeps the classic verb system of the original but bundles it all into a simple selection wheel that works well while not taking up a huge chunk of real estate at the bottom of the screen. In a nice touch you can opt to have the old control system alongside the new graphics, though, or vice versa if you prefer. In fact you can mix and match the graphics, interface and audio, so if you really want to can play this exactly as it was released back in the day without having to use an emulator. Cool.

Another nod to modern games is how holding down the shift key highlights objects that can be interacted with so that you don’t have to hunt around the screen, easily the least fun aspect of the old point and click titles. It’s entirely optional, though, so if you do want to run your cursor over the screen in search of helpful items then you can.

Interestingly they’ve opted not to include a hint system of any sort which could have gone a long way toward helping newcomers get to grips with the beats and idiosyncracies of old school point and click games. An optional one would have really made it more accessible without ruining it for anyone wanting to complete the game on their own. But at the very least they could have included a small message mentioning how you can share items between characters without having to walk back through the level and drop them off at the Chron-O-Johns by simply clicking and dragging them onto the different character portraits. I know a lot of people who played the original who never figured that out, let alone new players. But back on topic. There are of course loads of walkthroughs available online, but not only does this mean Windows-keying out of the game but they also tell you outright how to progress, whereas a hint system could help guide players toward the answer.

Here’s where things are going to get rather dangerous, as I have a feeling that there’s going to be a lot of dedicated fans out there who strongly disagree; Day of the Tentacle isn’t nearly as good as I remember it being. The writing is sharp and the dry, sardonic humor brought a few smiles to my face, especially the deranged antics of Laverne whose walking animation remains utterly awesome, almost like she’s being constantly electrocuted right up her girl parts. I laughed a few times, such as how a dryer that you loaded up with quarters dings at the exact moment Laverne walks through the door a few hundred years later, or how Doctor Fred was literally wrapped in red tape when the IRS arrive to investigate him. In other words I’m sure as hell not trying to call Day of the Tentacle a bad game, or even just a good one; it’s great. It’s just not as good as I remember it being. I guess time does that, but a lot of the puzzles just flew by without sticking in my mind and a lot of the jokes brought a slight smile to my face and then slipped away back into the mists of time. Regardless, it’s still a classic, and truly deserving of its place within history. But nostalgia is a powerful thing, it clouds the mind and fills in those cracks, and for me it’s good to strip that nostalgia away sometimes and examine what’s really there.

There’s absolutely no denying that this is a striking remaster at first glance, taking the original pixellated graphics and bringing them to life using a lovely flash style. Like the Monkey Island remasters you can tap a key at anytime to revert the game back to its original visuals, giving you a powerful contrast between old and new, a startling reminder of just how far we’ve actually come over the years. As time went on, though, I did come to feel that blowing the original graphics up, which is essentially what they’ve done, creates a slightly flat look. This seems to come down to the shadows. The character models really could have done with some new shading to give them a bit more depth, and retaining the original shadow banding on the scenery doesn’t work very well with the improved graphical style. The backgrounds still look nice, but on larger screens and at a higher resolution quite a few of them look plain, whereas their original counterparts don’t purely because of their pixellated nature.  Finally the animations haven’t been touched and so the low  animation framerate of the original looks a bit strange when everything else is so smooth. These aren’t serious problems, but they are blemishes on an otherwise solid graphical update.

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It’s not just the visuals, either, as the music has also been updated, keeping the tunes but ditching the 8-bit sounds for instrumental work. Meanwhile the original voice recordings have been tidied up to eliminate the fuzziness, crackles and other problems of the original game on CD, so Laverne no longer sounds like she was recorded underwater in a small fishtank. Awesome.

The remaster also comes with a commentary track that you can turn on or off, giving you small insights into the game’s development, such as how the intro was actually given to an unpaid intern who had just started with the company. Needless to say he knocked it out of the park, but it’s fun to learn how such a vital part of the game was entrusted to somebody who had only just started with the company. The commentary has a habit of running over important bits of dialogue so you might want to play the game without it at first, and it’s a little sparse, but overall it’s a very welcome addition that fans should appreciate.

We’re living in the age of remasters, reboots and nostalgia at the moment with numerous old licenses across TV, movies and games being brought back to life in one form or another, so really Day of the Tentacle seeing the light of day once again was almost inevitable. That in no way makes me any less happy to see it, though, even if I’m not as enamored with it now as I once was. This is a faithful update of one of the most cherished and respected point and click games to ever grace PC, and while there’s room for improvement in the graphics and animation Double Fine have done a great job of remastering the game for a new generation to enjoy, and for an older regeneration to relive.

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