Back to the Mansion — Day of the Tentacle Remastered Review

Day of the Tentacle holds a place near and dear to the hearts of many. A stone in the foundation of classic LucasArts adventure games, set alongside Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and the Monkey Island series, games that shaped the landscape of gaming for many in the mid to early 90’s. Tim Schafer, former programmer, co-writer, and project lead for LucasArts from 1989 until roughly 2000, is now ushering these classics into the modern era with Double Fine as his launch platform. Lovingly crafted with masterful illustration and whimsical soundtracks, Day of the Tentacle is a nostalgia train designed to carry fans back to their childhood. That said, the power of nostalgia can be missed on some and even irrelevant for others. So the question does arise, is this classic adventure game appealing to modern games consumers? Or does the remaster exist to draw from a built in audience of pre-existing fans and stragglers who may have missed the title during its heyday?

Back to the Mansion

Day of the Tentacle wastes no time launching players into maniacal melodrama. A tiny little story dump via a playfully illustrated cutscene tells of a purple tentacle (Purple Tentacle) willfully ingesting a heaping serving of toxic sludge, courtesy of the waste-pouring backside of Dr. Fred Edison’s lab. Another tentacle, Green, warns Purple of the potential hazards but it’s too late. Purple is bigger, better, and hellbent on world domination. Not to mention he’s sprouted a couple little stubby arms, aimed to distinguish him from his tentacle brethren.

Flash ahead to meet the protagonist: Bernard, a pocket-protected, part-down-the-middle super geek; Laverne, the wild-haired, crazy-eyed schizoid; and Hoagie, an overweight, “drop out of high school for the band”, rock-star-in-the-making type. The group receives an urgent letter informing them that Dr. Fred Edison captured Green and Purple, due to Purple’s overzealous world domination plans, and is planning to deal with them with potentially fatal repercussions. Bernard knows that he must now “Go back to the mansion,” if only for Green’s sake.

This exposition all plays fairly quickly and for the most part washes over you. Without the history of having played Maniac Mansion and removed from any preexisting fandom, the implication that there is a built-in history between these characters might be murky, but it is still apparent: The world feels lived in and there seems to be previously formed ties between the characters. As such, they all feel developed and unique. Thus the stage has been set, and a brilliant title sequence consisting of exaggerated illustrations and playful soundtrack carries you to the game’s beginning. A tone in the storytelling and presentation is established similar to that of Saturday morning cartoons from your childhood, creating a childlike eagerness to push forward.

However, the nostalgia that Day of the Tentacle Remastered seems to be drawing from is the only woe regarding the title. The animation, soundtrack, and even plot devices in Day of the Tentacle run deep into the childhood memories that are certainly found in any kid who grew up in the 90’s. That said, a person from a more recent generation could be wholly unaffected by the style in the game. The tone whizzing over these players heads could make Day of the Tentacle Remastered just another tedious adventure game. Fortunately for this reviewer, that tone landed safely, and the mechanically tedious nature was nurtured by all this established whimsy.

It’s A Dark Day for Mad Science

As stated earlier, Day of the Tentacle is, by definition, an adventure game. Brilliant and meticulously designed puzzles are riddled across the mansion and have the potential to stump, defeat, and enrage. Collecting items and inspecting scenery is the name of the game in any adventure title, but Day of the Tentacle introduces a mechanic that adds another layer to the confusion. As the dense, plot-driven nostalgia train presses onward, the 3 protagonists find themselves in different time periods. Not to worry though, each has their own “Chron-O-John” (or time toilet) to flush items through time to each other. As if the typical adventure game rigmarole wasn’t enough, it’s now tripled.

This increase in inventory management creates a dense haze of insanity rewarded by occasions of inspired brilliance. The idea that another character in another time has the item necessary for your current mission (to, say, persuade George Washington to chop down the cherry tree) is a mind-crushing moment of realization that sits just beyond your consciousness for hours. Solutions like those tease all sorts of possibilities at you, but when an instant of clarity does arrive, it’s as rewarding as solving a global crisis. But that feeling is short lived, and what’s more, it’s met by new and increasingly difficult problems just waiting to be solved.

Again, this is where a lack of nostalgia for the style could create disfavor. At times, the mechanical possibilities are ambiguous, while the solutions are explicit. The potential to be lead down the incorrect rabbit hole by ill-formed solutions can kill your momentum. Finding the path to success is an adventure; that’s why we call them adventure games after all. Obtaining that solution could involve exhausting all other possibilities before the final “Eureka!” moment. Assuming an affinity for the style and tone is missing, this journey could amount to a lot of sour grumbling and feelings of disdain — an unfortunate truth that could also be said for most any adventure game.

A few features, unique to the remaster, add a layer of gloss that knocks it out of the park. Enhanced visual and audio fidelity brings the entire game up to standards that can even make you forget the original was made in 1993. But perhaps the coolest feature surrounding these improvements is the ability to toggle them off. At the push of a button, the original graphics and soundtrack are uncovered. This makes for a fairly impressive side-by-side comparison designed to admire the original but enjoy the revitalized version. Creator commentary allows the game to be played with audio from the project leads who spin yarns about the stages of the game’s development. And lastly, but most certainly not the least, a highlight object ability basically illuminates any intractable object in the environment — an infinitely useful trick when stuck and searching for the next solution.

Together we will conquer the world

Day of the Tentacle remains a brilliantly crafted whirlwind of comedic exposition, whimsical illustrations and soundtrack, as well as intricate and, at times, mind-crushing puzzle mechanics. Never deviating from the form that brought its original success, Day of the Tentacle Remastered offers fans and newcomers a chance to experience all of the brilliance of the archetype brought up to 2016 standards. Its only fault lying more in player preference than in any innate issue, this is still an easy recommendation for anyone on whom thoughtful creativity is not wasted.
9.5 out of 10

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