Following the success of Grim Fandango Remastered, San Francisco-based studio Double Fine Productions have turned their attention to another Lucasart property – the cult classic point and click sci-fi / comedy / adventure game Day Of The Tentacle, which was originally released in 1993 (under the full title Manic Mansion 2: Day Of The Tentacle). Anyone who’s played a Lucasart game in the past will know what to expect – a quirky game that couples abstract puzzle solving with a bizarre plot and off the wall sense of humour.
Day Of The Tentacle’s story begins with a sentient, disembodied tentacle called Purple drinking toxic waste; mutating and becoming hell-bent on world domination in the process. You control a group of three friends: Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie, as they try to stop Purple from taking over the world – albeit with a little help from their friendly neighbourhood crackpot inventor, Professor Edison.
The trio use Edison’s time machine, comprising of three portaloos (or Chrono-Jons as they’re called) to travel back in time to stop Purple from imbibing the toxic waste. Due to Edison having used cheap parts to power the time machine, the group end up stranded in three different time periods. You’ll need to control all three characters to restore power to the Chrono-Jon, and fix the main time machine in order to stop Purple’s dastardly plan.
The puzzles range from the straight forward, blinding obvious to the more thought provoking. There are periods of chin stroking, which lead to a sense of self achievement once you figure out a puzzle that furthers the plot. The group are also able to pass objects through time to one another by flushing them down their Chrono-Jon, giving puzzle solving an extra dimension – a small action in the past will obviously have a knock-on effect in the present and future.
The three playable characters are diverse; Bernard is a stereotypical nerd – with high-waisted trousers, prescription glasses and greasy hair. Laverne’s a ditz, and some of her comments hint that her parents were major stoners whilst her mom was pregnant with her. Last but by no means least is Hoagie – a roadie, who reminds me of combination of a fat Wayne Campbell and Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses. Aside from the group, the world is populated by wonderfully eccentric NPCs. Whilst stuck in the past, Hoagie bumps into America’s founding fathers. Stranded in the future, Laverne sees what the world will become should the group fail – with tentacles ruling the world, and humans being seen as lower life forms.
The control system is easy to use, the left thumbstick controls the on-screen cursor, which can move the current playable character and show which objects can be interacted with. Alternatively the right thumbstick can quick cycle all the interactive objects, without the need to hunt around the screen with the cursor. Pressing X bring up an interaction wheel – push, pull, use, etc. – although I found that using the thumbstick to cycle through these options was a tad sensitive, there were many times where I skipped over the selection I wanted and onto the command to the left or right instead. The triangle button brings up the inventory, and also lets you swap characters as required. The game saves when certain objects are picked up, although you can quick save by moving the cursor to the bottom left corner of the screen – where the save option, a green triangle, will pop up.
Hovering the cursor over an NPC will bring up an additional option to talk to them. These conversations then become a back and forth exchange, with multiple choices every time it’s your turn to talk. You can either delve a little deeper into the current subject, switch to a different topic, or end the conversation. It’s worth exploring every avenue with these conversations, as some of the subject matters are hilariously abstract, and also yield clues to solve some puzzles.
Day Of The Tentacle’s graphics are bright and colourful, much like a mid-90’s cartoon (similar to Cartoon Network shows like Dexter’s Lab and Cow And Chicken). The DualShock 4’s touchpad renders the game in its original format, squeezing all the commands into the bottom third of the screen, a further press of the touchpad change the graphics back to the remastered version – a bit of a throwback for those who want to play the game as it was on its initial release.
The ever present background music and sound effects fit well with the cartoon visuals – flitting between the original and remastered versions also affects these, with more simplistic sounds in the former due to the limitations of the systems at the time. The only constant to the shift in presentation is the voice acting, which is spot on – Bernard’s voice is nasally, Laverne sounds as though the lights are on, but no-one’s home and Hoagie talks like he’s stepped off of the set of Wayne’s World. The NPCs all have their own distinct voices – whether it’s George Washington’s condescending drawl or Purple tentacle’s evil cackle. Every spoken word seems crisp and fresh, when in reality they were recorded over twenty years ago.
There are plenty of nods to other Lucasart franchises in game – both adventure games and movies. When asked for his last name, Bernard can respond “It’s Threepwood” (as in Guybrush Threepwood from Monkey Island) or a television shopping network presenter urging you to call 1-800-STARWARS. All good stuff to geek out about if you’re in the know. Whilst I’m on the subject of Easter Eggs, Double Fine have even included one that lets you play the first Manic Mansion game. I must stress that it’s not entirely necessary to have played the title, as Day Of The Tentacle is able to stand alone. Being able to play Manic Mansion is a nice little touch, and I’m happy the developers decided to include it; as the same Easter Egg was available in the original 1993 release. Beware though, once you start playing Manic Mansion, there doesn’t appear to be anyway of exiting out of it!
Double Fine have done a wonderful job with Day Of The Tentacle, and I’m sure it’ll appeal to fans of the original eager for another chance to play it, as well as the uninitiated. Even though the game is over two decades old the jokes are timeless, and made me literally laugh out loud in places. It’s nice to play a game that makes you work for a solution, rather than one that leads you by the hand. However, these points may also be Day Of The Tentacle’s undoing – the humour may not be everyone’s taste and it’d be all too easy to look up solutions on the internet should you become hopelessly stuck. I implore you, if you are easily baffled by puzzle games, resist temptation and try to work it out for yourself, it’s definitely worth it.