If there is any adventure game that doesn’t need an introduction, it’s LucasArts' masterpiece Day of the Tentacle (DOTT). And with that, I’ve already spoiled our evaluation of the game: it’s nothing less than amazing. This month, we’ve replayed the remastered edition of the game, which gives it a fresh new coat that… we ended up disliking and brushing aside.
But before we get into that, let’s refresh our memory for a bit. In 1993, LucasArts Entertainment released the DOS version of Day of the Tentacle, designed by David Grossman and Tim Schafer. After Monkey Island’s LeChuck’s Revenge two years ago, the grandmaster of witty then still called Lucasfilm point & clicks—Ron Gilbert—left to create his own company. You’d think that was the sign of a sinking ship, but somehow, Tim & David managed to pull it off without Ron’s help.
Well, that’s not entirely true. In Retro Gamer’s The Making Of Day of the Tentacle, we learn that Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, two Lucasfilm and Monkey Island veterans, were still around for the initial story planning and brainstorm sessions, even though Tim & David took over the lead. As Darth Vader would have said: the circle is complete, the apprentice has become the master.
I can’t imagine how much fun it would have been to design such a funny game like Day of the Tentacle. David chimes in, in the Retro Gamer interview:
“Someone suggested portable toilets, and Tim said it would be called the ‘Chron-O-John’, and we all laughed our heads off and we knew we wouldn’t have to think about any other ideas. Once we’d arrived at the use of portable toilets, flushing things through time seemed sort of obvious.”
In DOTT, you control three characters: one who ends up in the past (Hoagie), one in the present (Bernard), and one in the future (Laverne). The environment changes radically, but at the same time doesn’t: action takes place inside and around the “Maniac Mansion” from the Edison family. In the past, it was used as a meeting room for George Washington to sign the first American amendments, while in the future—a future unfortunately ruled by tentacles—Laverne is captured and put in a kennel in one of the house’s many rooms.
The brilliance of this design is that items you find from the past can be “flushed” to the future for Laverne to use. For instance, in the past, you need to get hold of vinegar, but all you can find is wine. If you find a way to keep it locked up, grab it from the same place in the future, and send it back to the past, you successfully solve that puzzle.
This means that unlike in many other adventure games, if you feel like you’re stuck with one character, you can simply switch to the other one and try to goof around in that specific time. There are even hints given by the characters or NPCs you talk to from one era that, if interpreted correctly, should be applied in another era. These are much more subtle than the straight “here’s the answer” hints from Dexter Stardust, but they’re still here in case you need them.
That’s not to say that the puzzles are easy by any means. We’ve finished DOTT four times throughout the last two decades so I have vivid memories of certain items and puzzles burned into my brain. But still, how can we pry off (hah!) that crowbar from that shady looking individual by the parking lot? I forgot that one, and we eventually had to look it up. The answer proved to be obvious but the required item was well-hidden.
Speaking about item manipulation: the remastered version greatly hampers fluency, making this a frustrating experience rather than a pleasant one. The SCUMM interface, with verbs and inventory items usually taking up one third of the screen estate, is gone in favor of admittedly beautifully rendered widescreen artwork. That means that a wheel-like interface, like in The Curse of Monkey Island, was needed to interact with objects on screen. Luckily, keyboard shortcuts like
O for open and
P for pickup can be used.
The biggest problem is the absence of a visual cue of what’s in your pocket, and that turned out to be very, very irritating. Take a look at the screenshot below and compare it with the previous ones, and you’ll see what I mean. It turns out that in a game heavy with item interaction, where you constantly flush stuff through a toilet to exchange these between past, present and future, having immediate feedback of who has what is deemed as vital.
Of course DOTT was also released on iOS and other platforms, where other ways of input have to be taken into account. Fortunately, the remastered version allows for switching between remastered and original graphics. Again, not that we hate the new art or have to work with pixels—it’s just the traditional verbs bar that I think is just a part of the charm of these games. The remastered version also contains funny developers commentary lines for the the majority—but not all—of the scenes.
I honestly don’t think I should have wasted 1000 words on this game to tell you it’s brilliant and an absolute must-play, even if you dislike adventure games. If you consider yourself a gamer, you should have played DOTT—period.