For many adventure gamers, Day of the Tentacle needs no introduction. Originally released in 1993, the very loose sequel to Maniac Mansion sprang from the early LucasArts roster of talented artists, composers and writers, co-led by Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, both of whom went on to make large contributions to the gaming industry. DOTT’s zany characters, elaborate time travel puzzles, sharp writing, and vivid graphics became the stuff of legend. Yet, although widely regarded as one of the best adventures ever made (including sixth place in AG’s own Top 100 All-Time Adventure Games), over the years it became increasingly difficult to find a copy and get it to run on newer PCs.
This lack of accessibility to non-tech-savants was recently remedied, however, when Double Fine Productions (headed by Schafer) gathered up the original design documents, concept art, voice-overs, and music files. Dipping into the abundant source material, Double Fine has refurbished the game, updating the graphics and animations, remastering the music and sound effects, and redoing the interface to provide multiple user options. This includes the ability to play DOTT in its original form for those wanting a blast from the past. For others who prefer the latest and greatest, the remastered version blends slick cartoon animation with outlandish charm, proving that a game designed more than twenty years ago can still provide an exhilarating breath of fresh air.
Though I played Maniac Mansion way back when, I didn’t get around to Day of the Tentacle until now, so I came into the updated remake with no preconceived notions beyond the game’s enduring reputation. Two decades after the fact, it didn’t take long for me to see what all the fuss was about. DOTT features one returning player character from its predecessor (Bernard the geek) and takes place (more or less) once again in the mansion inhabited by the screwball Edison family. In addition to Dr. Fred Edison and his wife and son, other occupants still at the house include Dead Cousin Ted, an eager-to-please hamster, and two sentient tentacles. The latter are the creation of Dr. Fred. I don’t remember why the tentacles were spawned, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.
As Day of the Tentacle opens, Green Tentacle and Purple Tentacle hop over to a stream of toxic waste gushing from the basement of the Edisons’ home. Despite the warning sign, Purple Tentacle decides to imbibe. This results in a bizarre series of transformations which leaves Purple with dinky arms and a desire to take over the world. Soon Dr. Fred, in an unexpected fit of sanity, captures the tentacles. Green Tentacle sends out an SOS to Bernard, who is now living with two roommates – the languid Hoagie and the frizzle-frazzled Laverne. The three friends hop in a pickup truck and dash to the rescue. Unfortunately, they succeed in liberating both tentacles, and Purple hops off into the darkness to pursue his dastardly plot. Throughout the game, newspaper articles flash across the screen, charting his brilliantly unlikely path to world domination.
Realizing his mistake, Bernard consults Dr. Fred, who comes up with a solution. He will send Bernard, Hoagie, and Laverne back to the previous day, at which point they can prevent Purple from drinking the toxic waste. The three friends allow themselves to be shut into individual Chron-o-Johns (time travel Port-o-Potties). The time machine hiccups, of course, sending Hoagie 200 years into the past, Laverne 200 years into the future, and returning Bernard to the present. This is where gameplay really begins, with each friend in a different century, wandering about the historically-associated versions of the mansion and grounds.
Day of the Tentacle contains an embarrassment of riches, but what I particularly enjoyed were the outrageous, cartoon-like characters. Bernard is pleasantly nerdy and a touch naïve. He wears Groucho Marx-style glasses and his ears are enormous; the back of his head reminds me of a flapping bird. Pre-med student Laverne looks like she sticks her finger in electrical sockets. She has wild blonde hair, one eye that’s larger than the other, and blinks constantly. Instead of walking, she lurches from side-to-side. Hoagie is a mellow traveling-band roadie with a gigantic nose and sensuous lips. His long hair covers his eyes – the only glimpse I caught of one eye was when Bernard’s foot happened to be in his face. He keeps his hands in his pockets, wears a baseball cap backwards, and speaks pop-slang in a drawling voice.
All voice-overs are from the original game, including Richard Sanders of WKRP in Cincinnati fame who voices Bernard, plus Nick Jameson and Denny Delk, both of whom went on to shine in multiple roles in later video games. The actors nail these wacky, over-the-top personalities. Vocal quality is more nuanced than in the original, since the audio compression techniques used in 1993 are no longer necessary. The game has reams of clever dialog, absurd one-liners, and conversational quirks that define each of the major characters. Much of the talk is optional, and you can click through the dialogs if you choose, but it’s worth a bit of patience at particular points to hear it all. For instance, I recommend listening to Hoagie’s ideas for the American flag design, plus taking a minute to talk at length with futuristic Dead Cousin Ted, and snooping in on the IRS while they discuss baseball.
Although DOTT contains a sprinkling of dialog puzzles, the main challenges lie in finding, using, combining and getting inventory items into the correct epoch via the Chron-o-Johns. You can switch between playing Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie pretty much at will. The use of three different player characters in separate eras forces you to think, not just outside-the-box, but with a tri-part perspective and fourth dimensionality. Time travel introduces you to unsuspecting dupes like Ben Franklin the kite guy, George Washington the ax guy, and Betsy Ross the needled gal. These and many other characters – not to mention the hamster – will have to be robbed, tricked, humiliated, baited, or treated like bowling pins. In addition to shaking up the people, you can mess with the materials at hand so that the mansion and furnishings are revamped to be exploited at later dates, as impacting the current time necessarily affects the future.Continued on the next page...