Back<— to the Mansion
As a kid, I was absolutely in love with LucasArts’ Maniac Mansion. It had that “Brat Pack” feel about it, which was unheard of for a NES game back in the early 90’s. Sure, we had other games where the player controlled more than one protagonist, but this was the first game where the set of characters you chose at the start of the adventure could dramatically change the story and its outcome. It was the first game where I honestly felt like I was the director of a campy horror movie being filmed in the 80’s. All the characters where there: The jock, the hot chick, the pothead surfer, the brain, and a few other cliché archetypes that most horror movies still find a way to include to this day. Being a young horror film buff myself, this was an ideal way to make a horror movie the way I always wanted to, all on my Nintendo Entertainment System.
Point-and-click adventure games were few and far between on the NES, and with good reason: the NES controller wasn’t an ideal substitute to the good ol’ two button mouse. Holding down the sharp edges of the d-pad in the direction you wanted the cursor to move would cause horrible thumb pain as console gamers impatiently watched a small arrow slowly move from one side of the screen to the other. I’m sure PC gamers scoffed at playing point and click adventure games on consoles at the time, but lucky for me, I didn’t know any better, since my family didn’t get a PC until the mid 90’s. I have games like Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate to thank for my “Gamer’s Thumb” condition that I still suffer from today.
My childhood gaming consisted mainly of console games, since our family PC was primarily used for the internet and school projects, so I unfortunately missed out on Day of the Tentacle when it was released in 1993. When Double Fine Productions announced at the PlayStation Experience back in 2014 they were developing a Remastered Edition for the Playstation 4 and Vita, I was ecstatic, but also embarrassed that I still haven’t played the sequel to the game I consider to be one of the best on the NES. After playing through Day of the Tentacle in a 6-hour session from start to finish, I’m proud to report that I’ve finally completed the story of the Crazy Edison family and consider Day of the Tentacle to be just as amazing as my beloved Maniac Mansion.
Set 5 years after the events of Maniac Mansion, Purple Tentacle, a lab assistant created by mad scientist Dr. Fred Edison, decides he wants to drink toxic sludge from a river behind the mansion’s laboratory. The sludge causes him to grow arms and also increases his intelligence, which in return, drives him insane, setting him on a course for world domination. Dr. Fred finds out what has happened and captures Purple Tentacle and his harmless brother Green Tentacle, but Green Tentacle is somehow able to send a plea (via hamster) for help to his friend, and uber-nerd, Bernard Bernoulli. Bernard and his two friends, masochist medical student Laverne, and lovable metal-band roadie Hoagie, decide that they must head to the mansion and find out what the hell is going on.
Unfortunately for Bernard and his friends, Dr. Fred Edison has decided the best way to stop the Purple Tentacle is to travel back in time and shut off the sludge that is contaminating the town’s water supply. The only problem is that the very large diamond that is the main component of the time travel machines (that awesomely look like phone booths à la Bill & Ted) is a fake cubic zirconia that gets obliterated in the time travel process. This causes our three heroes to be lost in three different time zones: 200 years in the past, 200 years in the future, and one remaining in the present time, until a real diamond replacement can be obtained. Once the journey gets rolling, it’s immediately apparent that the developers had to think about every detail of the story, since you’ll be playing in three time zones. The time-travel machines themselves have a hole that is called the “toilet” where each character can flush (pass) items that have been found in the different time zones to one another. This is a very smart system that I’m sure the developers had to think extremely hard about when figuring out how to progress the game’s story and solve the game’s puzzles. As with Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle narrative has stood the test of time due to the writers amazing writing and not letting even the smallest intricate detail slip by.
After you first boot up Day of the Tentacle and watch the beautifully animated opening sequence, you’ll be presented with the controls and how this remastered point and click adventure will be navigated. It’s actually confusing at first because Double Fine Productions has found a way to use almost every button on the PS4 controller, which most modern games today don’t even take advantage of. Every direction on the D-Pad even serves a purpose here, and it’s kind of overwhelming looking at all the text on the screen before you’ve even moved your character around, but once you get into the game itself you’ll quickly realize why the control system is presented in such a way that’s new to point and click adventures. The previous SCUMM Engine games featured a large portion of the screen filled with text or icons that you would click on in order to progress the story and also give out character commands, but amazingly Day of the Tentacle Remastered does away with LucasArts’ signature adventure interface and fills the screen with beautiful HD artwork. It’s a nice trade-off too, as the graphics here are just plain gorgeous and I feel it would be a disservice to the artists to have a screen filled up of boring text.
As I said, navigating the game seems confusing at first, but once you fiddle around with your character in the opening sequence you’ll quickly realize that this control scheme blows away the genre’s traditional control scheme. Your inventory can quickly be sifted through by simply pressing the right or left bumpers. Or, if you find it easier, you can simply press the triangle button to pull up your full list. I used both options during my playthrough but thought seeing my full inventory was a bit cleaner to navigate, since sometimes you’ll be using one item combined with another. Maneuvering around the environment can be done by setting the cursor to your desired location and pressing “X”, or double tapping the Vita’s screen. It wasn’t until my second run through the game that I noticed how slowly the characters walked though. I think it would have been nice to get a fast-forward option to speed the game up a bit, since you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking if not using a guide. Interacting with the environment has been made very easy as well, as all you will need to do is simply hover over a piece of the environment and pull up your options by pressing the square button. At this point an option wheel will pop up and you can choose what type of interaction you would like to perform by selecting with the controller, or by touching it if you’re using the Vita. Another nice thing, which comes as a bit of a thumb and time saver, is the ability to press up on the D-pad to highlight all the objects in the environment that your character can interact with. This works well to streamline exploration, allowing you to bypass the time-old tradition of clicking everything in sight until you eventually find that small object that you’ve missed after countless hours of wandering the mansion, trying to move the story forward. The new interface is certainly an improvement over the original offering, but if you find yourself interested in seeing how the old game dealt with the inventory system and navigation you can simply press the touchpad (select button on Vita) and the game reverts back to the classic game interface. I just wish there was a way to blend the two and have the old inventory/navigation system on the updated remastered graphics, but overall that’s a minor gripe and would take up too much of the screen.
Fans of the original game will be happy to know that all of the original voice work and music is still here, and is actually better than ever thanks to Double Fine reworking the audio with iMUSE (Interactive Music Streaming Engine) with MIDI. The idea behind iMUSE is to synchronize music with the visual action so the audio matches the on screen events seamlessly. So when you’re transitioning from one scene to another you won’t have that jarring stop and start in the audio that most games had in 90’s. Another nice addition to the remastered version is the added commentary from the original creators, including Schafer, Grossman, Chan, McConnell, Ahern, and Bajakain. This is all done in game while you’re progressing through the story, and it’s integrated extremely well. In fact, you might want to experience a second trip through the mansion just to learn about all the hidden secrets and clues that you may have missed originally.
I can’t thank Double Fine Productions enough for remastering Day of the Tentacle. I probably would have never played through this gem if the fans didn’t make their voices heard after the amazing remaster of Grim Fandango. Thankfully, the retro community still lives on today and is stronger than ever. I hope younger gamers who have never even heard of Maniac Mansion give this title a go, as I think newcomers will be pleasantly surprised.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC, Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: Double Fine Productions ; Developer: Double Fine Productions ; Released: March 22, 2016 ; MSRP: $14.99
This review is based on a retail copy of Day of the Tentacle: Remastered purchased by Hey Poor Player.