Day of the Tentacle Review

The adventure game genre and I have never seemed able to get along. While I enjoyed Season 1 of The Walking Dead for its impressive storytelling and pathos-driven decision-making design scheme, its gameplay (or rather, heavy lack thereof) left me uninterested and wanting more of a challenge. The puzzles seem a trivial distraction for the player rather than a compelling addition to the overall experience, awkwardly included to force the concept of straightforward video game progression.

But the game is built upon a standard adventure game design template: search environments to collect items of seemingly little significance, only to eventually fashion them as pieces to an obstructive situational riddle as a means of advancement. So with this series being my first experience with an adventure title, I found myself apathetic in pursuing more of the same genre. Grim Fandango’s slow beginning and baffling item menu quickly hindered my interest; and my brief experiences with other Telltale series reminded me too heavily of The Walking Dead.

But I never felt discouraged from inquiry into the genre itself; with many publications I respect giving high praise to specific properties, there was bound to be something out there to peak my interest. So when John Walker of RockPaperShotgun released a list of the Top 25 Greatest Adventure Games Ever, I immediately sprang to his number one choice: Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle. My interest only further developed when reading his commendatory description, stating, “There isn’t any doubt. It’s nice and easy: if you disagree that Day Of The Tentacle is the best adventure game of all time, you’re wrong.” So naturally, when the game was updated in HD and rereleased for PS4, I dished out the $20 and prepared for a (hopefully) transformative experience.

image

Which is exactly what I received. Booting up DotT for the first time released a wave of 90s nostalgia through my veins with its vibrant backdrops, cartoonish animation, and nonsensical style. A slow beginning establishes the pace for the game’s entirety, but I was eager to push through and discover the magic of adventure games which I had obviously been missing out on; and fortunately, the pacing is appropriately outlined to compel the player to take their time, assess the obstacles and riddles laid before them, and logically bring the pieces together. DotT wants you to exhaust every dialogue tree — which never grows tedious thanks to the genuinely hilarious script and witty characters — urges you to scour every room of the three hotels (each parallel but separated by history), and provocatively disguises various hints in nearly every line spoken, no matter the apparent relevancy.

There’s this brilliant theme of balance elicited throughout the entirety of Day of the Tentacle; and if its absurd premise lays the foundation for any single argument, it would be that the essence of time and substance often naturally work together in reshaping the world as we see it today. Place a bottle of vinegar in a time capsule, only to return to it 400 years later and find a finely-aged wine. Spend 3.5 million quarters to shrink-dry a sweater for 200 years, and pair it with a frozen hamster after thawing it in a microwave.

Perhaps Day of the Tentacle’s greatest achievement is its consistent ability to make the illogical appear logical. In the contexts of its Chuck Jones-inspired cartoon world, the complicated puzzle design regularly comes off as appropriately implausible, disregarding truths and historical facts as to compliment the absurdity of the premise, setting, and style. There is no juxtaposition to Maniac Mansion’s environments, nor its characters, dialogue, or sequence of events. DotT is a comedy game through and through, and that allows it to revel in its genre’s limited boundaries, embracing the outlandishness without ever contradicting its brand of humor.

image

Take for instance Hoagie’s interference with America’s historical past, in which one puzzle tasks the player with rewriting the Constitution to include a law necessitating vacuums to be placed in every US household’s basement — all in efforts to allow Laverne to suck a hamster out of a mousehole 400 years in the future. Seemingly irrelevant to, well, just about anything involved within the contexts of the real world, in DotT this puzzle comes off as far-fetched enough to compliment the nature of its own world: a wildly abstract setting detailed by wildly-colored graphics, populated by dim-witted, whimsical personalities. As such, the elongated riddle suits the ridiculous world; and the game’s genius lies in its cunning suggestions.

Rather than promote endless item trial-and-error (though there is plenty of that as well in the game), LucasArts instead offer the vaguest of hints throughout each sequence, usually in the form of dialogue options or environmental cues. While the player ponders, “What am I supposed to do with this letter Bernard sent Hoagie back in time?” the Constitution suggestion box rests prominently in the middle of the room, and Thomas Jefferson insists on anyone dropping an idea for an amendment inside it to be considered. Another great example of environmental suggestion comes near the finale, featuring a distinguished formation of tentacles blocking the endgame and a bowling ball. Bernard even goes so far as to compliment their ‘triangle-like’ positioning before an hilariously brilliant ‘A-ha!’ moment posits the player to mow them down like bowling pins.

image

Ingeniously subtle, and all the better for its comedic effect, DotT constructs its puzzles around amusing experimentation to facilitate a constant undertone of humor. This allows the game to get away with its illogical setups because without them, the entertainment value would cease to exist. It’s the perfect format for the perfect adventure game: utilizing ludicrous situational comedy to encourage progression and reward player persistence.

Day of the Tentacle is a revelation; a meticulously-designed array of elaborate puzzles weaved into a charming tale of time travel and the consequences of every action. In SuperBunnyhop’s recent analysis of constructing level design across FromSoftware’s catalogue, he considers the concept of exposition: “refers to the deliberate arrangement of {a game’s} content, including its structure, its systems, and its narrative in support of the game’s experiential goals” (taken from Supergiant Games founder, Greg Kasavin’s definition). Like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, DotT consistently provides visual and dialogue cues to provide a means of progression to the player, all without ever assuming it necessary to deliberately explain those means. The two-dimensional playing field only further instigates the necessitation of scouring the screen for hidden details, and yet the graphic stills never become littered with unnecessary information.

image

This game is the product of a company at the peak of their creative powers, establishing a unique world through stagnant sceneries; designing an accessible narrative through strict rule-following, while also maintaining a level of deviation appropriate to the cartoonish style fueling its ridiculous setups. It successfully utilizes its gradually-paced brand as a foundation for promoting investigation and instilling applicable humor to effect, satisfactorily altering my personal sentiments towards the adventure game genre and its possibilities in whole. For that alone, Day of the Tentacle is a revelatory masterpiece; one that steadily evolves in depth all throughout; one which constantly contemplates the longstanding influences of singular individuals and legends; one that carefully dives into highbrow subject matter without forgetting to make the audience laugh — and laugh hard.

5/5

*Note: The version of the game I played for this review was the remastered PS4 version from 2016.

Andrew Gerdes

Gamer, musician, writer, film buff, 'foodie,' aspiring baker, critic, intellectual self-reliant, optimist, health-obsessed kid who only wants to explore the infinite possibilities of artistic expression. Also, people tend to think I'm an all-around awesome guy

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *