|Remastered -||Developer:||Double Fine|||||Release Date:||2016|||||Systems:||Win, Linux, OS X, PS4, PS Vita, iOS|
|Original Game -||Developer:||LucasArts|||||Release Date:||1993|||||Systems:||MS-DOS & Mac OS|
This week on Super Adventures I'm having a quick look at LucasArts' 1993 point and click masterpiece Day of the Tentacle! Though I'm actually playing the 2016 HD remaster by Double Fine, partly because it's the only version you can digitally download, but mostly because I want to.
I played Tim Schafer's latest adventure game the other day, Broken Age, and now I'm going back 20 years to his very first game as project lead! Well, co-project lead, with Dave Grossman. I wish I could say this is all to tie-in with the release of Full Throttle: Remastered today, but honestly I had no idea that'd come out until five minutes ago. The timing's pure serendipity.
Day of the Tentacle is the third of a trilogy of sequels released during the early 90s, back when LucasArts were the gods of adventure games. After a game inspired by a pirate novel and a theme park ride and another inspired by 30s movie serials, this time they went back to 50s sci-fi horror movies with a sequel to 1987's Maniac Mansion. Though you'd have to really squint to spot the name on the box and it's not written at all on the title screen. I'm not sure I even realised that this was a sequel back when I first played it. Well, until I found the original game hidden inside it in its entirety anyway. Hey I wonder if they remastered that Easter egg too.
(Click the screenshots to view them in a slightly more impressive 1280x692 resolution. Which incidentally is the aspect ratio of the original game, minus the box with verbs in it).
It's an adorable main menu screen, cunningly disguised as the heroes' shared student accommodations! So yeah it's one of those menus that has you clicking bits of furniture and random items to get to the option you're after, the kind that had gone extinct by the early 2000s due to it being a really terrible idea. But it's okay in this case because every object has its function clearly written on it and they're all lined up in a row instead of being scattered around the room.
Though adding labels to the posters meant that they've had to take the original writing off, in case someone clicked the one above the fez and was gutted to find that it didn't take them to the 'metal' options. It's a Tim Schafer game so it wouldn't be implausible!
There's plenty of other new stuff to play around with in this menu, including the option to turn all the new features off, but it's the bonus room that's caught my attention. There's unlockable concept art and a developer's commentary in there! I love listening to commentary tracks in games; they're like podcasts, except no one looks at me funny when I put them on while playing and then mute all the other sound so that I can hear them better.
I know I'm couple of screenshots late to make this exclamation, but holy shit it's like they've found all that old background art they drew with marker pens and then scanned it back in at a higher resolution! It looks the damn same.
This is the same old intro as before, except with a little extra around the sides to make it widescreen and remastered music to go with the new graphics. The tune here is called 'Ranz des Vaches' by the way, though it's better known as 'that music that plays in a classic cartoon to tell you that it's morning'. It's actually part of Rossini's William Tell Overture (it comes just before the Lone Ranger theme).
Day of the Tentacle wasn't designed from the start to be a 'talkie' game, but when CD-ROM sales took off during development they were given more time to add voices. This makes it the first LucasArts adventure to have full voice acting on release, instead of having it bolted on later in a CD re-release like Loom and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. And unlike Sierra's rival CD adventures at the time, it has a cast of professional actors and you can really tell.
It's like they made the game last year, then lowered the resolution, went back in time, and released it again in 1993. Which is cunning when you think about it. A brand new 2D adventure game looking like this would've done alright in 2016 as a retro throwback, but by releasing it in the past first they can sell it on nostalgia!
This isn't a screenshot of the original DOS game though. This is actually from the remastered version with all the remastering turned off. The game lets me switch between the new graphics and the old sharp pixels with a button press (it even works with the new title screen if you're fast enough).
The art in the bottom screenshot might look a little squashed by comparison, but that's all my fault as I rescaled it to have square pixels. DOTT:R actually stretches the original 320x200 res art to the correct 4:3 aspect ratio like an old PC monitor would.
Oh sorry I haven't even mentioned the plot yet. Basically there's two tentacles (for some reason) and the purple one just couldn't resist taking a sip of some sewage coming out of a pipe at the back of his house... right after a bird choked to death just by flying near it (he's the smart one of the pair). The mysterious substance works as a mutagen, giving him the mutant power of arms (well, flippers), and makes him smarter and more aggressive. It also apparently lets him summon a storm on a sunny day to make his sinister proclamations more dramatic.
It's really weird how his top sucker works as an eye, the middle one as a mouth, and the bottom one... actually I have no idea what that one's for. To keep this clean I'm going to guess that it's a subwoofer, for when he wants to add some thunderous bass to his malevolent monologues.
That's Bernard on the left by the way, returning from Maniac Mansion, with new characters Laverne the med student and Hoagie the roadie on the right. The developers originally had plans to have six students, but Chester, Moonglow and Razor were dropped very early to increase their chances of getting the game finished on time.
Bernard reads the note aloud to the others, but thanks to 20 years of advances in computer technology, video game graphics have finally reached the point where we can actually read the letter ourselves! It says exactly what Bernard says it says: Purple Tentacle's turned evil and Dr. Fred's gonna kill them.
I can't remember what I thought about this intro back when I didn't know that this was a sequel. Maybe I did know, I can't remember! One thing I do recall though, is that I didn't like how jerky this cutscene is on my old PC. The remaster fixes that though and it works so much better when it's smooth and has proper sound effects.
Man I hope Double Fine do Sam & Max: Hit the Road next. I know it wasn't a Tim Schafer game but it'd be unfair if everything around it gets a new coat of paint while it gets left abandoned and unloved. Then they should do Fate of Atlantis... and after that they should remaster that Star Wars point and click that only exists in my imagination.
And I'm glad that this intro is basically a cartoon as it's considerably less dull than the still images you get during the opening credits of Monkey Island 2, or the slapstick interactive opening to Fate of Atlantis where you send Indy falling down holes and then wait for him to get off his ass.
By the way, the heroes accidentally end up scooping up a cow on their trip and it's a little strange that it never shows up again. It does get out and follow the others for a bit, then remembers it doesn't actually care and leaves them to it. They should've had it so that if you beat the game you get to replay it in new game+ with the cow as a fourth character!
At this point the characters decide to split up to explore the mansion and find the secret lab where Dr. Fred is holding the tentacles. It's very clear on the fact that locating this secret lab is my current goal and I appreciate that. I'm only allowed to control Bernard though and I don't get to wander freely yet as he won't leave the lobby. This is basically just a short break in the intro cutscene to introduce the gameplay and make sure that players don't fall asleep.
It's a point and click adventure by the way. I'm controlling a mouse cursor and I click on things to make my character interact with them. Just making sure that everyone reading this is on the same page.
Okay here's a proper test for the new graphics: can I read the text on that 'NO' sign above the door?
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS”. I can't read what's on Hoagie's back though.
Alright there's some fake barf on the ceiling, a coin in the payphone, another coin stuck to the floor with gum, a flier, a cameo by Chuck the Plant in the corner, and the world's most subtle 'Help-wanted' sign in the window. None of these are going to get me into a secret lab.
This is the remaster's new radial verb icon system, which replaces the old box of verbs along the bottom of the screen. But only the ones that'll do anything to the selected object, and only if you want it to. Flick a switch in the menu and the old verb menu returns, and you don't even have to switch back to the old graphics first. Double Fine are really making it hard for me to nitpick here.
Though downside of the new verb system there’s no default action when I right-click on things. I can't just click the right mouse button to look at something/talk to someone automatically and that’s slowing me down a little.
With this challenging puzzle solved the game transitions into the second part of the intro cutscene, with Bernard finding the insane evil genius Purple Tentacle tied to the very machine that pumped out the mutagen.
There's no way Purple Tentacle will fall for whatever got him tied up here a second time, so I guess the world's doomed now. Nice work Bernard! He doesn't even get to keep the rope.
Dr. Fred arrives just a moment too late and comes up with a plan B: if they can't go upstairs and drag the guy back they'll just have to turn the Sludge-O-Matic™ off and stop the toxic mutagen from entering the river in the first place! The only catch is that they have to do it yesterday.
The voice actor they got for Dr. Fred is amazing at rolling is 'r's by the way. Nick Jameson had a good run playing villains in LucasArts games back in the 90s, as he also played Dr. Hans Ubermann in Fate of Atlantis, Grand Moff Tarkin in X-Wing and Emperor Palpatine in TIE Fighter! Plus he also played heroes like Max in Sam & Max and Kyle Katarn in Dark Forces! And he was the Russian President in 24! And some guy in an episode of Lost!
Flicking a lever is really only a one-man job, but all three of them are going to be sent back to yesterday together to increase the chances that one of them will make it there alive. It's lucky that Dr. Fred built three time machine pods really.
This is the original illustration by Peter Chan that was digitised and used for the background of Dr. Fred's lab. Must have been handy to have around as a reference when they were redrawing the art in HD.
Though comparing this to the remastered backgrounds does reveal one possible flaw: there's no texture to the new art, no sense that it's been painted onto paper, it's all clean blocks of colour. Personally I don't have a problem with it, but the game may have looked less like a Flash cartoon if it had a bit of grittiness to the artwork.
Unfortunately the crystal in the car that controls the Chron-O-Johns was made of imitation diamond and it shatters under the strain before they make it all the way to yesterday. Instead Hoagie lands 200 years in the past and Laverne ends up 200 years in the future. In a tree.
Bernard on the other hand lands right back where he started, so now he and Dr. Fred have to figure out how to get the others back for attempt #2. Fortunately the first step's obvious: take some plans for a super-battery off the wall and flush them down the toilet.
I will need to get it powered up for Hoagie to make a return trip though, which means I'll need some kind of futuristic super-battery. Fortunately there just happens to be super-battery plans in the toilet and Dr. Fred Edison's ancestor Red Edison should have the skills necessary to construct it! So I've decided that this will be my quest; as soon I get this battery built I'll turn the game off and finish my post.
I thought it was an Amiga disk at first, which confused me a little, but then I saw the second hole at the bottom and realised it was actually a 1.44 MB PC disk in disguise. That's how you tell if a floppy disk is high-density by the way, just in case that's a thing you'd ever want to do.
I was confused because the Amiga had been getting ports of every LucasArts adventure game from Maniac Mansion onwards (with the FM Towns starting a game later with Zak McKraken), but this is where all that ended for them. Neither system ever got DOTT as they were both dropped like the Atari ST and the C64 before them. Probably for the best though really as I'd hate to see how many blue Amiga disks this would take.
Each character has their own separate inventory of their own, but I can just drag items to the portrait to automatically and instantly flush them over so that's not an issue. Well, unless I want to move something large or organic, then I'll need to use the traditional method of time travel (i.e. leaving it somewhere for 200-400 years.)
Right now though I only have to move this super-battery plan (labelled 'patent application') out of the inventory and onto this Dr. Fred-looking gentleman. He wasn't hard to find by the way, I just walked back into the mansion and opened up the grandfather clock.
One clever thing about the remastering is that if you choose to turn on the verb buttons in HD mode they get a HD makeover as well. Conversely, if you prefer using the new radial verb menu in retro mode, you'll find that they took the time to make a special low-res pixel version of it for you!
Anyway, I gave Red Edison the battery plans, and he assumed he’d invented it himself and got to work building one for me.
Back in the olden days these plans were used for the floppy disk version's copy protection. You'd have to look up the patent number in your manual, then select the correct amount of oil and vinegar, and choose which croutons to place. But I don't have to do that.
So with my new mission obtained I grabbed everything in Red's lab that wasn't a shadowy foreground object and then went upstairs into the mansion to obtain more stuff. The mansion's entirely open to me now in both the past and the present, so that's two thirds of the game I can explore.
Fortunately the guy's keen on dropping clues in his dialogue options and every line here is a hint to a puzzle. Apparently George Washington's known for chopping trees down and that's interesting seeing as Laverne happens to be stuck up a tree right now... well 400 years from now. The important thing is that it's the exact same kumquat tree that's outside that window, so all I need to do is turn it into a cherry tree somehow and George is going to get me my third character.
I had a chat to the other two as well and acquired some more clues. John Hancock's freezing so if I want that blanket from him I need to convince Thomas Jefferson to give up his log for the fire. Jefferson meanwhile is making a time capsule to be opened up in Laverne's era, but he doesn't know what to put into it. Could be a way to get an item to her. Plus there's a gold plated quill on the table so that could be item #1 for my battery if I can convince these folks to all look elsewhere for a moment.
My keen observation skills soon alerted me to some spaghetti sitting right next to it and I grabbed a bucket and a brush as well. There's a water pump here so I filled the bucket up and now he's got that sloshing around in his pants.
In the other time periods there's a mysterious letter written on each door, a 'W' an 'R' and an 'F', and I've never figured out why. Anyway, right now the rooms belong to historical figures Washington, Ross and Franklin and I have a sudden urge to go wreck George Washington's bed and then ring the bell.
This brought the maid over, so I slipped outside and stole the soap from her cart. Then I went into Benjamin Franklin's room and found a bottle of wine. I remember that wine + 400 years = vinegar, but Laverne can't flush vinegar to me while she's hanging from a tree by her panties so I'll need to rescue her before I can make this super-battery. Man, this is getting more complicated than I thought it would, maybe I should've picked a quicker puzzle.
Also I found a portrait of Max up here! That's worth mentioning because this game actually predates Sam & Max: Hit the Road by a few months. And that's worth mentioning because it gives me an excuse to bring up my old LucasArts adventure timeline picture again:
|(Lines only vaguely point to the right month, especially for the earlier games.)|
I did a bit of Wikipedia research to see how DOTT fits in with the other big CD releases at the time, and I was surprised to learn that Myst and Rebel Assault both came out after it and The 7th Guest came out just a couple months earlier. So I'm not entirely sure why CD-ROM drives were selling so well at this time, but instead of looking it up I'm just going to assume that everyone was mad hyped for multimedia.
It seems like Day of the Tentacle was a turning point for how LucasArts designed their adventure sprites as Bernard is towering over Indy, Guybrush, Guybrush, Bobbin and Indy. He's also far more cartoony, with his exaggerated body, strong outline and flat shading. Then after him you've got Sam from Sam & Max: Hit the Road, which has such a similar look that Bernard's sprite was able to make a cameo or three as the cashiers at Snuckys. That was followed by Full Throttle's comparatively massive cartoon sprites, which were utterly dwarfed by Curse of Monkey Island's giant-sized SVGA Guybrush. They've all got a similar shoe size though.
The Dig doesn't quite fit in the line-up, but the game began development way back in 1989, so that's not so surprising. Boston Low ended up looking like the missing link between Indy and Ben from Full Throttle.
The game likes to throw in interludes like this to draw my attention to things, show off what Purple Tentacle's been up to, or just make a joke, and they haven't annoyed me yet so I'm considering this to be a good feature.
You know what is annoying me though? That font. It looks a little too much like they took the old font and ran a pixel filter on it. This is a problem I've noticed with the backgrounds a few times as well.
Anyway I'm just nitpicking really, as the art is usually pretty great.
I've talked about the graphics a lot, but I haven't mentioned the game's iMUSE system yet, which synchronises the music to whatever it is I'm doing. Unlike LucasArts' TIE Fighter remaster in the 90s which replaced the beautiful real time soundtrack with pre-recorded tracks from the movie OST, this still has its proper dynamic audio. It just sounds better now... unless you switch back to retro mode, then the music sounds like it's coming out of a cheap Sound Blaster card. They likely could've made it sound like it was coming out of the Roland MT-32 the tracks were originally composed for, but unfortunately that's not how most people would've heard it back in the day, and retro mode is all about the nostalgia.
Oh, I just remembered, this actually has the same composers as TIE Fighter: Michael Z. Land, Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian. Though you wouldn't be able to tell by listening to it as it's less John Williams and more Looney Tunes. They also did Monkey Island 2, Fate of Atlantis, Sam & Max... basically LucasArts kept them busy, and I'm grateful for that as they're awesome.
Removing the tree in the past means that there's been no tree here for 400 years. Except there clearly was as Laverne just fell out of it. The three characters are still somehow in sync with each other despite the centuries separating them, with their timelines occurring in parallel. So if Laverne goes inside the mansion now to collect the vinegar from the time capsule she'll find nothing, even though Hoagie's going to be putting wine in it soon. I blame the toilet vortex.
But hey, a new challenger appears: Laverne! I finally have my full set of characters.
This all raises some disturbing questions though. Like how did Purple Tentacle manage to sire a civilization of tentacles all on his own? Why does Dr. Fred's ancestor and descendant both look just like him despite the fact that their kids don't? And was Zed aware that his wife Zedna looks identical to his great great etc. grandmother Edna before they got married?
Okay I still need vinegar and gold before I can make this super-battery and turn the game off, so I'm going to switch to Bernard for a bit and see what he can find.
Anyway I'm ignoring him for now and catching some chattering teeth instead. See, if I can remove George Washington's dentures with a small explosive device I can replace them with novelty chattering teeth that gives the impression that he's cold, thus encouraging Thomas Jefferson to light the fire. And then somewhere down the line I end up getting a gold quill for my trouble.
First though I need to catch the novelty teeth as they scurry across the floor and that means setting a trap for them by 'open'ing the grate by the fireplace. Or I can 'pick up' the grate instead; the game's not all that picky about what verb I use as long as it can tell what I'm trying to do.
I met a guy identical to him in that prison cell in the future, but for some reason Ed's counterpart in the past is a talking horse; it's really random. Oh wait... Weird Ed... Mr. Ed... damn that joke took me way too many decades to get.
This room has always annoyed me because of that copper hamster tube all over the foreground, but there's something in the back that's much more interesting:
It turns out that the developers have gone and de-canonised the only other game in the series by revealing that it exists in-universe and it's only based on the events that preceded Day of the Tentacle. That's why the layout of the mansion is so different and why the tentacles both have four suction cups at the front. It also explains why nothing I do will get this grandfather clock open so I can go down into the secret passage.
This Easter egg was included in the original Day of the Tentacle as well, so it's cool that Double Fine made the effort to include it again. Especially as these days they could've gotten away with selling Maniac Mansion separately on Steam. It's a bit of a shame though that it didn't get enhanced... except it did, back in 1989
But just to make things more confusing, the version of Maniac Mansion you get in the original Day of the Tentacle apparently depends on what language you're playing it in, as version 1 wasn't translated into as many languages as the enhanced version.
You know what the biggest missed opportunity of Day of the Tentacle is? You never once time travel back to the Maniac Mansion time period, not even for a quick gag. Not that I would've gotten the joke.
I'm sorry, I seriously underestimated how much I had to do just to get some gold and vinegar so I've decided to skip revealing a few of the puzzle solutions to avoid spoiling half the game. It was all very clever though, I assure you.
So I guess that means I'm done then.
Yep, it's those bloody car keys hidden behind the door in that present day motel room! Who the hell puts a crucial item on the wrong side of an open door? I don't know about you but when I'm playing an adventure game I have to get pretty damn stuck before I start systematically closing all the doors.
Okay I'm done.
I wasn't really done. I stuck with the game long enough to beat it and formed a few Day of the Tentacle-related opinions along the way that'll share with you now.
It'd probably make sense for me to start by saying something about the puzzle design, seeing as it's a point and click adventure, but to be honest I have no idea how tricky the puzzles are any more. As this point I know the game well enough that even when I couldn't consciously remember what to do, I automatically went and did it anyway. They did seem fairly logical for the most part, as long as you grew up watching cartoons and you've got a good memory for all the hints thrown out in dialogue. Maybe you don't know that George Washington supposedly cut down a cherry tree, or perhaps you've never heard anyone say that washing a car will make it rain, but that's okay because someone in game will tell you. They might not repeat it though.
Plus there's no hint system, so if you're really stuck you're on your own. But it's good at giving you several clear goals at once, and then letting you attack them from any direction and in any order (without it getting overwhelming), so even when you're hopelessly stuck at one part you can often work on solving something else.
You can toggle different parts of the remastering separately so you've got a choice of two styles of verb menus to interact with objects, but players used to the ultra-streamlined 'click to do a thing, right-click to examine' system that's in fashion right now might find them both a bit awkward. I didn't give it a second thought though personally. Plus I think it's nice to have the option to 'push' an old lady down the stairs instead of automatically talking to her, when she's getting between me and the VCR.
You know, it occurs to me that a lot of what you do in this game comes at some other poor bastard's expense (or your own), but it really just wants to entertain. It's not the kind of mean-spirited game that amuses itself by killing you off or letting you continue past a point of no return without collecting a crucial item you'll need later. Plus who doesn't want to make irreparable changes to the history of the United States just to get a bottle of vinegar? Or stab an evil inflatable clown just for a laugh?
All this talk of clowns has suddenly reminded me of Dropsy, which is another charming point and click I liked. Though I struggled to stay interested in it because it's missing one key adventure game component: conversations. I didn't realise until I played it how important the dialogue trees are to me in these games, and fortunately Day of the Tentacle has great, memorable lines all over the place. Plus the voice acting sounds abnormally good for a game released in 1993. The voice acting sounds pretty good for a game re-released in 2016 as well, as they found the original uncompressed recordings (and sound effect libraries). There were no MGS: Twin Snakes-style re-recording sessions needed here.
They also didn't pull a Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition with the art design.
|Original EGA | 256 colour VGA | Special Edition|
Day of the Tentacle's remastering doesn't even go that far though, as the game pretty much looks just like it always did, except less pixelly. The repainted backgrounds aren't entirely flawless as there's a few patches that look unfinished, but overall they really nailed it, and the game's personality and charm has been preserved intact. To be fair though I suppose they had an easier job than the Monkey Island: Special Edition team, as Day of the Tentacle looked like a cartoon from the start.
It's not a very long cartoon though. Some adventure games are a journey with each set of puzzles rewarding you with a new location, but Day of the Tentacle is all about swapping time periods, and backtracking up and down the same familiar hallways. A bit like a Doctor Who episode in fact. It's not so bad though... as long as you know that you can avoid making constant trips to the toilet to swap items between characters by dragging them to a portrait instead.
In conclusion, I like this one. In fact it might be my favourite of the LucasArts adventures (I love Monkey Island 2 but it can be a real bastard at times). Back in the day this was the only adventure game I'd ever finished twice. Now it's the only adventure game I've ever finished three times, so by my rules I really have to give it the 'Wins the Prize' badge. It wins all the prizes; LucasArts and Double Fine, you've done well.
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