'Day of the Tentacle Remastered': Remastering a Classic
Day of the Tentacle follows the structure of a Saturday morning cartoon. It also has the stakes of one.
Day of the Tentacle RemasteredPublisher: Double Fine Productions
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release date: 2016-03-21
There is nothing that I can really say regarding the quality of Day of the Tentacle at this point. Not that I don't have opinions on the matter, just that it has established itself as a part the gaming canon over the past two decades as an adventure game that is important historically and influentially. It was also one of the numerous titles from the early days of video games that was unavailable to all but the most intrepid of players wishing to jump through a number of third party, gray market software. So, its re-release is a happy event regardless of what you may think of the game itself.
The remaster by DoubleFine, with co-creator Tim Shafer at the helm once again, is my third encounter with the game. The first time was back around its original release. My dad and I were lent a copy by a friend, and we floundered. We managed to solve some puzzles, but ultimately we couldn't get our heads around the logic of the short term goals of the game and how they would lead to the long term goals. My second time with the game happened a decade later, when I experienced it through one of those aforementioned third party software set ups to get it working on my modern machine. I wanted to see what everyone else saw in it. I ended up playing with an open walkthrough beside me that I referred to constantly due to my own impatience. Now, a decade later, I'm reviewing the spruced up, shiny version of Day of the Tentacle. There is no going into this fresh.
I remembered many, if not most of the puzzle solutions. But by going in knowing the solutions, I noticed how many hints and directions about what to do that the game has embedded into its environment. What I found to be insurmountable deadends originally and stalling annoyances later, I now see as pretty neatly crafted stage directions. I don't know if it is that I'm older and my mind has matured, which has allowed me to figure my way through the puzzles or that I've simply been trained in the intervening years to solve adventure game puzzles.
Day of the Tentacle runs on cartoon logic. After an elongated intro sequence that must have been impressive to those knowledgeable about tech and not to a little kid used to watching cartoons and before a well executed climax, the game proper is an extended second act of accumulating busy work. It starts out simple enough. Find the three doodads in the past, get a diamond in the present and plug in the machine in the future. All of which very quickly spirals out of control.
I found it interesting on this replay to notice that the story never advances outside of its beginning and its ending sequences. Each puzzle is its own little self contained joke narrative. Once it is solved, the repercussions never amount to anything beyond that joke. The Founding Fathers return to the hall to continue not working on the Constitution after jumping out the window. Dr. Fred ends up back in his basement worrying and forgetting all about the IRS men in his attic. Tentacles remain at their posts as you shuffle about in disguise, oblivious to your actions. Wacky antics are followed by a return to the status quo each time. This is the structure of a Saturday morning cartoon.
It also has the stakes of one. The world is in danger of being taken over except... not really. There's the threat of world domination, but we know that the good guys will win. Purple Tentacle will wait around as long as we need him to. It's not a question of “will we stop him” that keeps us engaged, but how will we stop him.
Actually, with its disconnected puzzles and their isolated logic, little narrative progression, and broad stereotypes serving as characters, Day of the Tentacle reads like the urtext of how not to make a point-and-click adventure game. It's this very type of design that with its excesses would cause many fans to give up on the genre and the naysayers to simply declare its death. Regardless of whether or not it works (and it does work), that status as the urtext, as the blueprint that all adventure games would conform to or purposefully break from, earns Day of the Tentacle its place in being remembered for another generation.
The art's lines are smoothed out, and the colors expanded. I wasn't kidding when I said that the game is much shinier than the original. With a press of a button, you can return to the original 1993 visuals, but I rarely found myself doing so. The updated art captures the essence of Day of the Tentacle. Likewise, the game has updated its input methods. While the classic verb buttons are available, the remaster also includes a controller version to accommodate its PS4 release and a well implemented verb wheel. Any time that you click on an interactive object, the wheel appears with all the verbs that you are capable of using to interact with it. It's a great way to cut down on needless and less than fun hassle.
The remaster also includes a hotspot highlight button, a mechanic that I've seen pop up in quite a few games lately. To be frank, it is in the games that it doesn't show up in when I find myself surprised these days. For an adventure game made in the classic era that codified not only the "aha moment" but also the laundry list of design bugbears that continue to show up in examples of the genre to this day, updating the game with such a mitigating mechanic is a welcome addition.
I wish that I could say the same for the game's special features. The unlocked concept art is nice to look at briefly, but I don't get a sense of the design process that the game went through by just looking at a sketch and a painting of each room. Unfortunately, the commentary, a big draw for me, is poorly implemented. It is staggeringly easy to miss the prompt to begin the audio track and just as easy to cut it off with no real means of starting it up again. It's a pity, because I would have liked to have gone through listening to the stories of its creation and to follow the thought process that went into making the game while I played it, but it just wasn't worth the hassle.
Day of the Tentacle works just fine as a director's cut of the original. It's a shiny, polished version with a few bells and whistles that make experiencing the game easier than it has been before and it comes across more clearly in general. As a special edition, it falls short in what it could have offered. I want to be clear, though. My score is not a reflection on Day of the Tentacle itself, but rather on the Remastered part of that title. The game's value to me is primarily its place in history as both an artifact of its time and its influence going forward. As well as the game stands on its own merits in 2016, I can't help but feel the loss from this release's failure to place it in its proper context thanks to its lackluster special features.