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Wot I Think: Day Of The Tentacle Remastered

It's time to go BACK, TO THE MANSION!

It’s frightening to realise that Day Of The Tentacle Remastered [official site] is a reworking of a game that's been in my top five games since I first played it, a whopping 23 years ago. And a game that for the better part of the last decade, has been near impossible to buy or play. With Double Fine’s Remaster updating or restoring its graphics, music and sound, at the very minimum what we have here is a purchasable, playable version of the original game. On top of that, you can now play it in wide- and full-screen, with a smartly reimagined interface, much improved music, and the voices crystal clear without all the hissing and bubbly weirdness that affected the original CD-ROM version of the game. Which is to say, if anyone doesn’t like any of the changes they’ve made, they can switch them off and they’ve absolutely nothing to complain about. Which is neat. Here's wot I think:

But what if you’ve never heard of DOTT? As upsetting as that is to me, let me précis: Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne are three college students who go to the mansion of mad scientist Dr. Fred on the invite of their friend, Green Tentacle. His brother, Purple Tentacle, has consumed toxic sludge and become super-intelligent, and now plans to take over the world.

On arriving it appears the only way to stop this from happening is to turn off the Sludge-O-Matic machine yesterday, so the trio are put in Dr. Fred’s time machines, the Chron-O-Johns. Except a cheap diamond in the machine means things go horribly wrong, with Hoagie appearing 200 years in the past, and Laverne 200 in the future. Bernard remains right where he started.

This opens up the premise of time-based puzzles alongside the regular inventory puzzles that made up the bulk of LucasArts adventures. Objects can be passed between the three by flushing them down the Chron-O-Johns, as Hoagie attempts to find a way to harness electricity in the company of the USA’s founding fathers and their struggle to create a constitution, while Laverne is imprisoned by the tentacle overlords and must find a way to escape.

What was (and very much still is) a very funny, very well written story of complete nonsense, is made magical by the use of time. If you need vinegar, say, then find a way to hide a bottle of wine in the past, and discover it in the future. If there’s a tree in the future that’s iny your way, chop it down in the past. And if that involves writing in requirements that all Americans have vacuum cleaners in their basements into the constitution, or changing the US flag into a tentacle costume, then so be it.

It was a sequel to an even earlier adventure game, Maniac Mansion, set five years later and making numerous in-joke references to the previous game. (References that in 2016 are even more confusing.) And it famously included that original game on a computer within itself. To clear up any doubt: no, sadly, they’ve not secretly also updated Maniac Mansion – it’s there, but it runs in its EGA pixel glory.

But despite this, it’s barely dated. The three core stereotypes – nerd, hippie-chick and roadie – still very much exist, and the Chuck Jones-inspired cartoon approach created something resistant and timeless.

So how do you modernise a game with an interface as dated as DOTT’s? The answer is, really smartly. DF have been extremely clever about how they’ve approached updating the interactions, letting the player choose their preferred iteration. If you want to insist on laboriously clicking on verbs from the bottom third of the screen, you can switch back to the original look of the game at any time. If you want the game to smartly pick relevant verbs for what you’re clicking on, then you click the right mouse button for a contextual graphical verb wheel. (These aren’t stingy, either – some objects have nine options.) If you want to deliberately choose irrelevant verbs to see if you can find any of the millionty-five hidden gags, then you can scroll the mousewheel for your cursor to change to each verb in turn, then mouseover anything in the screen to build a floating sentence. Scroll for “Open”, then roll over a hamster for, “Open hamster”, and then click to try that.

They’ve... done a great job. It looks like – well, it looks like what the game looks like in my memory, rather than the pixelly blur it truly was. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the game obsessively hitting F1 to switch between the original and new graphics, refusing to believe they were ever so crude, and wondering at how your memory had already done all this hard work for Double Fine earlier.

The update is so faithful to the original/using the same code that the character’s mouths still move in the same daft way that makes it look like they're only ever saying, “Ooobeedoobiee”. Animations are identical, right down to Bernard still taking that inexplicable route between two adjacent doors on the second floor of the mansion, and Laverne still walking like she’s being electrocuted.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and whether you’ll like the simply shaded 'Flash animation' look they’ve gone for is entirely in your hands. For me, it mostly feels appropriate, and in many cases looks just right. In other places I think a lot of texture is lost – one good example is Hoagie’s chatting with the horse. The original looks far more detailed and complex, while the update appears very slapdash and simplistic. It’s a weird mix of this, some scenes looking very blank now, others looking just like they ought.

I’ll be absolutely fascinated to know how people who’ve never played DOTT feel about this game. I’m in the odd position of replaying a game I’ve replayed so, so many times, meaning that the puzzle solving is more by muscle memory at this point. And even then, I’ve reached points where I’ve not remembered what needs doing next in any of the three timelines, and had to stumble around for a bit. It’s interesting to see how – as was normal for the early 90s – there are few great flashing neon signs telling you what to do next. The complexity, and the freedom to do so very much of the game in the order you choose, is a little daunting 23 years on.

And they seem to know it, too. There’s a little knowing nod when Hoagie cleans the carriage to create a storm, with an achievement popping up saying, “Obvious. Really.” It’s interesting that there’s an appreciation that some of the puzzles were perhaps a little... unflagged (although, let’s be fair, Hoagie mentions how dirty it is a bunch of times, but then again, gathering all the items to clean it is hardly common sense nor encouraged), but they’ve also chosen not to include a new hint system at all.

They’ve kept actual changes to a complete minimum, beyond aesthetics and controls. And I wonder if that was necessarily the best idea. I think this could have been an opportunity to make a few tweaks that would make the game slightly more amenable – most obviously, I’d suggest, would be an instant access to the Chron-O-Johns, rather than having to laboriously walk each character to them in order to exchange items. Edit: OMG, I never, ever knew you could just click items on their portraits. In 23 years, I never knew. Good grief, I'm such an idiot. Thank you to Richard Cobbett for pointing this out!

But then at the same time, what if they changed a bit I especially liked?! Then there’d be righteous uproar.

And gosh, there’s so much to like here. It’s fair to say some gags have lost their impact on me, so familiar am I with them all. But others still hit every time. I love that the tumble dryer with the jumper dings when Laverne walks into the room – that’s always great. I love that Dr. Fred is literally wrapped in red tape when the IRS show up, forcing a puzzle that involves painting a mummy. I love the voices, the beats, the number of puzzles involving false teeth, and if that wasn’t George Washington’s real accent, then I don’t want to know.

I still adore this game. It’s still the smartest, most elegant, most entertaining adventure game ever made. And now, if you want, it looks new and sounds amazing. Not having Laverne sound likes she’s underwater is a real joy. More could have gone into adding detail to particular scenes, and I think the extra effort of implementing a hint system would have opened the game up to many (having written a complex hint system for a remastered adventure game, I can tell you it’s not really that much work). But when your starting point is, “Day Of The Tentacle is playable again!” then you really have to work hard to complain. I love what they’ve done here, I love that there’s a commentary with the original creators (although it’s a little sparse), and I love that this could make DOTT a game enjoyed by a whole new generation. It certainly deserves to be.

Day Of The Tentacle Remastered is out tomorrow.

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