Day of the Tentacle Remastered Review
Day of The Tentacle is one of my favorite video games. It’s the follow-up to Ron Gilbert’s iconic Maniac Mansion, and it was made by a Lucasarts development studio that was packed with talent and firing on all the proverbial cylinders. With lead design and writing by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, it’s one of gaming’s most charming, well-designed, and generally delightful experiences, and it’s a timeless aesthetically brilliant classic that’s never aged even a single day.
I revisit the game every year and replay the entire thing in a single sitting. I’ve followed this practice since first playing the floppy disk version at the age of nine. The original 1993 release was a remarkable technical achievement in its day. The hand-drawn art, multi-layered music, and brilliant writing truly made it feel like an animated movie you could play. The floppy version had a fully voiced intro, a rare treat at that time, and the CD-ROM version I was able to get with birthday money a year later had full voice acting all the way through.
In 2016, Day of the Tentacle Remastered launched on the PS4 through a console exclusivity deal, and on the PC. Tim Schafer was able to wrestle control of the game out of the bowels of Disney’s IP vault thanks to a series of complex negotiations, and then his team at Double Fine lovingly recreated the entire game. The artwork was redrawn by hand, with careful attention paid to retaining the exact artistic detail and style of the original game. The music was carefully remixed and re-orchestrated, every sound effect was redone, and the voice acting was remastered from the original digital audio tapes that the sessions were first recorded on.
The result is a game that presents a pristine vision of DOTT. If you’d like, you can press a button and quickly switch back to the original artwork, music, sounds, and interface, and you’ll instantly appreciate how much care and attention went into the remake. It’s not a full-blown overhaul like Master Chief Collection, but rather a museum-quality restoration done made for modern resolutions instead of old CRT displays.
I played through the PS4 version of the game the day it came out, and did all the extra tasks (including playing the secret included copy of Maniac Mansion) to get the Platinum trophy. A few weeks later I played through it again on PC, arguably still the best way to play it since the cursor-based interface works best with a mouse.
Now, thanks to Microsoft buying Double Fine and the expiration of old deals, Day of the Tentacle Remastered has finally come to the Xbox as a $14.99 download, or for “Free” as part of Game Pass. There’s nothing explicitly new in this version, but I wasn’t writing game reviews when the last release came out, so this is my chance to opine about a classic.
Day of the Tentacle casts you as three characters on a quest through time to save the world from a mutant purple tentacle. Said tentacle, and principle hero Bernard Bernoulli, are both holdovers from the previous Maniac Mansion game, but you don’t need any knowledge of that story to have a good time. The possibly-nefarious Dr. Fred has been pumping the waste byproducts of his experiments into the local river, and when Purple Tentacle drinks this sludge, he grows arms and gains world-conquering ambitions.
Thanks to an unfortunate mishap with a fake diamond while our heroes are trying to avert disaster, Bernard’s friend Laverne gets stuck two hundred years in the future, and Hoagie (a predecessor to Brutal Legend’s Eddie Riggs) gets stuck two hundred years in the past. You can swap between these characters at any time, and you can also send items between them both through the toilet-themed “chron-o-john” time machines and through other more clever means. The puzzles that involve time gimmicks and multiple characters are some of the most enjoyable ever written for this type of game, and perfectly straddle that difficulty line where you feel like a genius when you solve them.
The scope of the game is more or less limited to a revamped mansion from the first game, but the three different time periods essentially function as unique places. The limited scope is an excellent way to limit the obtuse difficulty sometimes associated with the genre. As you learn the layout of the mansion in one timeline, you’ll compare and contrast against familiar places in another timeline and slowly unravel the silly logic behind the puzzles. The small number of rooms makes things easier to figure out, and makes you feel like you’re mastering the game through exploration.
Day of The Tentacle’s audiovisual presentation holds up even in its classic form, but the remastered assets are awesome. The character designs are vibrant and have plenty of bespoke frames of animation. Backgrounds are bold and expressive, favoring cartoon aesthetic flairs over any kind of realism. And the music perfectly packs in a borderline-cacophony of instruments into tunes that are often earworms…though the strange elevator music that plays in Dwayne’s room remains perhaps my favorite piece of music ever in a video game.
If you want to see one of the keystones of gaming, you have to experience Day of the Tentacle for yourself. It’s a true masterpiece, and it deserves to be spoken of in any “best games of all time” conversation.
I’m relieved that this modern version of the game is easily accessible on Xbox One, Xbox Series consoles, PC, PS4, and PS5, and I remain hopeful that backwards compatibility will continue to exist in the industry so I can continue my yearly DOTT visits without pulling out my old CD and loading up SCUMM VM.
This is a charming, witty adventure game that brings cartoons to life. It has a great, weird female protagonist and a handful of funny secondary female characters in an era when many games didn’t even contain a single woman. It has lines that you’ll quote for years. And you might learn some stuff about American history, though like earlier goofier Assassin’s Creed entries, you might not want to repeat these “facts” to a teacher. Day of the Tentacle will only take you a day or two to enjoy, but it’ll stick with you forever.