It’s been years since I played through Day of the Tentacle. I remembered it being one of the top tier Lucasarts point-and-click adventures, up there with Full Throttle, Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island 2 and Sam and Max (and, if you’re feeling generous, Grim Fandango). Back in their day, these games were some of the best gaming experiences ever. However, more recent puzzle games have been successful by adding platforming elements, action sequences, or heartbreakingly cute graphics (and bite size levels). Compared to these recent titles, I was a little worried about how well the game would compare. Day of the Tentacle is pretty old school – no hints, no maps, no disappearing inventory items once they are no longer needed – but even against these more recent games and in the middle of a point-and-click renaissance, Day of the Tentacle truly holds up.
The game’s story is strange to describe. The game follows the events of Maniac Mansion (which had multiple endings, of course) and you play as three oddball characters – Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne – trying to save the world from the evil Purple Tentacle. While attempting time travel to stop the tentacle’s rise to power, the three heroes get stranded in three different time periods. Hoagie is trapped in the Mansion’s past where it is being used by the Framer’s of the Constitution, Bernard remains in the present where the Mansion is hosting a convention of pranksters, and Laverne’s stuck in a dystopian future where the all-powerful Purple Tentacle uses the Mansion as his headquarters.
This set up leads to some really great puzzles as characters’ actions in the past can affect the characters in the future. Even better, the characters can trade most items through the Chron-O-John (and many of the most enjoyable puzzles involve passing items outside of the Chron-O-John, like hiding an item in a time capsule in the past so another character can find it in the future). Some gamers may find some aspects frustrating (the game doesn’t keep your inventory or environments small) but small additions – like the ability to identify interactive elements by highlighting them using the D-pad – make the game experience much smoother than I remembered. As you play, you start to sense the locations that the game wants you to notice – like a cat scratching against a fence, a character captivated by his stamp collection, and a particularly funny best-in-show contest – and can start to figure out which items you’re going to need to use.
Fans of this genre will find a lot to love here (for example, the random NPC impersonating a famous celebrity or the number of times you have to solve three puzzles or help three characters to proceed). Do yourself a favor when playing the game and do not use a walkthrough, particularly if you played through before. If you find yourself stuck, look through your items (some might have uses you don’t discover until you “use” them), think about the areas of the mansion which seem important, and think about which characters may have items you need. I remember feeling stuck for some time at one point in the game before looking through my items and thinking about the locations in the Mansion where I knew a puzzle needed to be solved. The fear I sometimes feel playing games – that I overlooked a background item that needs to get picked up or that I made a mistake that prevents completing the game – doesn’t happen in Day of the Tentacle. The solution is always there, it always makes sense, and it just takes a bit of patience to find it (and when you do, you’ll feel awesome).
THE BEST PARTS: The game is still one of the best, funniest, and most well-written puzzle games ever made.
THE WORST PARTS: Hint systems may have lowered our tolerance for frustration in games which is too bad, because these puzzles deserve your time.
OUR VERDICT: BUY IT
Day of the Tentacle is still really good. If you played this game years ago, you’ll find the puzzles pleasantly familiar. I didn’t remember any specific solution, but every time I solved a puzzle, I remembered my original playthrough.