Double Fine and especially Tim Schafer have me in their grasp right now. After running through the Psychonauts games, I wanted to visit other work that this team has worked on, which led me Day of the Tentacle. This game has always been in my peripheral vision since I had an Xbox 360, but I never bought a copy.
For one, I didn’t know what to expect from a title about tentacles, and I’m too comfortable with point-and-click adventures. I had only played one up until that point, and it was a colossal failure on my part. However, I need to scratch this Double Fine itch I have now, and luckily Day of the Tentacle is on Game Pass, so I had no excuse not to give it a go.
The Writing Is Consistent
Having recently played through the Psychonauts games, I have the writing style of Double Fine pretty fresh in my mind, and I have to say that Day of the Tentacle retains the cartoony humor while bordering on the dark side every now and then. I mean, there was an instance where we actually kill a hamster and then pretend to kill another one several times throughout the game. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The game stars three kids, Bernard, Laverne, and Hoagie, who go to Dr. Fred Edison’s home to free the tentacles, so they are not killed by Edison. However, the purple tentacle resumes a years’ long quest to conquer the world and hops into a time machine to head somewhere in the past. Dr. Edison sends the kids after him to thwart his plans and thinks that sending three is better odds than just sending one in case one dies (shows the tone they were going for quite a bit).
All three kids land in different parts of the timeline: Hoagie in the distant past, Bernard to yesterday, and Laverne to the far future. They must figure out a way to come back together and stop the tentacle at the same time.
Day of the Tentacle uses wordplay, time, and just plain randomness to progress the story and land jokes. One minute you are checking surveillance footage to grab a code off of Edison when the IRS is knocking at his office door where they take him to his own attack hogtied.
Or the fact that the founding fathers are actually in the Edison family home making decisions about the future of America in the past, and Hoagie has influence over their decisions. The American flag becomes a tentacle flag, for goodness sake! I love how outlandish this game can be, and it’s unapologetic about it.
The game set the tone early by making talking tentacles real, so I never questioned anything that happened after. I was just along for the ride to see what wacky scenarios Tim Schafer had cued up next.
The game concludes pretty quickly, in my opinion, and I would have enjoyed the final section where the kids are all together to drag on a little bit more. Give us some puzzles where the kids all remark on how dumb we are rather than just one of their narration like the rest of the game. I think that really could have given each of the kids a little more personality in relation to one another and given us a chance to see what their relationships were like.
Can Be a Little Too Elaborate
Now, this is a point-and-click adventure game that many people have again become familiar with thanks to Tell Tale’s Walking Dead series, but the original point-and-click games were a different breed. These games required the player to collect everything they saw, familiarize themselves with the levels inside and out, and think outside the box. However, even that might not be enough to figure everything out on your own.
It’s not really possible to mess things up, and if you just try every item in every area, you’ll eventually get results, but where is the fun in that? Of course, there are some puzzles that aren’t that hard if you have scoured the levels, like replacing the gun lighter with the novelty gun or getting the tentacle flag made.
There are, however, some that might be just a tad more elaborate than you might think. For instance, getting the hamster to the future requires that you freeze him in an icebox in the past, take him out in the future, put him in a microwave to thaw, and use a sweater to keep him warm.
I’m probably missing something else in there because it can be really easy to not understand what to do next with that rodent. Or the time when you need to power the battery near the end of the game. You MIGHT think to use lightning because Ben Franklin is waddling about every now and then, but how do you summon lightning?
Is there a lighting rod or weather machine somewhere? Not at all. Instead, you need to take a bucket of soapy water to the carriage outside the house and try to wash it, which will cause storm clouds to gather. Now I appreciate the joke, but oh boy, can that be easy to miss.
I love that the game can be elaborate like that, but I also really hate it. It can make the story drag on, and just wandering the levels is incredibly dull once you have seen and talked to everyone. The jokes can only be repeated so often before you want to stab yourself with the fork.
Not to mention that there are times when a command that you think should work doesn’t, which makes you think that you aren’t using the correct item. It turns out, though, that a couple of times in the game, the command needs to be more specific, usually “use” instead of “give” or vice versa. This additional confusion can lead you on a wild goose chase until you eventually circle back to the original idea you had.
Besides the frustration with some of the user interface stuff, I loved when I would try a certain item that wasn’t correct, but the game ran with it for a joke anyway. For instance, when you eventually get the hamster into the future with Laverne, she will need to try a few things to try to make the hamster healthy and happy again.
After he is thawed, it will say that he is wet and cold still, so maybe a second run in the microwave would suffice? Nope. That’s a very bad idea, and the game lets you know it (it’s also an achievement, so that made me laugh).
These little details are what help to make Day of the Tentacle less of a chore to work through. The charm that the game exudes even when you are working blindly through it can be astounding. In a perfect world, more of the items would do this, but I know that the cost to get all the events voiced would be tremendous, and some items just wouldn’t have great jokes, but it sure would be cool.
Day of the Tentacle makes me realize that I would love new point-and-click adventures from teams that can deliver humor like Double Fine. It’s a well-crafted wacky cartoon story that made me feel like a kid watching a Saturday morning marathon. I just wish that it was a little more self-explanatory in some cases to keep me engaged all the time and not mumbling about checking the attic for the 12th time. 8.5/10