Day of the Tentacle Is the Best '90s Time-Travel Adventure on Xbox Game Pass
Lucasarts meets Double Fine.
If Bill Nye taught us anything, it’s that science rules. Cool experiments, intergalactic discoveries, robot chefs and champagne are proof that science can be really gnarly … sometimes. Unfortunately science doesn’t rule until you understand it’s actually about rules, at least in the real world. In our movies and TV shows, science without rules is everywhere. Lightsabers. Mind melds. Robocops. But in video games, science often tries too hard. It needs to explain itself or appear grounded. Where do gamers go to get wacky, made-up science?
Double Fine Studios is a good start. Known for hits like Psychonauts and Full Throttle, Double Fine is celebrated for a unique visual and storytelling style that feels more like a classic childhood cartoon than a video game. But back in 1993, before Double Fine even existed, some of its studio bigwigs (notably Tim Schaefer, Ron Gilbert and Peter Chan) worked on a point-and-click adventure that became a cult classic among the burgeoning PC gaming community: Day of the Tentacle.
Remastered by Double Fine in 2016, Day of the Tentacle follows a trio of teens (Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne) who get scattered across the centuries in a time-traveling mishap meant to stop a rogue mutant tentacle from taking over the world after it drank some mystery ooze coming out of Dr. Fred’s laboratory. It’s … a lot. The dense story premise provides the perfect backdrop for a PC game that is equal parts pulp comic and puzzle book. It never takes itself seriously, which lets players in on the fun at every possible turn.
Of course, YMMV when it comes to the “fun” of a point-and-click adventure in the Year of Our Lord 2023. But many of the cons of playing a 30-year-old game are offset by one of the pros: it’s short. This isn’t a title that's going to demand an entire weekend or even an entire afternoon. If you’re willing to keep a guide handy you can get through it in about four hours. It’s time well spent, and not just for video game history nerds who want to get into the origins of one of the most acclaimed independent studios. The game is full of absurdist jokes, great characters, and gorgeous design that still stands out today.
Each of the three protagonists brings a distinct vibe along with the era they’re trapped in. Hoagie, a stoner roadie type, finds himself trapped in the American Revolution trying to get Ben Franklin to discover electricity so he can use it to fix Dr. Fred’s time machine, the toilet-themed Chron-o-John. Laverne, an eccentric medical student, lands in a future ruled by evil tentacles. She must evade capture to get her machine working.
Then there’s Bernard. Along with Dr. Fred and a few other characters, Bernard was part of 1987’s Maniac Mansion which was an influential PC game in its own right. Day of the Tentacle is a de facto sequel and actually features a fully playable version of Maniac Mansion as an easter egg in the remake. A stereotypical nerd, Bernard managed to land in the present day and has to coordinate with his pals to both stop the evil Purple Tentacle and find a way to bring them home.
The time-travel mechanic is a big part of the puzzle-solving here. One famous example has a character in need of vinegar, so Hoagie sends a bottle of wine 200 years into the future thus turning it into vinegar. Does the science make sense? Of course not. But there’s just enough logic to this world that puzzles border on the edge of incomprehensible. You’ll get stuck more than a few times, but the trade-off for that difficulty is the rush you get when you actually figure something out on your own. And there’s almost always a punchline or throwaway joke waiting for you at the solution, too.
Because of its point-and-click design, Day of the Tentacle is still best experienced on PC, but Game Pass users can adjust quickly to the console version thanks to a thoughtful UX and smooth cursor controls. It’s more than a worthwhile trip down memory lane too, with plenty of puzzles and laughs for anyone willing to take the trip.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered is available on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also for sale on PlayStation 4, PC and iOS.