Day of the Tentacle is a wacky PC point-and-click adventure game from 1993. It’s about a trio of teenagers who have to save the world from a mad scientist’s pet tentacle. It may not seem like a good fit for the Fourth of July, but it’s my favorite patriotic video game.
You see, Day of the Tentacle is one of the best time-travel games ever. The main character, the nerd Bernard, is in the present. The out-there medical student, Laverne, is stuck in a future where tentacles rule and keep humans as their pets. The metalhead Hoagie, however, is stuck in Revolutionary America.
All three characters explore the same mansion during these different points in history. But during Hoagie’s time, the mansion is an inn that is hosting many of the biggest names of the era: Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, and George Washington.
Day of the Tentacle is a comedy, and the characterizations of these Founding Fathers and Lady are hilarious. Ross is annoyed, having most of her flag prototypes vetoed. Thomas Pain is a whiner who wants Jefferson to burn a log for warmth. Jefferson refuses, since he believes the log will be perfect for a time capsule. Washington takes being proud and dignified to a ridiculous level.
This is a classic adventure game from LucasArt’s golden era. This was when the company was cranking out classics like the Monkey Island series, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Full Throttle. Like all of those adventure games, Day of the Tentacle revolves around puzzles that you solve by picking up items, using them, and talking to people. So you have plenty of opportunities for hilarious conversations with these historical figures.
But the game is most clever when it interweaves these characters into the puzzles, especially when they work with the game’s time-travelling mechanic. For example, Laverne needs a tentacle disguise in the future. So, how do you get her one? The solution is nuts and wonderful.
Laverne can pretend to be sick, which sends her to the doctor. In the office, the tentacle physician has a chart of a tentacle (you know, to help with his doctoring). Characters in Day of the Tentacle can send items to each other through their time-travelling devices (which, of course, are portable toilets). So Laverne can grab the chart and send it to the past for Hoagie.
Hoagie can then put the chart on top of a pile of flag designs in Betsy Ross’s room. That then alters the future and turns the national flag into a tentacle shape. Back in her time, Laverne can go to the roof of the mansion and take the “new” American flag and use it as a tentacle costume.
This is one of the best puzzles in adventure game history. It doesn’t just have you hunting pixels and using inventory items at random. You manipulate history to work in your favor.
And it isn’t the only puzzle that requires messing around with America’s history. You need to use Franklin’s famous kite experiment as a means to help power a battery. You also have to find a way to “borrow” Washington’s wooden teeth.
The era of Washington and Jefferson is my favorite period of American history. These figures and their contemporaries lived through extraordinary times and rose up to become leaders that helped reshape the world. On the Fourth of July, I want a game that puts me in that era.
We don’t have many games that feature Colonial or Revolutionary America, especially if you don’t feel like playing through Assassin’s Creed III. So if you want to spend the Fourth of July in the virtual company of our founders, then Day of the Tentacle is the best way to do it. And since the 2016 remastered version of the game is available on PlayStation 4, Vita, and Steam, it’s easy to get a hold of the experience.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.