The golden age and return of the adventure games. At least, that’s how a lot of people might think about Day of the Tentacle and Broken Age. Day of the Tentacle has always been considered one of the best examples of point and click adventures and was the first game with Tim Schafer having a leading role in development (after the first two Monkey Island games where he was a co-writer). Broken Age was the first huge gaming Kickstarter success marketed as the glorious return of adventure games, also from Tim Schafer and his current team at Double Fine. Given that I personally never liked Day of the Tentacle much and there were some really good adventure titles in the late 00s (especially those from Wadjet Eye) to make the Broken Age’s claims to “return” to something not make a lot of sense, I was really interested in playing those games back to back. The result was amusing, but not particularly exciting.
Broken Age looks great. I really wanted to stress that first, because if there’s something that Double Fine were always good at – it’s the visual style. And Broken Age looks, animations, sounds and all the rest of audiovisual things, are amazing. They were also always good at making an interesting charming spin on some serious topics and weird cultural and temporal mixes of different ages and styles and it works great in Broken Age. The setup is pretty simple – two seemingly unrelated characters are stuck in situations they wish to control. Vella, living in a strange fairy tail-ish world is about to be sacrificed to some horrible monster in a festive way with no one around even considering fighting back instead and fully embracing the grim tradition. Shay is stuck on a spaceship controlled by a computer called Mom, who cares about his safety so much, none of the things, meant to simulate real space missions, matter or present any danger whatsoever. And both get a chance to change the situation.
And it all works amazingly and charmingly well in Act 1. But, you see, this is where I need to mention that the game was released in 2 acts – one was released in 2014. And after that a whole year and a half passed until the second act was released. And despite the fact that the story was seemingly designed from the start and a lot of things implied in Act 1 were already thought out to reveals in Act 2, what actually happens in the second act often happens in detriment to the first act. While Act 1 isn’t a particularly demanding adventure game (then again – I never liked them for puzzles anyway), it was a really fun and exciting ride from start to finish. Act 2 right off the bat makes strange reveals that barely make any sense and then proceed to make the story and events being less and less interesting and creative. And by the end of Act 2 we’re stuck re-doing really boring and tedious puzzle over and over again to just get it over with. Until the game abruptly ends with no real satisfying conclusion.
Which is not how Day of the Tentacle works in both original and the newly remastered release. That game, also really nice looking and sounding pretty good (if quite a bit outdated by today’s standards), actually tries to keep things fresh and creative from start to finish. There are no repeated puzzles, no tedium (don’t forget you can transfer items between characters from the inventory itself), 3 characters actually interacting with each other and helping each other solve puzzles (in Broken Age it’s almost never a case, and when it is it barely makes sense) and a real conclusion. There are also infamously poorly conveyed puzzles, a bit too much focus on purely american history and in-jokes and the game does have a very, and I mean VERY strong focus specifically on puzzle solving, not on story and adventuring.
And the sentence above is pretty much the main reason why I never cared much about Day of the Tentacle. But even with that, revisiting it now I cannot ignore just how well made and creative that game is. It’s so full of puzzles to solve, most of them actually make perfect sense and at the same time they’re actually funny. So I’m not surprised people still hold it as a good example of what a puzzle focused comedic adventure game should be about.
Should you check Broken age and Day of the Tentacle? Yep. Don’t rush out to get them, mind you, but first would be a good experience (in Act 1) with really nice style, while the second is a really cool look at how one can make a puzzle centric adventure game that feels timeless (no pun intended). I had fun hours playing those and you probably will as well.