Maniac Mansion

A famous adventure game from Lucasarts, back when they were still making those (instead of just hundreds of Star Wars games).  The game fared well on the Commodore 64 and PC, so it was only natural that an NES port would soon follow to further increase profits.  The game underwent some censorship due to Nintendo's content policies at the time, but this is still one of the best versions available.

The game begins with a flashback to twenty years past, showing a meteor crashing into a hillside outside a large mansion.  The lights in the mansion click on, the title music starts up, and the opening credits roll.  You're then treated to a scroll of bloody letters spelling out "Maniac Mansion", with a chainsaw stuck in last letter in "Mansion".   Not a bad way to start things off, I must say.

The story then skips ahead to today, where one of the home's residents (Dr. Fred Edison) has kidnapped Sandy.  Her boyfriend Dave mounts a rescue operation, taking with him two people who answer his call for help in doing so.  The next screen you see has you select the two that accompany Dave.  There are no "right" or "wrong" choices here - regardless of who you select, it's still possible to complete the game.  You'll just have to take a different approach depending upon who you choose.

Included with the game was a two-sided poster, which added a nice touch to introducing the player to the game.  It resembles a college bulletin board with several newspaper clippings and flyers, most of which contain hints for playing the game.  Scans are available here and here. (Thanks to Mr. Syd for these scans!)

Well, don't say they didn't warn you

Maniac Mansion's name and story seem to imply that it is a horror game; however, once you sit down and play the game for a bit, it becomes clear that the game is more a humorous tribute to movies of the genre.  For instance, the player encounters a tentacle-like creature on the upper floors of the mansion, but after giving the monster its favorite food (wax fruit) they discover that it dreams of creating a rock band.  Also of note is the 'chainsaw' gag, where the player discovers a chainsaw but cannot find any fuel to operate it.  However, in another Lucasarts adventure game titled Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the player discovers a gasoline tank, but no chainsaw can be found.  Other jokes include Cousin Ted (apparently mummified by Dr. Fred), and a live nuclear reactor supplying power to the house (its description reading "Made in Chernobyl").

A unique aspect of Maniac Mansion was the fact that the game was fairly open-ended; due to its seven selectable characters, each with their own unique skills, there are many ways to complete the game's puzzles.  Whether it's using Wendy's writing talents to reform the bad guy or using Michael's skill as a photographer to enlist the help of Weird Ed, there are a number of ways to proceed.  Better still, the game has somewhere around ten different endings, which adds a considerable amount of replay value.  A feature not often seen in other games, even moreso among adventure titles.

When I played this game back in the early 90's, this puzzle was the one that really had me stumped.  I tried everything I could think of to read the number, including filling a glass jar with water and trying to magnify it, but alas.  It was only later I learned of the pool water's radioactive properties, which were necessary to reach the observatory above the family room.  Using the high-powered telescope in that room, you can easily read the number written on the wall, which allowed you to open the nearby safe.

Feed that plant some radioactive water to get to the observatory.  Paint thinner might also be handy on the right wall...

A famous red herring, the "out of order" staircase.  It doesn't lead anywhere, nor can it be fixed

Some more of Lucasarts' weird humor

What largely made the NES version so memorable, though, was the music in the game.  Each kid had their own CD player that played their respective theme song, and let me tell you, they sounded damn good for an NES game.  Lucasarts really put those four sound channels to good use to create the game's music; in particular, the hard rock/metal tunes in the game sounded almost like the real thing.  Very impressive for an old console.

Click here to download Dave's theme (~2.7 meg .mp3 file)

Three years before the NES port was made, a Famicom version of the game was released in Japan, featuring more "cartoonish" graphics.  It's generally inferior to the NES port, however: there is no screen scrolling in the larger areas (they're simply split into two or more screens), and the sound is pretty bad. The biggest downside, though, was the saving system - rather than a battery backup, this version utilized passwords that were 104 characters long!

And you thought River City Ransom's passwords were bad?

Several of the jokes were edited or cut from the NES port of the game at Nintendo's protest; ironically, many of these were visible in an old issue of Nintendo Power, in which a prototype version of the cartridge was used for their review.  A ROM of the beta version was leaked to the Internet, however, so I was able to grab some screenshots of the edited material.

Click here to view the unedited screens!

To date, this remains my favorite adventure game of all time.  A weird sense of humor and a wide variety of ways to play through, complemented with many different endings for you to see.  Even the packaged hint poster was a nice touch. Games that have this much thought put into production and presentation are a rare sight these days.  You could tell the SCUMM team really had a lot of fun making it, and because of that, it's a lot of fun to play.


My Maniac Mansion guide
Interview with one of Maniac Mansion's creators

Rating: 10/10
One-line Synopsis:  An undeniable classic among adventure games, and the NES port is the best of them all in spite of the censorship within.

©2006 Spoony