First posted on 08 October 1998. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
In its early days of glory, Lucasfilm Games publishes about 1-2 adventure or quest games per year. The company is well known for the superb graphics and gameplay in its games. Among these titles is Maniac Mansion—a classic adventure game from the days when the PC XT rules the world. The game has even inspired a television series by the same name.
It has been 20 years since a strange meteor crashes nearby Dr Fred's mansion. Ever since, Dr Fred has been building strange devices and making bizarre experiments. Unfortunately, his latest evil experiment includes Dave's girlfriend Sandy. It is now up to Dave and his buddies to go save her from the mad scientist. Sounds simple? Not quite. You control Dave and 2 of his 6 buddies during the rescue. Each of Dave's friends has an unique talent. Bernard (the only member to return in the sequel Maniac Mansion: Day Of The Tentacle) is the nerd in the gang who can fix almost anything (though he scares off easily). Syd and Razor both have great musical talents. Michael is the film buff. Wendy is the novelist to be. Jeff the surfer... well, Jeff can fix the phone and call Edna. Then there are the strange inhabitants of this insane house. They do not just wait and sit in their rooms doing nothing. They roam around the house, get hungry, and do things any madly insane inhabitants do for a living. So stay alert! In the mansion you encounter the evil Dr Fred who has been brainwashed by the meteor, Nurse Edna who really needs a man in her life, and weird Ed who is also trying desperately to stop the Evil meteor but without much success. In between, you meet the Green and Purple Tentacles and either make friends with them or get killed or captured by them.
It is only fair to evaluate the production value of this game relative to the technological standard of its time. At the time of its release, this title is considered to be a huge breakthrough among adventure games which, up to that period, consist simply of a character walking around on the screen with the player typing in text all the time. Even though Maniac Mansion is Lucasfilm Games' first computer adventure title, it has revolutionized the design of adventure games with the introduction of the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine. The SCUMM engine has since become the foundation of many games developed by Lucasfilm Games. Using this engine, all commands are listed at the bottom of the screen and can be executed simply by clicking on a verb describing the desired action and then the object with which you want to interact. This title is also the first adventure game to feature screen scrolling. There are 9 distinct endings in this game, depending on which characters you chose to play and who have survived at the end (yep, you can die in this game, so be careful). This adds a lot of replay value to the game, something that does not exist much in adventure games back then. The game is originally released only in Floppy Disk version. An enhanced CD-ROM version is subsequently released. The CD-ROM version features enhanced graphics and a different opening theme not found in the original.
In Maniac Mansion, you play the roles of 3 teenagers whose goal is to rescue Sandy from Dr Fred. Each teenager has his or her special talent to solve specific puzzles designed for them. There is a lot of interaction between the characters. Often, you find yourself performing a command with one character in order to let a second character do something else. The interface consists of point and click commands accessible using the mouse. Maniac Mansion is the first adventure game that offers mouse support. There are 15 commands from which to choose, such as Push, Pull, Pick Up, Turn Off, and Turn On. The interface is quite intuitive and effective, which is further revised in later titles such as those in the Indiana Jones and Monkey Island series.
Inventory appears at the bottom of the screen. Most puzzles consist of using item X with item Y (unlock door with key). There is no "Talk" command, so conversation between group members or other characters is not possible. A useful command is the "What is" command which allows you to scan the screen for items that can be manipulated or used. This command is very useful in all the dark locations you encounter. The game is extremely difficult, since no obvious clue is given to what you are supposed to do next. The game is quite nonlinear. You can access almost all the locations from the start of the game. The non-linearity may cause a lot of confusion in novice gamers who face a load of locations to explore without knowing exactly what is actually being looked for. Unlike the newer games from Lucasfilm Games, you can actually die or get stuck should one of your team member die holding an item of importance.
Maniac Mansion is a game that has revolutionized adventure gaming design with the introduction of mouse support, point and click interface, and scrolling screens. The plot is very well done and the game is fully animated with beautifully drawn cut scenes that reveal more and more information about the mansion and its inhabitants. With several different endings for many game characters, the game has a high replay value. The major drawback of this game is that it may not be suitable for novices as some of the puzzles may not be very logical. The other drawbacks are the slow character movement on screen and only a single save slot.
As a bonus, the original Maniac Mansion is included in the retail release of its sequel Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. This bonus copy does not have any copy protection. The original game has a locked door that requires the player to unlock it by referring to a copy protection card with symbols. This card is purple so to prevent it from being photocopied. In the bonus version, this door is already unlocked.
Maniac Mansion is definitely a classic adventure game and is among the best adventure games of all time. The game has an amusing plot and an intuitive interface. If you are tired of all the adventure games of today that boast too much graphics but lack severely in gameplay, then this title is the one for you!