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Maniac Mansion (PC) artwork

Maniac Mansion (PC) review


"Dave has it rough. As if the pressures of putting off those pesky term papers and sleeping through exams weren’t enough, his cheerleader girlfriend Sandy has been abducted by a mad scientist who wants to suck out her pretty brains. She probably wouldn’t miss them all that much, but there’s more than just Sandy’s cerebellum at stake; it seems that her captor, the retired physician Dr. Fred Edison, is planning a bit of good old-fashioned world domination just as soon as he perfects his patented Zom-B-Matic™ machine."




Dave has it rough. As if the pressures of putting off those pesky term papers and sleeping through exams weren’t enough, his cheerleader girlfriend Sandy has been abducted by a mad scientist who wants to suck out her pretty brains. She probably wouldn’t miss them all that much, but there’s more than just Sandy’s cerebellum at stake; it seems that her captor, the retired physician Dr. Fred Edison, is planning a bit of good old-fashioned world domination just as soon as he perfects his patented Zom-B-Matic™ machine.

Everyone needs a hobby.

Then again, Dr. Fred hasn’t really been the same ever since that slimy, strangely glowing meteor crashed near his family’s estate in the hills outside of town. There’s only one thing to do: Dave gathers up his courage, not to mention all of his fellow students who aren’t already occupied igniting dumpsters and throwing televisions off of dorm roofs, and sets out to rescue his lost lovemuffin from the clutches of the good doctor and his Maniac Mansion!

And not only did this pioneering LucasArts adventure become a huge success thanks to its masterful melding of unique gameplay and bizarre humor, something that would become synonymous with the company in years to come, but even two decades later there’s simply nothing else like it. At a time when the genre consisted almost entirely of family-friendly fantasy adventures controlled via a text parser, Maniac introduced us not only to a revolutionary point & click interface, but a group of average co-eds and their night of strange situations, sick dialogue, and risqué material with its lecherous tongue planted firmly in cheek. Besides Dr. Fred and his charming wife Edna, the Edison clan also features their son Ed, a “teenage commando with a hamster fetish,” a pair of disembodied tentacles who are nevertheless capable of speech, and of course Dead Cousin Ted, their beloved mummified relative currently residing in the bathtub – possibly because the TV in his sarcophagus gets such lousy reception.

But why is there a bloody chainsaw in the kitchen?

How can you help Green Tentacle overcome his depression and start a world-famous rock band?

What kind of sick freak would think to pop Weird Ed’s hamster in the microwave?

The SCUMM engine’s now-standard menu of verbs might have become par for the course, but this demented B-horror atmosphere remains in a league of its own.

Meanwhile, as you rack your brain attempting to comprehend exactly what to do with Chuck The Plant, you’ll be interrupted by potentially informative cut-scenes that clue you in to the activities and motivations of the Edisons as the story unfolds. Ed’s waiting for a package? Maybe you should keep an eye out for it, or draw him out by ringing the doorbell. After all, the entire game takes place within the mansion in the middle of the night, something most people refer to as “breaking and entering.” You’ll have to either elude or befriend its oddball occupants if you’re ever going to explore it unmolested. Otherwise it’s down to the family dungeon where lusty Nurse Edna laments that she didn’t tie you to her bed for a little “examination time” instead. Dave won’t be able to avoid this grisly fate on his own – in fact, he’s actually pretty useless – so you’ll choose a pair of extra characters at the beginning and solve many of the puzzles using teamwork.

Yes, with the realization that his slacking skills alone may not be sufficient, our hero has managed to drag six of his friends into this mess. There’s Razor, a punk rock chick sporting a tiny black dress and spiky red hair, and her new wave counterpart Syd, which as we all know is totally different. Ace photographer Michael, aspiring novelist Wendy, hopeless nerd Bernard, and “surfer dude” Jeff – unlike your friends, each one of them possesses a unique talent that will coincidentally enough turn out to be critical to your chosen group’s success. Bernard, for instance, is skilled at tinkering with all sorts of electronics, while only Michael knows how to develop film. This will determine which of the puzzles you can solve in order to finish the game, encouraging additional playthroughs with different character combinations in order to see all ten of the possible endings. Ultimately any team can successfully finish the game, but several puzzles also require more than one person to get involved: perhaps setting one character to hold open a secret door while another slips through, or serving as bait to lure Edna away from her bedroom in the event that no one’s brave enough to distract her with a little phone sex. So try not to get them killed, okay?

Fortunately that’s not easy to do – but unlike most LucasArts games in which you can never get stuck, it’s actually quite possible for the whole group to off themselves. Of course this was back when the average Sierra game turned the act of climbing a staircase into a tense proposition of life, death, and several save slots; Maniac won’t make you start over again just because you get tossed in the (escapable) dungeon, and you can’t miss some innocuous item at the beginning that turns out to be a gamebreaker later. I mean, you’d have to be either creatively stupid or a perverted genius to mail tentacle mating calls to a record company or leave the swimming pool drained after learning that it contains nuclear cooling rods and a big red button that says “absolutely do not push under any circumstances.” Most of the time you won’t have to worry; just because you accidentally launched the family’s vintage Edsel into the farthest reaches of outer space is no cause for alarm, assuming you can figure out another way to get through the game.

And while the original graphics might be a bit blocky, the high-resolution version (based on the Amiga/Atari ST release) sports a major facelift, especially the greatly enhanced backgrounds – it looks way better than the heavily censored NES port, only without the latter’s awesome music. In fact, the only things that really date this game are the internal speaker sounds, and that the cursor doesn’t automatically pick up on hotspots unless you use the “what is” command. But make no mistake, that’s a small price to pay for one of the earliest and greatest of LucasArts classics – like a villainous meteor seeking superstardom on the talk show circuit, Maniac Mansion oozes a timeless (if slightly gooey) charm.

Rating: 10/10

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Staff review by Sho (October 31, 2007)

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