PC classic somehow managed to land on the NES it introduced a whole new audience to one of the most hilariously inventive point & click adventures of all time. " /> PC classic somehow managed to land on the NES it introduced a whole new audience to one of the most hilariously inventive point & click adventures of all time. "> HonestGamers - Maniac Mansion (NES) review by Sho PC classic somehow managed to land on the NES it introduced a whole new audience to one of the most hilariously inventive point & click adventures of all time. ">

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Maniac Mansion (NES) artwork

Maniac Mansion (NES) review

"Why is there a chainsaw in the kitchen? Who’s that mummy and what’s he doing in the bathtub? How does Razor get her hair to stand up like that? Every LucasArts devotee worth his rubber chicken should already know the answers to at least two of these questions, but when this demented PC classic somehow managed to land on the NES it introduced a whole new audience to one of the most hilariously inventive point & click adventures of all time. "

Why is there a chainsaw in the kitchen?

Who’s that mummy and what’s he doing in the bathtub?

How does Razor get her hair to stand up like that?

Every LucasArts devotee worth his rubber chicken should already know the answers to at least two of these questions, but when this demented PC classic somehow managed to land on the NES it introduced a whole new audience to one of the most hilariously inventive point & click adventures of all time. See, 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!

Besides Fred and his charming wife Edna, the Edison clan also includes son Ed, a “teenage commando with a hamster fetish,” a pair of disembodied tentacles who are nevertheless capable of speech (and surly attitudes), and of course Dead Cousin Ted, their beloved mummified relative currently residing in, yes, the bathtub – possibly because the TV in his sarcophagus gets such lousy reception.

But why is there a nuclear reactor in the basement?

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?

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 create a distraction by ringing the doorbell. After all, the entire game takes place within their mansion in the middle of the night, something most people refer to as “breaking and entering,” so 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, the 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, 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 adventures where you can never get stuck no matter what do or say, in this one it’s actually quite possible for the whole group to off themselves. Don’t expect anything like those other quests by that other company, though; you won’t have to start over again just because you got tossed in the (escapable) dungeon, and you can’t miss some innocuous item at the beginning that turns out to be a gamebreaker later. Just be aware that there are numerous dead ends, even if you’d have to be either stupid or some sort of perverted genius to mail tentacle mating calls to a record company or leave the swimming pool drained after learning that it contains radioactive cooling rods and a big red button that says “absolutely do not push under any circumstances.” Even when things look bleak there’s almost always a way out; just because you accidentally launched the family’s vintage Edsel into the farthest reaches of outer space is little cause for alarm so long as you can figure out another way to get through the game. Of course if there are actual alarms going off because you just had to go and hit that button, don’t blame me when you’re suddenly looking at the title screen.

And unlike the (thankfully) Famicom exclusive port developed by Jaleco, LucasArts handled this conversion themselves in what was obviously a labor of love despite Nintendo’s meddling. While ostensibly based off the high-resolution EGA version, these 8-bit graphics were redrawn from scratch to complement the new system’s radically different 256x224 orientation and color palette, with surprisingly impressive results considering what they had to work with. The PC re-release absolutely blows it away in terms of size and detail, but at least you get a unique, sweet-looking NES game instead of a washed-out imitation of the real thing like those straight ports on the SegaCD .

Where the NES really stands out, however, is its exclusive – and totally awesome –musical score. Each character features his or her own unique theme; Syd rocks out to a riff-laden medley of synthesized guitars and pounding drums, while that total geekazoid Bernard prefers an eclectic mix of bleeps and bloops that sound like something from Revenge of the Nerds. And Michael? A crippling onslaught of deadly, deadly funk. Obviously anything is going to be an improvement over the nearly silent computer versions, but this cart must be using a custom sound mapper because it’s leagues better than any other game on the NES that isn’t using Konami’s VRC6 – and none of those were released outside Japan. They even fixed the PC’s only other niggling flaw – like their later adventures, the cursor now automatically tells you when you’re pointing at a hotspot instead of having to click on it or use the “What Is” command.

Unfortunately all of these efforts came with a price, as this was back in Nintendo’s puritanical days – when any potentially traumatizing concepts like “blood” or “religion” were considered strictly taboo, there was simply no way in “heck” that Nurse Edna’s sexually suggestive dialogue was going to fly anywhere but out the “door.” The classical nude sculpture that doesn’t actually reveal anything was a pretty obvious one, but in addition the “Disco Sucks!” poster, mummy swimsuit calendar and even the name of the SCUMM engine were all deemed offensive and given the boot. I mean, Dr. Fred’s line about “getting your pretty brains sucked out” had to be changed to their being “removed.” Oh yes, that’s so much better. But apparently some vengeful deity must have gotten involved, because Nintendo’s censor-monkeys inexplicably failed to notice that you can stick a hamster in a microwave oven and make it explode. Oddly enough Nintendo didn’t appreciate the cosmic irony and ensured that the subsequent PAL release had this particular "feature" removed.

On that note it might be worth mentioning that there’s a prototype floating around that contains everything from the finished game in addition to virtually all those naughty bits that LucasArts was forced to excise. Of course playing anything but the actual licensed cartridge would be morally wrong, even if graphic adventures do encourage – nay, demand – rampant kleptomania. But whether you prefer the PC’s superior visuals and mouse support or the NES’ excellent music and far greater availability, you really can’t go wrong: unlike ICOM’s MacVenture series, no attempts were made to simplify the actual gameplay for a younger audience. With two uniquely outstanding takes on this B-movie masterpiece to choose from, you’d have to be a real tuna head to pass up a night with the Edisons – and Dr. Fred is always happy to welcome new brain donors.

“Heh, heh, heh.”


sho's avatar
Staff review by Sho (January 30, 2008)

Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.

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If you enjoyed this Maniac Mansion review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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SamildanachEmrys posted November 19, 2010:

Aside from my disagreement with the score, I think this review's unqualified recommendation needs to be balanced by some mention of the bad points. No game is flawless. What about the blatant unsolvability of most of the puzzles? The solutions to most of them are completely illogical and make no sense at all, and attempting a solution other than the biarre correct one (or walking into a room that you couldn't possibly know was occupied) results in imprisonment in the dungeon.

I'm not saying the review is wrong to disagree with my opinion, but I think some acknowledgement of the game's weaknesses wouldn't go amiss. Interestingly, though, it clued me in on how to solve some puzzles that have troubled me for over a decade. Hmm.
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darketernal posted November 20, 2010:

Hmmm, I disagree. Thought it was a good review. You also have to understand Maniac Mansion was a pioneer in the industry of point and click adventure games, so of course some stuff will be unsolvable. That's like saying "Return to Zork" was awful because you had to do things in a really specific way with just the right wording to get through, and it's a known classic.

As for the dungeon thing, if I recall, you can never be permanently stuck in it, there's a loose brick or something near the entrance of the jail cell that when you push the door opens or something like that.
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Leroux posted November 20, 2010:

Flawless is strictly in the eye of the beholder, plus no such claims were made.

You're probably not going to win a fair and balanced argument around here because we don't specifically encourage reviews that take both sides, are balanced, try to see all sides of the coin, whichever turn of phrase. That's IGN or Gamespot, where external forces have pull. Complete objectivity isn't a goal any review should be striving for -- relaying a person's honest thoughts, with rational reasoning why, is. Most people don't see both sides, and attempting such an objective viewpoint is worthless because it doesn't tell the reader anyone's actual thoughts, just a bunch of assumed thoughts or the collective thoughts of others already out there. And most of the time, when a persons says "you may find x aspect annoying or may not," they were the ones that noticed the aspect was a bit annoying and should simply say as much and give better definition to why.

So while some people will find the puzzles esoteric, I'm betting Sho didn't because I think he would mention it, because I don't think he writes about eighties point-and-click games to mislead people but to share his recommendations and fond memories. I don't agree this would be a better review with a long "But..." paragraph addressing everything negative ever said about the game, or negative aspects you specifically think about the game.

A better remedy is this: someone reviews the game he loves and tells us why, someone that saw faults in the game reviews the game and explains those, and the reader can decide between writers' actual viewpoints rather than one guy's attempt to write a review for everyone. I think it's fair to question why he didn't find the puzzles esoteric, because you're coming from a pre-established viewpoint of your own and want to discuss the game and the different experiences you had. That's what's cool about feedback sometimes. But I don't think it's fair to tell him he needs to address issues he didn't see or think noteworthy in the review itself, no more than if you reviewed the game covering flaws you should have to recognize his amorousness. A review can (and often does as part of a persuasive device), but shouldn't have to, acknowledge a viewpoint the author doesn't hold, and especially not for the sake of balance.

That's my reviewing philosophy thought of the day.

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